uthor Gerald Nicosia explains it, the American soldiers who fought in Vietnam lost two wars: one in Southeast Asia to gain and hold territory and one at home to gain public understanding of their life-warping experiences. The Vietnam veterans' movement instrumental in exposing America's duplicity during the late '60s and early '70s is the subject of Nicosia's new book Home to War. The author brings a dramatist's eye to this mammoth narrative, playing out hundreds of separate stories through the personalities of the participants. An exhaustive work (Nicosia says he interviewed 600 people for the book), Home to War offers accounts of incendiary demonstrations and loud "rap" sessions, Kafkaesque court trials and petty infighting, majestic displays of solidarity, moments of euphoria and days of despair. Not only did the vets fight to expose the war as a human catastrophe, they also struggled to convince an indifferent public and a hostile government that their wounds particularly the psychological ones were of a different sort than America was used to.
Instead of relying on the loftiness of political themes to do the work, the author uses recurring characters to endow his chronicle with a sense of direction and momentum. Overall, Nicosia strikes a pleasing balance between a vivid but fragmented oral history and a coherent narration of facts. While the veterans have scored some triumphs, Nicosia says, theirs has not been a story with a happy ending. "At the [Vietnam Veterans of America] convention in 1999," he notes, "someone pointed out that most of the vets balding, gray- or white-haired, deeply wrinkled, with huge pot bellies or else emaciated, many walking slowly with canes looked as though they were in their 60s or 70s, when in fact they were actually 20 years younger. Premature aging has been universally observed among Vietnam veterans, and in some respects it has already been medically verified." And these were just the visible scars.
Edward Morris writes for BookPage from Nashville.