Vietnam through the eyes of 1962 America

A Pocket Guide to Vietnam 1962

ImageIf you have any interest in America’s involvement in Vietnam, this is a great book to read. It is a reissue of the guide provided to American soldiers from the Department of Defense. What surprised me most was that this was not a manual  written in easy-to-read wording. It is not overly difficult, but I’m wondering how many soldiers actually read through it.
Many will be struck by the difference between what was written and what is perceived as the behavior of some soldiers. The fact that most American soldiers treated the Vietnamese with respect is clearly overshadowed by incidents such as the My Lai massacre.
The book covers a variety of topics in different chapters, but starts with “Nine Rules for Personnel of U.S. Military.” They are interesting to read:
“1) Remember we are special guests here; we make no demands and seek no special treatment.
2) Join with the people! Understand their life, use phrases from their language, and honor their customs and laws.
3) Treat women with politeness and respect.
4) Make personal friends among the soldiers and common people.
5) Always give the Vietnamese the right of way.
6) Be alert to security and ready to react with your military skill.
7) Don’t attract attention by loud, rude, or unusual behavior.
8) Avoid separating yourself from the people by a display of wealth or privilege.
9) Above all else you are members of the U.S. military forces on a difficult mission, responsible for all your official and personal action. Reflect honor upon yourself and the United States of America.”
With that opening the book then covers geography, history, culture, ethnic groups, and religion.  It includes some photos, drawings of Vietnamese military uniforms, and a primer on Vietnamese pronunciation and common phrases. It is fairly objective, even in its portrayal of Ho Chi Minn, and is respectful of the various religions.  It also gives high praise to the fighting history and ability of the Vietnamese.
This updated version carries a forward by Bruns Grayson, a veteran of the war who says “I must have received this handbook sometime in the spring of 1968,” but if so it clearly does not stick in his memory. Later he raises the essential question which is important especially sense this was reissued for the general public. “There is a very real question, of course, of how much force such a guidebook could have in forming the behavior of the average American solider — about twenty years old, not well-educated, not wily enough to avoid the draft in most cases, very often on his first trip away from the United States…We were no more loutish and noisy than any similar collection of young innocents would be, but certainly no less.”
So what does reissuing this book accomplish? I teach a course each semester which, while not a history class, uses the American war in Vietnam as its central theme. But what does this book matter to my students if the soldiers do not even remember it. Was it handed to them with no follow up? Did some leaders cover more than others? Did anyone refer back to it when they were in the aftermath of a battle? 
Historical documents are interesting in setting a context and with this we can see the official context the military was giving to the war in Vietnam. The question is, did they communicate this to the soldiers?

Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision … AND Babe Ruth?

Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing
Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice
Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice’s book balances itself between being a self-help book and theological abstract. The result is a book which reflects on the issue of reconciliation with some depth, but also shows how those reflections are played out in the world.

While individual reconciliation is essential, this books focuses more on communities which have experienced some severe trauma. Once we accept God’s gift of reconciliation we are called on to heal the brokenness of those around us. Our community. And our community extends throughout the world.
It is a work grounded in the Christian faith and serves as a call to Christians. Those not professing such a faith may find hope for what Christianity can offer in a world where the errors of professed Christians are all too apparent. What you will not find is a call to hug and forgive one another, join hands and raise our unified voices in an a capella version of “Amazing Grace,” or simply accept the losses of life as God’s Will.
Their most powerful and unusual call is to one of lament. Lament is a great word and one we so rarely hear or employ today. They quote the gospel of Matthew, in turn quoting from the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice is heard in Ramah/ Lamentation and bitter weeping/ Rachel is weeping for her children;/ She refuses to be comforted for her children,/ Because they are no more.”
Rachel refuses to be comforted and her honest response builds the ground for reconciliation. As the author’s say, “Lament calls us into a fundamental journey of transformation.” They continue by saying this journey requires us “to unlearn three things: speed, distance and innocence.” The unlearning of speed is what distinguishes much of this book from others. We like quick answers, ten steps to a solution, five things to do tomorrow. But they offer no easy answers, but they do offer answers. We must engage the pain of the past and be converted into a new way of thinking, one which reflects the radicalness of the Christian message. We must engage in this work with communities since only with others can we reflect God’s Kingdom.
Katongole and Rice are cofounders of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. If you want to read more about their work you can visit their website.
Babe Ruth: Legendary Slugger
David Fischer
ImageSometimes I wonder if reading “young adult” books should count in my reading list, but since they take a little time I’ve decided to list them. I read along with my 12-year-old (in my head he is saying “I’m almost 13”) who fits under the reluctant reader heading. So he picked this book to read and I’m enough of a sport fan to be interested as well. The challenge for the writer, David Fischer, is that Babe Ruth hardly lead a life we would hold up as a moral standard for our children — a lot of drinking, a lot of women (both pre-marriage and during marriage), a little education, and a rather abrasive personality. Fischer does not hide these facts, but he does not slam the reader with them over and over. What he does focus on is Ruth’s early life with his family, his time at St. Mary’s, and his entry into professional baseball. The book then takes off and focuses on Ruth’s incredible baseball career, from top pitcher to top hitter, and shows his impact in the game. The book also includes some interesting sidebars which explain about other topics not directly tied to his life. 
When my son could keep focused he took it in well, but just for the record — he did not do so good on the oral quiz I gave him! He has new incentives to try again and now we are reading about Jessie Owens.
ImageI do not “count” children’s books in my listing and I do read plenty of children’s books since my youngest is 6. But if for some reason you have snuck through life without Winnie the Pooh stories, let me say I’m having fun reading (again) the original stories to my little boy. More importantly, he is loving them as well. Tonight we hunt for a Heffalump!

Reading, writing, and why is the blog called that?

And so I return to writing and reading. My first, and until now only, foray into the blogging world was my project of reading one book per week for a year and writing about it. That blog exists at this link if you want to see what kept me busy for some time.

I’m not undertaking a similar project this time, but wanted to find a way to keep talking about books, reviewing books, perhaps even having some discussions about books.
I’m planning to update weekly(ish) on what I’m reading or have read. I have a wide range of reading interests and will even review most books submitted to me (caveat: I’m an honest, but kind, reviewer).

the chilly, enduring odor of bear

Galway Kinnell

Note about the title, “the chilly, enduring odor of bear.” It comes from a poem entitled “The Bear” by Galway Kinnell. Kinnell is one of my all-time favorite writers and “The Bear” is simply an incredible poem. That phrase encapsulates much of what the well written word can portray. He did not say “it smelled like bear” or “I smelled a bear” or “there was the odor of bear” or “what smells? Oh look, a bear.”

“The chilly, enduring odor of bear.” Let those words roll around in your mouth, your mind, and yes, even your nose. So much said with so little. Great poetry, great fiction, great writing gives you those experiences.

The phrase comes near the beginning of the poem and is the onset of the narrator’s search for the bear. The symbolism for me here is this I how I see the this blog. It is the beginning of my ongoing journey to delve more into the world of words and thoughts and challenges and joys. The poem ends with the question: “what, anyway/ was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, but which I lived.” [You can read the entire poem here] It is a question I hope to ask at the end.currently reading

I usually have several books going at once, sometimes for different reasons. Currently I’m reading three books.

Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Ricereconciling all things, is the thinking of two people with a similar vision, but from very different backgrounds. I’m reading this in preparation for the Critical Issues Symposium at Hope College, an event I co-chair and as such end up doing a bit of reading on whatever topic we choose to cover. This year our challenging topic is the concept of reconciliation. So far, this is an excellent book which avoids easy solutions and shows that Christian believers can see the reconciliation theme in the our relationship with God, which also means we need to be actively involved in such a process (both personally and globally) in our own world.

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, is really Emma by Jane Austen, but this version offers text on one side of the page and commentary on the other. I’ve read Emma and
The Annotated Emmaeverything else by Jane Austen several times. I’m a Janeite — you’ll just have to get use to it. I’ve already read the annotated versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. In fact, I just finished S&S last week. Both editions are informative and interesting. I’ve learned plenty about eating habits, word use, carriages, servants, and many other things about life in Austen’s time. Sometimes more than I want to know, but you skip the commentary whenever you like. These editions take MUCH longer to read because you get pulled in and I only recommend them to return readers. People who have yet to read Jane Austen’s work (oh, what joy awaits you) should just enjoy the novels as she wrote them.

A Pocket Guide to Vietnam, 1962 was created by the Department of Defense and given A Pocket Guide to Vietnamto American soldiers to help lessen the culture shock of heading into a country most could not find on a map. I teach a first-year English/writing class every semester at Hope College and I usually build the class around the American war in Vietnam. I thought this would be interesting since it is a reprint of what those soldiers were told before heading into a country

and so it goes

So now I move forward and you can look for all the above as promised. While I do this as much for myself as anyone, I clearly put it out to the world in hopes of conversation. Comment away. Tell me I’m a fool (get in line!), say you love that book too, give me recommendations. Just let me know you are reading with me.  Thanks for following along.