By Tom Bissell, Random House; $25
Tom Bissell’s new book is not, ostensibly, about Iraq. It’s about Vietnam. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to read this very thoughtful, well-rounded book by the author of Chasing the Sea and not think of our current situation in Iraq.
The Father of All Things describes the author and his father, a Vietnam veteran, and the history these two men navigate as they travel together in turn-of-the-millennium Vietnam. The reader, contemplating a “surge” in Iraq, feels his or her stomach vibrate when Bissell observes that in 1961 no one other than John F. Kennedy said of Vietnam: “The troops will march in, the bands will play, the crowds will cheer, and in four days everyone will have forgotten. Then we will be told we have to send in more troops. It’s like taking a drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another.” It’s frightening to apply these words to our current president, who admittedly had a problem with drunk driving in the years before he became commander-in-chief.
One critic on Amazon.com takes Bissell to task for what he sees as the author’s staunchly “anti-war” bias. Personally, I think it’s mildly gruesome that “anti-war” could be seen as a) mere political bias and b) a pejorative. The truth is, however, that Bissell’s book about the effects of the Vietnam war 30 years after the fact should be required reading for anyone concerned with the current war — which is to say, all of us. —Chris Huntington