As one who was in high school and college during the 1960’s, I have always had an interest in the Vietnam War. I went to two draft physicals, one in 1964 and another in 1969, but managed to avoid being drafted. I had many friends and family members who were not so lucky.
During my forty years as a history professor, I taught courses on the Vietnam War. I read many books on the subject and talked to many veterans who served in Vietnam. They too were lucky, in that they survived. I have an abiding respect for those who served and morn those who died in a senseless and wasteful episode of the Cold War. The Vietnam War was but one of a number of proxy wars fought between the two Cold War super powers.
Of the many good books on the Vietnam War, Daniel H. Weiss’ IN THAT TIME: MICHAEL O’DONNELL AND THE TRAGIC ERA OF VIETNAM (New York: Public Affairs, 2019) is the one I would recommend for the general reader who wants some understanding of the war without all the detail included in more scholarly books.
Daniel Weiss, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was deeply moved by the story of Michael O’Donnell, just one of 58,220 Americans and millions of Vietnamese who lost their lives in a war that should never have happened. Weiss lets the reader know at the outset one reason why he chose to write and publish this book at this time: “I wanted to understand how a democratic government, presumably with all the best intentions and led by people who considered themselves honorable, effectively decided to sacrifice the lives of its own citizens to advance an ill-considered and poorly developed political idea. If we understand the taking of life to be the ultimate human transgression, we need to understand how such decisions are made—in this case without a substantive understanding of purpose or consequences.” Perhaps by sharing Daniel Weiss’ journey to understanding, we may be able understand why our national leaders chose during President George W. Bush’s administration to repeat that same error, taking us into the war in Afghanistan.
Michael O’Donnell was piloting a helicopter on a mission in March 1970 to rescue American soldiers trapped inside Cambodia. After picking up eight, O’Donnell was ascending when his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and exploded in fireball. Because of the enemy’s strong position in the area, and the fact that “officially” American forces were not operating inside Cambodia, the remains of O’Donnell and those who died with him remained in the jungle where they died until January 1998, when they were finally recovered and returned to the United States for burial.
Weiss does an admirable job of communicating the tragedy, not only of O’Donnell’s death and those who died with him, but of that whole era in American history. This is a book that should be read by everyone who desires some real insight into that era. I especially recommend it to those of us who were in high school and college during the sixties and still wonder why it all happened.
After reading IN THAT TIME, I recommend for those wishing further insight two additional books on the Vietnam War: James Wright’s ENDURING VIETNAM: AN AMERICAN GENERATION AND ITS WAR (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2017) and Christian G. Appy’s PATRIOTS: THE VIETNAM WAR REMEMBERED FROM ALL SIDES (New York: Viking, 2003).
Until next time be good to call God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.