Cover image for Late thoughts on an old war : the legacy of Vietnam
Late thoughts on an old war : the legacy of Vietnam
Beidler, Philip D.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
213 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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DS558 .B45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Philip D. Beidler, who served as an armored cavalry platoon leader in Vietnam, sees less and less of the hard-won perspective of the common soldier in what America has made of that war. Each passing year, he says, dulls our sense of immediacy about Vietnam's costs, opening wider the temptation to make it something more necessary, neatly contained, and justifiable than it should ever become. Here Beidler draws on deeply personal memories to reflect on the war's lingering aftereffects and the shallow, evasive ways we deal with them.

Beidler brings back the war he knew in chapters on its vocabulary, music, literature, and film. His catalog of soldier slang reveals how finely a tour of Vietnam could hone one's sense of absurdity. His survey of the war's pop hits looks for meaning in the soundtrack many veterans still hear in their heads. Beidler also explains how "Viet Pulp" literature about snipers, tunnel rats, and other hard-core types has pushed aside masterpieces like Duong Thu Huong's Novel without a Name . Likewise we learn why the movie The Deer Hunter doesn't "get it" about Vietnam but why Platoon and We Were Soldiers sometimes nearly do.

As Beidler takes measure of his own wartime politics and morals, he ponders the divergent careers of such figures as William Calley, the army lieutenant whose name is synonymous with the civilian massacre at My Lai, and an old friend, poet John Balaban, a conscientious objector who performed alternative duty in Vietnam as a schoolteacher and hospital worker.

Beidler also looks at Vietnam alongside other conflicts--including the war on international terrorism. He once hoped, he says, that Vietnam had fractured our sense of providential destiny and geopolitical invincibility but now realizes, with dismay, that those myths are still with us. "Americans have always wanted their apocalypses," writes Beidler, "and they have always wanted them now."

Author Notes

Philip D. Beidler is a professor of English at the University of Alabama. He has written or edited more than ten books. Beidler served as an armored cavalry platoon leader in Vietnam.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Beidler (English, Univ. of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; Re-Writing America: Vietnam Authors in Their Generation) led an armored cavalry platoon in Vietnam, where he certainly saw his share of action. In these thoughtful essays, he keeps trying to understand that war, even though most of the country no longer seems to care. This is a collection of essays that discuss the specialized language of the war, movies on the conflict, wartime music, racial disputes, the new explosion in war literature, and the ongoing question of then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's guilt. Intermixed are descriptions of wartime life and the war's total, deadly ridiculousness. What people need to pay more attention to, Beidler contends, are the ideas of national destiny and exceptionalism that can lead us into disaster. There are no illustrations, reference notes, bibliography, or index. This interesting and well-argued book is strongly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Also author of numerous significant critical works on the Vietnam War (American Literature and the Experience of Vietnam, CH, Feb'83; Re-Writing America, CH, Nov'91), Beidler (Univ. of Alabama) here provides a powerful and angry personal statement that expresses profound thoughts and misgivings not only about the aftermath of the US's encounter with Vietnam but also about its current military and ideological direction in a post-9/11 world. In so doing he reveals much about himself (family, hopes, failures) and his perspectives, through the eyes of an English professor and cultural critic, and of soldier in Vietnam. With chapters on films and music, popular literature, the language of soldiers in Vietnam, Robert McNamara, and William Calley, Beidler opens new critical vistas in well-trodden areas. In chapters on the military's practice of solatium and on the poetry and principles of John Balaban, Beidler goes beyond critical commentary to speak with sensitivity and gravitas on how the strongest nation on the planet conducts its affairs. Beidler aims at a perfect marriage between critical commentary and moral indignation and, at times, his voice takes on the cast of a Swift or Samuel Johnson. This sobering and illuminating work has application far beyond Vietnam War literature. ^BSumming Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. B. Adler Valdosta State University