Vietnam

The Journey, Part Two

I am doing final editing of Seeking Quan Am and there were days – heck there were weeks and months – when I never thought I would be able to say that. It is making me humble and grateful. I’ve written acknowledgements to those who supported the life of this book, but now I want to acknowledge those authors who profoundly influenced this project, a list that constitutes the second part of The Journey in a Book List. Over the course of this project I have read or dipped into a small library of books, but there are a few that I just keep coming back to, for different reasons. (more…)

The Journey in a Book List, Part One

This post is written in response to my offer, in Book Seasons, to provide my book list. Rather than simply post a dry bibliography, I have made the list into a story.

Literally the first book I read about Vietnam was not about the war. I credit this with setting me on a more circuitous path than I would have taken if I had begun with what, by the time I started, had become the ‘war classics.’

So I began with To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur. I read this because John had bought it and he was about to leave for Hanoi where he would, some months later, invite me to visit. This book introduced me to people, to food, and to beauty, and it aroused my curiosity. I was going to need curiosity in the months and years that followed. (more…)

The War Against the Land

Many of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam saw it: the extraordinary beauty of the land they had come to destroy. They took note of the rich natural diversity, lush growth, and dazzling colors – and then called in napalm, dioxin-laden defoliants, and bombs so massive they lifted the tops of mountains. Such measures were “necessary,” it was said. Collateral damage. Acceptable loss. (more…)

Writing War

A year ago I sat on a folding chair in an ordinary meeting room listening to poetry. The room had a table with the usual hospitality contributions – bottles of juices and water, crackers, a tray of vegetables and hummus. Another table held books for sale and a third a display of paper made from the pulped uniforms of veterans.

The event was a reading to celebrate the launch of Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ, a volume whose unassuming size gave little hint of the explosion of power within. Some of the poets were already friends – Vietnam veteran Jim Murphy, Iraq veterans Kevin Basl and Nate Lewis. Others were names I had known for decades but had never met. Jan Barry and W.D. Ehrhart I knew from their work in Winning Hearts and Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, published while the war was still raging. Dayl Wise, co-founder of Post-Traumatic Press, Walt Nygard, Everett Cox were names I picked up along the way and, listening to their poetry, glad of it. (more…)

Book Seasons

Photograph by Dede Hatch

I needed more room on the shelves that hold my books about Vietnam, about the war there, then and now. One by one I asked them – do you need to be here now? I am on a journey with this work and that journey keeps changing, sometimes before I have fully noticed. Holding onto anything that has become dead weight is senseless. If I were trekking to the Arctic it would be life-threatening. Perhaps that is true now as well. (more…)

The Ken Burns Effect

Marines marching in Da Nang, 1965. Associated Press, via PBS

Even after the passage of 50 years time, it is hard to imagine anyone except Ken Burns who would have dared to take on a documentary about the Vietnam War. Love him or hate him, he has stature and respect and a resumé that means that, if nothing else, he cannot be ignored. Already, before it has aired, partisans of the extremes of opinion the culture has carried for all this time, are condemning it for not doing what it has expressly set out not to do – bring the issue to resolution. (more…)

Memorial Stories

Like the great majority of the American population, I have no one in my family who died in military service. Generations of my ancestors served in conflicts from the Civil War to World War II, but no one died in combat. Five years ago I knew only one man who had been killed in Vietnam. The grief of war was an abstract thing to me. I understood Memorial Day, meaning I knew the difference between it and Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, but it still felt like a day of observance that belonged to other people. (more…)