The Golden Brigade by Robert J. Dvorchak

In World Wars I and II and in the Vietnam War the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division earned the nickname “All American Division” and its 3rd Brigade became known as the “Golden Brigade” based on their combat performances. In the First Gulf War, Journalist Robert J. Dvorchak accompanied the 82nd in Kuwait and Iraq and wrote an Ernie Pyle-style book about it.

Thereafter, mutual admiration between Dvorchak and men of the 82nd’s Third Brigade led him to write The Golden Brigade: The Untold Story of the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam and Beyond (IBJ Book Publishing, 528 pp. $35.00).

With fifty years of experience as a journalist, author, and historian Robert Dvorchak is nearly as famous in military circles as the 82nd Division. He has won many awards for covering high-profile events during the past half century. He wrote The Golden Brigade after interviewing veterans from the 82nd who had fought in the Vietnam War, many of whom had not previously spoken about their war-time experiences. Based on the breadth and depth of its combat reporting, I rank the book a must-read. Containing more 500 pages, The Golden Brigade is a solid chunk of history.

Within days after the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong started their 1968 Tet Offensive, the 82nd deployed from Fort Bragg to the fighting in Hue. An estimated 80 percent of the 82nd personnel already had served a year in Vietnam. Undermanned, the division deployed as a single brigade under command of a colonel. For eight months the 82nd fought to control the countryside around Hue and then moved south for more than a year to protect Saigon against NVA infiltration from Cambodia.

The book contains 62 pages of excellent photographs and maps. Most of the photographs are in color and show troops in the field, which adds a you-are-there feeling to the text.

Dvorchak builds word pictures based on the memories of men of all ranks and backgrounds. He names plenty of names. When introducing veterans, he offers a clever bit of writing by paralleling the men’s activities with the war’s history. Readers unfamiliar with the Vietnam War will find such passages valuable. The technique reveals the pronounced differences of operational thinking at different command levels.        

The stories of these men are captivating. They run the gamut of emotions under stress. While relating them, Dvorchak rounds out the men’s personalities by frequently flashing backward and forward to families left behind and other life experiences.

The stories also touch on controversial aspects of the Vietnam War, such as using drugs and reporting body counts.

As an honorary member of the 82nd, Robert Dvorchak tell us that some 200 veterans of the Golden Brigade attend the unit’s annual reunions. Above all else, he portrays the 82nd as an extraordinary brotherhood of warriors.

For more info on the book, go to the publisher’s website.

—Henry Zeybel

North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive by Stephen Emerson

Stephen Emerson’s message in North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive : Hanoi’s Gamble (Pen & Sword, 126 pp. $22.95, paper; $12.99, Kindle) is that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam could not have defeated North Vietnamese Army invaders without airpower provided by the United States. He repeatedly cites B-52s—which averaged 76 sorties a day during June, July, and August 1972 and carpet-bombed within 600 yards of friendly forces—and Spectre AC-130 gunships as the deciding factors.

Emerson, a Ph.D. in International Relations/Comparative Politics, has written three other books about conflicts in Southeast Asia. He also has authored more than 100 classified and unclassified publications on topics ranging from American national security affairs and political instability to terrorism, African conflicts, and counter-insurgency.

He describes the Vietnam War in 1972 as a now-or-never situation. Four years of talks between American and North Vietnamese diplomats had produced little progress, Emerson says. Both sides felt a proclivity for a military solution to the war. Vietnamization had put the onus on the ARVN to defend its nation with help from a comparatively few American advisers.

Massing its largest concentration of troops, tanks, and artillery of the war, the NVA invaded, and drove the wavering ARVN to the brink of defeat in Military Regions 1, 2, and 3. Until American air power intervened.

An angry President Richard Nixon initiated Operation Linebacker to step up bombing inside North Vietnam. Air Force and Navy fighter-bombers crippled transportation and supply systems by collapsing bridges, cutting rail lines, and destroying stockpiles of war goods. However, the more immediate airpower need required killing enemy invaders on the ground in South Vietnam, which the B-52s and AC-130s did most effectively.

