The Crazy War by Karl Eskelund

The Danish journalist Karl Eskelund (above, with his wife and daughter), who died in 1972, wrote a series of books in the 1950s and 1960s reporting on his travels to exotic places around the world. That included The Crazy War: Travels in Vietnam, which was published in Danish in 1966, and now is available for the first time in an English translation by Fred Diehl (What In the World Publishing, 118 pp., paper)

The book is a short, reportorial look at what Eskelund found during a 1965 visit to Vietnam. Eskelund had lived in Saigon during the early 1940s, and on this extended return trip revisited people and places he knew. He also received U.S. press credentials and traveled throughout the country observing the American military and our South Vietnamese allies in action.

Eskleund’s report jibes in many respects with what other observers found in Vietnam in 1966: an ineffective South Vietnamese Army, a corrupt South Vietnamese government, and a U.S. military futilely engaging in a war that resembled the First Indochina War, which France unsuccessfully waged against the Viet Minh from 1945-54.

“The United States seemed not to have learned from the bitter experience of France in Indochina,” Eskelund notes. He then quotes a Vietnamese friend, who told him: “The French lost because they knew how to conduct only conventional war, which is ineffective against partisans. When American military advisers arrived here after the defeat of the French, they immediately began to train the Vietnamese forces…for conventional warfare!”

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—Marc Leepson