Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the War

John Steinbeck, Author, Thomas E Barden, Editor
Edited by Thomas E. Barden. Univ. of Virginia, $29.95 (240p) ISBN -978-0-8139-3257-6
Reviewed on: 01/23/2012
Release date: 03/01/2012
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In December 1966 when the Vietnam War was beginning to dominate America’s political landscape, novelist and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck went to Vietnam as a reporter for Newsday. Over the next year he wrote over 80 pieces about the war. Because these articles are not presented here in a historical context, readers will find them an eerie flashback, opinions frozen in time, but opinions that viscerally reflect the deep political chasm that the war created in America. Steinbeck’s writing is vividly descriptive, evoking place and circumstance–for instance, the Central Highlands of Vietnam are compared to the Texas Panhandle; Hong Kong is “the Neiman Marcus of the Far East”; and he calls the “new” warfare without battalions and linear goals, the “drifting phantasm of a war.” But Steinbeck’s ruminations about the wisdom of the Vietnam War, the bitterness with which he describes the antiwar bias he discerns in some American media, and his endorsement of the “domino theory” as a reason to intervene in Vietnam feel naive in retrospect. Nonetheless, Steinbeck’s ability to capture the day-to-day conduct of the war and its destructive force is sometimes shockingly immediate. 13 b&w photos. (Mar.)
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