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am 15. Januar 2000
A Bright Shining Lie is a true story about a man named John Paul Vann and America's involvement in Vietnam. The author, Neil Sheehan, was a war correspondent for the United States Press International and the New York Times. His book in 1989 was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The book starts out at Lt. Col. John Paul Vann's funeral in 1972, ten years after he arrived in Saigon, after a helicopter crash back in Vietnam. His story shows America's failures and disillusionment in Southeast Asia. In 1954, the French were defeated, Vietnam then was divided by Ho Chi Minh's Communist North and the Southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. Vann had an opportunity to go to Vietnam and he took it right away because he wanted to fight his way up the ranks. When he arrived he was teamed up with South Vietnam's Colonel Cao. Right away Vann notices the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime and their incompetence in fighting the Communists. Sheehan shows this throughout the book with many examples of what the South Vietnamese did. Colonel Cao was shone taking pictures of his men pretending to be dead VC's (Viet Cong) to impress the higher officials and to show that we were winning the war. The South Vietnamese army did not know what they were doing and lost many battles. As Sheehan graphically describes the battles, the Viet Cong are winning them, but that is covered up by South Vietnam and America portraying them as being the supreme force. Vann secretly told reporters how the war was a waste and Neil Sheehan was one of these reporters. The peasants in Vietnam were caught in the middle between the North and the South. We gave the peasants guns then they were seen used by the Viet Cong in battle. Sheehan noted that the corrupt South Vietnamese did not care for the peasants and carpet-bombed their villages because of known Viet Cong inhabitants. This whole book is based on Vann's telling the self-deceiving illusions of the American military and civilian bureaucracy. Vann was sent back to the United States after the army found out about his meetings with reporters. America hid the truth throughout the whole war. He then resigned, but could not stand not be in on the action. Sheehan said, "The war satisfied him so completely that he could no longer look at it as something separate from himself" (745). Later Vann was able to get a position as a civilian aid and went back to Vietnam in 1965. This is when Sheehan depicts another corrupt South Vietnamese soldier. Colonel Dinh, he resisted America's help in the war. He killed his own soldiers, did not want to help the villagers in any way and destroyed their villages. Vann's main goal was to stop this and gain the villagers trust. He ran pacification programs, mobilized allies among South Vietnamese forces, coordinated America's support and had many theories on how to turn the war around. Sheehan also wrote detailed descriptions of John Vann's family and the struggle he had with it during the war. From this the reader is able figure out why Vann always cheats on his wife. His mother, Myrtle was like this and it was a hard subject for John to talk about. In Vietnam Sheehan tells about two secret lovers of Vann. He could not control his sexual compulsion. His military career was almost ruined years earlier because of his affair with a babysitter. Sheehan writes a lot about Vann's character flaw. His wife divorces him later because of this. He was able to get all of this information with interviews of many people while his time in Vietnam as a correspondent. Vann wanted things to be done his way, he wanted to win. Sheehan said, "He was not supposed to accept defeat" (269). Sheehan talks about Westmoreland, the Commanding General in Vietnam and how he believed that the Viet Cong would not attack Saigon during "Tet" the Chinese New Year in 1968. Vann believed that they would and they did. Vann helped lead the fight against the VC and they were successful. Vann took a position in the South Vietnamese army. He served as general in command of the Central Highland Regime. President Nixon had ordered U.S. combat troops out of Vietnam in June of 1972. The U.S. said it was the South Vietnamese war and they are giving them more control. Sheehan in the story points out that the South Vietnamese had little interest in the war in the first place. Vann in 1972 had his coordinates in Kontum carpet-bombed by B-52's to try to wipe out the second, the third and the fifth divisions of North Vietnam. This was a big risk Vann was willing to take, because of the corrupt Dinh who changed orders and they were forced to retreat into a mine field as VC's advanced forward. Sheehan points out that Vann had a different outlook on the war. He was concerned now about his fighting and not the peasant revolution. Earlier he was bothered that, "...the United States could generate an astonishing reaction from the peasantry once corruption was eliminated and the American millions were getting down to the poor instead of being siphoned into the feeding trough of the Saigon hogs" (539). John Paul Vann soon died in a helicopter crash during a rain storm, ten years after he first arrived in South Vietnam. The biography by Neil Sheehan was very detailed about the war the way John Paul Vann experienced it. First as an Army Colonel and later a civilian pacification leader. Sheehan's book clearly shows the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime, their incompetence to fight Ho Chi Minh's Communists and their brutal alienation of their own people. Vann was able to bring these secrets out to reporters like Neil Sheehan to inform the public of what was going on in South Asia. This brings up the question that what if the military and government leaders had listened to Vann's earlier assessments of the weakness of the South Vietnamese military and the Diem regime? What would have been different? This book was very well written and brings much of the war right out into the light. If the reader does not have much knowledge of the war in Vietnam, this is the book to read. Vann personified our good intentions, our courage, our arrogance and are folly in the war. There is one shortcoming of the book. The book ends after Vann's death in a helicopter crash. The reader is left there wanting to know more about the events in Vietnam after his death.
