Kissinger the Negotiator by James K. Sebenius, R. Nicholas Burns, and Robert H. Mnookin

Lauding Henry Kissinger is the primary purpose of Kissinger the Negotiator, which carries the subtitle tease, Lessons from Dealmaking at the Highest Level (HarperCollins, 448 pp.; $28.99, hardcover; $17.99, paper; $14.99, Kindle). After studying “many of the world’s most impressive negotiators,” the authors (all Harvard professors) classify the controversial Kissinger as “a breed apart.”

The authors—James K. Sebenius, R. Nicholas Burns, and Robert H. Mnookin—are experts in negotiation, diplomacy, and law. They allowed Kissinger to write the book’s forward. In it, he lauds the authors for being the first, to his knowledge, to “seriously analyze” his “most effective strategies and tactics to address different challenges at the table.” This then is the book’s “central topic,” he says, which makes it “unique.”

The authors dissect Kissinger’s most formidable negotiations by beginning with what they call the “forgotten case” of South Africa in 1976. Then they work their way through Kissinger’s involvement in the Vietnam War, with U.S.-China relations, the Cold War, and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. They find “a great deal to admire and several aspects to question.”

The concluding chapter offers fifteen “Key Lessons on Negotiation from Henry Kissinger” and provides a checklist to use if you’re ever bargaining across a table. Which begs the question: What happens when your opponent has a copy of the list?

The checklist rewords old practices and self-evident truths. It reminds me of military school handouts that address concepts of leadership: “Know your job” was the first principle of those schools. This book gives similar advice; to wit: “Develop deep familiarity with the subject of your negotiation.”

The professors add a caveat, however, for leaders who negotiate in areas in which they lack knowledge: “Make sure that your team possesses this knowledge.” Do they mean “Know yourself and seek self-improvement,” which has been taught to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines for ages?

What the authors call the book’s “key lessons,” therefore, are not new. In the situations cited, they were effective because of Kissinger’s skill in choosing and applying established tactics. For example, the authors emphasize Kissinger’s talent for “zooming out” to set strategies and “zooming in” to contend with difficult opponents.

The authors describe the miasma that engulfed Kissinger in making Vietnam War policy. “No,” they say, was the operative word from everybody he encountered: the U.S. Congress and public, North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, South Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Thieu, and Chinese and Soviet diplomats. Even West German officials added to the discord.

For years, Kissinger pursued America’s Vietnam War goals for good or bad despite Richard Nixon’s showing his hand by withdrawing troops starting in 1969. The authors classify Kissinger’s early bargaining position with the North Vietnamese as “weak.” But his determination was formidable, they say, in pursuing tasks bordering on the impossible.

While reading about Kissinger versus the North Vietnamese, I kept thinking that he could have stayed home if a president had targeted B-52s over Hanoi seven, or even five, years earlier.

With more than one hundred of the book’s pages devoted to notes, bibliography, and index, arguments about negotiation techniques fill less than three hundred pages. Nevertheless, the book provides interesting views of history and Kissinger’s role in the action.

—Henry Zeybel

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The Nightmare of The Mekong by Terry M. Sater

In The Nightmare of the Mekong: A True History of Love, Family, and the War in Vietnam 300 pp., $23.50, paper) Terry Sater shares his time in the service in great detail with the reader. The book is filled with personal vignettes and covers his experiences from boot camp to combat and home again.

Using letters he saved from family and friends—along with remembrances from his war buddies—Sater grabs the reader, inducts him into military service, and pulls him along on the journey of young man as he experiences the transformation from civilian to serviceman—from ballplayer and carefree youth to adult life—amid the grit and boredom of war in a foreign nation.

The book is full of details from that time of innocence as dreams were shattered and new ones emerged.  Sater’s tender side shows in his letters home to his girlfriend Judi and to his family. Tedium and boredom leap from the pages—along with longing to be home again.

Sater, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, is a Navy man. Trained in several schools as an electrician, he ends up manning a machine gun on a boat in the Mekong Delta. The writing evokes the fear and sweat Sater and the other young Brown Water Navy sailors experienced.  The smells of cordite and gunpowder seem real as he describes horrific experiences.

For example, this, from his diary entry of Thursday, August 22, 1968:

“ I just came off an op, fifteen or sixteen miles south of Saigon. Found three guys from my class in Riv Ron 11 were killed. That makes six. God, I am in a daze. The snipe on Freddie’s boat was blown off the boat.  They haven’t found his body.”

Sater makes his personal story one any veteran can relate to. He writes descriptively and clearly and follows chronology to a tee. He also briefly addresses how the U.S. blundered into the war in Vietnam.

This is a good book full of details and photographs. It’s a complete recounting of a year in a full life that is dedicated to those who did not come home from that faraway and foreign place.

