Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Book Review: Sitrep Negative, A Year in Vietnam by G.J. Lau
If you're looking for the usual Vietnam memoir filled with dope-smoking draftees, necklaces of ears, guys running around tripping on LSD while shooting up their base camps with M16s, and all the other negative stereotypes of Vietnam, you're looking at the wrong book review. G.J. Lau's memoir has some of the usual stories about bad food, awful heat and rain, nervous short-timers, foolish cherries, and the like, but it is not another bitter, disillusioned rant against The Military-Industrial Complex.
My grandfather was in WW2, serving aboard a battlecruiser in the Pacific. A few years before he died, he worked with his sons and grandsons to compile a memoir of his time before, during, and after the war. Some time down the line, I'd like to see that book published as an e-book, and reading Sitrep Negative, I saw a lot of similarities between G.J. Lau's work and my grandfather's.
Lau wasn't a soldier "in the trenches", although he came under fire and found himself in dangerous situations on a regular basis (Lau was a Radio Operator in a base camp). There is a lot of conversation about how he observed military operations, both in positive and negative terms, and while there is some wry commentary about "the Army way" of doing things, Lau doesn't come off as a vehement anti-war fanatic, although he has some strong, well-formed opinions about the war.
It is also clear that he was deeply affected by the war, but he tempers his commentary with a lot of intelligent thought. Some time is spent at the end of the book discussing the public's reception to Vietnam, and how Lau feels soldiers were and are treated post-war. One might casually dismiss his opinions as that of a "REMF", but I imagine when you're huddled in a slit trench in the middle of a nighttime monsoon, listening to mortar rounds exploding all around you, the war seems pretty damn close.
Sitrep Negative isn't particularly long - I think I finished it all in one extended evening's reading. But it is definitely worth the paltry 99 cents, and I think if you want a truly balanced account of the war, it should be required reading.