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am 23. September 1999
For a European who is more remote to the Vietnam war and the 50-60s in the US, this book is a revelation. Even having read a lot about the history of the Vietnam war, how it started and what went wrong, this book gave a lot of new insights. I especially liked learning more about the advisors, what I previously thought was simply armed military in disguise. JPV's story shows what the advisor business was and how the US had a lot of honest intentions with Vietnam. It was interesting to learn how those honest intentions to bring good to the world ( which many Europeans appreciate about the US...especially considering the alternatives...)coupled with the gross naivity ( which we Europeans conversely often laugh or cry at )caused a completely unneccesary disaster.
Reading about the man himself was a shaking reading. His madness combined with clearsightedness and persevierance is a case study for those interested in psychology.
The building up of the story is magnificent. Starting with tha action in Vietnam of the early 60s, we get to learn only slowly what kind of man Vann really is. The story is extremely well disposed and couples analysis with cold details. The learning from the precedent Korean war and what it meant to what happened in Vietnam was new to me and I do not believe that very many Europeans see the connection. Sheehan takes a healthy self critical position and it is clear that this is his story, his version and not the ultimate truth. Apart from wishing to have a few more pictures, there is really nothing else to wish.
I would very strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Vietnam war cause, in general military psychology and also in general biography. It's a masterpiece.
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am 12. Mai 1998
John Paul Vann was a "mini-model" of America in her two Asian wars, travel with him as a young U.S. Army officer he leads by example and personally drops ammunition from a small plane to troops surrounded by the enemy in the Korean War. Follow him later as a LTC, he advises the South Vietnamese Army at the 1963 epic battle of Ap Bac, where a technical level of war pair of errors gives the VC their first victory against the U.S. war machines: the VC are operating a radio which a small plane direction finds and locates; rather than run or disperse, the VC decide to stand and fight. The U.S. pilots flying the UH-21 "Flying Banana" helicopters carrying the ARVN troops land within effective small arms range of the dug-in VC, and the M113s tracked Armored fighting Vehicles (AFVs) do not have gun shields to protect their track commanders manning their .50 caliber Heavy Machine Guns. The helos get shot to pieces upon landing, and when LTC Vann again gets in a small plane to spur the ARVN M113 commander to save the day and seize victory from the "jaws" of defeat, the force takes too long to get there by not having fascines to cross rice paddy dikes. When the M113s arrive, the VC concentrate fire on the exposed TCs and they are turned back.
The loss at Ap Bac in 1963, emboldens the VC and the ARVN are routed continually thereafter, LTC Vann's Army career is destroyed. The situation deteriorates and this leads to the full-scale U.S. troop landings to fight off the VC from over-throwing the South.
What is so AWESOME about LTC Vann, is he doesn't give up! He becomes a civilian aid worker and he then goes about taking apart the VC infrastructure in the villages by Civic Action and fighting corruption. Vann networks---finds allies and leading by example makes it happen. After the Tet offensive gamble decimates the VC to nothing, the provinces are secure, though back home in America public support for the war has collapsed. Now for the Communists to win, THE North Vietnames Army ! (NVA) will have to invade. Which is what they do in 1972.
There, in his finest hour, Vann gets in a helicopter and single-handedly directs air strikes and U.S. military/ARVN forces to repel the NVA invasion. One man can and did make a differance! NVA General Ngo Giap, victor at Dien Bien Phu gets fired for this failure!
Sadly, Vann dies in a helicopter crash. The state funeral he has opens Neil Shehann's AWESOME book which Oliver Stone should make into a movie. My conjecture is that had Vann lived, the South would not have been lost to the communists in 1975. He would have seen to it that people in Washington D.C. and the Pentagon would have not thrown away our hard-won victories in Vietnam. His loss was the turning point in the Vietnam War.
I know one bitter Vietnam vet criticized this book, but needs to rethink his position: Vann is the model of the leader we need today who can network and orchestrate a victory.
