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Vietnam: A History.

WAR AND PEACE

Stanley Kurnow. Penguin. 9.99[pounds].

The twentieth century has been the most violent in man's history. All the illusions harboured by the progressive thinkers of Edwardian times have been exploded on the battlefields of our own time. It is no surprise that so much of our historical writing is devoted to the study of war.

David living is one of the most controversial historians of our time. However much one may dislike his conclusions and his support for neo-fascist groups in present-day Germany, one must admire his energy at research. This huge book is actually a condensed version of three of his previous books on Hitler's Germany. The book is well produced and profusely illustrated, offering us the chance of seeing colour photographs of many of the Aryan celebrities. Irving looks at the war from Hitler's point of view and gives a new, and often illuminating, perspective on many of the military campaigns. He also shows better than most previous writers the dissensions that rent the Nazi hierarchy. His knowledge of this motley crew of mediocrities allows him to expose some of those he plainly detests, such as the late Albert Speer, whose best-selling book managed to convince many that he had had little use for Hitler.

Mr. Irving is consistently hostile to Churchill, but when one spends one's life studying a boring and tawdry tyrant, it is rather hard to lift one's gaze towards a great and civilised man. Like a general who is superb at tactics, but abysmal at strategy, Mr. Irving has uncovered many fascinating details, but he cannot present any convincing reason why anyone should sympathise with the Hitler gang. Mr. Irving loses few opportunities to sneer at those brave Germans like Admiral Canaris or Count Stauffenberg who tried to rid their country of Hitler. Those valiant men who gave their lives in the |July plot' in 1944 are dismissed as |Stauffenberg's minions'. The book ends as the cowardly Fuhrer commits suicide in his bunker beneath the ruins he had made.

There could not be a greater contrast between books than Irving's Hitler and this one volume version of Stephen Ambrose's definitive two volumes on the 34th President of the US. Where Hitler makes any decent person ashamed to be human, |Ike' shows how an honourable and fundamentally good man can achieve greatness in two fields. Because this is a shortened version, we occasionally miss a connecting link and certain aspects of Ike's life are left out; his religious views for instance. Professor Ambrose also belabours Eisenhower a bit too much for not sharing his own views on |civil rights'. Also, some readers may justly object to Professor Ambrose's treatment of Field Marshall Montgomery or Richard Nixon. (Ironically Professor Ambrose has since written the best account, a much more favourable one, of Eisenhower's vice-president.) This book provides one of the best introductions to the history of the 1940s and 1950s. |Ike' emerges as a much more thoughful man and one deeply committed to peace. No American President of modern times so effectively resisted the demands of what he memorably called the |military industrial complex'. Stephen Ambrose has given us a model biography of a great though underestimated soldier and statesman.

When Eisenhower left office in 1961, he was deeply worried about the developing conflict in Indochina. Stanley Kurnow's interest in Vietnam began in the 1950s and he became one of the most incisive journalists to cover the long war that devastated that country. His Vietnam: A History is a revised and updated version of his 1983 book and it remains the best account. It is a long book, over 700 pages, but unlike many modern paperbacks, it is well produced on good paper and with clear print and many illustrations. Mr. Kurnow is remarkably objective except when discussing Richard Nixon. Like Professor Ambrose in Eisenhower, Mr. Kurnow adheres to the fashion of the 1980s that Mr. Nixon's name is always preceded by an unfavourable adjective. Although he gives considerable attention to events in Washington, he does not neglect what was happening in Vietnam itself. It is of particular value to have a short account of events in Vietnam before the Western World ever heard of it. Anyone who lived through the Vietnam War will find Mr. Kurnow's history to be a fascinating book.
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Author:Mullen, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:721
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