With support from maps, Emerson explains the ebb and flow of fighting during the middle six months of 1972. He presents detailed accounts of the fall of Quang Tri and the defense of Hue, the battle for Kontum, and the siege of An Loc.

To me, the most interesting part of the book he titles “Saigon Counterattacks.” in which the ARVN broke free from the Hue pocket, outlasted the NVA attackers at An Loc, and recaptured Quang Tri to end the Easter Offensive.

Emerson’s research principally relies on American sources. I would have appreciated more input about the thinking of North Vietnamese military and political leaders. Otherwise, North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive is an excellent summation of an averted disaster.

Practically every page of the book contains a black-and-white photograph, and an eight-page gallery in the middle of the book offers color photos. That collection of images ranks among the best I have seen in a Vietnam War book.

For several weeks during the Easter Offensive, I was part of a three-man team on special assignment from Hurlburt Field in Florida to locate NVA 130-mm artillery in a Spectre gunship. I went on two missions to An Loc and found the fighting more frantic than anything I had experienced during my previous year’s tour with Spectre, which included the Lam Son 719 debacle.

A B-52 unloading during Operation Linebacker

At the same time, in-country operations exuded a grim determination. Emerson’s extensive history helped me to realize why our mission failed: We had not seen the big picture all those years ago.

Emerson closes the book with discussions about diplomatic stalemates, Linebacker II, and a post-mortem. He did not need to do so. The ARVN’s poor performance during Lam Son 719 in 1971 and its inability to act independently against the 1972 Easter Offensive foreshadowed exactly what was to come after the NVA rebuilt its forces.

—Henry Zeybel

Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV by Stephen Wynn

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Stephen Wynn examines the gamut of flying difficulties in attempting to solve the Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV (Pen and Sword, 192 pp. $32.95, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle). Said mystery: the disappearance of a Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner on a routine flight from Vientiane to Hanoi on October 18, 1965.

The airplane, which belonged to the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC), carried nine delegates from India, Canada, and Poland who monitored hostilities in Indochina. One of the nine, a sergeant in the Canadian army, was Wynn’s uncle, a fact that significantly stimulated his search for a solution to what happened to the airplane, its passengers, and crew—and to this book.

Wynn uncovered data on the aircraft’s maintenance, its French crew’s proficiency, the terrain it overflew, the day’s weather, the probability of mistaken identity, Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese antiaircraft weapons, and even the insight of a clairvoyant. He also includes an in-depth review of regional politics at the time of the plane’s disappearance.

Although an on-and-off search for F-BELV continued until 2002, no wreckage has been discovered. Nevertheless, Wynn reaches a definitive conclusion as to the plane’s fate, which we will not reveal here.

Following a thirty-year career as an English police constable, in 2010 Wynn began writing books. He has produced more than a book a year since then, six of which he has co-written. Events in England—such as the stories in Pen and Swords’ “Towns and Cities of the Great War” series—had been his principal topic until now.

Solving the Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV repeatedly veers off into discussions about America’s role in the Vietnam War. The tone of Wynn’s comments contains a fatalistic puzzlement over how a great nation committed itself to such a blunder-filled endeavor. He emphasizes the negative effects that the Central Intelligence Agency and Air America had on the progress and outcome of the war. His conclusion: “The biggest influence in South Vietnamese politics wasn’t communism, but the continuous interference by elements of the CIA.”

Along with those bashings and the F-BELV mystery, Wynn provides inside facts on his uncle and the ineptitude of the ICSC, which was established in 1954 to enforce the Geneva Accords following the end of the French Indochina War. It was made up of members from then pro-communist Poland, anti-communist Canada, and neutral India.

For old timers, this slim book brings back an evening’s worth of head-shaking memories—with pictures.

—Henry Zeybel

The Dragon in the Jungle by Xiobing Li

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Xiaobing Li, a professor of history and the director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, served in China’s People’s Liberation Army from 1970-72. His new book, The Dragon in the Jungle: The Chinese Army in the Vietnam War (344 pp. Oxford University Press, $34.95), is rooted in his military experience—along with sixteen years of research on the subject.

