From Enemy to Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War
By Bui Tin
Naval Institute Press, 2002, 240 pp.
The contrasting perspectives of these two books dramatically illustrate the problems that Americans have in understanding Vietnam and its culture. Lamb was a combat correspondent during the war, and in 1997 he became the first American reporter to go back to Hanoi. During the subsequent four years he lived and traveled there, he was constantly awed by the qualities of the people he met and struck by how they differed from his negative wartime views. Despite the book's "gee whiz" quality, Lamb also acknowledges the difficulty in reasoning with party officials, who remain ideologically committed. Although he is prepared to accept that foreign businesses have had serious problems operating in Vietnam, Lamb is quick to rationalize the difficulties and overlook the problems of corruption.
Bui Tin, a colonel during the war against the French and a frontline correspondent during the American war, has written an oddly structured but surprisingly effective work. The entire book consists of questions that he poses for himself and then answers, each in only a few paragraphs. In a striking parallel to Lamb, he came to his new understanding of the war after being stationed in Saigon from 1975 to 1979. There, he came to realize that South Vietnam had been on many scores superior to North Vietnam. He then investigates the origins of the war and concludes that Hanoi was ideologically driven by the goal of defending the Soviet bloc and spreading communism. Since the North did not achieve its basic objectives, he concludes, the United States really won the war. He criticizes those Americans who now say the war was "unwinnable," even providing strategic suggestions of what the Americans could have done to militarily defeat Hanoi.
Both authors welcome the thaw in relations between America and Vietnam. Between these two books, former "hawks" and "doves" can find new justifications for their positions.