Not a Gentleman’s War by Ron Milam

Ron Milam’s Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War (University of North Carolina, 236 pp., $36.95), which was published in 2009, was written in reaction to the widespread belief that infantry lieutenants, such as the infamous William Calley (who presided over the My Lai Massacre), performed so badly in the field that they were one main reason for the outcome of that war.

Milam—a history professor at Texas Tech University who served as an Army infantry adviser with the Montagnards in Vietnam—combed through Army and civilian reviews of junior officers’ leadership, conducted extensive interviews with former Vietnam War infantry lieutenants, and read many oral histories and diaries. That research, which Milam used as the basis for this book, brought him to a different conclusion.

As he puts it: “the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties with efficiency and aplomb, and the criticism afforded them after the war contrasted with the reports and evaluations made during the war.”

Author Ron Milam

Milam’s thesis puts him squarely in the camp that believes that the Calley-led My Lai Massacre was not the norm in the Vietnam, but was an egregious aberration. The “evidence,” Milam says, “shows that there was not ‘a thousand Calleys’—there was only one.”

Among other things, Milam writes about Vietnam War junior Army officers who were very un-Calley-like. That group includes Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot who landed amid the carnage of My Lai and saved the lives of a group of Vietnamese women and children; Lt. Robert Ferguson of the 101st Airborne Division, who received a posthumous Distinguished Cross for his courage under fire in 1967; and Lt. Rick Rescorla, one of the heroes of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley.

—Marc Leepson