"The Mongols, a classic example of an ancient force that fought according to cyberwar principles, were organized more like a network than a hierarchy. More recently, a relatively minor military power that defeated a great modern power--the combined forces of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong--operated in many respects more like a network than an institution; it even extended political- support networks abroad. In both cases, the Mongols and the Vietnamese, their defeated opponents were large institutions whose forces were designed to fight set-piece attritional battles.
To this may be added a further set of observations drawn from current events. Most adversaries that the United States and its allies face in the realm of low-intensity conflict, such as international terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, drug smuggling cartels, ethnic factions, as well as racial and tribal gangs, are all organized like networks (although their leadership may be quite hierarchical). Perhaps a reason that military (and police) institutions have difficulty engaging in low-intensity conflicts is because they ! are not meant to be fought by institutions. The lesson: Institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks. The future may belong to whoever masters the network form."
"Cyberwar is coming" by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, International Policy Department RAND
These guys are right on target at the source of our temporary loss in Vietnam 1975-1991?. However, war is not just a lethal sporting contest among combatants, its about whose IDEAS will dominate, in the case of FREEDOM, in the end the truth has won out over communism. However, if the forces of freedom were more open-minded and networked like the enemy did, we could have won the struggle sooner on the battlefield and not just wait for cultural changes to do it for us. The men who fought in Vietnam need to know that their sacrifices did count-just ask the people of Thailand. But if we are to learn from our war there, we must not make excuses that the politicians "did this or that" when there is plenty to do at our own level within the military to network and "out guerrilla the guerilla", which is what Vann did.
John Paul Vann is one of the greatest American heroes to ever live, this book is a classic, the only fault I have is the "lie" ending in the title, probably a sop to get anti-war types to read it! I would change the word to "Hope" that was lost that we need to rekindle by reading this fine book.
Airborne!
Mike Sparks 1st Tactical Studies Group (A)
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This book is a very good place to start learning about the history of the US involvement in the Vietnam War. It offers excellent references for further study. Aside from that, this book changed my view of the war in a revolutionary way. I was a career military officer, and I never questioned the story we were told of how the war was conducted. After reading this book; which in my opinion was NOT written from an "Anti-War" perspective; I could not help but question all of the "history" I had hitherto internalized. As a child growing up during the Vietnam War I had rebelled against the "Anti-War" culture that immersed my community. As a result there was a time when I would have dismissed this book out of hand. It now appears that there were voices of warning that I and my country should have heeded. After reading this book, the terrible errors, incompetencies and lack of ethics/conscience that plagued the Kennedy/McNamara/Johnson clique become quite plain. All of this said, the book is not without problems. To this day I cannot fathom the reason for the last parts of the book that chronicle John Paul Vann's private life and his later years. It does not connect with the first half of the book and appears superfluous. To my mind the account of John Paul Vann's womanizing are treated in an almost sensational manner and are ultimately irrelevant. Overall, however, this is one of the few books I have ever read that I could characterize as "life-changing."
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This book is a very good place to start learning about the history of the US involvement in the Vietnam War. It offers excellent references for further study. Aside from that, this book changed my view of the war in a revolutionary way. I was a career military officer, and I never questioned the story we were told of how the war was conducted. After reading this book; which in my opinion was NOT written from an "Anti-War" perspective; I could not help but question all of the "history" I had hitherto internalized. As a child growing up during the Vietnam War I had rebelled against the "Anti-War" culture that immersed my community. As a result there was a time when I would have dismissed this book out of hand. It now appears that there were voices of warning that I and my country should have heeded. After reading this book, the terrible errors, incompetencies and lack of ethics/conscience that plagued the Kennedy/McNamara/Johnson clique become quite plain. All of this said, the book is not without problems. To this day I cannot fathom the reason for the last parts of the book that chronicle John Paul Vann's private life and his later years. It does not connect with the first half of the book and appears superfluous. To my mind the account of John Paul Vann's womanizing are treated in an almost sensational manner and are ultimately irrelevant. Overall, however, this is one of the few books I have ever read that I could characterize as "life-changing."
