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Books, Movies, and Documentries

The books listed below, both literary and pictorial, are what this fellow recommends. Do you have a favorite read or one book you consider absolute reading as we do? Then let us know. entry.

I've only commented on books that I have read. Others I will leave blank until I do, like Requiem. To order a book or to just check it out at Amazon click on the book title. Most of the books have reviews. Read them and decide for yourself.

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Reguired Reading | Vietnam War Photographic Books | Additional Photographic Books |
Other Readings | Movies and Documentries

John Krill

  Absolute Reguired Reading

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. Fawcett Books (November 1993) ISBN: 0449908704.

This book starts depressing and only gets worse. It was first published in 1974 and this former Marine was not up to reading anything about Vietnam in 1974. Just forget it. Now in 2003 I have read it.

What is even more depressing is that I keep seeing our experience in Iraq while reading about our political history of Vietnam. It's da ja vu all over again. Halberstam ends the book in 1965 with the build up and active involvement in fighting the Viet-Cong and the North Vietamese by Americans.

Of the two books I list here as required reading the most important is The Best and the Brightest. Why? Because this was a political conflict and we lost because we were incorrect politically.

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan. Publisher: Vintage Books (September 1989) ISBN: 0679724141.

Neil Sheehan tells the history of our involvement in Vietnam through the story of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. Vann was in Vietnam from 1962 until killed in 1972.

This is the story of our military in Vietnam. Combined with The Best and the Brightest's political history these two books give the best overvue of a great American tragedy.

Along with the Best and the Brightest this is absolute required reading. Every student, every national political leader, everyone should read both of these books.

The Making Of A Quagmire by David Halberstam. Publisher: Random House (1965)

If you are one of those that still think we could have been victors in Vietnam you probably think Mr. Halberstam is a defeatist and not the realist that he probably is. If for no other reason read this book as a warning that all this can be repeated again. Remember the military was very confident in the early 60s as they are now. Those who made realistic warnings about Vietnam were ignored as many were pirior to the invasion of Iraq. As Yogi has said: "It's day-ja-vo all over again."

This new edition is now designed for classroom use by Daniel J. Singal. Including a new introduction and footnotes describing unfamiliar people and events, this work is lively and accessible for students. With new maps and photographs, students can visualize the crucial political events and increase their understanding of the policy errors of the early 1960s. The Making of a Quagmire captures the story of the Diem/Kennedy era, and the fundamental misconceptions that governed American policy and the South Vietnamese perspective. (Product Description)

Fire In The Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. Publisher: Backway Books (1972)

This landmark work, based on Frances FitzGerald's own research and travels, takes us inside Vietnam-into the traditional, ancestor-worshiping villages and the corrupt crowded cities, into the conflicts between Communists and anti-Communists, Catholics and Buddhists, generals and monks -and reveals the country as seen through Vietnamese eyes. With a clarity and authority unrivaled by any book before it or since, Fire in the Lake shows how America utterly and tragically misinterpreted the realities of Vietnam. (Product Description)

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Vietnam War Photographic Books

Larry Burrows, Vietnam by Larry Burrows, David Halberstam (Introduction.) Knopf, 1st edition (October 22, 2002) ISBN: 037541102X.

If there is one name associated with Vietnam and combat photography it is Larry Burrows. I first heard about Larry from my boss at MCAS Cherry Point, NC, SSgt Dave Deyerle. Dave* was in Vietnam in '64 and '65 and had worked with Larry at Da Nang. In those days there wasn't a seperate facility for the civilian reporters and photographers. So whenever any photographers showed up in Da Nang they would use the Marine facilities. Dave knew all the crew members of Yankee Papa 13 that Burrows made famous in the April 16, 1965 story, One Ride with Yankee Papa 13, in Life magazine. It was also on that issue's cover.

One aspect of Larry Burrows' photography that seperated him from most in Vietnam was that he used color and used it almost from the beginning. That's why the color image on the cover. There are many more color photos inside.

Larry Burrows died in a helicopter shot down on the Vietnam–Laos border in February 1971. That incident is reported on in the book, Lost over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship, which is discussed below.

LIFE magazine has a tribute to Larry. Also a few of Larry's photographs from Vietnam can be seen at LIFE magazine. Don't click on the image maps use the text links provided.

The LIFE tribute to Larry Burrows also has a list of photographers killed in Vietnam. It lists only civilian photographers with no mention of U.S. Military photographers killed in Vietnam.

The book was also featured at DigitalJournalist.

*This photo could very well have been taken by Dave.

Vietnam, Inc. by Phillip Jones Griffiths. Phaidon Press Inc. (September 2001) ISBN: 0714841528.

