A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam
Grove Press, New York, 2017, 608 pages
Book Review published on: May 4, 2018
When it was originally published, journalist Mark Bowden’s latest book, Hue 1968, received praise from numerous sources for its realistic, gripping history of one of the decisive battles of the Vietnam War. Bowden received numerous comments and feedback following its publication, especially from veterans, and he states the recently released paperback is an improved version. For those who have not yet read Hue 1968, the book offers an unvarnished look at one of the crucial battles of the Tet Offensive, which Bowden maintains “has not been accorded its important position in our understanding of the Vietnam War.”
The strength of Bowden’s book is his recounting of the battle and its grim fighting that he provides in a clear, easy-to-follow story. Urban combat can be confusing, and his chapters concentrate on the key phases and engagements, allowing the reader to gain an understanding of what could be considered a confusing series of events. Bowden conducted extensive research including many interviews of participants on both sides of the battle, and he uses these firsthand accounts of the battle to tell the story of intense urban combat from their diverse viewpoints. The author provides multiple perspectives for each event, including those military and civilians of the North Vietnamese, the Viet Cong, and South Vietnamese.
Successfully arguing that the Battle for Hue was one of the defining moments of the war, Bowden is critical of the leadership on both sides, before and during the battle, arguing that the United States and North Vietnamese made severe miscalculations that resulted in unnecessary losses. He saves his sharpest criticism for the U.S. leadership, not only at the national and strategic level but also the leadership in the U.S. Marine Corps, whom he concludes put “more emphasis on the glory than on the leadership blunders.” Bowden questions whether Hue was a victory, but at the same time, he honors the accomplishments of the soldiers and marines who fought valiantly against a resolute and determined enemy. In addition, readers may find Bowden’s epilogue the most controversial part of the book, as the author draws conclusions about the Vietnam War in general.
Given the emphasis the U.S. military is placing on urban operations in megacities, Hue 1968 is a timely history replete with lessons learned that are applicable to today. In addition, readers can draw many lessons from how the marines adapted during the battle. I highly recommend the book to those interested in urban operations but also with an interest in the Vietnam War.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas