Possibly the most comprehensive and balanced account of the Vietnam War that has yet been written, Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides will not satisfy those who want a strict political history of the conflict, or a battle-by-battle narration, or even a statistical summation of the war's human and material costs. There are elements of all these approaches in the book, but its great value lies in its multiplicity of perspectives. Appy, a former history teacher at Harvard and MIT, and the author of Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, presents the views of 138 people who were intimately involved in the war and/or the events leading up to it. Determined to show all sides, Appy interviews former generals and foot soldiers, political advisers, war protesters, battlefield entertainers, ex-prisoners of war, children who lost parents, parents who lost children, nurses, doctors, victims of the Kent State shooting and witnesses to the My Lai massacre. In addition to the dozens of interviewees whose names most readers won't recognize, we hear from such famous folk as opposing generals Vo Nguyen Giap and William Westmoreland, Daniel Ellsberg (purveyor of the incriminating Pentagon Papers), soul singer James Brown and protest singer "Country" Joe McDonald, ex-POW John McCain, ex-GI Oliver Stone and the ubiquitous Alexander Haig. Instead of adopting a tedious question-and-answer format, Appy edits each subject's remarks into a single speech. And he holds the disparate points-of-view together by arranging them as commentaries on the war as it evolved from the French occupation of the country directly after World War II to the defeat of the U.S. and its surrogates in 1975.
Although Appy is vigilantly impartial in his presentation, it is impossible to read these tales of duplicity, hubris, courage, cynicism, sacrifice, hope, love, desperation and horror without concluding that the war was one of the most ill-conceived and colossal wastes of lives in modern history. Edward Morris is a Nashville-based writer.