Li’s goal is to provide an international perspective to help readers gain a better understanding of the the Vietnam War and China’s role in it. He offers answers to questions about China’s objectives, the planning and carrying out of its fighting methods, why the nation withdrew its forces from Vietnam before the war ended—along with the impact China’s intervention ultimately had on the modernization of the its army.

What this book brings to the discussion is a better understanding of the ground-level actions of the Chinese army in the Vietnam War. It also provides a view of the war through the eyes of Chinese officers and soldiers, obtained by interviews with the author.

Historically, China had once dominated both Vietnam and Korea, and entered the second-half of the twentieth century with the view that both countries were still within its defense orbit. China and Vietnam fought with the Allies against Japan in World War II. The Chinese supported the North Vietnamese in their 1946-54 war against France, known as the French Indochina War and First Indochina War, and then continuing supporting the communist North during the 1955-63 civil war.

The worlds’ two largest communist nations, China and the Soviet Union, openly split with each other during the 1956-64 period,  known as the Sino-Soviet Rift. Each nation saw the other as a rival for the support of the North Vietnamese. North Vietnam always tried to remain neutral in this rivalry.

Early in the American War, also known as the Second Indochina War (1965-73), Chinese troops entered North Vietnam in response to the U.S. Rolling Thunder bombing campaign. Eventually, more than 300,000 Chinese service personnel would serve, mostly in air defense, railroad and highway construction, and combat engineering. China wanted to avoid a major war against the United States, but did not want Vietnam

to be under Western control. China also supported North Vietnam to reduce its need for aid from the Soviet Union.

As the war went on, the Soviet Union began significantly increasing its military aid to the North. China then saw itself as battling two superpowers, the U.S. militarily, and the Soviet Union politically. Eventually, China withdraw all its troops from Vietnam. The nation was dealing with economic limitations, a serious technological gap and continuing rivalry with Moscow, as well as serious concerns of getting into a war with the U.S.

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 “Oppose the American infringement upon the Vietnamese Democratic Republic!” – February 1965 Chinese Propaganda Poster

The Dragon in the Jungle is an especially important book because, while it focuses on China’s military, it also analyzes the military actions of the U.S., Soviet Union, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. That’s a lot of ground covered.

Xiaobing Li frequently uses newly available sources to take this deep dive into the Chinese military’s strategy and planning, tactical decisions, and problem-solving efforts. This is a major work that unearths new and important information about China’s role in the American war in Vietnam.

–Bill McCloud

Gators Offshore and Upriver by David D. Bruhn

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Gators Offshore and Upriver: The U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Ships and Underwater Demolition Teams, and Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers in Vietnam (Heritage Books, 418 pp., $40) is the latest book by David Bruhn, a retired U.S. Navy commander who served on active duty from 1977-2001 and has written more than a dozen books on U.S. Navy military history. Like On the Gunline, Bruhn’s previous book, Gators Offshore and Upriver contains an excellent historical account of the U.S. Navy’s role in the Vietnam War.

Gators Offshore and Upriver focuses on the 142 amphibious ships known as Gators that took part in many engagements and operations during the war. That includes the long-running (1965-73) Operation Game Warden, the 1968 Tet Offensive, Operation Sealords (1968-71), and the 1970 Cambodian Incursion.

The Gators are World War II-era landing ships that were returned from mothballs to serve in the war in Vietnam. They performed many roles in-county, including as mobile support bases. They also delivered vital cargo to troops and, later in the war, placed mines to protect ports as part of the blockade of 1972.

The men on these ships faced many dangers, including ambushes and sneak attacks by swimmer-sappers. These enemy soldiers swam through the Brown Water rivers, and placed explosive charges on the hulls of the Gators. One such attack occurred on the USS Westchester County on November 1, 1968, near My Tho, when Viet Cong divers managed to attach two huge mines to the hull. Twenty-five sailors were killed and twenty three wounded in the resulting explosion.

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The USS Westchester County (LST 1167)

In the book Bruhn also documents the role of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers, showing how they helped diffuse the damage of the swimmer-sappers. In the Postscript he goes into detail documenting the important role of that unit.

This book is meticulously researched and includes 190 photographs, maps, and diagrams. I recommend it, as well as On the Gunline, to anyone serving in the Navy during this period as well as those interested in Vietnam War and U.S. Naval history.

