It's always a difficult task to write a biographical novel and to remain reasonably truthful....and what anyway is truth when the author is literally...moreIt's always a difficult task to write a biographical novel and to remain reasonably truthful....and what anyway is truth when the author is literally imagining the inner thoughts of a number of people to create a portrait of the protagonist; in this case Rudolpjh Nureyev, one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. Mc Cann pulls it of mastrefully, at least as far as weaving character is concerned. Whether the invention approximates this complex man, who knows but reading it I got a very strong sense of the person in question wheher Nureyev or not I cannot say, but it is certainly believable given what I know of him from other sources..
There were also several sections that were absolutely masterful, including the early section dealing with the treatment of Russian wounded during the Second World War.
I really enjoyed reading the book and McCann's writing has impressed me so much I will go looking for more of it.(less)
This is a very personal biography written by Fall's wife.Although it has its failings as a biography it is a fascinating piece of work that provides s...moreThis is a very personal biography written by Fall's wife.Although it has its failings as a biography it is a fascinating piece of work that provides some insight into the character of this remarkable man. There is no doubt that he was the pre eminent scholar on Vietnam during his life and his analysis and opinions on the war as in progressed through the French and later the American manifestations were prescient' absolutely spot on.
Probably more fascinating still than Fall himself in this book is the exposure of the American attitude and treatment of this man who, had he been listened to by decision makers may have saved America from one of the greatest tragedies of its history. However that was not to be. The arrogance of "the best and brightest"including McNamara (who Fall regarded with pity and disdain) and the kingpins at the White house had their own agenda, mostly self serving. Combine the egos, that arrogance and the influence of the Vietnam lobby and the rabid anti communist fringe and there was no way anyone who was putting out a contrary message was going to be heeded. Although Fall was being sought regularly by American military people for his views and his analysis. He was effectively isolated by the Hawks and never got his 15 minutes in front of the President where it might have mattered.
Instead in typical style he was hounded by the FBI and slandered constantly in an effort to discredit him as a communist sympathizer (which he was not),though that was never quite achieved in the face of his scholarship and his deep understanding of the Vietnamese people and the war they were fighting. He knew what was going on and he refused to be snowed bythe system of deceit and lies that was the bulwark of the hawk camp,the vested interests prepared to serve their purposes at any cost.
Fall influenced some of the principal actors in the tragedy and was highly regarded by those who were on the front line. The remarkable thing is that the Americans learned nothing from the entire exercise, in the same arrogance and blind belief in their monopoly on "God' and what is right and the invincibility of their force of arms they charged into Iraq and Afghanistan and created yet another series of bungled enterprises that have cost them blood and treasure beyond account to no useful purpose.
The greatest liability the Americans carry is this blind self belief that is based essentially on their own propaganda. This somehow renders them incapable of intelligent reason when it comes to any matter that challenges their deeply held view of their rightness, always somehow blessed by God. We have seen almost a century of one disaster after another that when analysed is actually inimical to those values enshrined in their oft quoted Bill of Rights and Constitution.(less)
Of course the name Giap is familiar to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the Vietnam conflict. Often lauded as a military genius there is a m...moreOf course the name Giap is familiar to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the Vietnam conflict. Often lauded as a military genius there is a mystique about the name and it is richly deserved. His triumphs in defeating the French, the Americans and in the conduct of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia set him apart from most military leaders of the 20th Century as exceptional.It is not that he never made mistakes but that he learned from them and didn't repeat them.
This is a really interesting biography, given its size it can only be a summary but it is precise and well written. It left me with a greater understanding of the war of which I was regrettably a part. I was not so impressed by the inclusion of primary source material, I thought it added a great deal but was poorly incorporated into the text in most instances. Aside from that it was good history.
In addition to providing much I didn't know about Giap it confirmed many of the personal conclusions I had drawn for myself about the conduct of the war. Within three months of my arrival in Vietnam I knew the cause was not only lost but corrupt and mismanaged. Much that I observed left me feeling very uncomfortable about the American effort and the Australian penchant for attaching ourselves to their coat tails.
This war was without doubt one of the greatest examples of an overbearing arrogance and an underestimation of the enemy which led to one of the most devastating defeats in military history. It is arguable that the American military has still not fully recovered now, a generation later.
Giap had a very poor opinion of the Americans as an adversary. He considered them overconfident in their own abilities and the overdependent on the efficacy of technology;inflexibly tied to a logistical tail as concerned with providing air conditioning and ice cream as it was artillery rounds, and without the morale and sense of commitment or necessary willingness to sacrifice to win. He was right on all counts.
