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Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam Kindle Edition
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A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in History
Winner of the 2018 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation Greene Award for a distinguished work of nonfiction
"An extraordinary feat of journalism . . . full of emotion and color."—Karl Marlantes, Wall Street Journal
The first battle book from Mark Bowden since his #1 New York Times bestseller Black Hawk Down, Hue 1968 is the story of the centerpiece of the Tet Offensive and a turning point in the American War in Vietnam.
In the early hours of January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched over one hundred attacks across South Vietnam in what would become known as the Tet Offensive. The lynchpin of Tet was the capture of Hue, Vietnam?s intellectual and cultural capital, by 10,000 National Liberation Front troops who descended from hidden camps and surged across the city of 140,000. Within hours the entire city was in their hands save for two small military outposts. American commanders refused to believe the size and scope of the Front?s presence, ordering small companies of marines against thousands of entrenched enemy troops. After several futile and deadly days, Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham would finally come up with a strategy to retake the city, block by block and building by building, in some of the most intense urban combat since World War II.
With unprecedented access to war archives in the U.S. and Vietnam and interviews with participants from both sides, Bowden narrates each stage of this crucial battle through multiple viewpoints. Played out over 24 days and ultimately costing 10,000 lives, the Battle of Hue was by far the bloodiest of the entire war. When it ended, the American debate was never again about winning, only about how to leave. Hue 1968 is a gripping and moving account of this pivotal moment.
One of the Wall Street Journal's top 10 nonfiction books of 2017
One of the Washington Post’s 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2017
An Amazon Top 100 book of the year
Longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in nonfiction
An ALA Notable Book of the Year
A Christian Science Monitor, Kirkus Reviews, Military Times, Hudson Booksellers, and Chicago Public Library best book of the year
"An extraordinary feat of journalism . . . Through his scrupulous day-by-day reconstruction of this battle, Bowden encapsulates the essential lessons of the Vietnam War . . . Hue 1968 is also an exploration of what is common to all wars: humankind's capacity for violence, cruelty, self-sacrifice, bravery, cowardice and love. Mr. Bowden undertakes this task with the talent and sensibility of a master journalist who is also a humanist and an honest man . . . the book is full of emotion and color . . . You will find the reading gripping."―Karl Marlantes, Wall Street Journal
"A remarkable book."―Dave Davies, NPR's Fresh Air
“[A] magnificent and meticulous history, which tells, with excruciating detail, a story that is both inspiring and infuriating . . . Bowden’s interviews, almost half a century on, with those who fought, on both sides, have produced unexampled descriptions of small-unit combat.”―George F. Will, Washington Post
"Bowden . . . applies his signature blend of deep reportage and character-driven storytelling to bring readers a fresh look at the 1968 battle in the Vietnamese city of Hue . . . [A] compelling and highly readable narrative . . . A meticulous and vivid retelling of an important battle."―Linda Robinson, New York Times Book Review
"An instantly recognizable classic of military history . . . Bowden tells this story with a power and a wealth of detail that no previous history of this offensive has approached."―Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor
"A gripping, and timely, history . . . powerful . . . [Hue 1968] is likely to claim a place on the shelf of essential books about the Vietnam War. Based on hundreds of interviews, news accounts, histories and military archives, the book combines intensive research with Bowden's propulsive narrative style and insightful analysis . . . What sets Bowden's account of the battle apart is his skill at moving from the macro―the history of the war, the politics surrounding it, the tactics of the battle―to the micro: the individuals, American and Vietnamese, who fought it and tried to survive it."―Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
"Bowden is one of the great journalists of our generation, and with this book he provides a captivating account of the pivotal battle that did so much to alter the trajectories of not just the Vietnam War, but also American politics and our nation's global posture. With its capacious research that includes the perspectives of combatants and civilians, Vietnamese and Americans, presidents and privates, it epitomizes what a definitive account should be."―Foreign Policy
“An engrossing, fair-minded, up-close account of one of the great battles in the long struggle for Vietnam.”―Washington Post, “50 notable works of nonfiction in 2017”
"A masterful blood-and-guts account of the decisive battle in the Vietnam War . . . The heart and soul of Hue 1968 lies with its vivid and often wrenching descriptions of the 'storm of war' as soldiers and South Vietnamese citizens experienced it."―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Bowden's excellent Hue 1968 . . . gives us the clearest picture yet of what happened in Vietnam and in Hue, where today tourists casually shoot pictures where murderous shots once were fired."―George Petras, USA Today, 4 out of 4 stars
