As the subtitle indicates, Michael A. Bellesiles’s A People’s History of the U.S. Military: Ordinary Soldiers Reflect on Their Experience of War, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan (The New Press, 375 pp., $29.95) looks at all of this nation’s wars through the eyes of those who took part in them.
The author, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University, adds plenty of historical background to the words of his eyewitnesses. The twenty-page section on the Vietnam War mixes a short history of the war and a good sampling of veterans’ voices taken primarily from memoirs and oral histories.
In that section, Bellesiles does not illuminate much that hasn’t been part of the Vietnam War nonfiction literary canon for decades. He hits most of the high—and low—points, with an emphasis on what went wrong. That includes Bellesiles’s takes on morale and fragging; the U.S. strategy of attrition; the inequities of the draft; Vietnam Veterans Against the War and its Winter Soldier hearings; My Lai; the rotation system and the lack of unit cohesion; and post-traumatic stress disorder.