Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology, edited by Andrew J. Rotter, SR Books, Wilmington, Del., 1999, $55 cloth, $22.95 paper.
Ever wonder what today’s student is learning about the Vietnam War? A clue is provided by Colgate University history Professor Andrew Rotter’s Vietnam War anthology, Light at the End of the Tunnel. A reprint of a 1991 work, it was published to meet the continuing student demand for information about the war.
Among the several reasons for so much interest in Vietnam, Rotter says, is that students are frustrated by “what they think they do not know about the war, what they think they have not learned in high school,” where U.S. high school history classes often end with the election of John F. Kennedy. “A few want to know why the United States lost the war in Vietnam, given the military’s previous string of successes. And more and more, although it often takes some gentle prodding, students are reporting a personal interest in Vietnam….Why won’t my dad talk to me about the war? Why does my aunt cry when she watches reruns of China Beach? How did the guidance counselor get wounded?”
Professor Rotter has divided his anthology into some 12 chapters, each offering several different points of view on the war. Chapter 4, for example, contains essays by historian Stephen Ambrose, antiwar activist Garth Porter and former CIA Director William Colby. One section of chapters discusses the Communist enemy, the battlefield and the military, including an essay by General Bruce Palmer, Jr. The concluding section ranges from a look at Laos and Cambodia, with articles by William Shawcross on the bombing of Cambodia and a rebuttal by Henry Kissinger, to chapters interpreting and examining the war and discussing its legacy. An afterword by Le Ly Hayslip, who left Vietnam and has since made a living criticizing her adopted country, was included, says Rotter, “to leave the reader with the testimony of someone who lived in Vietnam while the war was going on.”
Given the biased and distorted antimilitary polemics that emerged from academia during and immediately after the war, Light at the End of the Tunnel is a major improvement. Professor Rotter has made a commendable attempt to provide balance and objectivity with his selection of essays. “I hope above all,” he says in his preface, “that this book will be of use to students, mine and others, who continue to look for answers to their questions about the Vietnam War.” That has always been our hope, too.
Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr.