The reason I spent so much time in Vietnam under cover was that I was the best man for the job. I knew North Vietnamese radio communications intimately—I’d been intercepting and exploiting them since 1960; I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam; and I was willing to go into combat with the units I was supporting. I felt it was my patriotic duty to do all I could to win the war. We lost the war. My wife and children were evacuated secretly from Saigon twenty days before the city fell. I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets.
I can’t talk about my work after the loss of Vietnam in April 1975 because it’s still classified. Suffice it to say that I had proven my usefulness, and NSA exploited my ability and willingness to work in dangerous situations in places other than Vietnam. I was comfortable in seven foreign languages. I’ll let my readers guess where I was sent and what I did. Once again, I was all too often an absent father.
While I’m proud of my service to my country, I’m mindful that my children suffered from my repeated and extended absences. All four of them grew into adults I’m proud of. And the two who have children of their own have proven to be better parents than I was.
So writing about Gene, my protagonist, and his son in Secretocracy was deeply personal to me. Gene, who like me grew up fatherless, is deeply shamed that his son, Michael, sees him disgraced and banished by the Trump administration. One of the moments that I wrote in tears is that in which Michael tells Gene that he is proud to be the son of a man who risked everything to do what is right.
So writing of Gene Westmoreland’s relationship with his son was deeply personal for me. My sense is that fatherhood is the noblest and most demanding of a man’s roles. It requires less the manly traits most men cherish—physical strength, dominance, aggressiveness—than the finer attributes of masculinity: love, tenderness, and devotion. Being a father is the final test of a man’s worth.