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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988)

by Neil Sheehan

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1,776256,782 (4.18)56
#1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLER & NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE Shocked by the teenage violence she witnessed during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Erin Gruwell became a teacher at a high school rampant with hostility and racial intolerance. For many of these students-whose ranks included substance abusers, gang members, the homeless, and victims of abuse-Gruwell was the first person to treat them with dignity, to believe in their potential and help them see it themselves. Soon, their loyalty towards their teacher and burning enthusiasm to help end violence and intolerance became a force of its own. Inspired by reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" and meeting Zlata Filipovic (the eleven-year old girl who wrote of her life in Sarajevo during the civil war), the students began a joint diary of their inner-city upbringings. Told through anonymous entries to protect their identities and allow for complete candor, "The Freedom Writers Diary "is filled with astounding vignettes from 150 students who, like civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders, heard society tell them where to go-and refused to listen. Proceeds from this book benefit the Freedom Writers Foundation, an organization set up to provide scholarships for underprivieged youth and to train teachers… (more)

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» See also 56 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
This is a supremely important book about the Vietnam war and the US. It is, however, huge, a little too huge. There are tangents in here that simply leave one wondering, did no one think to clean this up a little. That said, though, I made it thru and it is a devastating indictment about a country with too much power and money and near unlimited destructive capability.

And, yet, all that power is limited. Politics limited by the military, the military limited by the politicians, one country limited by the politics and capabilities of the other. All resulting in a despicable history of the actions of the US.

This book is a must read, along with H. R. McMaster's book on Vietnam, "Dereliction of Duty." ( )
  tmph | Sep 13, 2020 |
Still a great book, but reading now reveals a fair amount of misogyny, as women are described as "still pretty enough to attract a man," etc., barf. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
In some ways, Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie is the best of the Big Three works on the war from the American viewpoint, the other two being Stanley Karnow's history of Vietnam and David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest. Like the other two, Sheehan was there. And as a result, his description of the corruption, incompetence, and egotistical vanity of the South Vietnamese and the Americans rings all too true. His detailed description of how the war moved from a a handful of American advisors to a cataclysm involving over half a million American servicemen is invaluable.

Sheehan's particular hook in this book was to center the history around the biography of maverick American Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, whose early criticisms of the conduct of the war influenced Sheehan, Halberstam, and Karnow. As a biography, the work does a good sell. Vann was a rapist, child abuser, serial adulterer, wife abuser, liar, and victim of an horrific childhood. Sheehan never moralizes or excuses, he simply describes. And whatever it was that made Vann who he was, it also made him uniquely suited to the war in Vietnam. As Sheehan makes clear, Vann couldn't imagine life outside the war.

A couple of problems, in my view. Sheehan is far to eager to picture the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as completely clear headed and superior in their strategy and tactics. They were not. They were just as capable of fooling themselves and misreading the populace as were the Americans. Tet showed that. I think Sheehan gives North Vietnam and the NLF in the south unearned praise for their concept of honorable mission and purity of purpose. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
John Vann, a shining example of US dedication to ideals, was also a flawed person. The author examines the fiasco of the Viet Nam War through an examination of Vann's amazing career. Sheehan's prose hooked me; his research gave me perspective on many names from the TV news of my childhood--My Lai, Puson, Haiphong. The author effectively chronicles how the whole thing falls apart, and how individuals are left to absorb the damage. ( )
  LaurelPoe | Dec 25, 2017 |
This book is a must read for anyone interesting in learning about the Vietnam war. It follows John Paul Vann throughout his involvement in the war, and is unsparing in it's critique of the war, the U.S. involvement, our government duplicity, South Vietnam's incompetence, and Vann's character deficiencies and brillance as a strategist. It is meticulously researched and documented and truly is an important read for those that want to know more about the Vietnam war. ( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
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Epigraph

We had also, to all the visitors who came over their,
been one of the bright shining lies.

—John Paul Vann
to a U.S. Army historian,
July 1963
Dedication

Once Again and Always for Susan
A First Time for Maria and Catherine
And for my Mother and Kitty
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It was a funeral to which they all came. They gathered in the red brick chapel beside the cemetery gate.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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#1 "NEW YORK TIMES" BESTSELLER & NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE Shocked by the teenage violence she witnessed during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Erin Gruwell became a teacher at a high school rampant with hostility and racial intolerance. For many of these students-whose ranks included substance abusers, gang members, the homeless, and victims of abuse-Gruwell was the first person to treat them with dignity, to believe in their potential and help them see it themselves. Soon, their loyalty towards their teacher and burning enthusiasm to help end violence and intolerance became a force of its own. Inspired by reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" and meeting Zlata Filipovic (the eleven-year old girl who wrote of her life in Sarajevo during the civil war), the students began a joint diary of their inner-city upbringings. Told through anonymous entries to protect their identities and allow for complete candor, "The Freedom Writers Diary "is filled with astounding vignettes from 150 students who, like civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders, heard society tell them where to go-and refused to listen. Proceeds from this book benefit the Freedom Writers Foundation, an organization set up to provide scholarships for underprivieged youth and to train teachers

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