Top positive review
A Must-read for an accurate account of the Vietnam War
on December 29, 2013
Uwe Siemon-Netto’s newest book, a memoir, "Ðức: A reporter's love for the wounded people of Vietnam," is one that perhaps should have been written decades ago, but then it might not have had the warmth and seasoning that come through years of retrospect. Too long the South Vietnamese have been dismissed as having been unworthy of our efforts in the Vietnam War, inevitable to some degree, perhaps, because of the wide racial and cultural gap between our two peoples at that time. A reporter from Germany who as a child survived the horrors of Allied bombings, Siemon-Netto could see the Vietnam War through the eyes of the Vietnamese people, many of whom he got to know and love. From this perspective we get a look at what it must be like to be caught in the crossfire as your country is slowly destroyed. Siemon-Netto’s interesting mix of descriptions of personal activities with those of military and political goings on reminds me of William L. Shirer’s "Berlin Diary."
I was in Vietnam myself in 1969-70, a helicopter pilot in an air cavalry unit. We fought the NVA in the Ia Drang valley near Cambodia on an almost daily basis, as they infiltrated from the Ho Chi Minh trail. During my one-year tour we lost a few people and several aircraft, but the NVA were no match for us in the field. What they and their VC brothers were very good at, though, was terrorizing and murdering the unarmed South Vietnamese peasants who merely wanted to be left alone. Siemon-Netto paints a clear picture of this and wonders how these butchers could achieve hero status in the eyes of many western observers.
We all know how things turned out politically, but the human and cultural tragedy of the war is made real for us by Siemon-Netto. From Duc, the orphan boy in Saigon, to the ARVN in uniform, to the beautiful and sophisticated young women dressed in the "ao dai," Siemon-Netto knows them all. Through the years some of them, like Duc, disappear; many are displaced; others are killed. Among the many images presented by Siemon-Netto, none is more vivid than the sight of thousands of bodies of Tet revelers massacred by the Communists and littering the road near Hue. And there is the mass grave with still hundreds more innocent victims. Whatever one’s politics, one simply cannot dismiss these brutal and inhuman acts perpetrated on a happy and gentle people by a ruthless regime to the north wedded to a cold and cruel ideal. Siemon-Netto’s story brings this home again and again.
Like many of us Siemon-Netto is outraged by the American press’s deliberate decision not to report the truth from Vietnam. But then if Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara can consider the war lost before it’s even well started, why not the press? This is just one of many illustrations of what Siemon-Netto calls the “theater of the absurd.”
If you want to see the Vietnam War through the eyes of a reporter with no axe to grind, I highly recommend this book. I have just purchased a second copy of "Duc" to give to a former student of mine whose grandfather was a colonel in the ARVN. She is half Vietnamese and has heard mostly bad things about the people on that side of her family, and I know this book will make her proud to claim her Vietnamese heritage.