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To Bear Any Burden by Al Santoli
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To Bear Any Burden

by Al Santoli

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    "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power (paulkid)
    paulkid: Read Power's book for a more recent overview of many incidents of genocide, including that in Cambodia. Read Santoli's book for many personal accounts of the refugee crises caused by the indochina wars.
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This book ‘To Bear Any Burden’ by Al Santoli, is subtitled ‘The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath In the Words of Americans and Southeast Asians’ and that’s exactly what it is: a series of accounts, descriptions and narratives from people who actually experienced on the ground the horrors of that war. There is no fiction or, as is the fashion these days, ‘fictionalised accounts of actual fact’. The facts are allowed to speak for themselves. And speak they do.

There had been some American involvement in South East Asia from the time the French pulled out in 1954, but real involvement began in 1960 when North Vietnam imposed universal military conscription and Eisenhower increased the number of military advisors to 685. From then on there was no looking back until the ignominious scramble to escape by helicopter from the roofs of Saigon in 1975.

I have lived my life without war and at the same time my mind has been heavily marked by war. This was my first war. I remember having vehement arguments with a friend of mine in school in 1966 over the right of America to be in Vietnam at all. He was full of the ‘Domino Theory’. I wasn’t. Had I been an American youngster I would most probably have been part of their anti-war movement, though given the peculiarities of my sense of duty I also probably would have gone to the jungles as my country required. Of course Vietnam had already experienced about a 1000 years of war before the Yanks arrived, as this book reminds us, but American involvement changed everything: the whole idea of what ‘war’ is underwent a profound recasting. They had the atom bomb, and had used it before, and so the threat was always hovering in the background. They had defoliant and carpet bombing. They had seemingly inexaustable resources. But … they were in someone else’s country and the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army knew it was only a matter of time that this alone would defeat them. And of course the growth of the anti-war sentiment back home steadily eroded whatever ‘idealism’ was there initially. Now when I follow the Afghan war from the comfort of my living-room couch it all seems so familiar.

All comments by me (and others who have enjoyed a lifetime of peace) have to be hackneyed and unoriginal on this matter. What this book does is remind us, in the words of those who suffered, how much our ‘hindsight history’ was a raw lived-in experience for them at the time. There are first-hand accounts in this book from every type of participant: American soldiers of all ranks, advisors, Army wives, civilians, Viet Cong… Here’s a excerpt from Frank McCarthy’s account of how things went when he got home to California in March 1967:

“… I was spit on. This gang of kids walking behind me threw peanuts at me. I went into a bar and phoned my brother. I almost didn’t make it out of there… they wanted to kick my ass. Calling, ‘You kill any women? You kill any kids?’ … … We went out to a dance that night. All I had was my Class A uniform. And boy, it was such a shock. People looking at me like, ‘You scum.’ They’d walk by and spit on the ground. And I had this tremendous feeling that I had done something wrong. It was like I wasn’t supposed to have survived.” ( )
  Eamonn12 | Aug 9, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0525243275, Hardcover)

"To Bear Any Burden is necessary to understand the most significant aspect of the Indochina wars: the human one." —Tran Van Dinh, author of Blue Dragon White Tiger: A Tet Story

"At least this reader would like to spend hours if not days talking to each of the people within these pages." —Jack Reynolds, Network Correspondent, NBC

"... remarkable insight into the human aspect of the war." —Library Journal

The 48 American and Asian veterans, refugees, and officials who speak in this book come from widely divergent backgrounds. In their narratives we hear them reliving crucial moments in the preparation, execution, and aftermath of war. It is a riveting, eyewitness account of the war and also reclaims from this tragic continuum larger patterns of courage and dedication.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:15 -0400)

The forty-eight American and Asian witnesses who recount their stories in this book are survivors of a great cataclysm, the Vietnam War. The veterans, refugees, and officials who speak here come from widely divergent backgrounds yet combine to narrate a synchronous chronicle, a human-scale history of the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Reading their narratives, we hear them reliving crucial moments in the preparation, execution, and aftermath of war. We hear POW Dan Pitzer learning of the American buildup from his bamboo cage; Viet Cong operative Nguyen Tuong Lai describing a terrorist run into Saigon; Cambodian teacher Kassie Neou charming his executioners with fairy tales learned from the BBC. Their experiences in extreme circumstances of war, revolution, and imprisonment provide an epic drama of heroism in the midst of tragedy. This book gives not only riveting eyewitness accounts of the war, but reclaims from this tragic continuum larger patterns of courage and dedication. -- from Book Jacket… (more)

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Indiana University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Indiana University Press.

Editions: 0253213045, 0253335434

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