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Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

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by Christian G. Appy

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Christian G. Appy?s monumental oral history of the Vietnam War is the first work to probe the war?s path through both the United States and Vietnam. These vivid testimonies of 135 men and women span the entire history of the Vietnam conflict, from its murky origins in the 1940s to the chaotic fall of Saigon in 1975. Sometimes detached and reflective, often raw and


Christian G. Appy?s monumental oral history of the Vietnam War is the first work to probe the war?s path through both the United States and Vietnam. These vivid testimonies of 135 men and women span the entire history of the Vietnam conflict, from its murky origins in the 1940s to the chaotic fall of Saigon in 1975. Sometimes detached and reflective, often raw and emotional, they allow us to see and feel what this war meant to people literally on all sides?Americans and Vietnamese, generals and grunts, policymakers and protesters, guerrillas and CIA operatives, pilots and doctors, artists and journalists, and a variety of ordinary citizens whose lives were swept up in a cataclysm that killed three million people. By turns harrowing, inspiring, and revelatory, Patriots is not a chronicle of facts and figures but a vivid human history of the war.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Intense and absorbing... If you buy only one book on the Vietnam War, this is the one you want. (Chicago Tribune)

A gem of a book, as informative and compulsively readable as it is timely. (The Washington Post Book World)

The New York Times
"One of the virtues of oral history is its capacity to encompass a wide range of individual experiences and viewpoints," Christian G. Appy writes in the preface to Patriots, his collection of 135 interviews chronicling the Vietnam War. … With the barest of introductions, Appy allows each of his chosen voices to offer an unvarnished recollection -- painful, conflicted, occasionally beautiful -- of an extraordinary time. — Katherine Zoepf
The Washington Post
Christian G. Appy does not tell us when precisely he hit upon the idea of producing a full-fledged oral history of the Vietnam War, but an inspired moment it was. Five years in the making and based on hundreds of interviews with Americans and Vietnamese, Patriots is a gem of a book, as informative and compulsively readable as it is timely. — Fredrik Logevall
Publishers Weekly
When Appy (Working-Class War) says "all sides" he is not exaggerating. It's difficult to think of any group of people who were involved in the many and varied aspects of the American war in Vietnam not represented in these oral history pages. Appy's testifiers include war hawks; peace activists; former Vietcong guerrilla fighters, Vietnamese Communists, Vietnamese anti-Communists; American veterans of many stripes, from privates to generals, medics to infantrymen; POW/MIA activists; poets, novelists, journalists; entertainers; and former government officials from all sides. Appy amply fulfills his goal of presenting a "vast range of war-related memories" in this massive, valuable book. He spent five years traveling around the country and in Vietnam, interviewing 350 people, and included about half of their stories. Oral histories often suffer from loose organization or from voices that pop up confusingly again and again. Appy takes a different approach. Each person appears only once, and Appy gives the participants plenty of room to tell their stories. He also provides on-the-mark, often insightful introductions to each entry, along with brief but to-the-point chapter introductions to set the historical context. The book contains the remembrances of some well-known people, including Gen. William Westmoreland, Gen. Alexander Haig, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Walt Whitman Rostow, Julian Bond, Ward Just, Oliver Stone, poet Yusef Kumunyakaa and writer-activists Todd Gitlin and Jonathan Schell. There are others known mostly to Vietnam cognoscenti (Chester Cooper, Le Minh Kue, Rufus Phillips, Wayne Karlin and Nguyen Qui Duc), as well as many of the voices of just plain folks who experienced the war in myriad ways. It all adds up to a solid contribution to the primary source background of the longest and most controversial overseas war in American history. (May 26) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Vietnam War has been portrayed through many oral histories over the last three decades, but this superb volume is quite possibly the best in a crowded field. Most oral histories draw primarily on the stories of servicemen and -women, but as the subtitle claims, this compilation presents 135 one- to five-page interviews with American and Vietnamese veterans and conversations with journalists, antiwar protestors, doctors, nurses, government officials, and many others whose lives were altered by the war. The book is distinguished by historian Appy's (Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam) skillfully conducted interviews and his excellent introductory essays on all periods of the war, beginning in 1945, when the first Americans parachuted into northern Vietnam, and concluding with the conflict's present uncertain legacies. The author notes that 40 percent of all Americans were born after the war ended in 1975, and his book is ideal for this audience as well as anyone else who wants readable personal accounts of how the war permeated all aspects of society, culture, and politics. An excellent complement to the Library of America's two-volume Reporting Vietnam; highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. [BOMC main selection.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
They wore many uniforms but shared the same hell: a wide-ranging collection of oral histories, à la Studs Terkel, drawn from veterans of the Vietnam War. To make this sprawling anthology, Appy (Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, not reviewed) ranged across the US and Vietnam, eventually interviewing 350 participants in the war (and the antiwar movement). Some refused to speak to him--notably, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, and Nguyen Van Thieu--but most were quite forthcoming, and one of the best qualities of this already exceptional gathering is its thoroughgoing candor. Todd Gitlin, an antiwar activist and historian, recalls, for example, that "everything in our experience contributed to a rather grandiose sense that we were the stars and spear-carriers of history"; Alexander Haig, a chief player in Nixon-era Vietnam policies, admits, "I was very instrumental in the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia. To claim that it was done without legislative knowledge is hogwash"; Time correspondent H.D.S. Greenway remembers that before the Tet offensive "we would write something and the magazine would ignore it if it wasn’t upbeat," but later allowed criticism of the war. Of great value are the words from Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters, though American veterans will likely be upset by some of what they have to say, as when cadre Tran Thi Gung, then a teenage girl, recalls, "As soon as I started to fire, I killed an American. After he fell, some of his friends came rushing to his aid. They held his body and cried. They cried a lot. This made them sitting ducks. Very easy to shoot." Even Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son, joins in, remarking that the Americans werewrong in thinking that Moscow was guiding the war: his father, he remarks, mistrusted the Communist Vietnamese, who in all events were fighting their own war and "had their own ideas." An excellent addition to the literature of the Vietnam War, instructive and moving--but also likely to reopen old wounds. First serial to Military History Quarterly; Book-of-the-Month Club main selection/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection

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Penguin Publishing Group
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5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.31(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

In the United States today, "Vietnam" is shorthand for our longest and most divisive foreign war, and it is often evoked as little more than a political or media clichŽ, a glib reference to a controversial war that ended badly, a time of domestic turmoil, a history to be avoided in the future. For many Americans, the war's meaning has been winnowed down to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., where we stand in silence, filled with emotion, but unsure how to move beyond our private reflections to a broader engagement with this daunting subject. And now that two of every five Americans were born after the fighting ended, a growing number of our citizens draw most of their reflections from Hollywood movies about U.S. combat soldiers that tell us almost nothing of how the war began, why it bred so much dissent, or why it lasted so long.

What might happen to our conception of the Vietnam War if we simply began to hear the accounts of American veterans alongside the memories of Vietnamese who fought with and against them? What if we witnessed those distant jungle firefights through the eyes of people who regarded the battlefield as home and called this epic struggle "The American War"? How might understanding be further enlarged if we listened to former policy makers who participated in the decision making that expanded and prolonged the war, and the generals charged with executing those policies? And what if we took into account the journalists who covered the war, the antiwar activists who tried to stop it, the nurses, medics, and doctors who treated its casualties, and the almost unlimited variety of people whose lives were swept up in this complex, enormous cataclysm that killed some three million people?

These questions took me on a journey through twenty-five American states and the length and breadth of Vietnam-from a Boston suburb to a trailer park in Montana, a hamlet in Cu Chi to a Senate office in Washington, a small mining town in Appalachia to the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, "Little Saigon" in Westminster, California, to the old Saigon now called Ho Chi Minh City.

By the end I had interviewed 350 people. Some are prominent-the four-star generals William Westmoreland and Vo Nguyen Giap; President Lyndon Johnson's national security adviser Walt Rostow; diplomat Nguyen Thi Binh; Pentagon analyst turned antiwar activist Daniel Ellsberg; Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig; senator and former POW John McCain; filmmaker Oliver Stone; and writers Tim O'Brien and Le Minh Khue. But most of the people in this book are less well known. We meet, for example, Henry Prunier, an American who parachuted into Vietnam in 1945 to train Ho Chi Minh's guerrilla fighters; Luyen Nguyen, a South Vietnamese "lost commando" imprisoned in Hanoi for twenty-one years; Roger Donlon, a Green Beret captain who received the war's first Medal of Honor; Sylvia Lutz Holland, a nurse who treated hundreds of casualties including a mortally wounded colleague; Le Cao Dai, a North Vietnamese doctor who operated on patients in a jungle hospital under a small light powered by a bicycle generator; Anne Morrison Welsh, whose husband burned himself to death to protest the war; Barry Zorthian, a public affairs officer who conducted daily press briefings in Saigon; and Luu Huy Chao, a MiG pilot who flew dogfights against American jets in the skies over North Vietnam.

Since the 1960s, thousands of books have been published about the war. Important as many of them are, most focus on a particular topic or group of historical actors. We have memoirs and novels by American veterans, studies of U.S. policy makers, military histories, chronicles of the antiwar movement, and a variety of Vietnamese accounts. Although we almost instinctively divide the war into separate categories, each individual's experience was, in fact, inextricably connected to those of many others about which he or she knew little if anything. Bringing them together allows us to envision the war's full scale and significance.