We have come to believe that the first automated war was the first Iraq war in 1991. This is not so. Vietnam, Inc. reports in words and photos how America made every attempt to automate the war in Vietnam and therefore reduce American casualties. Naplam being one of the more infamous weapons of this automated war.

This not a book for those who believe we did no wrong in Vietnam. First published in 1971 it was one of the first published books to condem our involvement in Vietnam.

Additionally you can view the photos from this book at Magnum Photos.

Mr Griffiths new book deals with Agent Orange and what is has done to the people of Vietnam.

Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina by Horst Faas (Editor), Tim Page (Editor), David Halberstam (Introduction.) Random House (October 1997) ISBN: 0679456570.

 

The Vietnam Photo Book by Mark Jury, Bernard Edelman. Knopf (September 1986.) ASIN: 03947466.

 

Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side: by by Tim Page, Douglas Niven (Editor), Christopher Riley (Editor), Henry Allen. The book is the culmination of more than five years' work: drinking bottomless cups of green tea with Communist bureaucrats, tracking down former war photographers in both the Mekong Delta and the Hanoi suburbs, printing and scanning old negatives, collecting caption information, and collating all the material into chapters. See also the documentary. Or visit the web site for this project.
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Additional Photographic Books

I Protest! Khe Sanh, Vietnam by David Douglas Duncan. The New American Library - Signet Special Broadside (1968.)

This little book became a classic must have among photographers I knew. It was published even before the siege of Khe Sanh was lifted. For an example of raw views of men under the constant stress of combat this is an amazing book. You can go through this book and be in any war. Vietnam was just the setting but combat was the subject.

It was reported to this photographer from someone who knew of Duncan's trip to Khe Sanh that he probably never saw a local Vietamese during his stay in country. That stay was limited to getting to Khe Sanh, doing his work, and getting back to the states. This was also his method on his previous trip to Vietnam when he went to a fire base that was one of many that ran along the North/South Vietnamese border. That story, Con Thien (October 27, 1967,) and his pictures of Khe Sanh (February 23, 1968) appeared as photo essays in Life magazine.

This book has been out of print for years and isn't even mentioned at the Amazon site when we did a search for "David Douglas Duncan." But if you ever run across a copy take a look. Well worth it. Would you believe this book only cost $1.00 in 1968!

  • Photos from this book can be seen at the Harry Ransom Center located at the University of Texas at Austin. They also have a multimedia presentation. Possibly the one of the pieces Duncan did for ABC News.
  • It should be noted in fairness to Mr. Duncan that he had been in Vietnam before and as far back as 1953 he had done a photo essay about Vietnam that appeared in the August 3, 1953 issue of Life magazine.
  • DigitalJournalist features David in its May 2004 issue. He has been around since WWII when he was a combat photographer in the Marine Corps.
  • I found this book for sale at this location. Not cheap, they want $30 for a copy.
Don McCullin

Don McCullin, Published by Jonathan Cape 2000.

The story of the cover photograph: “I was taken into a court yard, and I saw this Man sitting there. I said to someone ‘what’s his problem?’ And he said ‘we’ve had to pull him out, he’s gone.’ I dropped down in front of him and photographed him. And, you know, I took about eight frames, (and) not once did he blink those eyes, and not once did he say anything to me, or move. And he was looking right through me, as if I was a ghost in front of him.” Don McCullin

America In Crisis Photographs by Magnum, Text by Mitchel Levitas. A Ridge Press Book - Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1969.

The work of Magnum photographers in the year 1968. Gives a good overview of the state of America in that most turbulent year. Includes Vietnam photos by Philip Jones Griffiths and Donald McCullin.

Agent Orange: "Collateral Damage" in Viet Nam: by Philip Jones Griffiths. I can absolutly guarantee you that you have never REALLY seen what Agent Orange has done to Vietnam. Now you can. You can also help the victims of Dioxon. DigitalJournalist features Mr. Griffiths book in the January 2004 issue. Remember Mr Griffiths was asked to leave Vietnam after he published Vietnam Inc. But he did go back and for many years photographed the devastation caused by Agent Orange. Another place to view the photos from this book is at Magnum Photos. It just shows the photos and some are really to difficult to view. It's not a pretty picture.
Shooting Under Fire: The World of the War Photographer Shooting Under Fire: The World of the War Photographer: by Peter Howe. Shooting Under Fire is the candid testimony and stunning photography of the men and women who go into battle armed only with a camera to show warfare as it is and where it is. Ten of the world's most famous living combat photographers present harrowing, heroic, and extraordinary accounts of front-line experiences, along with photographs representing conflicts from Cyprus in the 1950s to Afghanistan in the 21st century.
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Other Readings

Lost over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship by Richard Pyle, Horst Faas. Da Capo Press ISBN: 0306811.

