Ever since I was a kid, the Vietnam War has fascinated me. I try to read as many of the new books on the war that come onto the market. Daniel Bolger recently wrote one on the future Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom in Our Year of War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided.
Bolger brings to the book his experience as an officer who served in the U.S. Army and commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired as a Lieutenant General. His insight is invaluable when he examines the many faults with the U.S. approach to the Vietnam War – everything from the individual replacement system to the strategy and tactics used by the Americans.
The book is an awesome account of Chuck and Tom Hagel’s year in Vietnam (1968 – which covered the Tet Offensive and numerous large operations). It not only recounts their exploits, but also their diverging views on the war. Chuck viewed the war more favorably than Tom. Their reasons were based on their temperaments and their experiences – Tom had a few more psychologically damaging experiences than Chuck.
Bolger goes beyond the standard chronological account of soldiers in combat. He includes the events that were occurring in the U.S. at the time the Hagels were there – including the assassination of Martin Luther King and some of the race riots that rocked the U.S. This inclusion helped put into context the feelings of the troops as they fought an unseen enemy while their home cities were burning.
The book is an excellent look at not only how two brothers coped with war, but also how the U.S. changed with the brothers as the Vietnam War dragged on.