I took four months to read this book. I carried this book around, planning to read it on car trips, lunch hours, and long waits in waiting rooms. It got a lot of mileage but no reading. I chickened out because I was afraid it would make me mad. A lot of books about the Vietnam War, written by someone who carefully researched it, studied and dissected it, just donít sit well with me. The books never lack facts, tables, appendices and proof. But they are almost always devoid of the heart, fortitude and sheer will to endure that the real historians give to the page. The warrior-survivors are the ones I have always been interested in. The pie charts, documents procured from secret sources and eye witnesses stepping forward after decades of silence just donít impress me. Those things just donít matter anymore. I have never cared what the others think, the armchair quarterbacks, the ones who tell you with their 20/20 hindsight and computer generated data what shoulda, coulda and would have been if onlyÖ... Words from those who spent more time pressing their uniform than sleeping, sweating or sacrificing in them just bother me and to be honest, those books often look a lot like this one. Thatís why I avoided it for so long.
In any case, I finally opened this book. So here is where I need to say that this book is made up of careful research, and is based on untold hours of delving through mountains of archived materials, but it is neither cold nor heartless. To the contrary it speaks to the very heart of the matter or I should say what was and is the matter with the heart of America. It wasnít until I read this book that I realized with more clarity than ever before that the true defeat, the true spirit breaking, left to die in the ditch beat down in front of a jeering crowd, did not happen in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but right here in America, in our homes, in front of the television, on college campuses, and in every level of our government. The author unblinkingly stares America down, calls us out, telling us what we have all failed to admit - that the North Vietnamese did in fact get what they wanted, but they didnít win it, they didnít earn it, we handed it over like the keys to the family car. They sat back and watched us destroy our own spirit, proving that a house divided cannot stand. This required very little effort on the part of the North Vietnamese, who really were less the enemy than the opportunist in what amounted to a civil war both in their own country and ours.
But wait, it was the sons and daughters we sent to fight in a war we never intended to win, that really lost the war, right? After all, our country was wealthier, smarter and better equipped, how could we have lost? We lost because we were never really involved in the way you need to be, to dig deep, to not stop no matter what, to go the distance towards a common goal. We lost because we were not invested. Our defeat was a demoralizing sort of loss, which did not happen for lack of money or training or equipment, but for lack of will. The author does not suggest Americans have no will. Oh no, Americans have will alright, but America? There is where the problem was and is. We became so busy following our own pursuit of happiness, believing in our own sense of right and wrong, creating our own agendas to justify our own end, that we failed and continue to fail to find a way to unite despite our individual differences for one purpose. The very thing that made us the greatest country in the world brought us the greatest shame. The very thing that should have driven us towards a higher purpose brought us to our knees and broke the spirit of our sons and daughters sent to Vietnam. We didnít even notice. Is it possible we didnít even care?
We blamed our children. We blamed our government, the government we elected. We blamed Jane Fonda. But we were the ones fighting in the streets, waving signs, spitting on men in military uniforms or perhaps we were the ones who did nothing at all. We would like to believe it could not have been our fault, but the truth remains that however we ended up on our knees, we allowed ourselves to be led there. Our acts of divisiveness here at home caused the deaths of American soldiers in Vietnam. It caused American prisoners of war to feel abandoned. It tore apart our nation. Whatever our acts or our reasons, there is no defense for the abandonment of our own children , decency and promises to a defenseless people.
The author draws a clear parallel between the war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is enough to make you cry in shame. It should be enough for you to get up out of your armchair and support what is most important. It is a truth so clear, so raw, so undeniable you wonít want to look at it, but you wonít want to look away for fear the past will repeat itself. Can we come together to cement our resolve to finish a mission no matter our cost or will we run away? Will we abandon another defenseless people? Will we toss aside another American generation? Will we leave our powerful country open to attacks by a smaller, smarter foe?
This is a book that would do well to be read by every single American old enough to understand its implications and take on the responsibility of the awareness they will develop from its content. It would be as timely in a modern day history discussion as it would be in one about the war fought 40 years ago. I cannot assure you that you will agree with the author. I cannot be certain you will take away the same thoughts as mine. But I am positive you will not be the same person as you were before you were brave enough to open its cover.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." MLK,jr.
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