Picks and Pans Review: Brothers in Arms

updated 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by William Broyles Jr.

Broyles was a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam. After the war he was editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly, California and, for a short time, Newsweek. Like many veterans of the only war America ever lost, Broyles remained haunted by Vietnam and in 1984 got permission to go back. This sometimes enlightening, sometimes cathartic book is an account of that trip which he calls "A Journey from War to Peace." One of the first things Broyles learned after arriving in Hanoi was an expression "that brought smiles and affection and opened doors for me everywhere: 'Khong phai Lien Xo—I am not a Russian.' " The Soviets, he writes, are everywhere, and the Vietnamese detest them. For four weeks Broyles traveled nearly 3,000 miles, talking to tribesmen, Amerasian children, professors and generals, former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. He visited a wartime tunnel much like one he had crawled into as a Marine in 1969. On that day he had sensed in the darkness "a mysterious alien presence—my enemy." Then he crawled out of the tunnel and blew it up. Now as a tourist-journalist he encountered a reception that was more than kind. Though the people are poor, banquets were served him wherever he went. He was most impressed perhaps to learn that the Vietnamese veterans suffer no nightmares, no guilt, none of the continuing pain that plagues their American counterparts. Broyles tries to explain how a relatively primitive people defeated the most advanced technological nation on earth and concludes that the Vietnamese prevailed because they were defending their homeland. They had everything to lose, while the American soldier wanted only to survive his one-year tour of duty and then go home. None of this is particularly surprising, but in filtering these perceptions through his combat experience, Broyles gains some insights into the astonishing psychological impact that the war had on the Americans who fought it. "My enemies and I had shared something almost beyond words," he writes. "We had been through war, and by accepting our memories of it honestly we were able to greet each other in trust and friendship, hoping that we would never see war again." (Knopf, $17.95)

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