“In a 539-page narrative, Bowden delivers a work of grand ambition: impassioned, powerful and revelatory at its best, and the most comprehensive yet on the Tet Offensive’s bloodiest confrontation.”―Gregg Jones, Dallas Morning News
“Mark Bowden’s book Hue 1968 is a must-read. Many lessons, including how government can lie and [the] role of an effective media in finding truth. Timely.”―Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA
"For readers who enjoy learning about battle tactics and bloody encounters, Bowden delivers, as he did in Black Hawk Down. The book offers so much more than that, however. For readers who care little about military strategy or precisely how each combatant died, Bowden offers copious context about why it matters what occurred in Vietnam at the beginning of 1968―why it mattered so much then, and why it matters so much in 2017 . . . Bowden is masterful in introducing characters whose names have often never appeared in the news but whose actions help explain the complications for the United States of becoming involved in faraway wars involving nearly invisible enemies."―Steve Weinberg, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Dazzling . . . Bowden's account of the battle delivers gut punches from start to finish . . . Most impressive of all, Bowden deftly blends clear descriptions of complex troop movements with careful attention to the human impact of the fighting . . . Bowden deserves enormous credit for calling new attention to an often-overlooked battle and especially for recovering the experiences of those who fought amid otherworldly horrors."―Mark Atwood Lawrence, Boston Globe
“Searing . . . Bowden revisits the historic battle with the same character-driven, grunt-level reporting style that made Black Hawk Down a bestseller. He lends a sympathetic ear to surviving soldiers on both sides, as well as guerrillas and civilians, and gives a vivid account of courage and cowardice, heroism and slaughter.”―Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times
“A powerful account of a critical battle in Vietnam . . . Bowden’s attention to detail is flawless . . . This kind of fine-tuned detail―and sense of mystery―is the soul of a good historical account . . . The book is a mighty piece of work, and as fine an account of a battle as you will likely read. Hell, I wish I had written it.”―Anthony Loyd, Times (UK)
"Nearly 50 years after the battle for the city of Hue, this history reads as fresh as today's news . . . every page merits reading."―Military Times
“An unsparing look at the Vietnam War and how it changed America.”―Monte Whaley, Denver Post, “Staff pick”
“Smart, well-reported and hypnotic in spots.”―Joe Gross, American-Statesman
“Hue 1968 pulls off a rare feat: it takes a conflict of terrible scale and consequence, and allows us to see it unfold at the street level, through the eyes of Vietnamese and American soldiers engaged in the struggle, journalists and activists observing the chaos, and the civilians caught in the crossfire . . . His emphasis on firsthand accounts gives a vital heart to the unfolding events . . . Not only are the personal stories Bowden uncovers at turns deeply moving and horrifying, but they also pose uncomfortable parallels with current events in the Middle East and Afghanistan.”―Sebastien Roblin, National Interest
“Thoroughly researched and compelling . . . This is as much a book about what happens to peoples’ hearts, minds, and bodies in the swirling chaos of urban combat as it is a history of a specific battle and an assessment of its strategic significance. We come to know a fair number of the participants quite well by the end of the story―one source of the book’s unusual power and authenticity . . . With a novelist’s eye for evoking the grim atmospherics of a hellish locale and the characters within it, Bowden reconstructs dozens of scenes of heart-pounding combat . . . Bowden’s coverage of the ‘other side’ . . . gives this book a richer texture, and more balance, than any of the earlier books on Hue . . . Anyone looking to understand what Vietnam was all about would do well to read Hue 1968. Without a doubt, it’s one of the very best books to be written about Vietnam in the last decade.”―James A. Warren, Daily Beast
“I am still recovering from the astonishment and appreciation of the reporting and writing in Mark Bowden’s latest book: Hue 1968, a story of a single battle that encompassed so much of what occurred in that epic year of our history.”―Mike Barnicle, Politico
“A relentlessly immediate chronicle of the bloody, month-long centerpiece of the Tet Offensive . . . This is the definitive account of a turning point in America's Vietnam strategy and in public opinion about the war.”―Wall Street Journal, “top 10 nonfiction books of 2017”
“[A] skillful, gripping account of the turning point of the Vietnam War.”―Christian Science Monitor, “30 best books of 2017”
“Bowden confronts head-on the horrific senselessness of battle and the toll it takes on people, and he grants Hue the regard it deserves as a defining moment in a war that continues to influence how America views its role in the world.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This Vietnam story reads like a movie but it's all true."―Courier-Journal (Louisville)
