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Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters who fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and Themselves.

Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters who fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and Themselves. By Matthew Sweet. New York NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2018. Photographs. Endnotes. Index. Pg. xvi, 365. $30.00. ISBN: 978-162779463-3

This country is in the process of looking back, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War's most tumultuous year, to that incredible time in America's history. Consequently, there are books being published on any number of subjects related to that era; Operation Chaos is one of them.

The book's title suggests that it is an account of Operation Chaos, the CIA's illegal program primarily directed at domestic opposition groups within the United States. Actually, it's not exactly that. Instead, as the subtitle indicates, it is, to a larger degree, about some of the 1,000 or so US military deserters and draft resisters residing for the most part in Sweden who were targeted by the same program. Their story, however, is in its own right, an interesting one that sheds light on the personalities and motives of those deserters and draft evaders who ended up in a neutral, non-NATO country opposed to the Vietnam War. It is a story of how their lives were driven by forces that were often outside their control and by groups that exploited, rather than helped, the expatriates.

This story is often beyond the imagination of even fiction writers. It is the incredibly unpredictable and wild journey of many Vietnam War deserters who often fell victim to paranoia, drugs, conspiracy theories, cultism, and social isolation, and, in particular, about those who sought expression through extreme and often irrational beliefs. It is also, to a lesser degree, about deserters who wished to establish new personae through education and family life.

Was there a legitimate basis for paranoia? When President Nixon had consolidated domestic surveillance under Operation Chaos, the CIA employed informants and electronic and physical surveillance of antiwar activities, including those overseas, and especially targeted deserters and draft resisters. Perhaps the focus on them began when US Navy deserters were smuggled by the KGB out of Japan to the Soviet Union, where they were celebrated for several weeks before continuing on to Sweden. Or it could have been when the leadership of the American Deserters Committee in Sweden became active proponents for the recruitment of soldiers in Germany to fight the U.S. Army from within.

There are many almost unbelievable vignettes in this book about intrigue, manipulation, out-of-control behavior, and, yes, chaos. Interestingly, some of those same players remain to this day prominent in extremist political activities. Many others have disappeared behind new identities and lives.

The book is very interesting if the reader can withhold judgement to the end. My appreciation for this aspect of an important era in American history grew as a consequence of reading this book. However, I was disappointed by the book's focus on attention-grabbing personalities and much less on the greater number who, with President Carter's 1977 pardon of draft evaders and the military's parallel policy of leniency for deserters, melted back into American society.

John Cirafici, Col, USAF (Ret), Milford DE

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Author:Cirafici, John
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Dec 22, 2018
Words:518
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