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Page 30
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Letter to the Editor

By Larry Rottmann

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A recent edition of The Veteran (Fall 2023 - ed.) featured a long and positive review of George Black's 2023 book, The Long Reckoning: A Story Of War, Peace, And Redemption In Vietnam. This piece followed a lengthy and equally laudatory review in the April 9, 2023, New York Times book review of The Long Reckoning (named the "Editors' Choice"), written by Elizabeth D. Samet, a professor of English at the West Point Military Academy.

Ms. Samet's extensive review ends by relating a very moving quote from Black's book (pages 110 and 111):

"In his fascinating description of life on the perilous Ho Chi Minh Trail, Black includes a vignette about a North Vietnamese porter. The unnamed man fortified his spirit against hunger, brutal labor, poison clouds of defoliant sprayed from C-123s, and napalm bombs by reciting poems from a volume of Walt Whitman he carried in his rucksack. When his unit captured an American soldier, the porter eagerly sought out the prisoner's thoughts about Song of Myself... But there's a twist to Black's story. The Vietnamese porter seeks the GI's opinion in vain: The man had never heard of Whitman."

That's certainly a powerful narrative, but the problem is that it's not Black's story. He stole it from my 1993 poetry and photograph anthology Voices From The Ho Chi Minh Trail: Poetry of America and Vietnam, 1965-1993. Black did not ask or even inform me that he was using my true account (collected during 19 post-war trips to Vietnam); instead, he insisted—as noted by Samet—that the story was his.

And if that egregious act of plagiarism isn't bad enough, in The Long Reckoning (page 110), Black steals yet another of my personal narratives:

"One man who spent twelve years on the trail and was wounded four times taught himself to whistle hundreds of birdsongs, a substitute for those who had been silenced by the bombing and spraying."

I am a Vietnam veteran, and the author of these two true stories, and Black's blatant theft of my material is unforgivable. I contacted him, and he refuses to remove his lies from future printings or to admit his plagiarism. Samet has declined my request for an apology and that she publicly corrects her fraudulent review. The New York Times book review says Black's obvious plagiarism isn't its responsibility. And all of these self-proclaimed "professionals" are perfectly happy to actively participate in the exploitation of a decorated former soldier. No wonder that many of the various "true accounts of the Vietnam War" contain errors and lies.

This isn't the first time I've had some of my 59 years of literary work stolen, and it probably won't be the last. And it greatly angers and profoundly saddens me that fellow Americans like George Black—who I went to war and suffered wounds to protect—would stoop so low as to profit from my sacrifice. Shame on them.

—Larry Rottmann

<< 29. Excavations Update: LZ Ranch / Patrol Base Frontier City31. JFK's War With the National Security Establishment >>