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am 9. Juli 1998
Sheehan tells the history of the war in Vietnam paralleled by a biography of one of its most colorful figures, the Army Lt. Col. and later civilian pacification leader John Paul Vann. Regardless of where you stand on this most controversial of all America's war, this book is a must read to understand its background. Sheehan thoroughly researched the story with interviews of many key players. As a young correspondent he spent several years in country. The book raises many fascinating "counterfactual" history questions: what if military and government leaders had listened to Vann's early (1962-1963) assessment of the weaknesses of the South Vietnamese military and the Diem regime? The only weakness of the book is its abrupt ending. After Vann's death in a helicopter crash in 1972, the author fails to analyze later events including the withdrawal of U.S. troops by 1973 and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. Writing in 1988, Sheehan should have reflected more on Vann's views and their relation to events that occurred after his death. Nonetheless, a must read for those who want to understand the most divisive war in American history.
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am 24. Januar 1999
All senior managers should be required to read this text - the lesson is that those selected for greatness too early (in corporations or the military) often fail to learn how things actually work in their system. I compared this to my ten years in Shell, where bright people are taken out of the line around 30-34 to work with the leaders of the firm which then cuts them off from where the blood is invested, out in the field.
As a piece of history, it shows how a "can do" culture can so easily march full speed into a deep bottomless bog from which escape is impossible. This applies to both business and the military.
As a case study, Coles Myer Corporation in Australia has the same "can do" culture that shoots first and perhaps thinks second - from my two years there in 1990-1992. Retailers are too easy to draw into a battle where someone else makes the rules and choses the battleground, just as the NLF did in Vietnam.
Read this book if you ever want to manage anything at all well, and despair at what was wasted in terms of people and opportunity Westmoreland and his fellow travellers of defeat.
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am 18. Mai 1998
This book is part biography and part history. All of it is fascinating. John Paul Vann is a compelling and contradictory personality. He possessed an honesty and clearness of vision missing from so many of his compatriots in the early years of the war. Initially, his story serves as a shining exception to the collective delusions that were shared in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. Eventually though, Vann succumbs to the wishful thinking that pervaded policy throughout the war. The author, Neil Sheehan, excels when exposing that institutionalized "we can win this thing" attitude that sprung from calcified WWII thinking. The chapter "Antecedents to Confrontation" is THE primer on pre-sixties Vietnam history. Somehow, like America's enthusiasm for the war waned, the last chapters of the book kind of peter out as well. I am not sure if this is my sympathetic reaction to the de-Americanization of the war or if Sheehan lost interest, too. But this does not diminish the overall effect of the book. After reading this wonderful history, I will never see foreign policy, war, or the American soldier the same way.
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am 24. Juni 2013
Die Länge des Buches ergibt sich aus der gelungenen Synthese von Biografie und Kriegsverlauf. Es gibt dem Narrativ des Krieges ein Gesicht, der als Anker wirkt, der es dem Leser erleichtert sich zu orientieren. Besonders bestechend fand ich die Licht und Schatten Komposition von John Vann. Der als strahlender Held beginnt, um Schritt für Schritt demontiert zu werden. Diese Methode befördert den Zweifel am Wahrheitsgehalt der Quelle. Am Ende steht die bekannte Erkenntnis, dass Geschichte und Quelle korrespondieren, persönliche Verfehlungen das sind, was sie sind, individuelle Fehler, die nicht den Wert der Quelle mindern müssen.
Der Krieg wird in allen Skalen dargestellt. Kleinteilig das Individuum Vann im Feld, intermediär die Generäle in Vietnam, die Poltitiker und JCS in Washington als übergeordnete Ebene, auch Bedeutung und Verknüpfung historischer Art wird bedient.
Das Buch eignet sich als Einstieg in das Thema Vietnam, genauso als Vertiefung für Eingelesene. Wer hier nichts neues und anregendes findet, hat bereits einen Meter Vietman im Schrank stehen. Eine hervorragende Arbeit.
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am 13. Mai 2000
"A Bright Shining Lie" is a brilliant, if flawed, masterpiece. Journalist Neil Sheehan first made a name for himself as a reporter in part thanks to the enigmatic American Hero, John Paul Vann. Vann's story is both fascinating and tragic. His military career was seemingly derailed by his attempts to tell the truth about the war during the advisor period (1962-64), but in fact it was his personal indiscretions that did him in. The book was the work of a lifetime for Sheehan (taking him many years to complete) and it shows. The only problem is that Vann's later career in Vietnam as a civilian advisor (1967-1972) gets the short shrift. Sheehan uses Vann's combat death in 1972 as a metaphor for American involvement in Vietnam. But in fact, by 1972 Vann truly believed that the South Vietnamese were winning the war and had they not been abandoned by their American allies, they might have. Nevertheless, this is a vital book for anyone who wants to understand America's lost war.
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