It's not just the story of the death of four combat photographers but also how photographers and reporters survived and sometimes died in Vietnam. You want to be a combat photographer? You had better read this first.

Vietnam: The Other War by Charles Anderson. Warner Books, Reprint edition (March 1990) ASIN: 0446359483.

Charles Anderson was in Vietnam from late summer '68 until fall '69. His first 6 months were spent in the rear (Da Nang area) with the 3MPs, which came under the command of FLC. In his book he talks about Nguyen Thi Thanh, the interrupter, who this photographer also knew and worked with. His commentary on the Civil Action Program (CAP), also know as The Other War, is well worth the cost of the book. The book also gets very good reviews at Amazon.

The Cat from Hue: A Vietnam War Story by John Laurence. PublicAffairs, (January 8, 2002) ISBN: 1891620312.

Another must read for those who want to cover war. John Laurence worked for CBS and covered Vietnam from 1965 to 1970. He was a rookie TV reporter when he got to Vietnam and became one of the best TV reporters to cover the war.

John had this to say about still photography:

Of all the media, perhaps still photography came closet to showing the truth. The best photographs captured a precise moment, holding it there for inspection, offering each image as a fragmentary symbol of someone's reality. By the nature of their ambiguity, those pictures gave viewers the privilege of using their imaginations to interpret the reality. The very best pictures needed no captions. (page 405)

Dispatches by Michael Herr. Vintage Books, Reprint edition (August 1991) ISBN: 0679735259.

Once started only coffee and sleep between the first and last page. Very intence. Michael Herr was there for Tet, Hue, Khe Sanh, and the spring attack on Saigon.

After reading Dispatches I'm glad I didn't arrive in-country until Dec '68.

Black Virgin Mountain Black Virgin Mountain by Larry Heinemann. Doubleday (April 2005) ISBN: 038551221X. Haven't read it yet but it has recieve good reviews. One reviewer wrote: "A memoir, Larry describes his return visit to Vietnam, hosted by the Vietnam Writers' Association in 1992. What he found on that and subsequent visits jibes with nearly all of the other "going back" books by American veterans: a warm welcome from a nation at peace. The book's title refers to an epiphanic climb in 1992 to the top of Black Virgin (Nui Ba Den) Mountain - a talisman of sorts to many Americans who served in Tay Ninh Province during the war: 'I'm home, I say to myself; I have arrived home; this place is home.'"
 

Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat by Susan D. Moeller. Basic Books (February 1989) ASIN: 0465077773.

 

Where We Were in Vietnam: A Comprehensive Guide to the Firebases, Military Installations and Naval Vessels of the Vietnam War, 1945-1975 by Michael P. Kell. Hellgate Press (June 2002) ISBN: 1555716253.

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Movies and Documentries
Full Metal Jacket: The first half of this film by Stanley Kubrick was filmed at USMC Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC. When this ex-marine first saw the boot camp scenes he got the sweats. They were just to real. The second half of the film is set in DaNang and Hue, Vietnam during Tet 1968. This photographer didn't have this kind of experience but I'm sure many of you did. Movie is based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. Screenplay by Kubrick, Hasford and Micheal Kerr. Kerr wrote Dispatches which is listed above.

War Photographer: James Nachtwey travels the world looking for grief and conflict. He has no trouble finding it. One of the best and smartest photographers working today James was selected for this documentry because of his experience and ability. You want to try your eye at being a combat photographer then see this film first.

Though not a documentry involving Vietnam it deals with the problems and risks all photographers go through no matter what war.

Why Photograph War? by James Nachtwey. This short commentary is at the web site for the documentry.

Vietnam's Unseen War - Pictures from the Other Side Vietnam's Unseen War - Pictures from the Other Side (2002): Director: Jeff Myrow, Ed Spiegel (II). As the book was being edited, a four-person TV crew from National Geographic came to Vietnam in early 2001 to shoot a one-hour documentary based on the same photographers featured in the book. We returned to the locations of their wartime images and memories, met with villagers who had been their subjects during the war, and conducted in-depth interviews with the Vietnamese photographers. Like the book, the video documentary shows the experience of the Vietnam war through the eyes of the photographers on the "Other Side". Or visit the web site for this project.

Vietnam In The Year of The Pig: Directed and Produced by Emile de Antonio. Photography by John F. Newman. (1968) From the French involvement in Vietnam to the U.S. escalation, Vietnam In The Year of The Pig offers us a thought provoking excursion through that country and the brutality of war. Description from the video's jacket.

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