The definitive oral history, told from all sides, is exactly that. Before I decided to take on this tomb of highly depressing and extraordinarily knowledge, I had to find the right time to read it. Having dipped in and out over the course of a few weeks, I decided that it needed my full attention and I had to be in the correct frame of mind to take it on, as what lay ahead waiting for me was a dark and depressing moment, if not the most corrupt and depressing moment in western history.
Like many boys that had ever been given a toy gun for his birthday, I have always had a fascination with war. I even tried to make a career out of it by joining the army when I left school at 16. My army career, much to my mother's delight was short lived, having only lasting 5 years. Nothing remotely interesting happened to me. I am sure that this spell of camouflage wearing, wall climbing, getting shouted at by moustached closet homosexuals, all added in furthering of my fascination with war; that glorious elusive rite of passage that has been constantly sold to me.
Vietnam, although an American war (as it's actually coined by the Vietnamese) fascinated me the most. The jungle, the helicopters, the swagger that the American soldiers' had built into their stride having being the youth of America's culture bomb decade of the 1960's. But also what drew me to this book, was the sub title; The definitive oral history, told from all sides.
By non-fiction war accounts, it's as big as they come, 553 pages thick! However, each section can be covered in a matter of days and the interviews, easily in one sitting. Nevertheless, this is a tough book to read. What made it such a challenge, was how each interview stays with you long after you're read it. One of my biggest mistakes came after reading an entire chapter, one late afternoon, only then to attend a friend's house party. All I could think and talk about was this book and how a man's life wasn't valued over that of the price tag of a US Army helicopter. Many other harrowing injustices played out by both sides were also with me constantly. I feel now that I never read this book, I lived it.
I thought I knew a lot about the Vietnam War before picking it up. All I'd really known was the bleak world that Coppola and Stone had presented. What I have learnt has horrified me. It was a time that will forever be a stain on a country's history that prides itself, so ironically, on free speech and liberty.
Christian Appy is perhaps the first of his kind to produce such a piece of excellent documentary. Interviewing what seems like everyone involved in the war, from Joint Chiefs of Staff to an air hostess chartered to usher in the green horned soldier and then to cart out the transformed, beaten boys of some of America's most poverty stricken areas. You'll also find accounts from doctors, exiles, soldiers, protestors and even the long dead from every side (there was more than two sides) of the conflict.
You'll enter each interview dumbfounded from the last. Some accounts are very hard to read and you're often left with a sense of hatred toward the men that could have ever allowed it all to happen. On the flip side to the bleak emotions, you'll discover the human spirit and endurance to fight against a portrayed evil idea and an equally evil and aggressive occupation.
This book is testament to humanity's duo of absolute cruelty and contrasting beauty, when faced with the evil that is human perspective.