On May 25, 2012, President Obama announced that the United States would spend the next thirteen years—through November 11, 2025—commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, and the American soldiers, “more than 58,000 patriots,” who died in Vietnam. The fact that at least 3 million Vietnamese—soldiers, parents, grandparents, children—also died in that war will be largely unknown and entirely uncommemorated. U.S. history barely stops to record the millions of Vietnamese who lived on after being displaced, tortured, maimed, raped, or born with birth defects, the result of devastating chemicals wreaked on the land by the U.S. military. The reason for this appalling disconnect of consciousness lies in an unremitting public relations campaign waged by top American politicians, military leaders, business people, and scholars who have spent the last sixty years justifying the U.S. presence in Vietnam.
A devastating follow-up to William L. Griffen and Marciano’s 1979 classic Teaching the Vietnam War, The American War in Vietnam seeks not to commemorate the Vietnam War, but to stop the ongoing U.S. war on actual history. Marciano reveals the grandiose flag-waving that stems from the “Noble Cause principle,” the notion that America is “chosen by God” to bring democracy to the world. The result is critical writing and teaching at its best. This book will find a home in classrooms where teachers seek to do more than repeat the trite glorifications of U.S. Empire. It will provide students everywhere with insights that can prepare them to change the world.
Marciano has written a newer history of the war that provides analysis and perspective on how the war ought to be remembered—and how it is being misremembered and misused. I am eager to add it to my curriculum!
Marciano provides a deft overview of the American War in Vietnam with all its deceits and horrors while demonstrating how the true history has been sanitized and distorted in class-room history texts, thus depriving younger generations a proper historical and political consciousness, making them unable often to see through the flood of propaganda used to sell more recent military interventions.
The American War in Vietnam pulls no punches in its condemnation of America’s participation in the Vietnam War, citing both outright war crimes (such as the notorious My Lai massacre) and the extensive collateral damage and human suffering that the war inflicted. Author and antiwar activist John Marciano (Professor Emeritus at SUNY Cortland) further denounces the pervasive whitewashing of America’s purpose, role, and methods in the Vietnam War. Notes, a bibliography, and an index round out this stark, persuasive, and ferocious challenge to America’s status quo historical narrative.
John’s book is now at the top of my list of recommended readings for people planning to come to Viet Nam. The other is Huu Ngoc’s recently released Viet Nam: Tradition and Change. Those books will give visitors context and an accurate framework of Viet Nam’s past and present—including the massive American shadow that we still cast here.