Book Reviews

The nation's foremost authorities on race relations in the Army, Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, suggest that the Army's methods for racial integration can be a successful model for American society. In All That We Can Be, the authors describe how the Army of the early 1970s struggled with many of the racial issues that plague American society today, and how it took steps that led to full integration and equal opportunity. Against the backdrop of societal tensions and continued separation of the races, the armed forces stand out as the most popular public institution in the nation and the only place where blacks routinely give orders to whites.

The "Army Way" described in the book began with extensive (and ongoing) social research, to ascertain attitudes on racial issues, steps to improve equal opportunity, and consideration of how such factors affect organizational performance. Through experience, the Army has developed principles that the authors translate into 12 lessons. Some of these lessons are:

  • Maintain focus on black opportunity, rather than prohibiting racist expression.
  • Be ruthless against discrimination.
  • Install qualified black leaders as soon as possible.

The authors preface these lessons with an observation that differences between military and civilian settings preclude exact analogies, but the lessons are clearly intended to translate the Army Way to the civilian world, with the aim of overcoming racial impediments to organizational success.

The authors point to Colin Powell to illustrate that enhancing black participation is good for organizational effectiveness. Americans, they explain, generally believe that the greater the black proportion in an organization, the lower its effectiveness. By contrast, the Army is one of the few organizations in which the increase in the proportion of blacks has corresponded with an increase in standing and effectiveness. The keys to the Army's success were the early implementation of affirmative action and its enhancement of black achievement. Any race-relations program must pass a single test: does it improve organizational performance? Colin Powell is one of many black leaders whose achievements were made possible because of the Army Way, and he is a prime example of why the Army's race-relations program is a success.

The possibilities that this book raises are compelling in part because the authors recognize that the Army Way is not a panacea. In fact, the book details the December 1995 incident in which two white soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg murdered a black couple on the streets of Fayetteville, North Carolina. What is emphasized is that the Army is not immune to the demons that haunt race relations in the United States, but that discrimination is far less prevalent and most important-when discovered, it is not tolerated. The authors observe that, in the Army, racist behavior ends a person's career. Unfortunately, they fail to address how effective the Army is at recognizing situations in which de facto racist behavior occurs.

On balance, All That We Can Be stresses the positive effect the Army has made on black soldiers and how many of these soldiers have gone on to make a significant impact in the Army and in society. One particularly poignant example recalls how a black sergeant major deployed to Somalia explained that "This talk about our ancestors coming from here has it wrong. My people are from East Texas. I learned a lot about race the hard way back home. But in the Army we should all be brothers in the same church." While admitting that a black soldier still has to do more than a white one to get promoted, the promotion of a black to flag rank today is not uncommon.

To their credit, the authors also delve into the traditionally divisive issues of affirmative action, goals, and quotas. In describing the Army's promotion process they quote a white officer who said, "Only fully qualified people are promoted, but not necessarily the best qualified." The book balances this contention with the notion that a level playing field is not always enough and that affirmative action should be follow a "supply-side model," not a "demand-side" model.

The premise of this supply-side model is that diversity should not be a rationale for affirmative action. It is better to build avenues of equal opportunity than contrive quotas in order to create an organization that "looks like America." Stressing that affirmative action must be linked to standards and pools of qualified candidates, the authors contend that an organization that promotes the less qualified to buy temporary peace invites long-term disaffection.

Moskos and Butler also offer a vision of how the Army's experience may provide a model for racial integration on a national level. Recognizing that our society is unlikely to support compulsory military conscription, the book introduces a national service plan that the authors call the civic equivalent of the draft. The plan rectifies what the authors see as a dangerous aspect of the current military personnel drawdown: fewer minority service members. The book suggests that a national service program could replace military service as an institution that disciplines and teaches young minorities the skills they need to succeed in society.

All That We Can Be concludes with a rather apocalyptic warning that a society no longer united by foreign threats may discover that its own internal racial divisions are deeper and more intractable than anyone realized. The Army Way, which the authors so eloquently describe, offers a plan that might narrow such divisions.