"An extraordinary account of the most important and costly battle of the Vietnam War."―Don McCullin, legendary photojournalist who covered the Battle of Hue
"In this meticulous retelling of one critical battle, Mark Bowden captures the nuanced and often invisible threads of America's political, military and cultural blindness in Vietnam. Hue 1968 is the new classic about America's Vietnam War."―Elizabeth Becker, author of When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution
"A detailed, multifaceted account."―Tirdad Derakhsani, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Thoroughly researched, this epic chronicle takes the reader back to a time when America still saw itself as invincible―and acted that way . . . fast-paced . . . A powerful piece of journalism.”―David Kindy, Providence Journal
“An outstanding work of reportage and storytelling.”―Paul Davis, Washington Times
“[A] master storyteller.”―John David, Decatur Daily
“Bowden interviewed people on both sides, to great effect, and weaves a dense but compelling narrative about a battle that was a microcosm of the entire conflict.”―Alex Prud’homme, Omnivoracious, favorite reads of 2017
"A stirring history of the 1968 battle that definitively turned the Vietnam War into an American defeat . . . Building on portraits of combatants on all sides, Bowden delivers an anecdotally rich, careful account of the complex campaign to take the city. One of the best books on a single action in Vietnam, written by a tough, seasoned journalist who brings the events of a half-century past into sharp relief."―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"An epic masterpiece of heroism and sacrifice, and a testament to the tragic futility of the American experience in Vietnam."―Booklist (starred review)
“The best history of the battle for Vietnam’s imperial city of Hue.”―William D. Bushnell, Military Officer Magazine
"In his monumental new book, Bowden . . . gives voice to dozens, including Nguyen Quang Ha, whose five-man team emerged from underground caves to strike the first blow for North Vietnamese forces, Bob Thompson, a career marine officer charged with taking back the US stronghold at the Citadel, President Lyndon Johnson and General William Westmoreland in Washington, DC and reporters David Halberstam, Michael Herr, Gene Roberts, Walter Cronkite and others who changed the way Americans perceived the war."―Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com
"Hue 1968 unravels one of the great mysteries of our time―how a puny force of North Vietnam regulars and local sympathizers could without warning occupy South Vietnam's second largest city, hold it for a month, then disappear into the mountains, beyond reach and largely unbloodied. It turns out the force wasn't puny, but fanatical warriors who gripped their prey by the throat and wouldn't let go. They were unfazed by waves of counter-attackers, Vietnamese and American soldiers, but mostly Marines rushed in to defeat them. Hue 1968 shows the enormous challenges facing both sides and how they overcame them, or tried to. Did the Battle of Hue end up as a victory or defeat? The answer depends on who's asking and who's telling. Bowden takes on both roles and does it well."―Lieutenant Colonel Charles A. Krohn (ret.), author of The Lost Battalion of Tet
"Hue 1968 is, by far, the most comprehensive (and balanced) coverage on this battle I've seen. Like never before, I've come to realize how narrow a perspective we low-level participants unavoidably had. While giving due respect to the abilities, actions and fighting spirit of the U.S. and ARVN Marines and soldiers who participated, Mark Bowden brought clarity to the larger intelligence, political and strategic shortcomings that made the prosecution of this battle so much more challenging and costly than it needed to be."―Brigadier General Mike Downs, USMC (ret.)
"The longest and fiercest fighting of the Tet Offensive took place in and around Hue in early 1968 where Communist North Vietnam suffered a terrible military defeat. Yet the fight for Hue became a political victory for the leaders of North Vietnam and a turning point for US involvement and support for the war. Through searing personal accounts of many on both sides who were there, Mark Bowden reveals the intensity of the fighting. Relying on archival documents now available after 50 years, he also examines the considerations and decisions of political and military leaders at the highest levels. This book is a tragic tale of misunderstanding but also one of great heroism and sacrifice by those who fought in the streets of Hue and in the nearby rice paddies and villages."―Brigadier General Howard T. Prince II, USA (ret.), Commanding Officer, Bravo Company, 5/7 Cavalry, 1968
"Mark Bowden uniquely describes the battle from both sides of the front lines and vividly captures the remarkable courage and valor of those that participated in the crucible of war that was Hue City in January to March 1968. Surely to be an historical standard for the recollection of that Tet 1968 battle."―Colonel Chuck Meadows, USMC (ret.), Former Commanding Officer of Golf Company 2ndBn 5thMar
"I am a US Marine Vietnam veteran who participated as a tank crewmen in the Tet 1968 battle for Hue City. I have read just about every written account of the month-long battle, and I have to say that all of the other well-written, well-documented accounts of the battle pale in comparison to Mark Bowden's Hue 1968. There is no more complete, accurate and detailed book. It reads like a novel even though is it made up almost exclusively of very personal accounts."―John Wear, president of the USMC Vietnam Tankers Association
