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Caution: Literature may be hazardous to your mental health
on May 3, 2015
This book invites comparison to All Quiet on the Western Front, but it makes Front look like a stroll in the park. Compared to Duong Thu Huong, Camus, Kafka and Nietzsche seem like weenie whiners. No wonder we lost the Vietnam War, if the North Vietnamese were really capable of going through what the main character in this book endures. When Sherman said "War is Hell," he didn't even have a clue. Duong Thu Huong makes us see what Hell really is; what war really is. I would like to give this book a better rating, but the truth is, I could scarcely bear to read it. No matter how good it is as literature, my litmus test for Amazon ratings is, would I recommend this book to a friend? No, I wouldn't really recommend this to a friend, even one interested in the subject, because it is just too anguishing to read.
As Americans, we bear a terrible moral responsibility for what happened in Indo-china during the 60's and 70's. Over three million North Vietnamese were killed; since most died as a result of bombing, it follows that most were civilians. If you add in the 2 million Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge (who would never have come to power had it not been for our involvement in the Vietnamese civil war), you get 5 million, nearly as many as those who perished in the Holocaust. That is not a popular thing to say; it is not a pretty truth, but alas, it is true.
How the North Vietnamese endured this, the suffering they went through, is almost unimaginable, as Duong Huong makes clear in Novel Without A Name. Yes, Vietnam was a mess; yes, there may have been strategic reasons to fight there; but in the long run, what we did there is a stain on our soul that we have not even begun to realize. Not to mention that our shameful treatment of the returning Vietnam Vets was and is a national disgrace.
At least the Germans have fully acknowledged their national guilt about the Holocaust. If only we would do the same about the deaths we caused in Vietnam and Cambodia.