Westmoreland, his adversary was ill suited to the task. He was a big scale commander with extensive experience and training for WW2/NATO Cold War style operation. He chose to learn nothing from the French and repeated their failed strategy on the assumption that technological expertise and firepower would make the difference. It is absolutely astounding that with all their intelligence gathering potential that even as late as 1969 the US Army had not developed detailed analysis of the principal characters who were their adversaries. They could give minute details about some insignificant local guerrilla in the delta but knew nothing of the lives and thoughts of Giap, Le Duan or Le Duc Tho, let alone the thousands of senior commanders on the other side. They had little idea of the basic underlying principles of the North's strategy and much that had been written by their most adept adversaries had not even been translated into English let alone studied in detail.
The Australian Army also went to Vietnam as its Government decreed but after just one operation in conjunction with the Americans demanded their own independent area of operations deeming American methods in the field unsuited to the purpose and contrary to all the experience they had gained over the previous two decades. It is telling that Westmoreland regarded the Australian effort as insufficiently aggressive. The Australian approach was of course based on experience in Malaya. Borneo and New Guinea and adapted many of the traits of guerrilla fighting learned in those places. It was dependent on skillful low level infantry tactics at short range. Hunt and kill.
The one major successful tactic employed by the French was the deployment of units in the same way as the Viet Minh deployed. The use of these groups (GCMAS and GMI) were the most effective effort by the French and these units lived with the locals in the jungle and hunted their enemy. Their success was not only something the French high command ignored so did the Americans who came after them. They also ignored the advice of their own mid level officers like David Hackworth and Paul Vann, who supported this king of operation. It was the antithesis of all that Westmoreland's approach was predicated upon. Too many vested career interests to abandon what was clearly failing in favour of what demonstrably worked.An Australian, Barry Petersen developed a similarly successful effort in the Central Highlands in the early part of the War. Westmoreland was suitably impressed but irritated that and American had not made vbeen responsible for such success. His CIA handlers had him removed and replaced by an American fairly promptly thereafter, the whole effort collapsed as a result and the VC were ale to retake the advantage they had lost.
Most importantly Westmoreland, the American Command and the politicians made the fatal mistake of viewing the Vietnamese through the prism of their own characters applying the limitations that would have prevailed had Americans been in control of the PAVN, the VC and the North. They would have folded of course, at almost every turn. It was that very characteristic that the North relied upon. They knew that if they could just string it out long enough and spill enough American blood they would prevail and they did. This was despite major military defeats particularly,during Tet 1968.
More remarkable still than the ineptitude with which they conducted this war against an underestimated enemy about which they knew nothing is the fact that the Americans have approached Afghanistan looking trough the same prisms and that's why the end result will be another defeat that will simply gut the American soldier. There are few examples of good men who fought hard being so poorly served by their commanders and their political leaders than the US Forces in Vietnam. It was a great shame, my heart still bleeds for those who were so ill served.(less)
What a great story. I met Barry Petersen in Bangkok a decade ago and I really enjoyed our short conversation. he impressed me as a down to earth, prac...moreWhat a great story. I met Barry Petersen in Bangkok a decade ago and I really enjoyed our short conversation. he impressed me as a down to earth, practical man with great humility. I enjoyed the story. of course it is well know in military circles, what I found fascinating was the intrigue and the machinations of the Americans. All ego! So typical! Nothing much has changed, They still seem to have the view of themselves and their military that often stands out of all proportion to their effectiveness on the ground. They always bring their own mind set to anything and dominant in that is the idea that since they are the greatest they must always know best. add to that the opportunity for career promotion the Vietnam War provided for many after such a long hiatus and you have the makings for the worst qualities of military leadership that often seemed so much in evidence from field grade up. These people as it turned out were a far greater danger to Petersen than the VC and in the long run they managed as they do to dismantle a highly successful program and replace it with something that served no one but perhaps themselves personally. The Australian Army also has its share of these people, all organizations do but the Yanks really seem to have had the market cornered. Many of their Vietnam Combat veterans cite poor leadership at this level as one of the main reasons for the failure of their efforts in Vietnam and for their own personal sense of alienation. These self seeking incompetent people were the primary cogs in the green machine
I also found the short note on Malaya and his tour with 2 RAR interesting. That was the same time that I was in Vietnam and I agreed whole-heartedly with his observations on the corruption and poisoning not only of the whole of Vietnamese society but the war effort itself by the American approach to just about everything. The description of the infantry operations in the field were right on the knocker.
