The American Experience in Vietnam

The American Experience in Vietnam: Reflections on an Era is a heavily illustrated, magazine-format coffee-table book first published in 1988. It’s a distillation of Boston Publishing Company’s big-selling, twenty-five volume, in-depth examination of the Vietnam War that came out in increments beginning in 1979—the one, you may remember, that was marketed and distributed by Time-Life Books.

A revised and expanded edition of the single volume edited by two of the writers of the series—the historians Clark Dougan and Stephen Weiss—recently has been published (Zenith Press, 336 pp., $40). The new book contains updated material, including a preface by Vietnam veteran Nick Mills, who wrote one of the volumes of the original series.

The heart of the book is a well-written, objectively presented history of the war that includes a lot of military history—“the major military operations, heroic firebase defenses, and bloody mountaintop battles,” as Mills puts it.

This latest edition also contains new material, mainly on the war’s legacy among Vietnam veterans.

—Marc Leepson

Four Decades On, Scott Laderman and Edwin A. Martini, Editors

Four Decades On: Vietnam, the United States, and the Legacies of the Second Indochina War (Duke University Press, 334 pp., $89.95, hardcover; $24.95, paper) is a collection of essays by historians, anthropologists, and literary critics dealing with—as the subtitle indicates—a common theme: post-1975 events surrounding the Vietnam War.

Editors Scott Laderman (a University of Minnesota history professor) and Edwin A. Martini (a University of Western Michigan history prof) refer to the what most Americans call the Vietnam War as the Second Indochina War because it was “fought by multiple entities on multiple fronts from at least 1961 to at least 1975.” Said war, they say, was a “lengthy and complex struggle that will long serve as a defining moment in the histories of many nations and, indeed, the world.”

In keeping with the prevailing view of the history establishment, the book contains essays that deal, mostly in an academic way,with varied aspects of the war—not just the American experience. So we have —among other things—entries that look at the building of the new communist nation of Vietnam in 1975; the evolution of the so-called postwar “Vietnam Syndrome” in the United States; the transnational legacy of Agent Orange; and the birth and growth of the POW/MIA movement.

The latter essay is from the word processor of long-time POW/MIA observer H. Bruce Franklin, the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University, Newark. Franklin is the author of M.I.A.: Or Mythmaking in America, a strongly worded critique of the POW/MIA movement. In his essay in Four Decades On, Franklin zeroes in on the “POW” part of the movement, arguing that “there is no rational basis or evidence for the belief that Americans were kept captive in Viet Nam after the war.”

Franklin says that lumping the prisoners in with the still-missing was a “quite deliberate” move on the part of the Nixon administration. It was “arguably the cagiest stroke of the Nixon presidency,” Franklin says, “forever linking ‘POW’ and ‘MIA.'” Why has this “myth of imprisonment,” as Franklin calls it, taken hold? Because, he says, it is “a myth that draws deep emotional power by displacing into Viet Nam the imprisonment, helplessness, and alienation felt by many Americans in an epoch when alien economic, technological and bureaucratic forces control much of their lives.”

In addition to Franklin, Laderman, and Martini, the contributors are Alex Bloom, Diane Niblack Fox, Walter Hixson, Heonik Kwon, Mariam B. Lam, Ngo Vinh Long, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Christina Schwenkel, and Charles Waugh.

—Marc Leepson


My Grandpa’s War by David Volk

The narrator of David Volk’s children’s book My Grandpa’s War (CreateSpace, 36 pp., $10, paper) is a ten-year-old girl who is nicknamed “Sarge” by her Vietnam veteran grandfather.

This is a sweet, positive book, which deals with the painful legacy of the Vietnam War in a personal way—the necessary amputation of grandpa’s leg due to war injuries he never overcame. At the end of the book, he is back out on the dance floor with grandma.

The author—who was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam War as a 101st Airborne Division combat photographer—tells us that Rick Eilert, the former Marine and the author of For Self and Country, was the model for the grandpa character.  Rick Eilert recently died at the age of 64 of a heart attack and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Jason Folkerts’ illustrations are effective and work well with the moving text of this children’s book. I recommend this book for elementary school library collections.

The author’s website is He is donating a portion of book sales to veterans’ groups.

—David Willson