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

Mark S. Miller

Killer High by Peter Andreas

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The six drugs referred to in the subtitle of Peter Andreas’ Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs (Oxford University Press, $29.95, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle) are alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, opium, amphetamines, and cocaine. Andreas, the John Hay Professor of International Studies at Brown University, begins by stating that he chose to study those substances because they have had the most intricate connections to warfare.

Andreas delivers a deeply researched, elaborately detailed, and carefully nuanced analysis of the relationships of war to drugs and drugs to war. Plus, Killer High is richly illustrated and moves the reader along with great energy from one surprising insight to the next.

For the reader who enjoys discovery, Killer High offers something on nearly every page. We learn, for example, that:

  • The Code of Hammurabi refers to twenty different kinds of beer.
  • Per capita alcohol consumption in Colonial America was twice what it is today.
  • At the height of the tsarist empire, alcohol taxes funded one-third of the Russian state budget.
  • The German advance in World War I was halted by French and African troops determined to defend vast caches of champagne, with which they were paid.
  • In 1917 alone, the French army consumed 1,200 million liters of wine.
  • Young William McKinley braved enemy fire to haul vats of hot coffee to exhausted Union troops at the Civil War Battle of Antietam, the beginning of his rise in politics.
  • U.S. troops consumed 75 million pounds of coffee during World War I.
  • The Blitzkrieg assault that collapsed the French Army so rapidly in May 1940 owed its success in large part to troops who were popping amphetamines, giving them the wherewithal to fight for four days straight with no fatigue.

The greatest gift of Killer High is not thousands of interesting facts, however, but the overriding themes that they support. One is that prohibition nearly always fails. Tsar Nicholas II’s efforts to stop vodka production after his drunken army’s defeat by Japan in 1905, for example, led to his bankruptcy. American Prohibition gave organized crime a boost. Mao Zedong closing down opium production in China chased the trade to the Golden Triangle before war caused production to shift to a Muslim country where it was little-known. That would be Afghanistan, which now produces 93 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. Making drugs illegal, Andreas shows, leads to a frustrating game of global whack-a-mole.

Another theme is that political ideology distorts our understanding of the economic forces behind the drug trade, especially when patterns of drug use go back centuries. When the collapse of the USSR in 1989 “deprived us of an enemy,” Andreas writes, political leaders of both parties turned the world’s best-equipped and trained military to chasing drug cartels and drug kingpins with little understanding of the intricacies of the problem.

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The pause that refreshes: U.S. troops in Italy in 1944 chugging Coca Cola

Controlling the drug trade “from the source” often ends up with supporting political elites that profit from the trade, as well as training and arming military and police who become traffickers. Along with hunting down peasant militias who may be inspired by communist or terrorist ideologies, but have little connection to illegal international commerce. The line between good guys and bad guys, which is necessary for effective military action, disappears when great wealth is generated through drug-dealing.

As long as the farmers in Afghanistan depend on growing poppies and those in Latin America rely on growing coca leaves, drugs and war, Andreas note, will continue to be codependent and addictive.

Andreas addresses the Vietnam War only sporadically, but does point out the role drugs played in that conflict. He notes that our war was the last during which the U.S. Army supplied free cigarettes in C-Ration packs and almost-free ones at PXs–at the came time that cigarette packs came with labels warning that smoking caused cancer.

Amphetamines, he notes, were “passed out like candy,” mostly in the form of more than two million Dexedrine pills, as well as what was readily available on the black market.  The Army alone ingested more amphetamines in Vietnam than all Allied forces combined did during World War II.

Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese military commanders made a very high-grade heroin from the nearby Golden Triangle available to American troops. In 1973, the Pentagon estimated that about a third of the troops in coutnry were using it. President Nixon began the nation’s first “war” on drugs, in part, to keep what he called our “crippled generation” from bringing their drug habits home and destroying the nation. He blamed the communists for the epidemic of addiction and blamed drug-addled Americans for not “winning” the war.

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Vietnam War smoke break

Alcohol, a legal drug, took a much greater toll on Vietnam War veterans after the war—mainly, according to Andreas, because only expensive, low-grade heroin was available in the States, while alcohol was legal and comparatively cheap.

