Top critical review
on September 6, 2013
First, I am a former Vietnam army grunt and published author who has read well over a hundred Vietnam War books. I had heard about Brennan's War, so I finally got a copy. His writing skills are excellent. Unfortunately he failed to use them to their full potential. The writing style is cold, unemotional (except for his struggle with readjustment), and leaves out most of the details readers want to know, such as what happened to so-and-so who got shot. This is fine if you are a rear echelon officer charged with writing after-action reports, but not for a personal memoir. His story is a repetitious string of individual incidents and patrols that amount to a few paragraphs each. Throughout the book I kept thinking, okay, now tell me the rest of the story, but the next paragraph would start a new tale.
He also uses the omniscient point of view, whereby he knows things that in real time he couldn't have known, such as a door gunner being shot on a chopper while he was on the ground in the jungle and on the attack. But he doesn't tell the reader that he is using a point of view normally found only in novels, so after awhile you're wondering, how could he know these things? And this brings us to the issue of credibility. About half way along I began to suspect that the author was embellishing or outright making up stuff for shock value or to make himself and those around him appear bigger than life. By his account, he spent 3 1/2 years chasing NVA in a platoon-sized unit, and inevitably the NVA mostly ran away, guarded large base camps with noncombatants such as truck drivers and typists, dropped weapons and equipment everywhere while running from the Americans, and were killed by the hundreds while the "Blues" rarely suffered a casualty. It also seemed that on virtually every patrol they came back with prisoners. It's just not believable. I served in both the Cav and the 25th Inf. (including the Cambodian incursion) and I think most would agree that the NVA were a formidable opponent who would only withdraw after putting up a ferocious fight. He cites an incident where he claims that in one afternoon in one action the Cav kept sending helicopters into a hot LZ until they had lost 24 ships. If so, I would think that would be a legend of the war that most who are familiar with the literature would be aware of. In another instance he says he and his buddies continued to eat chow in the mess tent as mortars were landing within killing distance and that they were "too numbed by the war" to take cover, and yet on a patrol the next day he talks about how "terrified" they were by the enemy fire they were taking.
I do not question Brennan's courage and I salute him for his service, but this is a book that falls short on many fronts.