This book is offers an insight into one of the great tragedies of history. The use, abuse and abandonment of the Montagnard by the US and its allies. These people are still paying today for that treachery. It is one of the most shameful episodes of US history in Asia, and there have been a few!(less)
This is a memoir, and I really enjoyed reading it. It was like having a conversation, reminiscing about the great political events thropugh which I ha...moreThis is a memoir, and I really enjoyed reading it. It was like having a conversation, reminiscing about the great political events thropugh which I have lived and gaining an insight from someone who was on the inside. It was very revealing indeed. Having come from a working class family (my grand father was a stoker and my father a boilermaker) I was imbued with the values of the labour heartland and have always felt the validity of social conscience at a deep level. I remember the Vietnam War, I was conscripted and served there and saw first hand the brutality and amorality those circumstances promote; I remember the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and the ouitrage I felt at having my vote nullified by the predation of the Conservative right acting in the belief that they were the class that was born to rule; I remember the years of Labour in the wilderness, the struggles of the Hayden opposition to pull themselves together through the very public tussles of self serving egos; I remember the advent of Bob Hawke, the great sense of hope he brought to his Prime Ministership and the sense of disappointment and betrayal I felt at many of the decisions of his Government including privatisation, shifting the tax burden from the rich to the working class, the mining of uranium and the committment of troops to the Gulf War.
I did not know it at the time but I did sense in some way, that his stewardship along with his cronies represented the dying throes of the Labour movement as I knew it. Bob Hawke, little more than an opportunistic populist with greater committment to his wealthy mates than the people of his nation, he was a disaster for the Labour movement and the values it held so centrally for a century. The full result of the movement in the direction of market forces, towards the centre right of politics and the dictatorship of the polls are now being seen fully blown in the dearth of leadership and lack of principle that pervades the whole of Australian politics. The change has however been more radical within the Labour ranks than that of the Conservatives,there it has simply reinforced the substance of what has always been their elitist and arrognat politics. The "best" that politics in this country can provide now are all anathema to any thinking, principled human being A pox on all their houses.
In addition Tom Uren lit up for me the pettiness, meglomaniac, cynical manipulation of the political process by the Labour machine. It evolved to support and ensure the maintenance of the rights of the working class, it has been totally co-opted and corrupted to serve the interests of a few, intent of husbanding personal power, prestige and privilege; perhaps in a different way, but just as virulently as the Conservative camp, who regard human beings as merely elements of wealth production alive to serve their personal interests.
The leading lights of Labour could now never be addressed as "Comrade" by anyone, fraternal brotherhood and cooperation in the national interest has disappeared into the sludge of self serving opportunism. There is no greatness left, Uren was probably the last who could claim any of that. He at least knew what his principles were and was never afraid to stand up for them no matter the political consequences for him.
Politicians of Tom Uren's ilk could not survive in toiday's political landsacpe. The urge and committment to serve the people is dead and it was effectively killed off by the very movement sworn to protect it. Short of violent revolution, there can never again be another age where the people determine the nature of their government or its policies, and revolution is entirely unlikely since the concentration of media ownership, free reign for predatory banks and the dumbing down of the nation through a dysfunctional education system has ensured an indebted, fearful, gullible people who believe every sound bight and fear to form their own opinions, even if they have the intellectual capacity to do so. Advance Australia...where?(less)
In really enjoyed this book, it was just fascinating to find out in such details about the lives of women in late Imperial China among the Yao minorit...moreIn really enjoyed this book, it was just fascinating to find out in such details about the lives of women in late Imperial China among the Yao minority of the south. The story was both tragic and enthralling. A great read.(less)
This is the story of a young gay man who joins the US Army in a half hearted gesture that sees him thorugh a series of odd circumstances deriving from...moreThis is the story of a young gay man who joins the US Army in a half hearted gesture that sees him thorugh a series of odd circumstances deriving from his homosexuality into the Military Intelligence Servivce and sent to Europe in the rear guar of the invading armies. The whole affair has a decidedly Catch 22 flavour as the absurdities of the circumstances of his military servce unfold. The cast of characters are very reminiscent of Joseph Heller's insane tribe.
The pith of the book is held in the author's scathing observation of the conduct of the second string rear end soldiers who have absolute power over the Dp's and POW's in their charge and who exercise that power, with malice, brutality and complete disregard for common decency. There is no sacred son here just petty men corrupted absolutely by that absolute power.
