Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam War Revisited. Review by Mark Barnes


Published by Osprey
Review for War History Online by Mark Barnes

The cultural impact of the Vietnam War is huge. Just think of all the books, films and music relating to the conflict. You may prefer Full Metal Jacket to the strains of “N-n-n-nineteen”.

The cultural impact of the Vietnam War is huge. Just think of all the books, films and music relating to the conflict. You may prefer Full Metal Jacket to the strains of “N-n-n-nineteen” or are happier with your nose in Chickenhawks or Dispatches rather than loving the ‘smell of napalm in the morning’. Whatever your chosen medium, Vietnam is still very, very big business.

In this excellent collection of essays, Andrew Weist brings together a cluster of expert analysts and historians in conjunction with a group of people who “were there (man!)”. The whole war in Indo-China is covered from the period after the return of the French colonial administration in 1946 to modern times. There is as much for the military history buff as there is for the politicians. The tragedies of Laos and Cambodia are not ignored.

Hands up if you remember the rarely shown Australian film The Odd Angry Shot?

Here you will find a good account of the war effort made by the Aussies and the New Zealanders. The massive bombing campaigns inflicted on Indo China by the Americans receive full attention. It is here that the operation name Rolling Thunder was coined. It was an apt choice.

For me the most interesting chapters are those covering the North Vietnamese perspective from all areas of the battlefront. The former soldier Bui Tin explains the military and political doctrine of Ho Chi Minh and his acolytes. It is interesting to see the author taking the surrender of the South Vietnamese regime in 1975 and how disenchanted he is with the legacy of Uncle Ho’s doctrine.

By far the most important point is that there was not just one war in Vietnam. It was a local, civil, international and idealogical conflict rolled into one. We are left in no doubt about the thorough unpleasantness of the regimes on both side of the Vietnamese divide. We see the humiliation of the French and the bewilderment of the Americans. Whatever your take on the Harold Wilson government of the 1960s – they did not drag our country into this appalling tragedy despite a lot of American pressure.

This book is essentially a new look at the war. It attempts to get us thinking about the consequences of a war totally wrapped up in the whole sixties thing. Brief, but telling, accounts of life for the grunts suffice. So many other books have filled the gap. When they were there the young American conscripts dreamed of getting back to “The World”. The mire the war left the USA in is well known. They “won all the battles but lost the war”. It was lost at home on the TV just as the US military was smashing the North Vietnamese Tet offensive. General Creighton Abrams came away with firm ideas how to re-invent the US Army so it wouldn’t happen again. They named a tank after him.You can see them on your TV…. in Iraq.

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Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.