Bob Schmitz's Reviews > The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

The Father of All Things by Tom Bissell
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Feb 05, 2012

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Read in February, 2012

My wife and I are leaving for a 3 week trip to Vietnam tomorrow and this book was recommended to me by a friend of hers. It was a mix of a memoir, travel guide, father-son story and history of Vietnam framed around a trip the liberal author son takes with his dad a Marine Vietnam vet. The father has been haunted by his experience there in 1965 which contributed to his drinking an divorce and the son is interested in finding out about and helping heal his dad. The writing is casual, touching, profound and funny. It was full of interesting tidbits of history that were unknown to me especially about the Vietcong and N. Vietnamese during the "American War" from material available after the renewing of relations between the US and Vietnam. It discusses a lot of the internal politics of the North and South as well as the US, France, China and Russia. I did not realize the brutality of the French colonization and exploitation of country. The specifics of the fall of the South and the aftermath of the reunification are discussed. Mai Lai is discussed in interesting detail.

Towards the end of the book the author muses that the US "won" in Korea and now North Korea is a militaristic, unstable, hellhole of a country with a nuclear bomb while we "lost" in Vietnam which is now peaceful, increasingly prosperous and not bothering anyone. (And in the meantime Vietnam invaded Cambodia and deposed Pot Pol ending that monstrous genocide, occupying that country for 11 years loosing thousands of soldiers and we refused to recognize them in favor of the Khmer Rouge!

I came away with having read a lovely story learned some good words like quidnuncs ( and lycanthropic ( the dictionary here doesn't recognize,and learned once again that the world is just very complicated. No simple explanation will do.

I was interested to learn that the "American War" is ancient history to most Vietnamese most of whom are less than 25yo and that it is now a lovely place to visit. I hope so.

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