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This book has accounts from such Navy pilots as Randy Cunningham and others, as well as detailed analysis of dogfights in Vietnam and in the Top Gun school. It's obvious that Robert Wilcox knows his stuff about Naval Aviation.
Khue definately helps her readers to understand.
Le Minh Khue is an extraordinary woman who uses her personal experiences to enrich her stories. When she was very young, she lost her parents in the Land Reforms of the early fifties and in 1965, at age 16 she lied about her age so that she could join the People's Army. We get a first hand account of how it was to grow up in Vietnam prior to, during, and after the war. Khue details the influences of Western culture on the youth of Vietnam and shatters the sterotypes that others may have of the Vietnamese way of life.
Most of Khue's stories are very dark. In "Tony D", a story about the grief that an American soldier's skeletal remains bring to an old man and his son, the son forces his father to cut off his finger to prove that he is not lying. In other stories, the characters are driven to suicide, some are obsessed with the material world and would do anything for the "Almighty Dollar", and a great deal of the male characters are unfaithful, have overly cynical views on life, or knife their brother's pregnant wife in the stomach.
As Wayne Karlin (editor) says, "Le Minh Khue the writer continues to perform the task of Le Minh Khue the sapper: searching out and identifying the bombs that lay buried along the Trail along which we must move, bringing them out of the earth and sometimes identifying them, and sometimes defusing them, and sometimes exploding them, and sometimes smoothing over the scars they leave in the earth. She never lets us forget what is buried and where; in doing so, she gently suggests the directions we must continue to travel."
I greatly enjoyed The Stars, The Earth, The River, and find Le Minh Khue to be a very compelling and enjoyable writer.
The Stars, The Earth, The River is a compilation of fourteen stories written by Vietnamese journalist-turned-editor Le Minh Khue, and is a highly recommeded read for anyone interested in Oriental life and literature.
In these stories, Vietnam is a place where a woman turning forty is considered old and a person with only a thousand American dollars in his/her pocket is called a "millionaire." Khue's stories convey many themes with a touch of black humor: in "Scenes from an Alley," greed plays a major factor in the life of a married couple who learn of a woman receiving a grand payoff from an American when he accidentally kills the woman's daughter, then try to place their aging father in the American's path, hoping lightning will strike twice. "The Almighty Dollar" is a wonderfully satirical tale of a large dysfunctional family worthy of "The Ricki Lake Show." Competition for custody of a mentally disabled brother is triggered by love...of money.
"Tony D" mystifies as the alleged "ghost" of a dead American soldier comes to haunt the old man who intends to sell his bones for profit, and "A Small Tragedy" presents forbidden love at its most disturbing. The best story of the fourteen, however, would have to be Khue's first, "The Distant Stars," written when Khue was only nineteen. The stars in question are three young girls who comprise the Ground Reconnaissance Team. Their mission: to measure holes in the ground left by bombs and determine how much dirt is needed to replenish the earth. Amid exploding ammunition and the stench of death, these girls perform their tasks, all the while sharing their dreams of marrying rich and flirting carelessly with interested soldiers. You want to laugh at the antics of these girls, yet you cannot help but have pity. It is the most gripping of the stories in this book, and truly amazing that a mind so young could concoct such a tale.
The Stars, The Earth, The River is the first installment in Curbstone's Voices from Vietnam series of contemporary fiction edited by Le Minh Khue, Ho Anh Thai, and Wayne Karlin. If Khue's collection is any indication, this looks to be a very promising series of books.
If you don't read the whole book, at least read the interviews with John Ameroso (the International Voluntary Services agricultural advisor) and Alan Carter (the U.S. Information Service officer in the embassy). Ameroso's story is inspiring in terms of how much grass roots good could be done with a practical approach to aid. Carter's story is maddening in terms of how bad things were in the embassy.
I notice that another reviewer of this book takes the author to task for including an interview by a reported fraud. If that's true, the author deserves strong criticism. If you're only compiling interviews to construct a book, you owe it to the readers to at least do a little checking up on those you include. Still, there is enough excellent material in this book for me to give it highest marks.
This book is particularly critical now during the War on Terrorism. Atkeson has shattered the notion that the NLF, VC, and North Vietnam represented a homogeneous, monolithic enemy. He has shown that beneath the thin skin of solidarity nationalist and ideological movements (and those purporting to be religious) are more often than not fractured alliances of necessity that hide competing ideas, agendas, and struggles for power. The most effective way to deal with them is to find the seams and the fractures and exploit them, as Atkeson's protagonist, Paul McCandless, did in the novel. A similar approach to the War on Terrorism is likely to be very successful. -- Christopher D. Kolenda, Editor and Co-Author of Leadership: The Warrior's Art.
Although Vietnam, from Tet to Ia Drang to the last helicopter out, contains enough action for a library of novels, MG Atkeson explains the long battle of attrition by what is, essentially, a novel of character, in particular, the characters of a relatively fast-track young Intelligence officer, an American-trained South Vietnamese officer; and a cadre leader among the Viet Cong, trained like many rebels from Ho Chi Minh on in France.
All of them have been snatched from their "normal" lives, but those lives have written deeply on them and influence how they live -- and fight their war. Ultimately, they are brought together in a resolution as moving as it is, essentially, indeterminate.
A gulf has opened between those men and what they thought they were fighting for -- a gulf similar to that found today even inside the US.
I am grateful for this clarification of something I didn't understand when I was living through it.
