An insightful memoir by the former prime minister of South Vietnam.
“Most Americans thought of me as a young, flamboyant pilot, a playboy partial to purple scarves, a bon vivant who wore his hair too long,” writes Ky (with the help of frequent ghost Wolf). But it’s clear from these pages that he was a man of more substance than that: committed to social justice and the rooting out of corruption, a Jimmy Carter–like character who after leaving office in 1968 set up South Vietnam’s first modern farm, modeled on the Israeli kibbutz. In his fights against entrenched interests, Ky often had to fly solo; though he is gentlemanly, he harbors a special scorn for his successor, Nguyen Thieu, whose “salary as a senior general and then president never came to more than a few thousand dollars” but who “went into exile a few days before the end of the war with so many tens of millions of dollars that President Gerald Ford sent word that he was not welcome to live in the United States.” Ky is also none too complimentary about the CIA spooks and American embassy staff who tried to steer things their way and, he charges, deliberately sabotaged the war effort by refusing to offer support to South Vietnamese army units during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Ky speaks up in defense of the much-maligned South Vietnamese army, which did not enjoy the material wealth of its supposed American allies, and for Nguyen Ngoc Loan, “the rarest of South Vietnamese birds, the honest cop,” who will be forever remembered for the photo showing him shooting a suspected Viet Cong guerrilla: “In the click of a shutter, our struggle for independence and self-determination was transformed into an image of a seemingly senseless and brutal execution.”
Modest and keenly detailed, a welcome contribution to the literature of the Vietnam War.