Unintentional Deception by R. D. Rutta

R.D. Rutta is a retired mathematics instructor who lives in Wisconsin. There is no mention on the jacket of his novel, Unintentional Deception (CreateSpace, 384 pp., $14.99, paper), that he has any military experience, but the book’s Forward says he did serve in the military, which interrupted his schooling. No details are given.

The novel’s hero, Bob Rhuets, was drafted while attending college, but no reason is given why he was not deferred. He did something that many draftees of that time did: He joined the Army for an additional year so he got some choice in his schooling.

In no time at all, he is through Basic Training and advanced training, and ends up as a sergeant in a missile-launching battery in Italy. While there, he gets caught up in the black market, but is still promoted into a top-secret job with responsibility for nuclear missile launching codes.

As if Rhuets doesn’t have enough to worry about, he returns home and marries his Midwestern sweetheart, Bonnie, and she joins him in Italy. They live off base due to housing shortages, where they lack on-base security and protection. Bob Rhuets thinks he is being tailed whenever they go anywhere, and he probably is. He doesn’t know if it is the KGB, the Mafia, the Army CID, the CIA, or all of the above.

He has a complex web of escape routes mapped out that he follows when alone or with his wife. But he’s not been entirely honest with Bonnie, so she doesn’t understand Bob Rhuets’s odd behavior—why he is so furtive, suspicious, and always looking over his shoulder and switching sides of the street. She takes it personally, the way some folks do.

I won’t spoil the suspense of this novel, which I suspect is based on the author’s actual Cold War Army duty in Italy in the late 1960’s, but if you wish to read a book about what it was like to serve in the Army in Italy during the Vietnam War this is a good place to start.  The book is well-written, fairly well-edited, and proofread, and is a handsomely presented novel of intrigue. I enjoyed reading it.

—David Willson

A Lost Generation by Ronald S. Zimney

Ronald S. Zimney, the author of the novel A Lost Generation (324 pp., iUniverse, $29.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper), tells us that he graduated from high school in Minnesota, repaired rocket sleds in New Mexico, and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He says nothing about setting foot in Vietnam. His novel is labeled historical fiction; it covers the period in America from the fall of 1981 to the fall of 2010.

The main character is Roger Hartec, a Vietnam veteran who commits the violent act of throwing a park bench through a plate glass window of a museum because it features a display of an American flag in a toilet. This display upsets a Cub Scout to the point of tears and Hartec retaliates with the park bench.

The other main character of this novel is Lilly Larsen, who has been a widow for ten years and who is more than ten years older than Hartec. The story spins out from there.

All of the above happens in the first few pages or even earlier. Readers are asked to believe that Roger Hartec was inVietnamas an Air Force mechanic, but was picked by the CIA to be a sniper. We are also asked to believe that the CIA has changed Hartec’s name and is hiding him in Minnesota because he is on communist Vietnamese hit lists and that the Vietnamese keep sending assassins to kill Hartec.

Hartec supports himself as a humble woodcutter. He does well enough with that job to have a house with an elevator in it. He and Lilly Larsen marry and accumulate what they call “waifs,” children who are neglected by their parents and who are threatened by a malignant social services agency with placement in foster care where they will be turned into hardened criminals destined for death row.

I’ve tried to give a sense of this novel without giving away too much of the plot. I must warn potential readers that this book is not well edited nor well proofread, nor have cliché’s been culled from the pages. The clichés come thick and fast, you could say. I encountered more than I could—shall we say—shake a stick at in just a chapter or two.

There are further annoyances in the novel. In fact, there are too many to list, so I’ll just offer a few. First, we are asked to believe that antiwar protestors met planes returning from Southeast Asia carrying the wounded, and that these protestors tipped the wounded off their stretchers. From what I know of that process, I doubt that any protestors got that close to the planes unloading wounded.

Also, when an African-American character appears, the author says he is “as black as the ace of spades.”  When Asians are speaking, they are said to be “jabbering.”  In one two-page stretch, the author uses the word “oriental” ten times to refer to Asian, as in “oriental cuisine.”

The book also presents as totally reasonable the notion that the United States should have “dropped the big one” on Vietnam, and that not doing so is proof that theU.S.military had its hands tied behind its backs by politicians. Gen. Curtis LeMay is praised for his statement about “bombing them into the Stone Age,” and this is not brought up just once in the novel.

Roger Hartec says, early in the book: “We really shouldn’t get into a scrap if we’re not going to use our nuclear weapons…. No point in having them if we won’t use them to protect ourselves. Whoever thought we would allow fifty eight thousand men to die without dropping the big one?”

Ronald S. Zimney

Elsewhere, the book tries to make the case that we actually did win the war, but that the media chose not to publish the facts that would make that situation clear to the public. We are also told that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was right about our government having been infiltrated by communists and that the “Verona Papers pretty much proved” that.

Zimney tells us that Vietnam veterans were denied a victory that we earned and that we never lost an important battle. I’ve heard all of this before, and read it before, but not all between the covers of one book.

