"MISSION ON THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL: Nature, Myth, and War in Viet Nam" by Richard L. Stevens

"MISSION ON THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL: Nature, Myth, and War in Viet Nam"

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Joseph Campbell meets the North Vietnamese Army in this ambitious but flawed Vietnam war memoir, in which the author interprets his behind-the-lines operations as a ""mythic hero-journey."" Stevens (History/Univ. of Hawaii) spent three years in Vietnam, first as a Marine corporal and then as a civilian State Department adviser. While there, he took extensive notes, which along with some archival research form the basis for this fast-flowing book that recreates a series of reconnaissance operations in early 1970 in which Stevens took part. His evocations of these tense, physically punishing journeys inside enemy territory are unique among the hundreds of veteran-penned Vietnam war memoirs. That's because Stevens is not content merely to chronicle his adventures in descriptive prose. Instead, he employs a mixture of dialogue-heavy and metaphor-dense writing in an attempt to elevate his wartime missions into a meditation on the Greater Meaning of It All. ""We're deep in the jungle and outside the law,"" Stevens observes in a typically ruminating passage. ""Our journey is within, too, and back into time. Where will it lead? What will we find?"" This particular journey and those that follow lead to tension-filled days and nights on and near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They also lead, unfortunately, to a hefty amount of breathless, repetitive, pretentious writing in which Stevens muddies up his narrative with fuzzy literary references. On one page alone the author compares himself and his compatriot to ""Tom and Huck"" and a helicopter ride to ""The Escape of Prometheus,"" makes reference to two Hindu gods, and quotes Walt Whitman. In the words of Carl Jung (as conveyed by the author), this book proves that man ""never perceives anything fully or comprehends anything completely.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma