A Pocket Guide to Vietnam 1962
If 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?