I have included books and videos that provide a history of the country and the war, an attitude toward the execution of the war and its aftermath, the military mindset in a way relevant to my own experiences,  tourist guides, and language books/tapes.
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Vietnam: A History (Stanley Karnow, revised 1997, 784pp) is an absolutely wonderful history of the country and the time line for US involvment. There are interviews with people from both sides of the war. Critics have complained that he is too soft on the Communists, but I think he was too soft on Lyndon Johnson.
About Face:The Odyssey of an American Warrior (Col. David H. Hackworth with Julie Sherman, 1990, 875pp) is an extremely powerful and important book written by the most highly decorated, living U.S. soldier. He details his experiences in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam first as a chronicle, then as an indictment of the military system. He is like a kinder, gentler version of Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (see below). The system is wrong, he tries to fight it, he fails, and they come after him.

Brothers in Arms: A Journey from War to Peace (William Broyles, revised 1996, 284pp) is the narrative of a US Marine Lieutenant who returned to Vietnam in 1984. He visited and interviewed former Viet Cong who had fought against his unit as well as those who had endured B-52 bombings. He knew what he had experienced, now he saw the war from the other side.

I have used tour guide books throughout Europe; in Bankgok, Japan, Hawaii, and even parts of the US. No guide book is perfect, absolutely up-to-date, or even accurate about a particular place on the day you happen to be there. Restaurants come and go, hotels change hands, and the small out of the way slice of heaven is inundated with tourists. Fact of life, get over it. Read a guide book for a sense of the culture in a particular place. Good restaurants are ones that know how to prepare and serve food well whether or not it is the chicken fried steak promised in the guide book. Consider the sights and events unlikely to change. Even Dorothy figured out she was not in Kansas anymore, and you should to. If you are not coming to experience Vietnam, then you might as well save the money and stay home.

To add to your experience in Vietnam, you should have an appreciation for the country's history, culture, and language. The language is difficult for Americans, because a word's meaning can change by its tone. We use tones to emphasize certain  words, but the Vietnamese have six tones and six possible meanings for a given sequence of letters. The first step in learning a language is being able to separate the individual words. Knowing the word for "restaurant" would be good if you were hungry. At least be able to recognize and write words likely to be seen in your travels. When I was travelling in Germany, a woman from Texas mistook me for a local and asked how much something cost in her best phrasebook German. Her accent was so thick, it took me several attempts to understand her in English. If you have trouble being understood in Vietnamese, try writing your thoughts.

Vietnamese Language /30 : Start Speaking Today (Educational Services Corp., booklet, 2 audio cassettes, 1994) The classic Berlitz approach to learning a language: listen to the word, phrase, or sentence in English; hear it pronounced twice in Vietnamese, repeat it. Listen to the tape while following the booklet. The booklet follows the tape exactly with the English, phonetic spelling, and Vietnamese.

Word by Word English/Vietnamese Picture Dictionary (Molinsky et al. 1996, 160pp). This book has 3000 words with full color pictures. A scene in a supermarket, classroom, city street, restaurant, and many other places has numbers. The number of the picture is listed with the correct Vietnamese word and the correct English word. English speakers can use this to learn Vietnamese. The book does not has a guide to pronunciation of words in either language.

Vietnamese/English: Level 1: VocabuLearn (Audiocassette, 1993) According to, "The English and Vietnamese speakers have very pleasant voices and the pronounciations are about 99 percent accurate." Hanoi speakers use 6 tones; Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City -- HCMC), 5 tones. The preferred is the Hanoi version, but there is much variation in the hundreds of miles between the two.

Apocalypse Now is absolutely the best movie ever made about the contradictions, dilemmas, disparities, paranoia, and attempts at normality confronting soldiers on a day-to-day basis. For me this was a cathartic experience in confronting post-traumatic stress. I relived my own uncertainty in every situation they encountered. A walk in the jungle could lead to an encounter with a tiger. A nice, sunny day with the music playing could lead to an ambush, a mortar attack, or a single shot. Any civilian on the road could have a hand grenade. The distinction between being vigiliant and prepared for anything and being paranoid of everything that might happen is the line between being stressed out and going insane.

Francis Ford Coppola, who directed this movie, was as driven as his characters. He had fanatical attention to detail: sitting on your helmet (or body armor) in a helicopter because of ground fire and tapping an M-16 magazine against your helmet to align the bases of the cartridges for smoother feeding. Soldiers did surf, sunbathe, harass civilians, and mutilate bodies including their own.

You will not understand the "insane, rambling, musings" of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the first viewing, the second, or even the third. After the fifth time, I finally understood what motivated him. He was the best and the brightest doing everything by the book, until he realized that the book was wrong. He developed information, instincts, and intuition contradicting what he had been taught. When he confronted his superiors, they referred to the book and declared him wrong. Ultimately he realized the futility of fighting people who would kill their own children rather than accepting foreign domination.
Good Morning, Vietnam is a true story of an Armed Forces Radio DJ, Adrian Cronauer, who attempted to bring humor, songs, and truth to the soldiers in 1965. Telling it like it is was not appreciated by his superiors. They wanted the soldiers to hear only the Army propaganda of how well the war was going (as if the soldiers didn't realize what was happening to them). 

Non-veterans viewing Good Morning, Vietnam and Apocalypse Now might wonder which depiction is true of day-to-day life in county. Saigon looks so very civilized and isolated from the war, but the rural areas are seen as a constant source of danger. Both are true, but any city could be a dangerous place.

One scene in the movie struck me as being very unrealistic. Soldiers riding in a truck on a city street encounter a traffic jam. Nobody gets out of the truck. If this had happened in Da Nang or Hue in my unit, everyone would have gotten out of the truck and formed a perimeter to guard against an ambush. Different time, different place, different reaction.

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Copyright 2000 by Roger W. Moeller