Very few aspects of the American war in Vietnam have not come under the microscope in books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blog posts—or any other medium. One part of the war that has seen little light in the last four decades, though, is the U.S. military’s on-the-ground psychiatric treatment of the troops.
That situation has been rectified, though, with retired Army Col. Norman M. Camp’s U.S. Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War: New Challenges in Extended Counterinsurgency Warfare (Bordon Institute, Department of the Army, 558 pp., $75). This book is no less than the exhaustive, definitive look at that part of the war put together by Dr. Camp, a psychiatrist who served as the CO of the 98th Neuropsychiatric Detachment in Vietnam in 1970-71.
As Dr. Camp shows, the military did a decent job of providing psychological help for the troops in the field. The Army alone sent 135 psychiatrists to the war zone. But as the war dragged on and morale and discipline plunged, too many troops suffered psychiatric and behavioral problems.
As Dr. Camp puts it in the book—the first official history of Army psychiatric and behavior problems in Vietnam—“The U.S. military ultimately sustained a debilitating psychosocial crisis in Vietnam that, in addition to its humanitarian costs, jeopardized combat readiness.”
This worthy book is a long, detailed history of military psychiatry in the Vietnam War. In it, Dr. Camp uses many sources, including the words of psychiatrists themselves, his own experiences, official records, and the testimony of other mental health personnel who served in the war.
An Associate Clinical Professor in the Psychiatry Department at the Medical College of Virginia, Norman Camp also offers a concise history of America’s participation in the Vietnam War, emphasizing the psychosocial impact of the war during its early and later stages.