It always seems to be the way with arimies and has so been throughout history that those who actually do the killing are far more the repository of human decency than those sadists, bullies, opportunists and self righteous non heros who follow them.
There are interesting observatruions of Gertrude Stein and Picasso who this young man had the temerity to front, seeking something greater than the humanity that was the sea in which he found himself forced to swim. He was to be disappointed and in the end he begins to come apart facing the incredibly disgusting display his fellow liberators were capable of. A reading here for anyone draaped in the flag of unsullied setimentality that attaches itself to the picture of the liberating American armies.
There is much here in the internal conflict the author experiences in finding himself immersed in unjustifable cruelty and corruption that I myself felt when serving in Vietnam surrounded by that same army of which I was apart. Equally corrupt and malicious in its operations in rear areas. This filth is generally not the purvey of most combat soldiers whose lives are reduced to a very basic and clear morality, life and death entwined; where even in killing an enemy they can, if nothing else, hold him in respect as a good soldier. The camp followers effused the antipathy of what we were told we were fighting for. The REMF's were the sordid soul revelling in the psychotic surrealism that became our lives.
In the final anaalysis war, I guess is war, here the grosser parts of its ugliness are evidenced. No glory here, only deep sadness for those who lay in the myriad fields of white crosses spread across western Europe.(less)
This book was painful to read, not because it was poorly written but because of its intensity. The story of a young gay man trapped in the smothering...moreThis book was painful to read, not because it was poorly written but because of its intensity. The story of a young gay man trapped in the smothering closet imposed by the societal mores of the 50's and 60's when he grew up. The pain and loneliness of separation and of being different were so palpable they literally tore at my sense of stability. Not least because I am so familiar with that condition from my own childhood and adolescence. The performance this poor boy put himself through to hide the truth about himself from himself and from others just made me cringe.
This book is emblematic for the lives of so many men who grew up during that time, it is terribly sad. More so because the author, dying of AIDS when he wrote it,is bitter. Thought he tries not to be it is very much there,mixed with great bursts of anger against the society within which he grew up but more poignantly against himself for not having the courage to live as himself and damn to the consequences. An easy position to take but it dismisses the very real and seemingly insurmountable walls of fear of rejection and judgement that keeps us in such a position.
I felt sorrow and compassion for him, for anyone who went through anything like this, including myself. A terrible wave of unnecessary suffering. (less)
I was 17 when the I first arrived on Darlinghurst Road in King's Cross in Sydney,and for the second time I was 19; the siren call of the streets to th...moreI was 17 when the I first arrived on Darlinghurst Road in King's Cross in Sydney,and for the second time I was 19; the siren call of the streets to the wounded. They wrapped their tentacles around me as they did Rechy. Then for me it was Green Park, the Wall in Darlinghurst, squats in East Sydney, boarding house rooms when there was a little money, a generous and gentle Viennese couple who owned Sweethearts Coffee lounge and sandwiches and coffee in the early mornings at the Wayside Chapel, easy drugs at the Onion, the salve of alcohol and being desired: and then the passing days,the deep night, the faces and hands.
I certainly didn't understand it all with the insight he did, I just couldn't think about it. Much of its rawness and pain I drove well down into the deepest recesses of my being. This book, held me spellbound as the inner landscape I experienced then and the driven nature of my being then, was dragged back up in technicolour and with great intensity. I understand now, much that I remembered and much that I haven't or couldn't remember for nearly 5 decades. I could give names but more faces from that time to his characters and the dynamics of it all were just as he describes them. This is probably the most honest piece of writing I have ever read. I could never have done it, I could never have faced those things in me he pinpoints with such incisive precision, but more importnatly with compassion. As with so much of my life relived over the past few years, I cannot now deny that this was a part of my life. In all its intensity, in all its pain, the panic to run from myself, to hide behind the delsuions of power and control exercised in a world that most will never know. It formed me as much as my time at war. I can still feel faintly the call of those streets with all they held. I was lucky to escape them, more by good fortune than good managment. I am grateful to this man for his courage to say what I could never have said without the catalyst of his sensitivity and the power of his honesty. I understand in ways I never have why I cannot help but show a kindness to those on the streets whenever I can and why I feel such antipathy towards those who use them. Like much else now though that, much like the shame, must be put aside and let go of.
I must be grateful for the compassion I feel that enables those small kindnesses, without that experience it would never have come to me.(less)