Vietnam’s Wars

Review of Mark Philip Bradley, Vietnam At War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).


In our history books we refer to “the Vietnam War,” which fixated American attention for a decade, if not more. Some common associations and recollections of that period from the tumultuous Sixties to 1975 are of Presidents Nixon and Johnson, our POWs and MIA, napalm and Agent Orange, the antiwar movement, William Calley and the My Lai atrocity, the 1968 Tet Offensive, and the vets grappling with PTSD after their unceremonious return to the U.S.

It is the virtue of University of Chicago historian Mark Philip Bradley’s Vietnam at War to focus on how the Vietnamese perceived and responded to their successive struggles, wars, and cataclysms: from the long decades of French colonialism, to the post-World War II battles after France’s reconquest, to the supposedly temporary division of North and South Vietnam pending reunification after an election in 1956, to the rise of the National Liberation Front in the south, to the full-scale land invasion by the United Sates in 1965, and that war’s 1975 aftermath.

For an American who has read some of the books from “our side” (veterans’ accounts, political memoirs) or seen any of the U.S. films on the war period, this book would be a worthwhile investment of time and energy. More of us, from several generations, need to reckon with the history and present of a people whom we formerly dehumanized as “gooks” and “slopes,” but with whom we nevertheless “inter-are,” in the formulation of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Read the rest of this entry »