It is not, however, an easy stretch to make. Even in Vietnam, where the war's history is more evident, it has largely been relegated to museums, memorials, tourist sites, and souvenir shops. On street corners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, children selling postcards also hawk two superb novels about the war-Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War and Graham Greene's The Quiet American-but virtually all copies are in English and meant for tourists. Within an hour of Ho Chi Minh City you can visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels where Viet Cong guerrillas once ate, slept, took care of their wounded, planned attacks, and hid from American bombs. You are invited to scramble through underground chambers specially enlarged to accommodate Western physiques.

Many American tourists I met in Vietnam reported with amazement on the friendliness of the Vietnamese, how apparently lacking in war-related bitterness they are, how successfully they seem to have put the war behind them. These are important, if partial, observations. After all, almost two-thirds of Vietnam's population was born after the Communist victory of 1975. Some Vietnamese worry that younger generations lack sufficient respect for the wartime sacrifices of their elders. A Vietnamese friend told me, with a note of bemused dismay, that Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper conducted a survey in 2001 asking young people to name their idols, and Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, nearly outpolled Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Indochinese Communist Party and virtual father of modern Vietnam.

Stories like that are indicative of the power of the global economy, and in Vietnam's cities it is easy to find other kinds of evidence-four-star hotels, Western fashions, cell phones, and young Vietnamese entrepreneurs, to name but a few. At bottom, however, Vietnam retains a deeply rooted culture with a strong historical consciousness. The great majority of Vietnamese still depend on the land and their families to make a living, and rice farming remains their primary activity. The average monthly income is thirty dollars. Even in the cities family life remains so strong that almost no one lives alone. Family tradition itself is perhaps the most potent carrier of historical consciousness. Every household maintains an ancestral shrine with photographs of parents and grandparents who have died. Because nearly all the men and women in those pictures endured years of war, these shrines are, in effect, family war memorials, constant reminders of Vietnam's embattled past.

Not far from the Cu Chi tunnels tourist attraction is a large war memorial that lists the names of Vietnamese who died only in that relatively small region-about six hundred square miles-while fighting the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. It contains roughly the same number of names as appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Had the United States lost the same proportion of its population as Vietnam, the Wall in Washington would include not 58,193 names, but at least twelve million. Almost every Vietnamese family continues to feel the weight of the war's history.

The complex relationship between present-day Vietnam and its history struck me one day while on my way to an appointment with Vietnamese veterans of the American War, where I would ask questions and my companion, Hoang Cong Thuy, would translate. The streets of Ho Chi Minh City were jammed with every conceivable vehicle-motor scooters, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, and cyclos, all jockeying for position in the morning traffic. With countless horns blaring I had to lean close to catch Thuy's words. We had just turned onto Tran Hung Dao Street, named after a famed thirteenth-century Vietnamese commander. In 1284, three hundred thousand Mongols had stormed down from China to conquer Vietnam. Badly outnumbered, Dao's army had lost several battles. The Vietnamese emperor asked his general if perhaps it would be wiser to capitulate. Dao's response is still well known in Vietnam. "Your Majesty," he said, "if you want to surrender, please have my head cut off first." And so he fought on, leading his troops to victory with a tactic used successfully three centuries earlier by another revered Vietnamese general, Ngo Quyen, against the Chinese. He had his men drive iron-tipped spikes into the Bach Dang River, a tidal waterway near the modern-day city of Haiphong. At high tide, with the spikes submerged, the Vietnamese retreated up river, luring the Mongol boats over the spikes. As the tide began to ebb, the Vietnamese forced the Mongol fleet back onto the exposed spikes, sinking their ships. The enemy was then routed and driven from the country.

Suddenly, the taxi driver slammed on his brakes and a young couple on a motor scooter crashed into our rear. No one was hurt, but a brake light cracked and our driver insisted on immediate compensation. Thuy helped negotiate a settlement and we moved on, looking for topics to lighten the mood. That wasn't hard because, like many Vietnamese, he seemed to prefer talking about the present. We had been together many days before I learned that he had lost two relatives in President Richard Nixon's 1972 "Christmas bombing" of the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and its principal port, Haiphong.

So I was somewhat taken aback when, seemingly out of the blue, Thuy turned to me in the taxi and said, "Do you realize we are the only nation on earth that's defeated three out of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council?" No, I conceded, it had never occurred to me, but the Vietnamese had indeed driven China, France, and the United States from their land. Thuy's question was a spare and striking evocation of Vietnam's remarkable history and one that made me feel for the first time that I was not in a small, faraway country on the other side of the world, but at an epicenter of global conflict, among a people whose history stretches back two millennia and intersects with that of every great power.

