A Historical Snapshot: Vietnam in Memory

redstarBowden, Mark. Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam. Atlantic. Jun. 2017. 608p. photos. maps. notes. ISBN 9780802127006. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780802189240. HIST
In early 1968, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces launched the Tet Offensive, a series of hundreds of attacks throughout South Vietnam, the largest of which took place in the symbolically significant former royal capital of Hue. Bowden (writer in residence, Univ. of Delaware; The Three Battles of Wanat) provides a thorough description of the Battle of Hue by examining the experiences of soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict. This work argues that Gen. William Westmorland’s fixation on the false notion that the Tet Offensive was a deliberate misdirection from North Vietnam’s real target of Khe Sanh led to poor decisions by the U.S. military that resulted in the prolongation of the Battle of Hue. The author makes a strong case that this conflict had a lasting impact on the course of the Vietnam War, the significance of which has yet to be properly analyzed by the historic literature. VERDICT Although the gruesome details of death and dismemberment may prove difficult reading for some, this work provides a fascinating look at the challenges and horrors of urban warfare and is essential for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.—Joshua Wallace, Tarleton State Univ. Lib. Stephenville, TX

Reston, James, Jr. A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial. Arcade: Skyhorse. Sept. 2017. 272p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781628728569. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781628728583. HIST
Architect Maya Lin’s design for a Vietnam War Memorial required a physical split in the land; it also ignited a social division among veterans’ groups who claimed the monument was disrespectful to Americans who fought and died in the war and those who saw it as public art that would help heal the nation. Reston (Luther’s Fortress) recounts not only this conflict but also the “art war” between those who advocated for Lin’s abstract design and the traditionalists who lobbied the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to add renown sculptor Frederick Hart’s compelling statues of three soldiers to the monument. Although overshadowed by Hart and her defamers, Lin stood her ground and refused to modify her design, believing it should recognize the horrors of all battles and not solely commemorate those who served in Vietnam. Hart’s sculptures were added by the commission as a compromise. Reston concludes with a poignant contemplation on his friend Ronald Ray, whose name is one of the more than 58,000 that adorns the memorial, and a discussion with a Vietnamese scholar about the war’s impact on Vietnam. VERDICT This moving historical snapshot casts a wide net of interest and will appeal to Vietnam-era scholars, art historians, and general readers.—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

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