There have been many good books written about wars and battles, too many to count. Some are merely accounts of the skirmishes that took place in the past. Others bear upon the battles themselves and the men who fought them. And yet, others delve into the people and strategy of wars. But the underlying message of all of these books is the story of armed conflict.
Recent wars have spawned a new generation of books written by participants of these conflicts. They give the reader more of a presence in a war and intuitive look at what war is actually like, or as close as it can be without actually being in it. The reader becomes involved in the author’s adventures. So, what is it that drives soldiers to write about their experiences?
I’m fairly certain that most authors of books detailing the Vietnam War have at least one dominant drive to undertake writing about that part of his or her life: the need for closure. The Vietnam War was such a controversial event in the lives of Americans that divisions still linger in our notion of patriotism. As I point out in my book, Vietnam Again:
“A Vietnam veteran’s life is like an iceberg. What other people see and what they hear is merely that part of the veteran that is visible, the 10% floating on top of the insouciance of society. The other 90% lies beneath the surface, unknown to any except those who have fought in the Vietnam War; unknown even to many of the soldiers of subsequent wars. The majority of who and what the veteran is remains obscure and reticent, unwilling to surrender to the curiosity of others, fearing loss of what little dignity he has left. It is no wonder that these men and women who did their duty, just like the soldiers of World War II, the Korean War, and wars in the Middle East, had been largely disregarded by our country, so used to exhibiting pride in achievement. There was little pride to be had by a Vietnam vet other than the knowledge that he had served his country, even though the public rarely endorsed it.”
It is this feeling of neglect that drove me to write about my tour of duty in Vietnam. In my book, The Other Vietnam War, I give the reader a look behind the scenes of war. For every combat soldier, there are probably eighteen other soldiers to support him. And not all of what I did was combat duty. Every soldier fights two battles. One, of course, is the enemy. The other is himself and the self-justification for being where he is. The Vietnam War exposed this second one more vividly than other wars. This is the war I wrote about. It involved the day-to-day tedium and all of those other duties that are necessary for the conduct of a war.
The book also uncovers some of our strengths and weaknesses as combat solders, and it also brings to light the apparent loss of involvement of the public in the defense of our country. The American society no longer has a stake in our country’s future. No one has to make sacrifices for it except the few volunteers and their families who rise to the challenge of our nation’s defense.
In writing this book, I found a way to absolve myself of some of the guilt I felt upon leaving Vietnam, as glad as I was to get out of that godforsaken country. I’m glad I did. I think every soldier should write about his or her experiences in war. If they don’t, their stories will never be told and will be lost forever when they pass on. And the world will suffer because of a lack of knowledge about these wars and the effects they had on the people they touched.