“Powerfully told, and a vivid depiction of individual courage and national hubris.”―William J. Burns, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
“The definitive history of the battle for Hue . . . It is a riveting account . . . of valor, heroism, rank foolhardiness, and unshakable camaraderie . . . More than anything, Hue 1968 is the story of the entire Vietnam War in microcosm.”―Michael M. Rosen, Claremont Review of Books--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B071Y87H9H
- Publisher : Atlantic Monthly Press (June 6, 2017)
- Publication date : June 6, 2017
- Language : English
- File size : 10456 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 767 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #164,213 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2017
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Interestingly, the reporter who was told by Walt Rostow the war over, Gene Roberts, should have been on the scene during the battle for Hue (pronounced “Hway”). His reports for the New York Times were the first and among the best, and it is he to whom this book is dedicated. The author of “Hue 1968,” Mark Bowden, who also wrote “Black Hawk Down” (1999), says his book is “mostly the work of a journalist,” the result of four years of travel (twice to Vietnam), investigation and interviews with those who were there. He tells the story from the points of view of American and Vietnamese politicians and generals as well as those who did the fighting. The result is a gripping day-to-day account of troop movements, fighting inside and nearby the city, and of U.S. high command that was completely out of touch with what was taking place in Hue. General Westmoreland believed the thrust of the Tet Offensive was going to be directed at Khe Sahn, and did so for several weeks despite overwhelming evidence the actual target was Hue.
The book is as much about arrogant leadership as it is about the brave soldiers on both sides who did the fighting and bore the results of decisions made by generals and politicians in Hanoi, Saigon, Washington and other positions of safety. In the first days of fighting, the U.S. high command would not believe reports from the CIA, or from those fighting on the front lines, that the well-trained and well-supplied National Liberation Front (combined North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces) had taken the city. Two companies, about 300 marines, were ordered to attack a force far larger than anyone believed possible—10,000 Front soldiers who had sneaked into the city without detection. These marines suffered enormous losses as a result. When they informed the military command in nearby Phu Bai that they were vastly outnumbered, their reports were not believed. They were accused of exaggeration, timidity and even cowardice, and ordered to attack. Entire units were deeply decimated, by as much as two-thirds, and one unit almost entirely. Meanwhile, the U.S. command continued to send in small units while denying air, naval and artillery support for fear of damaging Hue’s historic buildings, and thereby embarrassing the U.S. All the while, a fleet of helicopters could not keep pace with the mounting casualties needing to be airlifted to hospitals in Saigon. Finally, confronted with overwhelming evidence, they sent in the entire 1st Marine Regiment and part of the 1st Cavalry Division, plus aircraft and heavy artillery, and began taking back the city in grim block-by-block fighting. Hue proved to be the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War. When at last the few remaining Front soldiers fled for the countryside, Hue lay in ruins. Casualties—combatants on both sides as well as citizens—exceeded 10,000. U.S. Marines and soldiers killed were 250 and1,554 wounded
For most of the battle, General Westmoreland was in a state of self-denial, busy preparing for the attack on Khe Sahn that never came. It seemed Americans back home were better informed on the battle of Hue than the U.S. high command, from having read the daily reports of war correspondents in the national press. CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, a supporter of the war, did read the reports and was deeply disturbed. He flew to South Vietnam to see the battle of Hue for himself, something Westmoreland deigned not to do. A few weeks later, Cronkite’s report on the CBS evening news confirmed what had been reported in U.S. newspapers for several years: America was losing the war, and the battle of Hue was yet one more confirmation that the U.S. high command was playing fast and loose with the truth. Writes Bowden: “(Walter Cronkite) may not have declared an end to the war, but he had declared the end of something far more significant. For decades, certainly since World War II, the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years. Americans would never again be that trusting.”
The first casualty of war is truth, someone once said. Vietnam is yet one more example. Both sides were guilty of withholding the truth, to further their cause. For U.S. soldiers in Hue, the results were tragic. Had their initial reports been believed, the outcome very likely would have been different. Going in with full force at the outset would have avoided the much worse end result. Fewer soldiers would have died and been wounded, not to mention the citizens of Hue trapped in the city by the incessant fighting, and the ancient city itself might have been spared such devastation.
