Some readers have expressed shock at the gruesome events depicted in Last of the Annamese. They should be shocked. I am. Even after forty-two years, the events I witnessed still make me shudder.
One of the several reasons I wrote Annamese was to tell readers of the horrors of war in general and of the Vietnam war in particular. A fraction of 1 percent of Americans have ever experienced combat. Most have no inkling of the savagery and the terrible damage to the human body that combat inflicts, as described, for example, during Thanh’s visit to the highlands infirmary tent. Nor have they observed civilian casualties of war, like the boy with white phosphorous in his skin in the prologue. They can’t comprehend the anguish that loss of a loved one to enemy fire visits on the human soul—like the despair of the Chinese maid Huong at the news of her husband’s failure to return from battle.
I want people to know.
I’m pessimistic enough to believe that we’ll never stop going to war. But maybe if Americans understand better the ghastliness of combat, they’ll think more carefully before committing our troops to combat.