The novel follows the exploits of three main characters: "Paul" McCandless, Infantry officer turned Military Intelligence; MAJ Nguyen Van Do, Paul's counterpart, CGSC classmate and friend; and Patriot (Comrade) Van Ba, a Sorbonne-trained physician who commands the local Phu Loi Battalion. Thus, the three wars of the title, as each fights his enemies and organizational restrictions that tend to frustrate every endeavor. This is not, however, a "blood and guts" combat tale. There are a few battle scenes, some interesting cloak and dagger work, and a major operation launched during the novel, but the most significant conflicts are mental.
Van Ba is competent, efficient, and effective as a guerrilla commander--he manages to capture an entire platoon of tanks from a government compound--but is constantly being brought to task for ideological deviations by his political officer, Tran Hua, and his higher headquarters, the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN).
MAJ Do is fond of American jazz, slang expressions and Parliament cigarettes and indispensable to his commanding general when American newsmen and Congressmen must be briefed. He is delighted when Paul is assigned as his counterpart, but circumstances interfere with their friendship, and he must remain loyal to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, even when he suspects that a respected superior officer may be controlled by the Viet Cong.
MAJ (later LTC) McCandless is equally delighted to see MAJ Do, but he soon must plant a "cover story" with his friend as part of the security measures for a major operation in the planning stages. Paul has his own difficulties with the "hell bent for leather" commanding general of the fictional 100th Division ("Big Hundred"), his boss, the Field Force G-2, and a wife with liberal political tendencies.
In addition to a number of logical but frustrating twists and turns in the plot line, there is a false climax when a group of officers who gather informally to gripe about the war effort are tasked by the Field Force commander to produce a valid plan for changing the way the war is fought. They come up with a workable plan based upon interdicting the Ho Chi Minh trail with troops, but politics on the home front as well as the politics of the Pentagon interfere. The resulting non-answer from higher evokes this frustrated comment from one of the officers, "Nobody with four stars has the guts to go to the mat for what he believes."
But no one--certainly not the reader--has time to wallow in self-pity. Atkeson turns up the heat on the plot line once again and produces even more heart-pounding action before the epiloque appears. Like the war and the Tet Offensive, the book ends with the frustration of men who do their jobs to the best of their ability yet still see defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. As the author suggests in his foreword, the lessons to be learned relate primarily to the dangers of the misapplication of good intentions.
From the foreword by GEN Schwarzkopf to the discouraging final exchange of dialogue among the three main characters, those unfamiliar with the Vietnam War can learn a great deal about those frustrating times--and some of the inherent ironies--in the pages of this novel. The amount of detailed, authentic knowledge displayed is impressive--everything about the book rings true. J.M. Olejniczak, Editor in Chief, ASSEMBLY Magazine, Special Forces-Vietnam
The amount of detail in this book could support a view that secret operations are those things which are not revealed in order to create the greatest spin in the direction of the psychological warfare advantage desired by whoever is keeping the secrets. To get a full appreciation of the kind of restraint which the American government displayed in this incident, the whole picture should be compared to how well the participants in World War II responded to the order given by the president in August, 1945 (a mere 19 years before the Tonkin incident) not to drop any more atomic bombs on people whose government exhibited any hostility toward military activities directed by the United States of America. President Truman's order was followed by massive conventional bombing, much as the history of American bombing in Vietnam shows how long a superpower can maintain a campaign of destruction against anyone who knows the truth about something which is supposed to be secret. This book shows great deference to the feelings of the anonymous secret operations experts who would never say anything that wasn't in the best interests of the powers that be. "Escalation" is an understatement for the overt actions taken against North Vietnam in August, 1964. Adopting a bombing routine as a conditioned response to false accusations in anticipation of making the bombing a regular routine, in the absence of any debate on why things happened as they did, was the real policy. Even now, most people who ought to know better are pretending that a lot of things revealed in this book are still secret. What people don't believe now is the preamble to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which stated that the United States was going to be maintaining peace there, where it had no territoreal, military, or political ambitions. My ambition was to get the Combat Infantryman's Badge without getting killed, so I could be the CIB who failed to agree with whoever thought this ought to be. Check the facts in this book for a truly tortured bit of not being able to see a forest because the treehouse doesn't have any windows, and the trap door in the floor is closed.
After reading this book I find Khe Sanh to be the war in Vietnam in microcosm. The problems of differing perceptions held by Westmorland, Marine General Walt, the CIA, Special Forces, Marine Force Recon and the Bru tribesmen who occupied Khe Sanh illustrate the violations of the principles of war of objective and unity of command. Hovering above it all was the President of the United States exercising personal control of a battlefield from his office, 10,000 miles away.
In retrospect, Khe Sanh was a victory in a sense for the U.S. An isolated U.S. garrison that blew reville and raised a tattered American flag each day despite the inevitable mortar/artillery barrage it drew, told the Bru tribesmen and the North and South Vietnamese that he U.S. was still in control despite being outnumbered significantly. Almost unlimited American artillery and air support helped make the point.
Reading this book, one almost feels the fear, frustration, and misery the garrison endured there. Yet the reader senses the fierce pride that only combat soldiers doing a dirty, thankless job can feel. You can also imagine the rage felt when they were told simply that Khe Sanh was no longer important and to simply walk away.
Valley is essentially a foxhole level analysis of this campaign that shows how decisions emenating all the way from Washington and Saigon impacted the lives of the men on the ground. They were indeed the bait that lured thousands of North Vietnamese to their deaths. Like elsewhere in Vietnam, they were left with nothing to show for their heroic efforts.
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