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A Very Personal View of Vietnam
By Ed White (reviewer)
Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter
by John Ketwig
(Trine Day, 2019)
This is John Ketwig's second personal view of Vietnam and its effect on him and on our generation. Ketwig's first book, …and a hard rain fell, reflects his very emotional reaction to Vietnam. The book was printed by what he calls "the establishment," Macmillan Publishing House, a key player in the media empire of America. Who would disagree with that!
It is in this latest book where, I believe, Ketwig really begins telling the reader about his personal journey. On page 293 of …and a hard rain fell, he talks about listening to CBS Reports' Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, which aired in 1982.
I too, remember that report, but I did not put it together as Ketwig has. I had my own slow burn when I heard the excellent reporting that Westmoreland deceived President Johnson on the size of the enemy. There were more of the enemy then Westmoreland was telling Johnson. By the way, contrary to Ketwig's statement on page 116 of Vietnam Reconsidered, this report is available on YouTube. Listen and weep. This major deception begins a long line which becomes the tragedy of Vietnam.
Vietnam Reconsidered has 24 chapters, well not really. Chapter 23 is a letter to the editor in 2014, and chapter 24 is a bibliography which generally is not a chapter in "the establishment" world. More about this later. About one-third of the book is 6 chapters called What Really Happened from early history to 1975, describing the Vietnam War. The other 16 chapters are variations on the subtitle The War, the Times and Why They Matter.
The first chapter establishes the format to come: Ketwig shares personal likes and the car culture; his love of JFK and his CIA-planned assassination, a distrust of officers, CIA, the mafia, and a wide swath of history that includes President Trump. Perhaps it is in Chapter 2 that Ketwig's real love of music comes out. I loved this chapter as I use music in my course on the Vietnam War. He covers everybody except my favorite song of the time: We Gotta Get Out of This Place. There is a title of a book by the same name written by Bradley and Werner. Ketwig quotes this book in his bibliography but neglects to mention it in the chapter on music. Many say that We Gotta Get Out of This Place was the Vietnam War veteran anthem. I totally agree.
In the history sections on the Vietnam War, he elaborates on Smedley Butler's testimony of a potential coup d'état of FDR. Just for the record, General Butler was not the former head of the Marine Corps (p.42). He later connects that trend to the coup d'etat of JFK. He develops the war profiteering stories from World War II up to the present wars. This is elaborated in the chapter on Corruption and Profiteering (Chapter 12), an excellent and well-researched chapter.
Ketwig offers an excellent analysis of the dichotomy of America's mission of offensive confrontation by Westmoreland, and winning the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese, (p. 94). This really shows the reality of how we could not have won the Vietnam War, no matter what we did.
In the chapters on the Vietnam War, he starts to bring out the peace movement 's influence both in Vietnam and back home. The connection of the peace movement and the morale of soldiers is well-established, particularly in Chapter 15, Peaceniks, Patriots, and Provocateurs. Another excellent chapter.
I am not sure why Ketwig included Chapter 13, Sex and the Vietnam veteran. I suppose his private horniness was widespread, but so what. His next chapter, The Great Myth, develops the reaction to Vietnam veterans when they returned home. This is a never-ending discussion and personal for many returning Vietnam veterans. I, for one, was called a "baby killer" at a party and received a stand-offish-ness on the plane back to the United States, but those that mattered, my family, welcomed me. Also, when a friend who organized the New York City parade for Vietnam veterans wanted me to go, I said I didn't need to be thanked. I simply did a job and I am a New Yorker, anyway, with a certain edge.
One of his best chapters is Chapter 17, Vietnam: What was all the fuss about? Ketwig had partially put down Ken Burns and his series on the Vietnam War, which aired on PBS, in a prior chapter. In this chapter, he added 27 questions to ask yourself, or in my case, my Vietnam war class.
I also really liked the chapter, Telling Moments. Often, Vietnam vets go to high school classes to talk about the war. This chapter also goes into the various reactions of a whole variety of people to his book and presentations. There is a great story about the reaction from an Annapolis academy class when he brought a piece of shrapnel to the class.
I thought the chapter entitled, FAQ, could have been in an appendix, along with the next chapter, 20, called The Wall.
Perhaps the best chapter is Chapter 21, The High Cost of America's Militarism. This spells out the in-depth research he has done on the Pentagon budget with great information from SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) and the cost of war project at Brown University's Watson Center.
I would recommend that Ketwig get an editor to do the book over again. It is too important a topic to be left to a small press that wants to "rock the boat" with upcoming titles like Caviar and Sodomy, Your Mother's Not a Virgin, and The Deceit of Rome. The author does run on, and that can be tightened up and become a more effective presentation with a good editor. And let's not forget the table of contents that does not reflect the actual pages in the book. Oh, yes, and the section called Introucion. Even spell checker picked that up. Just sayin…
Overall, I found Ketwig's book to be a personal story worthy of inclusion in the annals of the Vietnam War. History is written from such personal stories.
Ed White is a marine Vietnam vet with memberships in VVAW, VFP, and VVA.
He also teaches a course on the Vietnam war at Triton College in Illinois.