An American Generation and its War
Thomas Dunne Books 2017
There’s been something of a revival of interest in the Vietnam War in the past years. Perhaps it’s the influence of Ken Burns’ documentary miniseries, perhaps it’s just the distance from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For whatever reason, 2016, 2017 and 2018 saw the publication of a number of new works about the war.
In Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and its War (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) James Wright employs a generational framework to understand the experience of the war. He offers a careful and persuasive synthesis of the political and diplomatic history of the war. But Wright’s interest really lies in the experience of the ordinary men and women who fought in the war or who saw it from afar. Surveys of the experience of fighting in Vietnam are interspersed with fascinating discussions of responses in the US. His pairing of a discussion of Memorial Day, 1969 as experienced across the US with the fighting at Hamburger Hill is particularly engrossing.
My father’s generation grew up in the midst of Vietnam. My generation grew up in its shadow. My students learned about the war in a day in high school, if that. For them, Iraq and Afghanistan are ‘America’s Longest War(s).’ Wright’s book is a great way to open a conversation between these generations.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994.