The Vietnam War: The Good and Bad Addressed in One Book

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” -This well known American right set out by the Constitution is the underlying force behind The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints . Written to uphold this freedom of speech and promote group discussion, the book presents the reader with thirty-two selections from speeches, statements, articles, and books pertaining to the Vietnam War. These selections represent various viewpoints regarding five major questions: Why did the U.S. become involved in Vietnam? Why did U.S. policy fail in Vietnam? What are the legacies of Vietnam? How has the Vietnam War affected veterans? And What should U.S. policy be towards Indochina? This 1990 edition was written to replace an earlier edition; more viewpoints have been added.

This book is organized and written in a way that makes is accessible to many age groups, but it is mainly intended for adolescents. There is a short summary of United States involvement in Vietnam at the beginning of the book that allows a reader entirely ignorant of the Vietnam War to understand the viewpoints that will be presented. To better facilitate classroom activities and discussion, each chapter is followed by a critical thinking activity. Overall, these activities are adequate to give the reader a greater understanding of some underlying issues touched on in the viewpoints.
Although it begins with a good purpose and is fairly balanced on the types of opinions it presents, this Opposing Viewpoints book falls short of its goal.

To begin with, each viewpoint is preceded by a short summary paragraph of what will be covered in the opinion. This effectively causes the reader to develop a particular view about something he has not even read yet. Sources for the viewpoints are poorly cited, offering only a date and locations in the case of speeches and no indication of where the student might locate the original for further research or review. On rather glaring fault in the presentation is that the various viewpoints are edited and divided into short titles sections. A reader could fall prey to the possible hidden bias of the editor if they do not seek out the complete documents (and I have already touched on the difficulty finding these documents). Another serious problem is that the editor has inserted various political cartoons and quotes into each viewpoint section. Although related to the opinion of each particular source, they are selected from different authors and disrupt the legitimacy of each viewpoint.

More problems can be found in the bibliography. Each chapter is followed by a periodical bibliography of approx. fifteen sources that “have been selected to supplement the diverse views presented in this chapter.” These sources are not cited anywhere in the chapter and they are not the sources used for the inserted quotes. One can only assume that they have been used to contribute to the extremely short introductions opening the chapters or even possibly as the ultimate origins of the documents chosen by the editors. A longer annotated bibliography provided at the end of the book proves to present more questions than it does answers.

Overall The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints does offer students a good starting point to span debate and discussion. It provides an outlet for teachers to point students thinking towards the right track to be more open for heated discussion about the Vietnam War. It does however, have many flaws that should be taken into consideration when presenting the book to any reader. The reader should be made aware of possible problems with the book so he or she will be better able to compensate where the book ultimately fails.

William Dudley and David Bender, book eds. David Bender and Bruno Leone, series eds. The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints. (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1990).

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