Mark Bowden, a career journalist who rightfully achieved significant success after publication of his excellent book, Black Hawk Down, and the movie that followed, took on the very challenging task of documenting one of the largest, deadliest and most controversial battles of the Vietnam War in Hue, 1968. He succeeded in at least one sense. Within 600 pages of dialogue, commentary and information (including glossary, notes and index), he has introduced several new “voices” from the past, both American veterans of that battle and those who fought on the other side, VC and NVA soldiers, as well as many American journalists who covered the war and this historic battle. Over a period of five years, Mr. Bowden studied and researched, conducted countless interviews, and traveled twice to Vietnam. In that process, this work expanded into a book about the entire scope of the American “chapter” of the Vietnam War, using the Battle for Hue as its primary focus.
I bought this book and read it after receiving many phone calls and emails from friends and acquaintances letting me know about its release; they wanted to hear my opinion. These folks had read my first book, Phase Line Green; The Battle for Hue, 1968, in which I recounted what I saw and criticized both Marine Corps leadership and the U.S. Government for allowing so many thousands of young men to be lost not just because of the actions of the enemy, but due to the actions or lack of action in our conduct of the war. As I read the parts of Hue, 1968 that focused on the Battle for the Citadel Fortress, Phase 2 of Operation HUE CITY, I was hoping to find clarity. Unfortunately, what I found was that Bowden’s interview conclusions do not jibe with my first-hand knowledge of that battle and what I reported in my book.
As I read and studied Bowden’s book, I tried to discover and understand his motivations for taking on this monumental task. He informs the reader that he was sixteen years old when the battle was fought, but that the news about the Tet Offensive captured his interest and led him inexorably into his reporting and writing career. Bowden was encouraged to take this project on by the publishers of Black Hawk Down, and he accomplished that task. However, it is now apparent to me, after reading every word in the book, that Mr. Bowden has joined those historians and authors who, over the past five decades, have contributed to “The Narrative,” a line of reasoning and accumulation of opinions about the American War in Vietnam that are very disturbing to many of us who served in it, and especially those of us who have also studied the war and written about it.
Amongst other claims, “The Narrative” states that the war in Vietnam was “unwinnable;” that the United States was wrong to have gone there in the first place; and that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were simply “nationalists,” sympathetic characters who were fighting to kick the foreign invaders out of their country. I’m just puzzled that his work on this book, his studies of this single battle, have resulted in these sweeping and negative conclusions about the war. I’m especially puzzled that Bowden spends significant time and text relating stories from the VC and NVA that we fought, yet gives short shrift to the soldiers who were truly fighting for their country, South Vietnam, our ally, those who served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
For the same reasons that Mark Bowden needed 600 pages to cover the topic, a thorough justification of my reaction is beyond the scope and acceptable length of this review. If you would like to learn more about the errors and omissions I’ve discovered in this book, or identify other books and writings that contain the truth about the war, please get in touch with me.
For those of you who are hoping that Hue, 1968 would be the “definitive” accounting of this historic battle, I believe you will be very disappointed. I know I was.
Nicholas Warr, U. S. Marine
Infantry Officer, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Vietnam War
Author, Phase Line Green; The Battle for Hue, 1968
and Charlie One Five; A Marine Company’s Vietnam War