The Vietnam War seems so long ago but the long term effects of this war have, like many before, leaves a lasting legacy. Vietnam was a war that almost fifty years on is still a platform for conflict, regret, damaged lives and rebirth.
Hue was a major battle that redefined so very much, for not only the American forces fighting what many considered a senseless war, but the turning point in the way the American public viewed their civic leaders, Presidents and leaders of the Military Services. The American age of innocence was over.
In 1968 more than half a million American troops were engaged in combat in Vietnam but the war appeared to be at a stalemate. The American Generals refused to accept that it was time to begin withdrawing American forces and announced another ‘phase’ in the war against the spread of Communism.
The pointers were there that things were not going according to plan but it was not until, the North Vietnamese launched a series of well-planned strategic attacks, now considered be part military intervention and part popular uprising across Vietnam, with the major coup the fall of the cultural capital of Hue falling into North Vietnam hands, that caused the most ferocious and deadly fighting of the ten year long war. In this battle that raged for more than twenty four days more than 10,000 people lost their lives, both civilians and soldiers. This battle was considered the most deadly since World War 11.
Mark Bowden has spent many years researching the fine details of the horror and pointlessness of Vietnam, speaking with veterans, re-reading newspaper and press articles written at the time, visiting Vietnam and speaking with children and some of the survivors of Hue, as well as researching many of the records now available to the public.
It is noted in this account of what could be considered the beginning of the end of the American engagement in Vietnam, that Bowden has presented a very clear picture of not only the Battle of Hue, but the double standards, wilful blindness, self-aggrandisement and poor strategies that finally, after seven long years after Hue, much needless waste of lives on both sides, saw the American withdrawal of troops.
What did the war in Vietnam achieve is still, after so many years, open to debate. Communism changed to dictatorship, Vietnam settled into what is today a thriving country of people who live within the confines of system that while not perfect, is flawed as are so many countries political systems but continues on in its own style and culture.
Well documented this is a read that while massive, is clearly and carefully written, presenting recent history through the long lens of time, in a manner that does go a long way to a better understanding of Vietnam and a war that changed so very much politically, in not only Vietnam but also America.
Mark Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo.
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