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Page 32
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The Vietnam Run

By Steve Krug (reviewer)

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The Vietnam Run
American Merchant Mariners in the Indochina Wars, 1945-1975
by Michael Gillen
(McFarland, 2023)

"A page of history is worth a volume of logic" - Oliver Wendell Holmes.

This could be said for Michael Gillen's book: a well-written, thoroughly researched, and annotated history of Merchant Mariners in said time and place. If there was ever a book that clearly sums up how the US got involved in Vietnam, this is it.

The book is divided into three parts:

Part One - The First Indochina (French) War.

While FDR was clear that the US was not fighting WWII so that the British and French empires could be re-established after the war, Truman was far more pliant with the idea, especially once the Cold War and its simplistic worldview took shape. FDR knew France needed ships to reinsert itself into its old colonial holdings, and FDR postponed any real help. Many former colonies hoped the US would stand by its wartime statements that, in the future, self-determination would rule the day. The people who had Truman's ear had different ideas about who should run the world and self-determination. Transport of French troops back into "Indochine" on US ships began even as US troops waited to be shipped back home after the end of WWII. The US Merchant Marine protested this action. Soon, ships were given to the French, along with increasing amounts of arms.

Part Two - The Second Indochina (American) War.

After the defeat of the French in Vietnam, the US started looking for someone to support and came up with Diem, a Catholic in a Buddhist country. Choosing Diem only makes sense when viewed through the lens of anti-communist hysteria. Self-determination for former colonies was the farthest from US policymakers' minds, as was any semblance of democracy and free elections.

While I am sure most VVAW members know this part of US involvement, Gillen supplies us with much info on how the Merchant Marine factors into it. It is impossible to summarize this part of the history, reading the book is well worth the time.

Part Three - Aftermath.

This section deals with "Boat People" and MIA recovery efforts, emphasizing the involvement of Merchant Mariners. Once again, Gillian provides us with the area's history and explains how ethnic Chinese became unwanted in Vietnam and fled.

As current US policy shifts to strengthen its ties with Vietnam as an ally against China, Gillen's book explains how the area's history plays into current geo-politicking.

Steve Krug is a retired Merchant Marine captain, was a conscientious objector during the American war in Vietnam and is a VVAW member.

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