The first 10 a book has gotten on this site. I couldn't have higher praise for David Maraniss' They Walked into Sunlight: War and Peace, VietNam and America, October 1967. Maraniss takes one month out of that terribly confusing and often tragic era and simply depicts the various sides in stunning detail. He doesn't attempt to influence the reader; hawk or dove, and leaves you with the distinct impression that the only ones that were truly wrong in the conflict were the hypocrites. One month - 500+ pages - if every month in the VietNam conflict has this much to be said about it (and they probably all do) I can understand why so few writers want to tackle the era head on, instead breaking it into chunks and writing books about the peace movement, or the military history, or the administration. Maraniss plunges right in and the biggest gift of this book is the context. Telling several stories side-by-side is what really helps you understand the time.
Several major events happened in the national arena in October 1967. The Dow Riot happened on the the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Two comapnies of soldiers were severely ambushed in Vietnam losing 57 men and many more wounded. Alaso, there was a march on washingto that attracted a alrge gathering. Maraniss visits all of these an more through interviews with participants and thorough research.
More than any other book I've read about VietNam, this one finally captures spirit of the times; about how the world just stopped making sense for a while; about how one generation had a complete inability to understand the younger generation at the time; about how you could be in the middle of the jungle in a firefight yet still be getting hot meals air dropped to you.
Maraniss tells everyone's side of the story: the soldiers, the commanders, the brass, the protesters, Dow's, President Johnson's, the University of Wisconsin's, the family of the soldiers, the family of the protestor's, vietnamese soldier's, everyone's. Its amazing how you can have sympathy for all of these people except the hipocrits. And how the hipocrits can make you weep with their atrocities.
There were several times throughout that I very nearly threw the book across the room. Things in They Walked into Sunlight will make you rage against the sheer disgusting nature of some people and institutions. A particularly cutting encounter involved Westmoreland giving out medals after the ambush in the evacuation hospital. The higher ups were trying to spin the battle as a success to increase PR at home. While it was unclear if they killed even 20 Viet Cong or NVA they were reporting 103 kills.
Westmoreland pinned a Purple Heart on Barrow's pajamas and said, "Tell me, sargeant. What happened out there?"
"Well sir, we walked into one of the damnedest ambushes you ever seen," Barrow said.
"Oh, no, no, no," Westmoreland replied briskly. "That was no ambush."
"Call it what you want to," Barrow said. The combination of his wounds, the medication, and all that he had been through allowed him to speak more bluntly to a general than he would have normally. "I don't know what happened to th rest of the people, but, by God, I was ambushed."
And another passage where 'President Johnson was very interested in exactly what a hippie looked like.'
These things all went a very long way towards illustrating just how sharp the divide in our country really was.
I wish I had better words to adequately describe this book. It ought to be required reading by high school students to better understand what happend to the country in the 60's, to better understand what the draft meant, to better understand what extend public image matters to our politicians (even over our soldiers dignity and lives), to better understand what this nation should stand for and doesn't anymore.