Killer High opens the door to understanding how we got where we are in a most convincing and entertaining book.

–Jack Nolan

The reviewer, with served with the 525th MI Co (JTAD) in the Vietnam War, is the author of novels Vietnam Remix and There Comes A Time.

 

Contested Territory by Christopher Lentz

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A recurring theme of American participation in the Vietnam War is the inability to distinguish between friendlies and enemies, most often identified as between farmers and Viet Cong. This monocentric perspective belies the diaspora of ethnic, religious, and class distinctions in both North and South Vietnam.

In Contested Territory: Dien Bien Phu and the Making of Northwest Vietnam (Yale University Press, 352 pp., $35, hardcover and Kindle) Christopher Lentz proffers a geographic and sociopolitical history of the Black River borderlands, the former French colonial territory that became Northwest Vietnam. Focusing roughly on the First Indochina War, from 1945-60, Lentz uses the eponymous battle of May 7, 1954, to explore how political, cultural, and militaristic processes—fueled by anti-colonial liberation—both naturally and coercively gave rise to an independent Vietnam.

Lentz is an assistant professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He expounds on his dissertation in Contested Territory, a thoroughly researched tome utilizing archival resources from France and Vietnam, as well as first-hand fieldwork in the area.

Lentz starts his narrative with a provocative claim: “The Battle of Dien Bien Phu changed the world.” This is a thesis worth exploring, but it is not the focus of this book.

Contested Territory is a geographic history of the Dien Bien Phu area, incorporating an exhaustive examination of the political economy of the Black River and its complex ethnic and cultural mores. The book is divided into six chapters. The first and last use an unpublished memoir of a prominent political leader to examine his thesis, while the middle chapters focus on the military operations of the Northwest Campaign (1952) and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1953-54) to analyze the political and social transformations of the area.

An international image of national liberation, the victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu is among the most important symbols in modern Vietnam. But its territorial nationality—its very essence as part of Vietnam—was in doubt before and after battle.

The most powerful and populous of the more than twenty ethno-linguistic groups—among them the Hmong, Dao, and Khmu—were the Tai, an ethnicity more tied to neighboring Thailand than to Vietnam. The Viet or Kinh, who made up the majority in the emerging Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam, consisted of less than one percent of the population in this section of the country.  Lentz carefully examines the concept of the muang, the prevailing political and economic system that organized the society.

Incorporating this area as part of Vietnam was “an act of imagination and aggression,” as the coercive nationalization of labor and exploitation of the spirit of anti-colonialism effectively made the communist state. For the poor and vulnerable, it was an Orwellian existence—“meet the new boss, same as the old boss”—as the Tai and Kinh used political hegemony and bureaucratic corruption to mobilize and control human and natural resources.

In the aftermath of the battle, an indigenous millenarian movement named “Calling for a King” was violently suppressed by DRV. Hanoi viewed the Northwest with the same lens as it did the South.

Implicit in the book are the lessons not learned by the United States in its war in Vietnam. The lesson from Dien Bien Phu was not the danger of garrisoning large troops in remote areas, a focus that led Lyndon Johnson and Gen. Westmoreland to overstress the importance of the fighting at Khe Sanh in 1968, but on the logistical and transportation capabilities of North Vietnam.

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Viet Minh fighters at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu

This an academic book aimed at fellow scholars, and the narrative occasionally becomes unwieldy. There are great books about the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, among them Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place, Kevin Boylan and Luc Olivier’s Valley of the Shadow, and Martin Windrow’s The Lost Valley. But Christian Lentz provides an invaluable resource that zeroes in on the people who struggled before, during, and after the battle.

Contested Territory also erodes North Vietnamese propaganda claiming that Vietnam is a unified nation, manifesting its violent assemblage. The historiography of the Vietnam and Indochina Wars is enriched for his efforts.

–Daniel R. Hart

The Blackhorse in Vietnam by Donald Snedeker

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Donald Snedeker’s The Blackhorse in Vietnam: The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam and Cambodia, 1966-1972 (Casemate, 336 pp., $34.95), as its title indicates, is a history of that unique fighting unit in the Vietnam War. The author, Don Snedeker, served as an officer in the Blackhorse Regiment in Vietnam after arriving in country in December 1969. Later, in 1974, he was the unit’s regimental training officer, an intelligence officer, and commander of Bravo Troop. Today he serves as the historian for the 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia.

