And I was taken aback when I came across a half dozen names of people I knew in Vietnam. Hastings interviewed them. I know why Hastings never tracked me down for an interview. My work in Vietnam was still classified when he was researching his book. I could have added rich details to many of his stories, especially about the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
For all his masterful research, Hastings nevertheless failed to see that the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front (NLF) were extensions of the North Vietnamese, completely under the iron control of Hanoi and never independent. In fact, the NLF never existed at all. It was a fiction created by the North Vietnamese communist party.
My only other criticism of Hastings’ work is his consistent negativity. He finds little to admire in the actions anyone involved in the war. That hurt. So many of the men and women I knew in Vietnam were devoted patriots, trying their best to defeat what they considered an evil enemy. Many gave their lives in that endeavor. They deserve respect. I honor them.
Hastings arrives at conclusions almost identical to mine about why the U.S. lost the war. I devoted a series of posts here on that subject late last month. It was a combination of our failure to understand the enemy—his guerrilla strategy and limitless determination and willingness to suffer enormous casualties—combined with the corruption of the South Vietnamese government and our own national hubris. But Hastings added an element I hadn’t thought of: the U.S.’s decision-making was based solely on what was good for the U.S., not on what was good for the Vietnamese or would work in Vietnam. And our leaders too often decided on moves that would improve their electability. That ended up costing thousands of lives. Such an approach was doomed to failure.
Hastings chose the right subtitle for the book: an epic tragedy. Millions died and nothing was gained.