I give Zimney credit for coming up with a new slur on antiwar protestors. I spent a lot of time in antiwar rallies in the late 1960s and never saw or heard anything mean done or said to a Vietnam veteran. But that is just me, I guess. Certainly I never said a mean thing to any veteran during that period.

I give Zimney credit for his criticism of Operation Ranch Hand. The use of defoliants in the war is close to my heart, so I enjoyed reading Zimney’s words: “The Chemist who developed the formula thought the defoliant was going to be sprayed on enemy troops.” Actually, I believe that the “Chemist” thought the stuff was going to be sprayed on foliage, not people. Or so the “Chemist” said in court.

Zimney has a story he wants to tell. But his lack of basic skills as a writer—especially with spelling and grammar—makes this book a trial to read. The print and the margins are comfortable for a reader. That’s the best thing I can say about this piece of historical fiction.

—David Willson

Ground Pounder by Gregory V. Short

Gregory Short joined the Marines in 1967 after quitting high school. He fully realized that by doing so he was headed for the war in Vietnam. “I did not volunteer to go to Vietnam as a gung-ho patriot or as someone who wanted to emulate John Wayne,” Short writes in his memoir, Ground Pounder: A Marine’s Journey Through South Vietnam, 1968-1969 (University of North Texas Press, 368 pp., $29.95). Rather, Short says, he went to war for “personal reasons,” which “probably had more to do with establishing my manhood and personal identity.”

Short arrived in Vietnam in early February of 1968 at age eighteen, right after the start of the Tet Offensive. He put in thirteen months, primarily as a mortarman with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division stationed at Con Thien near the DMZ.

It was an eventful tour, during which Short saw plenty of action, including at Khe Sanh during the seige—as well as some time in the rear. “I am not writing this memoir as a historical document,” Short says. “Instead, I am writing a personal history of the events and times as I had witnessed them.”

Short, who recently retired after more than thirty years of teaching history, also adds his perspective as a historian, including his views about how the war was fought. “If I have learned anything from my experiences in Vietnam,” he says, “it’s that stark military force isn’t enough to overcome the brutal acts of international terrorism or the revenge-filled atrocities committed in every civil and religious conflict.”

–Marc Leepson

The Trauma Tool Kit by Susan Pease Banitt

Scores of books have been written about post-traumatic stress disorder—what it is and how to deal with it. The latest is The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out (Quest Books, 305 pp., $18.95, paper) by Susan Pease Banitt, a psychotherapist who has been seeing patients for more than three decades and who also is a certified teacher of hatha yoga.

Banitt points out in her book that when she was in her forties she “was shaken to the core with an eruption of PTSD from the bowels of my being.” The author does not dwell on the details of her own case of PTSD in the book. But she now recommends spiritual and holistic modialities such as acupuncture and naturopathic treatment for her patients with PTSD.

Those and many other treatments are part of the “trauma tool kit” that Banitt explores in her book. The author does not directly address PTSD in veterans of the Vietnam War or any other conflict. However, veterans with PTSD should be able to use the ideas, information, and practices Banitt includes in her “tool kit.”

The author’s website is www.insightouthealing.com

The 1970s by Thomas Borstelmann

Sometimes called the “Me Decade,” the 1970s saw the final withdrawal of American combat troops from Vietnam in 1973 and the communist victory there in 1975. In The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton University Press, 401 pp., $29.95) University of Nebraska History Professor Thomas Borstelmann offers a book-length essay in which he examines and analyzes what he calls “a decade of ill repute.”

We often think of the seventies as a decade in which progressive issues such as environmental awareness and women’s, gay, disabled, and Native American rights took big strides. Borstelmann covers those social issues, but also argues that this decade was a time when many aspects of society tilted toward conservative ideas. The “citizens’ faith,” he says, was “transferred from the public sector to the private sector, from government to business.”

As for the Vietnam War, Borstelmann calls it “the foremost issue that had loomed over American life since 1965.” During the early seventies, under the Nixon administration and its war architect Henry Kissinger, the U.S. steadily wound down the effort in Vietnam. In doing so, Borstelmann points out, more than 21,000 American troops died, along with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese military personnel and civilians. This also was a time when military morale plummeted, with increasing incidences of fragging and an epidemic of drug use in Vietnam.Morale in Vietnam and support at home for the war further eroded when The Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, Borstelmann notes.

By the inglorious end in 1975, he says, “most Americans wanted nothing more to do with Vietnam. Gallup polls showed public opinion running 54-36 against even granting refuge to America’s allies, the anticommunist South Vietnamese…. Close the door and put Indochina behind us, was the prevailing sentiment.”

More importantly, Borstelmann writes, the realization that the U.S. “perhaps was not the unique, special, ever-victorious nation its citizens had tended to assume marked a watershed in modern American history, a crisis of identity. Rather than being the  exceptional nation, the United States now appeared to be much like other great nations across time, with some of the same strengths and some of the same challenges.”

—Marc Leepson