This book contains a very detailed record of the Blackhorse’s experiences in the war. It includes many diagrams, three appendices (“History of the Unit,” “Firepower Comparison,” and “Blackhorse Medal of Honor Recipients”), along with a list of sources, end notes, and an index.

The 11th Armored Cavalry’s Blackhorse regiment arrived in Vietnam in September, 1966 and soon faced many challenges, mainly how to fight a jungle war with armored forces. The enemy was the biggest challenge, but so was the terrain, monsoonal rains, and an institutional bias in the Army that the fighting in Vietnam should be an infantryman’s war. “Hunting Viet Cong with tanks is like chasing a fox with a tractor,” said an unidentified “high-ranking” officer that Snedeker quotes.

After undertaking many successful missions, however, the troops of the 11th Cavalry Regiment showed they could operate effectively on and off roads, in the thick jungles, and during the monsoon seasons.  By the spring of 1967, Blackhorse armor was considered an essential part of the Army’s Vietnam War combat effort.

Former Blackhorse troops at Veterans Day 2013 wreath-laying at The Wall 

The Blackhorse in Vietnam details many of the battles that the 11th was involved in. That includes Attleboro, Cedar Falls, Junction City, Tet, Mini-Tet and Operation Montana Raider. Snedeker includes many interviews with former Blackhorse troops that augment his battle descriptions.

Donald Snedeker wrote the book to preserve for history the actions of the 20,000 members of the Blackhorse Regiment in the Vietnam War. The subject is meticulously researched and will be of interest to historians and to anyone who served with the Blackhorse.

–Mark S. Miller

Crooked Bamboo by Nguyen Thai

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Thank God for young historians who work with aged diplomats on their memoirs dealing with important world events. A short while ago, I read Japanese ambassador Saburo Kurusu’s The Desperate Diplomat, an account of his dealings with Americans in Washington during the weeks immediately prior to World War II. His book might never have been available for Western eyes without help from Masako R. Okura, a professor who finished editing it after a much-older historian died on the job.

Which brings us to Crooked Bamboo: A Memoir from Inside the Diem Regime (Texas Tech University Press, 272 pp., $29.95) written by ninety-year-old Nguyen Thai and edited by Texas Tech University history professor Justin Simundson. Thai was something of a favorite adopted son of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and was privy to a deep-inside look at his government. The book confirms that Diem’s regime overflowed with problems and should have collapsed after the first coup against it in 1960, rather than survive to 1963.

Simundson accepted the task of studying hundreds of pages of free-flowing thoughts and observations Thai made over many decades. As the Vietnam War historian Larry Berman notes in the book’s forward, Simundson’s prodigious editorial skills give shape to insights on crucial points in history. He is exceptionally helpful in introducing personalities and explaining their roles. 

Thai’s recollections fill gaps in the history of Diem’s misdirected leadership, and they also recreate Thai’s personal life. Simundson closely consulted with Thai while editing his notes and frequently relied on facts from Thai’s Is South Vietnam Viable?, a 1962 anti-Diem book published in a limited edition in the Philippines and nearly inaccessible today. Crooked Bamboo contains only two pages of end notes.

By 1959, corruption and authoritarianism in Diem’s government was overwhelmingly evident. The gross mismanagement had started within two years of his election in 1955. As Vietnam Press’s Director General, Thai’s close relationship with Diem compelled him to compromise the truth behind political maneuvers. 

Three chapters constitute the heart of the memoir. “The Convincing Test—Elections of 1959” shows how a rigged count kept Diem and his cronies in office. “The Aborted 1960 Coup D’etat” analyzes the political implications of in-fighting between Diem and high-ranking military officers that brought only minor changes to the government’s structure. Diem learned nothing from the unsuccessful coup, Thai says.

“Diem’s Overthrow” and assassination caused the most-bitter disappointment in Thai’s life. Thereafter, it was every man of rank for himself.

