A BRIGHT SHINING LIE
John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
Using the life of one man as his framework, Sheehan (The Arnheiter Affair, 1971) has written the best book on America's involvement in Vietnam since Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake.
John Paul Vann was a visionary as well as a gung-ho army officer. Arriving in Saigon in 1962 as a Lt. Colonel, Vann soon perceived something amiss in the US approach to the blossoming war. The American-backed ruling family, the Ngo Dinhs, were considered foreigners by most of the population; the ARVN existed primarily to protect them and generate graft; and American-supplied weapons were going almost directly to the Viet Cong. Vann was quick to realize that until the US took the loyalties and traditions of the population into account, it would be pouring lives and money into the quagmire to no avail. Vann was to retire and return to Vietnam as a civilian in the Foreign Service before he was listened to; eventually, he was regarded as one of the best minds in the field, and his ideas were adopted (too late to change the outcome) at the highest levels; he died there in a helicopter accident in 1972. Sheehan, a friend of Vann's and one of the many newsmen whose understanding of the war was shaped by him (changing the press's relationship with the military), conducted close to 400 interviews and did exhaustive research to put together this brutal, honest, exciting, often funny book.
His canvas is broad, filled with neatly integrated historical information, sharply observed portraits (from policy level on down), tactical and logistic detail, and insightful political analysis, along with the biography of a fascinating and uniquely American character.