Most helpful critical review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2014
Note: Joann's husband here, just so you know it's not her.
I read "Nam" the first time probably 15 or 20 years ago. I'm guessing I probably liked it because I kept it in my collection. Today, about 60 pages into my first re-read, I started whiffing the unmistakable odor of bull turds. Something just didn't feel right. I continued reading. I became utterly convinced by page 70 that Mark Baker's book is pure fabrication.
I've got several reasons for this. First, as a veteran (mid to late '80s, Air Force): When I was in Korea in '87, one of my buddies was a Master Sergeant (Thumper was his name-o) who'd been in 19 years and whose first overseas tour in the USAF was Da Nang in 1969. I got to hear some of his Vietnam experiences. Thumper's stories mostly had the tone of someone who had been consistently and regularly freaked out by what had gone on around him while he was there. I've met a lot of other Vietnam vets, either on a job or at a VFW post, and on the rare occasions that they chose to speak about their experiences it was much the same. The overall sense I get from the Vietnam vets I've personally listened to is that they were freaked out by the ever-present possibility of random sudden death or dismemberment but were even more freaked out by frustration with the idiocy and incompetence of the people that were running the show. I never heard but one Vietnam vet ever speak about killing another human being and he said it felt both amazing and awful at the same time.
Second, as someone who's read a lot of books about Vietnam: Al Santoli's "Everything We Had" and "To Bear Any Burden" are, by far, the best examples of Vietnam oral history to be found. There are several reasons for this. Al Santoli is a Vietnam veteran himself. All the people that contributed to Santoli's books are identified by name and many also have pictures, taken in Vietnam while they were there, included. Santoli's contributors talk about the full experience, the Vietnamese people, the culture, the history, their worries about people back home...and they talk about the war with many, many acronyms and military references. And they're always referring to what date it was (or what season) when something happened. They talk about long periods of insufferable boredom and monotony broken by brief occasional bursts of combat. Contrast this with Baker's book. Baker's not a vet. The "people" that contributed to Baker's book are NOT identified by name or picture. Baker's contributors talk about their physical experiences only. They don't seem to have any empathy. They seem one-dimensional. And they never mention any dates or seasons.
Finally, as a writer (yeah, I write sometimes): Just about a quarter of the way into "Nam", I started realizing that all of Baker's characters are getting their planes shot at as they're landing in Vietnam. They all seem to run off the plane and try to take cover (because Charlie is attacking them in broad daylight all the time). Each character seems to introduce only one piece of military jargon per segment. Every segment also seems to contain some kind of Vietnam cliché ("They called in Spooky and he was standin' on column of tracers", "You could only keep ears on a necklace for a few days because they'd start to rot", -- you get the picture). Baker tries to write a couple of these characters as if they were black but he can't quite keep their patois consistent and believable. They both end up sounding like black caricatures (They sho'ly does). There are other oddities. There's the 80 "mike-mike" mortar. 'Scuse me, but it's an 81mm mortar. There's both of the "black" characters being rushed immediately, and in much confusion, directly upon their ground-fire threatened landings, up to the Siege of Khe Sanh and the beginning of the Tet Offensive respectively. Another guy, although not intended to be "black", gets hit with "incoming" as soon as he arrives at his unit. They all seem to refer to the heat, presence of bugs and the smell of burning feces. Everyone seems to be going everywhere on planes. There should be more helicopters. They all seem to have some sort of clothing mishap along the way too. And it all seems to happen in similar order. Real life is more random. Baker seems to be writing the same story over and over again, making slight (ever so slight) changes to the details.
I'm mostly just shooting from the hip here. I could dig back into this travesty and give a more detailed and better quoted analysis. But why bother? The bottom line is that Baker's "Nam" just rings hokey to me. But, hey, Baker covers this in his introduction when he says, quite clearly: "This book is not the Truth about Vietnam."
Do yourself a favor, don't waste your time on this phony crap. Read any of the following instead: The previously mentioned books by Al Santoli, "The Grunts" by Charles R. Anderson, "Once A Warrior King" by David Donovan, or "Chickenhawk" by Robert Mason. You'll be glad you did.