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Fighting to Leave: The Final Years of America’s War in Vietnam, 1972-1973

by Robert E. Stoffey. Zenith Press, 2008, $25.95

Colonel Robert Stoffey is a retired Marine aviator who served three tours in Vietnam. Fighting to Leave covers the period from the departure of American combat units until the final end of the U.S. combat role. Stoffey claims not to have written a history book, although he does acknowledge assistance from various military historians. Instead, he offers anecdotal material from his personal experiences. “Calling it as he saw it,” Stoffey invites anyone who saw it differently to write their own book. Much of what he saw was from aboard a Navy cruiser in the Gulf of Tonkin, where Stoffey served as a Marine amphibious warfare/air officer.

More than merely personal experiences, the book’s descriptions of the North Vietnamese Army’s Easter Offensive are taken directly from the U.S. Marine Corps operational history of the war. His account of the 1972 bombing of North Vietnam, Operation Linebacker, is covered in exciting and exacting detail: ground targets attacked, U.S. pilots evading Soviet missiles and being shot down by MiGs. The book also covers the retaking of Quang Tri City, the defense of Dong Ha, amphibious assaults by South Vietnamese marines and the mining and subsequent de-mining of North Vietnamese ports. Stoffey’s accounts range from the dramatic (a shot-down pilot surrounded by NVA and rescued by SEALs) to the silly (the Seventh Fleet sent thousands of cheap transistor radios into North Vietnam that broadcast propaganda messages urging the people to get their leaders to leave South Vietnam alone). Stoffey highlights the Marines’ tactical adaptability in several areas of warfighting.

Although he offers the unique perspective of an important military commander in the field, this “middle view” is marred by Stoffey’s repeated injections of conservative political venom. He blames the loss of South Vietnam on the media and antiwar movement, giving no role to the North Vietnamese Army or the government and army of South Vietnam. He repeatedly asserts that antiwar groups were supporting North Vietnam, even though the antiwar movement was complex and included groups such as the National Council of Churches, Nurses for Peace, and the Concerned Graduates of the U.S. Military Academies. The author claims that American media “continuously reported the negatives of the U.S. troops,” reported the U.S. military “did nothing but commit atrocities” and “consistently depicted” the Communists as the good guys, ignoring Communist atrocities. These claims are false. Stoffey is very critical of U.S. political leaders and the restraints they placed on the conduct of the war, claiming the U.S. Seventh Fleet had the ability to destroy the North Vietnamese will to wage war. He says it was “Communist sympathizers” in the United States who made an issue of civilian collateral damage in North Vietnam, and he wishes the United States and South Vietnam had invaded and occupied North Vietnam. He faults American civilian leaders for not inquiring of the Chinese what their reactions might have been had we invaded the North—apparently unaware that China had made it plain to Washington it would send its military forces into North Vietnam in the event of a U.S. ground attack.

The book ends with an admission attributed to North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, that at one point Hanoi was on the ropes and ready to surrender to the United States. The quotation is bogus— Giap never said the words Stoffey attributes to him. Stoffey’s politically inspired falsehoods support his claim that Fighting to Leave is not a history book, but not in the way he intends. They seriously flaw what would otherwise be a valuable contribution to our understanding of the end of the war in Vietnam.


Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here