VIETNAM: The Valor and the Sorrow by Thomas D. Boettcher
Kirkus Star

VIETNAM: The Valor and the Sorrow

Email this review


Boettcher, a former Air Force press officer in Vietnam and currently a journalist with the Atlanta Constitution and Christian Science Monitor, has come up with a kind of textbook on Vietnam, complete with a word and picture layout but without any pretense to objectivity. There's no new research here--Boettcher relies heavily on the writing of Bernard Fall on Dien Bien Phu, David Halberstam on the Kennedy and Johnson whiz kids, etc.--but Boettcher weaves what others have come up with into a comprehensive history of Vietnam from the French colonization to the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon. Among the military brass and politicians, Boettcher finds no heroes and only a few villains; mostly he finds complexity. Ho Chi Minh is shown as a dedicated nationalist (following the testimony of OSS/officer Archimedes Patti) who, however, turned death squads loose on his political opponents when he had to consolidate his power; Curtis LeMay, an all-out proponent of saturation bombing, is ""no madman"" but rather a brutal manager of attritional warfare in the tradition of Grant, Sherman, Pershing, and Eisenhower; Westmoreland, overconfident and relatively inexperienced, might not have had the influence he did on US escalation had Johnson's civilian advisers come up with a coherent plan for a land war. (They didn't on account of their own overconfidence in air power.) Boettcher covers all the main political and military roadmarks; the effects of news reporters and the media; and the polarization campaign, as he styles it, of the Nixon administration. Since the material is organized thematically, there are narrative overlaps; and while the pictures on almost every page are welcome illustrations for the text, the quotations, vignettes, information capsules, etc. in the margins are a mixed bag. Some of this material is so long it runs over several pages, forcing the reader to flip back and forth on tangential journeys (one such insert, dealing with a subject important enough for the main text--Johnson's guns-and-butter economics--occupies three pages of margins); other bits, including a story about Nguyen Cao Ky's stated admiration for Hitler (and the US embassy's effort to deny it), do add in the way of asides. What locates the story, however, are the photos--of personalities, weapons, combat, or the architecture of Vietnam's cities--and it's that documentary quality that distinguishes this as a single source on Vietnam, both for the proliferating college courses on the subject and for the general public.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown