le 1 février 2004
Although I agree in essence with the official commentaries above, at times the book became tedious with endless accounts of personal accounts of the fire-fight, with little attempt at characterisation in even minor depth. However I may be bewing a bit hard as this may be out of the scope of the genre of the book. This whole battle was one big massacre and Albany a set-piece ambush in any man's language. The book could have been called "How to survive a monumental stuff-up, and a good one" or "Victory on the Ia Drang".
As one who has served his country on Active Service, the overwhelming feeling I had was the sheer incompetence, bravado, self-confidence and arrogance of the senior staff who sent a relatively small number of soldiers, albeit with technology behind them, into the densley forested territory of a determined, well-trained foe (of fanatics) fighting for their homeland and whose numbers and strength were unknown. The reconnaissance was woeful. This happened in both LZ XRay and LZ Albany, the latter phase being an act of total stupidity for which the "fire-power" Americans were renowned in Vietnam. Had not their military commanders ever read The Art of War or von Clausewitz? The tactics of the Americans were innovative, but their strategy was sadly lacking, an observation also made by one of the Vietnamese senior officers interviewed in the book. Hence the real tragedy of the whole affair. The refuge of Cambodia made the war unwinnable, let alone the domestic political instability in Vietnam and the eventually war-weary people in the USA. For all the blood spilled and all the families scarred for life, it was all for nought for the Americans.
The authors talk frequently about Vietnamese "execution squads" killing wounded Americans on the battle field when policing the killing field but says nothing of what the Americans when doing the same, or for that matter what Australian troops did, especially when medical evacuation was not feasible. Perhaps this may have even been humane? Indeed there was no attempt by the Americans, even as a matter of field hygiene, to bury the enemy dead. Another fact missing is what happened to Vietnamese prisoners of war? The allies have always been particularly quiet on this in all the books I have read. I know many met a grizzly end. It also seemed that an Amercian life was worth far more than a Vietnamse one; perhaps a not so subtle racism? The account of American field practice made me cringe...even weapons uncleaned before a battle as well as smoking, singing and other practices as well as being ambushed while having a smoke with weapons not at the ready at all times. These I found very telling and did not seem to produce much reflection by the author.
The use of the word "fanatic" has always been used by one side to describe the other when soldiers of extraordinary tenacity fight beyond the limits of the other side (i.e the Japanese defenders of Iwo Jima). But isn't that what soldiers are ideally trained to do when there are no options. At no stage were the Americans who fought to the death called fanatics, and they were not defending home turf unlike the Vietnamese.
I found the most interesting aspect was the view of the enemy, as history is usually written by the victor (here the victor does not speak English). There was not a lot of sympathy for the millions of Vietnamese families who through a futile war lost loved ones and for the enemy survivors of the battles years later...only a brief paragraph at the end of the book.
There was little if any mention of the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder in the survivors on both sides. I felt this oversight was very telling.
I would love to read a book on the same topic from the other side before it is not too late. This is only happening now with German accounts of WW2 (i.e. von Kageneck). It is only by doing so, can we see the true intellectual tragedy of war which sucks not only the blood of nations into the blind black holes, but produces blinker vision for several generations....until the next war where both sides are allies and trading partners.
This is a fine book but has several deficiencies and blind spots that have still not be noticed so many years after the event.