The author’s website is thenightmareofthemekong.com

–Bud Alley

Detour: Agent Orange by Dale M. Herder and Sam Smith

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For seven weeks, Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran Sam Smith could move only his left eyeball. His paralysis, a peripheral neuropathy disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, developed in twenty-four hours and likely was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange several years earlier while serving as an infantryman in Vietnam.

Smith describes his recovery from the disease in Detour: Agent Orange (Arena, 203 pp. $8.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle), which he co-wrote with Dale M. Herter.

The two men have made extensive use of four hundred pages of notes recorded by Smith’s sisters—Linda, a lawyer, and Diane, who owned and ran a concrete plant with her husband. The women began recording events the moment they arrived at Smith’s bedside in an intensive care unit on Day One. Herder, a former naval officer (and Diane’s husband), monitored the notes in a ship’s log format for the first four months of his brother-in-law’s paralysis.

The phenomenal part of Smith’s ordeal was his ability to use his left eye—his only functioning body part. He communicated with his sisters by moving that eyeball left or right and up or down.

With his mind fully functioning, Sam Smith heard and saw everything that took place near him. Hospital staff members viewed him as a lost cause, however, and did not provide adequate treatment. Staying at his bedside 24/7 in shifts of 12-on/12-off, his sisters eventually obtained a writ of guardianship that gave them control of his medical care. For four months a ventilator, pacemaker, feeding tube, and tracheotomy tube provided the functions that his body was incapable of supplying.

After nearly two years in intensive care, acute care, and rehabilitation hospitals, Sam Smith still had a weakened body and lacked muscle control. He forced himself to become stronger and self-sufficient. His explanation of how he mastered the discipline required to use a wheelchair could stand by itself as a training manual.

He learned to walk and tend to his everyday needs. He got a driver’s license, earned a bachelor’s and part of a master’s degree, married, worked as an engineer for twenty-six years, became a grandfather, and retired.

Sam Smith describes his ordeal more like a reporter than as a victim. He seeks no pity. “Heartrending” is the perfect adjective to describe his life, yet he displays a sense of humor even after describing his direst moments.

From 1961-71, the U.S. military’s Operation Ranch Hand sprayed more than 20 million gallons of herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Agent Orange, which contained dioxin—one of the most toxic chemical compounds ever synthesized—was the most commonly used herbicide.

Detour: Agent Orange gave me a deeper understanding of the dynamics of quadriplegics and other people with acute physical handicaps. They live heroic lives. Smith’s stoicism has influenced me to ignore most of the aches and pains of aging that I often feel.

Agent Orange crippled Sam Smith as surely as any kind of damage inflicted by arms. He survived his war injury because he and his sisters live in a world apart.

—Henry Zeybel

Moscow Airlift by Marc Leibman

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Marc Liebman retired as a U.S. Navy Captain after a twenty-four-year career that included serving in the Vietnam War and in Iraq. During his military career, Liebman flew helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and worked with the armed forces of more than a half dozen countries.

Liebman’s latest career is as a novelist writing political thrillers, of which I am a great fan. If you have read any of the books, you’ll be eager to read his latest opus, Moscow Airlift (Penmore Press, 522 pp. $22.49, paper: $2.99, Kindle).

You’ll encounter many of the same characters in these books, including Josh Haman, which is why this group of books is referred to as the Josh Haman series. The new book starts in 1971 in Laos, but most of it takes place in 1991.

In 1991 Russia was suffering from a shortage of food. On the face of it, Josh Haman arrives in Russia to feed the starving. But why him? He is a warrior and well known for derring-do, such as stealing a helicopter and flying it out of a place that was supposed to be escape proof. So Russians are suspicious of Haman from the get go. What is he up to?

They are right to be suspicious, because he is in Russia to steal or incapacitate some suitcase A-bombs, among other things of that nature. In short order, Haman is on the ground, scrambling to evade truckloads of soldiers who are after him.

Not only are foreign soldiers after our hero, but an evil American REMF general is out to ruin Haman’s career by framing him for a bunch of bullshit infractions that he had to commit in order to save the world from nuclear doom. But Haman failed to dot some “i’s” and cross some “t’s,” which were important to that evil general.

We are left hanging until the last moment on whether Josh Haman hangs onto his career, but we’re told there is a sequel to this book, so I suspect that the informed reader will not be too afraid for his career.

I am eager for the sequel.

The author’s website is https://marcliebman.com\

–David Willson

Letting Go by Abe Aamidor

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His grandfather served in an engineering unit in France in World War I. His father was a paratrooper badly wounded in World War II. But Indiana native Dwight Bogdanovic didn’t follow family tradition and join the military. A 1-Y deferment for scoliosis kept him from being drafted during the Vietnam War.

Bogdanovic is the narrator of Abe Aamidor’s new novel, Letting Go (The Permanent Press, 192 pp. $29.95, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle). Aamidor, a former journalist, is the author of a novel, short stories, and nonfiction works including Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History.