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Justin Simundson & Nguyen Thai

The book leaves many questions unanswered. For example: Who—Vietnam or America—was responsible for the war’s outcome? How important was democracy to the Vietnamese? Who should have replaced Diem?

Thai’s inconsistencies reveal the difficulty of resolving the Vietnam War dilemma even today. Simundson intensely examines these issues and others.

Crooked Bamboo is a great source for young people to begin studying South Vietnam’s early tragic political unrest—and for old timers to recall a once-familiar past.   

—Henry Zeybel

The Campaign to Impeach Justice William O. Douglas by Joshua E. Kastenberg

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One of the most powerful politicians in the United States. One with a sordid personal life replete with multiple marriages and affairs and questionable financial dealings. One who regularly violated the norms and mores of his office with his outspokenness. One abhorred by his critics, but loved by his followers. One brought before the House of Representatives in a strictly partisan manner on impeachment charges.

Donald Trump? No—in this case, it’s the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. And the impeachment attempt came in 1970 during the Vietnam War.

Joshua Kastenberg, a retired Air Force officer and professor of law at the University of New Mexico, explores the 1970 Justice Douglas impeachment attempt in The Campaign to Impeach Justice William O. Douglas: Nixon, Vietnam, and the Conservative Attack on Judicial Independence (University Press of Kansas, 336 pp., $42.50, hardcover and e book). This well-researched and accessible book is the first in-depth account of this episode. In it, Kastenberg proffers a timely reflection on the political and constitutional implications of impeachment.

In the spring of 1970, Michigan Republican Rep. Gerald Ford, at the behest of the Nixon White House, called an impeachment investigation into Justice Douglas based on allegations of financial impropriety, the undermining of national security, and violations of judicial ethics. The House embarked on a six-month investigation that ultimately cleared Douglas.

A vote was never taken, and the proceedings never captured the public’s imagination. Tepid news coverage faulted Douglas for undermining his credibility, but also criticized Ford and Nixon for an unnecessarily malicious attack on his the justice’s integrity.

Kastenberg expertly details the players, the alliances, and the political machinations that compromised these events. In 1969, at risk of impeachment due to his financial ties to a dubious foundation, Douglas protégé Justice Abe Fortas resigned from the Court. The Senate rejected two Nixon picks to fill the Fortas seat, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harold Carswell, both Southerners with troubling Civil Rights records. Conservatives in Congress turned their enmity to a Douglas, a liberal, unconventional, and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War whom they had previously threatened with impeachment three times.

Kastenberg’s thesis rests on the context of the impeachment allegation. Two weeks after Ford’s allegations, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops moved into neutral Cambodia, sparking outage and protests. Kastenberg posits that the Douglas impeachment was meant to be a public distraction from the invasion. If the incursion went poorly, Douglas would be an ideal scapegoat. Further, Kastenberg writes that Ford’s allegations were a “threat to the efficacy of the nation’s constitutional institutions,” mainly the sanctity of judicial independence.

But Kastenberg does not adequately proved a direct link existed between the impeachment and the Cambodian incursion. He also describes the other reasons for the impeachment as nefarious, but they may be best categorized as politically distasteful: conservatives’ abhorrence of Douglas, a desire to reverse the changes of the Warren Court, and a need to protect Nixon’s policies.

Kastenberg does show that Douglas was in many ways his own worst enemy, providing his opponents with multiple reasons to impugn him. The Constitution does not explicitly state that federal judges serve for life, but that “they shall hold their offices during good Behavior.” While Ford was incorrect when he stated that impeachment is solely a political—not constitutional—process, the two are not, as Alexander Hamilton pointed out, mutually exclusive.

Impeachment is the only mechanism in which the powerful can be held to account. Kastenberg misses the irony that Douglas, at times contemptuous of stare decisis, relied on the history and rarity of judicial impeachment as his primary defense.

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Prof. Kastenberg

In the end, Kastenberg’s charges of Ford and Nixon endangering constitutional institutions and American democracy itself are hyperbolic because the system worked, and the case was quietly dismissed.

Nevertheless, this is an important, provocative, and meticulous book, a welcome addition to the history of the Court—and of contemporary America.

Daniel R. Hart