Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances FitzGerald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grew up in this era and have spent the majority of my life studying this event in U.S. history. And even with my broad spectrum of knowledge on this topic, I’m still occasionally amazed at what a horrendous cluster-screw this whole situation was. As a child of the 60s with an older brother (b.1950) in the house, this event was always present in my home; at the dinner table, while watching the evening news, or reading the paper. We talked about it in school, also.

Frances Fitzgerald’s book is a tough slog, for two reasons: the writing is a bit heavy and the story isn’t a happy one. However, it’s worth the read because this lady covers this era in a way that I had never really encountered in all my studies. Most Vietnam War books are told from the military viewpoint or from the political viewpoint or combinations thereof. This book, however, looks at the situation from ground level. Ms. Fitzgerald goes back centuries in the histories of the Vietnamese people to explain why the U.S. failed so grievously in this situation.

Firstly, the motivations of the U.S. were NOT noble or heroic. Secondly, there was absolutely NO understanding of the Vietnamese people or their culture. This isn’t a military issue. Those in the military just felt they were doing a job that they were sent there to do by the civilian leadership of the U.S. And that’s true, to a point. The most amazing thing to me, though, is how naive, misinformed, idiotic, and often dishonest the civilian leadership (President, advisors, technicians, diplomats, etc.) were during this entire era; three or four different administrations, going all the way back to Eisenhower.

Another unique thing about this book is that it was written in 1971. This lady was there. She was observing in real time, not researching her book from documents 25 years old. The U.S., in an attempt to carry on their “foreign policies” ended up completely destroying the people that they were professing to protect. I didn’t run across any real surprises in this book. I’ve known this history for many years. What was astounding to me while reading it was the same thing that has always astonished me about this event… the utter stupidity with which it was carried out.

Sadly, lessons were not learned. The U.S.’s current involvement in Afghanistan has serious parallels to the Vietnam endeavors of the past.

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About V. T. Eric Layton

vtel57, Nocturnal Slacker

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