After dropping out of Indiana State University in 1968, Bogdanovic sold encyclopedias. He shared a house for three years with two other guys, one of whom was a Vietnam War veteran named Hank who became a security guard and sped around in a Harley in his free time. Hank was “seemingly uncomplicated,” Aamidor writes, but also would “sit up suddenly in bed in the middle of the night and look around, demand to know who was out there, even call out to his buddies to get their guns.”

Bogdanovic moves from address to address, and job to job, winding up as clerk at a sporting goods store. Relatively late in life, he and his wife, Thetis, have a son, Bertrand, who carries on the family’s martial tradition. The seventeen-year-old enlists in the Army following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I knew all along he’d be going in,” his father says. “It was in the way he’d discuss famous battles in history and in some of the books he’d read, such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien, although neither was a gung-ho, go get ’em, John Wayne flag waver. Quite the contrary. It was just that Bertrand always took the side of those who would stand tall.”

Bertrand conducts covert operations in Afghanistan and receives several medals. On the first page of the novel we learn that he died overseas. The manner of his death remains a mystery: “The government,” Aamidor writes, “would only say he was KIA, killed in action, the bare outline of a dagger by his name in all the official documents.”

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Abe Aamidor

The American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just one concern of Letting Go—to an extent, they represent all combat. Throughout, Aamidor refers to both world wars and the Vietnam War, as well as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and Korean War.

Ultimately, the book examines life in general, and Bogdanovic is an Everyman who reflects on his experiences in a self-effacing way, providing no more than tentative answers to questions that have perplexed philosophers for centuries.

What makes for a rewarding day-to-day existence? Being attentive to one’s thoughts, perhaps—honesty, too, and showing appropriate gratitude. But Bernard’s relentless pursuit of results? Perhaps not.

The author’s website is aamidor.com

–Angus Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

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The late Walter Dean Myers’ acclaimed 1988 Young Adult Vietnam War novel, Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 336 pp., $9.99, paper), is today being featured as assigned reading in high school English, history, and social studies classes across the nation.

While written in the first-person and appearing at first glance to be autobiographical, the story is actually a tribute to Myers’ brother, Thomas Wayne “Sonny” Myers, who died in Vietnam in 1968 and to whom the book is dedicated. It’s told through his eyes.

In the book, names have been changed to protect the innocent. But we easily understand the stories of main character Richie Perry and his comrades who serve in an unidentified unit in Vietnam. Though there are a few mechanical and continuity errors—including weapon caliber and nomenclature—Myers gives us a compact, easy-to-read book.

It’s a story told by a young black man in a predominately black unit in a decidedly racially mixed war. Yet it is a story free of the angst, bitterness, hatred, and racism so often found in other novels dealing with the same theme

Meyers begins as Perry finishes high school and realizes that there is no money in the family for college and that the mean streets hold no future. He believes that the military just might be a way out of town. His adventures through the selection and training processes are chronicled with quite readable dialogue.

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We get almost half way through the book before “fallen angels” are referred to. Myers uses the phrase as a metaphor for the random and senseless loss of life and innocence suffered in the war zone.

Some of Perry’s friends and some new guys are wounded, some go home, some stay and re-up. The story contains a balanced mix of experiences and recollections.

As a high school classroom exercise, the novel provides a suitable exposure to the battlefield and its denizens on both sides—as well as a platform for student discussions, conversations, and learning about family war experiences.

There is the potential for healing and sharing, as well as for enjoying a good story about a bunch of young men caught up in a nasty war.

–Tom Werzyn

Men Come Home From Work… Late by Galen Hobbs

The plot of Galen Hobbs’ Men Come Home From Work…Late  (AuthorHouse, 364 pp., $31.99, hardcover; $19.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) involves two men escaping from two POW camps twenty years after the end of the American war in Vietnam War. Jake, who is in the Air Force, and Crow, a Navy SEAL, meet by chance and join forces to try to evade the Vietnamese Army.

When they arrive in Laos, they are joined by a Marine named Ed and by a woman named  Michelle, who appears to have no military affiliation.

They are pursued by a drug gang who are trying to kill them. The United States Embassy also wants them dead. They head west with many obstacles to deal with, harboring the hope in their hearts that they might link up with their families.

The book begins with an author’s note that the novel takes no position on the question of whether Americans were left behind “knowingly or unknowingly” in Vietnam as prisoners of war. Hobbs says he made up all characters’ names, places, and incidents.

Before the story begins, there are two pages of the something called “19 Rogers’ Rules.” The first rule is, “Don’t forget nothing.” The book does give the appearance of having included everything necessary to make the story move right along.

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This is a complex tale which seems somewhat muddled, but it held my interest.

The book, in essence, does make a case that the Vietnamese kept Americans after the war. However, it failed to convince me that there were any good reasons to do so.

Readers eager for another Vietnam War POW book could do much worse than to read this one.

I read it in one long sitting.

The author’s website is http://www.ghobbsauthor.com

–David Willson