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The American Combat Soldier in Vietnam by Grunts Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 16th, 2020


The Vietnam War is a resistance against the US that happened in 1955 and it involved three countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The war emerged from the antagonism between the South and North Vietnam. The southern divide gained its support from the communist allies like China and the Soviet Union while North Vietnam got back up from the United States and the Philippines along with other non-communist friends. After the war, several documentations have been made to account for the experiences of the American soldiers during the Vietnam War. This paper is a book review of Kyle Longley’s Grunts: The American Combat Soldier in Vietnam.

Bibliographic information of the author

Kyle Longley is a distinguished professor at the Arizona State University and heads the school of Philosophical, Historical and Religious Studies as well as the School of Politics and Global Studies. The author did his bachelor’s degree at Angelo State University, the master’s at Texas Tech University and the Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky. Kyle Longley has served multiple administrative positions including heading the Faculty of History, directing graduate studies and becoming the Dean’s faculty fellow at Arizona State University. Longley focuses on research activities especially in areas of modern American politics and United States foreign relations thus making remarkable contributions in reviewing and publishing journals and articles.

Longley has published six books that include the United States and Latin America, Ronald Reagan and conservative mythology and Costa Rica and the United States during the rise of Jose Figueres, among others. The professor undertakes a variety of leadership roles that comprise of hosting and organizing the inter-American conferences at the national level and communication information about the U.S foreign relations in ABC News, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, and others. Currently, Kyle Longley is co-authoring a book with David Coffey and Gene Smith regarding the military history of the United States.

Chronological scope and topics of the book

“Grunts: The American Combat Soldier in Vietnam” presents the story of the encounters of soldiers beginning from the initial decisions to join the military to the final homecoming of the warriors who survived after the termination of the Vietnam War. The topics in the book provide systematic accounts of the different phases in the war including the American Infantryman that spanned in Vietnam between 1961 and 1968. Besides, the encounters during the fall and withdrawal of the Saigon and the eventual commemoration of the soldiers are well depicted in the book. The scope of the topics touches on all the locations used in the event of war by presenting a vivid account that paints a picture of the Vietnam War.

The central thesis of the book

The book explores the American soldiers’ experiences during the Vietnam War. It also addresses the stereotypes being perpetuated in popular culture regarding the Vietnam War. Additionally, the book pinpoints the role of women who participated near the battle front line and those who served on the home front.

An overview of the book

The grunts refer to the infantrymen in Vietnam War. The author depicts the consequences affiliated with the Vietnam service that comprises of boredom, homesickness, and the heroism of the American soldiers and their families. Besides, the book postulates the organization of principles like race, masculinity, and class. The book entails the experiences of the soldiers originating from various geographic locations and ethnic backgrounds. Issues on race relations defined the experiences of the black soldiers in Vietnam during the training process. The combat exercise was characterized by mutual sacrifice, collaboration, and a spirit of brotherhood.

The unity emanated from dependency with each other, which explains how camaraderie was formed amongst the soldiers. However, the goodwill did not end after the war due to the good reception that the soldiers received upon returning to the US.

The book highlights the common culture of stereotyping the Vietnam War veterans. The individual who engaged in the battle is alleged to be poorly educated and holding no professional qualifications. Another belief is that veterans who participated in the war are reluctant draftees precisely the poor whites and the minorities. The book outlines the presumption that youngsters comprise the highest population in the American military during the Vietnam War thus resulting in more casualties.

Another common stereotype that ruins the image of the Vietnam battle veteran is injecting heroin and smoking pot with the aim to dull the horrific moments of the war. Furthermore, the author demonstrates the role of women and the commemoration of the veterans through memorials services to recognize their efforts. Some of the women are directly involved in the front line while others provide the support functions by serving as nurses, military information officers, and clerks.

Critique of the book

The author highlights the theme of stereotyping of the Vietnam combat veterans. Most veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the psychological torture associated with the war. Unfortunately, the entrainment media in the United States view the veterans as sick, homeless, addicts, and a menace to society. The author does commendable work in breaking these stereotypes to show that these veterans are men and women of honor. Additionally, during the Vietnam War, approximately eighty percent of the troop members possessed a high school diploma, which quashes the stereotype that views them as poorly educated. The book’s strengths lie in the way the author articulates issues. He uses numerous reference materials including interviews with the war veterans to support his claims, which is commendable. The author also proves the book’s thesis by giving detailed accounts of the soldiers’ experiences in recruitment, training, and on the battlefield.

As the author postulates, social forces were the primary determinants that pushed young men into the American military. During the recruitment training, the competent instructors worked vigorously to develop discipline, conformity, and cooperation among the soldiers. Most soldiers doubted the nobility of the mission, which created controversies as the war intensified. Race problems and drug culture affected the cohesiveness and disciple of the soldiers thus supplanting idealism with a desire to survive.

One for the book’s weaknesses is that the author fails to highlight the racial prejudices amongst the US soldiers who participated in the war. During the war, violence erupted in the US camp due to the unequal assignment of menial duties, poor promotion, unfair drafting, and allocation of combat units to the black soldiers. Additionally, the book does not explore the perceptions and opinions that most African American soldiers established towards the Vietnamese. The black soldiers sympathized and empathized with the Vietnamese by viewing them as victims of both poverty and mistreatment from the whites.

Works Cited

Longley, Kyle. Grunts: the American combat soldier in Vietnam, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008. Print.

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