Finally, there are the incredible sacrifices of those who did the fighting, most of them 18-to-22 year-olds, only a few of whom volunteered for duty, and the men who led them into battle, lieutenant colonels in their 30s who volunteered for Vietnam to promote their military careers. The word “courage” seems hardly adequate to describe soldiers who, having seen so many of their own shot to pieces by snipers, are ordered to step into the line of fire for the upteenth time in a single day, knowing full well the odds of returning home alive or in one piece are slim indeed. Whether you have no military experience or only a limited knowledge of the Vietnam War, the author makes events vivid and easy to understand, and reveals the battle for Hue as haphazard and savage.
The result of the ignorance and denial was to send Marines and Army ""on a fool's errand immediately on arrival at the compound [of Hue]""[Loc 2010] ""Westmoreland seemed almost oblivious to the largest single battle of the Tet Offensive, if not of the entire war, under way in Hue. His forces there were badly outnumbered, struggling, and dying.""[Loc 3206]
And the enemy was not what had been experienced before. ""[Marine Calvin] Hart had come to Vietnam expecting to fight amateurs, little men in black pajamas and conical hats who were no match for United States Marines. But the enemy encountered in Hue was tough and professional, every bit their match. These fighters were uniformed and well-equipped, and they set up defensive positions and fields of fire as good as anything taught by the Corps""[Loc 7421]
As American deaths mounted in the face of the Army commands assurances the battle was nothing, the American public started to turn against the war. Perhaps the biggest force of change in America's understanding of war was Walter Cronkite's reporting after his visit to the war zone. If you are younger than maybe 50 you may not have an appreciation of Cronkite's impact on public opinion. He was the anchor of the CBS news when there were only three or four national networks. Cronkite's nightly newscast was the most watched. ""[W]hen he interviewed Westy in his crisp fatigues and with a chrome0-plated AK-47 in his office as a prop, the general seemed even more cocksure than usual. He repeated the official line that Tet had been a big success for his forces. He declared the battle of Hue over. He said that US forces and ARVN troops had soundly defeated ten thousand NVA and VC troops there - blithely contradicting his earlier assertion that there were no more than a few hundred enemy soldiers in the city.l Then Cronkite flew to Hue, where ten minutes on the ground was enough to show none of it was true. The battle was still raging.""[Loc 5865] When he returned to the states he delivered a pessimistic editorial on the state of the war. ""Cronkite's cautious pessimism had tremendous impact and made it much harder to dismiss those who opposed the war as 'hippies' or un-American. It was hard to image an American more conventional and authentic than Walter Cronkite.""[Loc 8118] ""Tet had exposed Westy as an untrustworthy source of information, not just to the press and public, but even in his secret communications to the White House.""[Loc 7989]
One of the book's biggest strengths is the view of the battle for Hue from the North Vietnamese side. Bowden was able to interview participants from The Front and the NVA, providing a narrative of the lead up to the battle. His other strength is his gripping storytelling of the battle from the American side. The description of Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham's analysis of a battle situation where troops are pinned down by a machine gun shows the stuff heroes are made of: ""Cheatham studied the problem himself. He crawled out to a telephone pole and waited for the gun to fire. It was using green tracers, so he could see the trajectory of its rounds. He noticed that when it shot at things to its left, ... the rounds were low, but whenever the gun shot to its right ..., the aim was high. This suggested that the gunner's field of fire was obstructed by something on that side, something that forced him to aim the gun up. If he was right, Cheatham figured there was a spot near him out on the street where a man could stand up and still be too low for the machine gun.""[Loc 4543] It takes a real soldier to keep cool in the heat of battle like that.
Bowden's biggest weakness is discounting the impact of the battle of Khe Sanh on the battle for Hue. Bowden continually hammers on Westmoreland for his moving forces to Khe Sanh for the coming offensive. But if my understanding is right, the battle of Khe Sanh was actually happening at the same time. The Tet Offensive and attack on Hue was February 1968 while the battle of Khe Sanh went from late January into the spring of the same year.
All in all the Marines and Army officers who were leading the men in battle were made victims of the higher ups who simply refused to see the battle for what it was. ""This refusal to face facts was not just a public relations problem; it had tragic consequences for many of the marines and soldiers who fought there. If the extent of the challenge had been weighed realistically at the outset, if commanders had heeded the entirely correct CIS assessment on the first day, and if they had listened to their own field commanders, they might have held off the counterattack until they had readied an appropriate level of force and more effective tactics.""[Loc 8341] There is a lesson here for all leaders - not just military: be open to new information and act on it.
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The analysis of how this battle changed the political mind set in the States is also very thorough and objective. It is a pity the political elite no longer lead their people into war in person like Kings of old. There would be a lot less conflict and more understanding and compassion if they did.