For many Vietnamese, the "Vietnam War" is not a single event, but a long chain of wars for independence against foreign enemies that began in the year 40 when the Trung sisters led the first insurrection against Chinese rule. Not until 1428, after dozens of wars, did Vietnam permanently establish its independence from China. French missionaries began arriving in the seventeenth century, and two centuries later, in 1883, France took formal possession of Vietnam, abolished its name, and divided the nation into three parts. Resistance to French rule grew over the next century and culminated in a brutal eight-year war (1946-54). After a major Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu, it ended with a peace settlement in Geneva. The anti-French war had been led by the Indochinese Communist Party but included many non-Communist nationalists. In the final years of that war, the United States provided massive military aid to the French. From that point on, many Vietnamese viewed the United States as an enemy in their quest for independence and the American War as a direct outgrowth of the war with France.

In 1954 at Geneva, the great powers agreed to divide Vietnam temporarily at the seventeenth parallel. The idea was not to create two separate Vietnams, North and South, but to establish the peaceful conditions that would allow for a nationwide reunification election in 1956. However, those elections were never held as the United States stepped in to build and bolster what it hoped would be a permanent, non-Communist South Vietnam. The Communists retained significant support throughout Vietnam, however, and set their sights on an eventual overthrow of the American-backed regime in Saigon, the capital of the newly created country.

For most Americans, Vietnam was not even a familiar name until the mid-1960s when their nation dramatically escalated its military intervention. Few realized the United States had been involved in Vietnam since the 1940s or that it had presided over the creation of South Vietnam. Instead, they believed their country had entered a war already in progress whose origins were mysterious. American leaders claimed that our troops were needed to help a small, struggling democracy in South Vietnam to maintain its independence from external Communist aggression launched from North Vietnam and engineered by the Soviet Union and Communist China, and that if the United States failed to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam, one country after another would fall under the control of America's Cold War enemies. These arguments had great resonance in American political culture in the 1950s and early '60s, and there was widespread public support for intervention in Vietnam that lasted through years of mounting escalation.

Over time, however, ever more Americans came to believe their leaders had misled and even lied to them about the realities of the war. Many concluded that South Vietnam was neither a democratic nor an independent nation, but a corrupt and unpopular regime entirely dependent on U.S. support; that preserving it was not vital to national security and that the United States was itself acting as an aggressor. Even many who supported the objectives of U.S. policy came to doubt whether they were achievable or worthy of the cost. By the end of the 1960s, the war had become the most unpopular in our history, producing an antiwar movement of unprecedented size.

Even so, there was no predicting when the war might end. Although American presidents regularly announced steady progress, the fighting only continued, often on the same ground as previous battles, and spread to battlefields in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Ho Chi Minh often said that the Vietnamese were willing to fight for ten, twenty, even a hundred years, to drive out the Americans and overthrow the U.S.-backed government in Saigon. Such claims were not taken seriously by American leaders who persuaded themselves that eventually they could break the will of the Vietnamese. They never could. Nor did they persuade the American people that they should be willing to wage another ten or twenty years of war in Vietnam.

The South Vietnamese who supported the Saigon government were engaged in a civil war against their own countrymen. A considerable portion of them had allied themselves with the French in the previous war and many were Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist land. Their struggle to build a separate, non-Communist Vietnam cost them more than two hundred thousand lives, but their cause failed to gain widespread allegiance throughout the South. Among those who regarded American support as necessary, few anticipated how massively the United States would intervene, how deeply its presence would antagonize other southerners, and how dependent their own lives would ultimately become on a foreign ally. When the Communists took over in 1975, many who had linked their fates to the United States were not only defeated but abandoned. Eventually, more than seven hundred and fifty thousand Vietnamese made their way to the United States. For those who fled, Vietnam is not just a lost war, but a lost homeland.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Intense and absorbing... If you buy only one book on the Vietnam War, this is the one you want. (Chicago Tribune)

A gem of a book, as informative and compulsively readable as it is timely. (The Washington Post Book World)

Meet the Author

Christian G. Appy holds a Ph.D. in American civilization and has taught at both Harvard University and MIT, where he was an associate professor of history. He is the author of Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam and the editor of the series Culture, Politics and the Cold War.

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Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excelent book that brings the Vietnam war to life from every angle. All sides of the war are shown from the men who were there to the protesters at home, the soldiers from North Vietnam and the 'radicals' from the south fighting a revolution. The emotions are brought to the forefront and one becomes engulfed in the war as if it were the 60s and 70s all over again. A book well worth reading for history and Vietnam.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book because I believed the advertising on the cover that it was a un-biased view of the Viet Nam conflict. Instead I found that it was extremely biased and 95% or more of the people interviewed were media people either during or after the conflict. If you were a communist Viet Nam supporter (e.g. Jane Fonda, John Kerry, etc.) you will love this book. It would have been nice if the author had given some equal time to the American patriots who fought in this conflict. I hope that some of my words here are not taken out of context because they could give the opposite impression as had the author in this book.