Echoes of the Mekong

By Edward J Marolda

Echoes of the Mekong

Peter Huchthausen and Nguyen Thi Lung. Baltimore, MD: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, Inc., 1996. 165 pp. $24.95 ($22.45).

Reviewed by Edward J. Marolda

Numerous accounts have now been published about the U.S. Navy's operations on the rivers and canals of South Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Tom Cutler's Brown Water. Black Berets, and Dick Schreadley's From the Rivers to the Sea describe what U.S. river patrol boat (PBR) sailors faced in the muddy waterways, mangrove swamps, and unfriendly villages of the almost trackless region south and west of Saigon. Books by Vietnamese civilians and combatants have related how the long, bloody war and its aftermath touched their lives.

The great strength of Echoes of the Mekong is that it describes much of the same action and events through the eyes of two very different people-one American, one Vietnamese. Their lives intersected in the maelstrom of war. In a sense, their stories represent the encounter of the cultures that occurred during the conflict.

Nguyen Thi Lung gives the reader a vivid picture of life along a major tributary of the Mekong, where in 1967, she lived in a small village near My Tho with her mother and several brothers. Clearly, the river was the center of her young universe. She described the insects, the birds, the fish, and the people around her and how they depended on the river for sustenance.

She also relates how war upset the rhythm of life in this environment. The government's soldiers-awkward-looking with their large helmets and rifles and fearful of the enemy-moved through the village at various times. In the dead of night, other armed men-the "swift and vicious" Viet Cong-entered the village. The guerrillas took pains to convince the villagers of their worthy, patriotic credentials, but dealt harshly with those who refused to take up the anti-government cause; the nighttime visitors maimed, kidnapped, and even beheaded opponents, real and imagined. In short, "life for the people in our village was a delicate balance between opposing forces."

By 1967, U.S. naval forces had moved into the troubled Mekong Delta. The River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), in Operation Game Warden, deployed ship, helicopter, and PBR units along the major branches of the Mekong. The wide rivers afforded some protection from the enemy hidden in the dense foliage along their banks. Huchthausen, then a young lieutenant (j.g.), describes how his patrol units searched for communist "tax collectors," contraband, and VC combatants. His description of a nighttime ambush that results in the wounding of one sailor and the frustration of an enemy crossing attempt is especially evocative.

Like Lung, Huchthausen is possessed of strong powers of observation. He describes how many U.S. sailors came to love the waterways, with their hustling sampans and smiling children. In one observation that rings true for those Americans who served in Vietnam, he suggests that "Vietnam was full of contrasts. Beauty shared the stage with ugliness: the relics of bitter conflict and anguish appeared alongside elegance and charm."

The lives of Huchthausen and Lung were changed forever one day in 1967 when the girl's sampan was caught in a crossfire between guerrillas on the shore and monitors of Task Force 117. The girl was badly wounded by what Huchthausen implies was indiscriminate fire on the part of the American unit. He and his men raced her to the U.S. base at My Tho, where medical personnel saved her life but were forced to amputate her leg. Later, Huchthausen and others helped her get a prosthetic leg in Saigon. Lung recovered, grew attached to her American saviors, and remained in My Tho. The relationship between Huchthausen and Lung during this early period of the war mirrored that of the Americans and their Vietnamese allies. Lung was enamored with the power, wealth, and sense of purpose of the Americans. The lieutenant extolled the virtues of the U.S. anticommunist mission in Vietnam and the friendliness and welcome extended by Lung and many of her compatriots. He downplayed instances of corruption by government officials and military leaders.

The Tet Offensive of 1968 changed everything, however. Although badly mauled in the process, the communists showed the Vietnamese people that the Americans were vulnerable. At the same time, Huchthausen and his men lost much of their faith in the government's cause when former friends turned out to be Viet Cong spies. He also despaired when he learned of a "Phoenix," mission that caused the deaths of friendly Vietnamese troops, and the U.S. coverup. Losing touch with Lung, Huchthausen completed his tour in Vietnam, put the war behind him, and focused on his Navy career.

Lung, meanwhile, witnessed the death of one brother and the imprisonment of another. After the war, she changed her name to evade the communist authorities and eked out a meager existence on the streets of My Tho. She gave birth to a daughter but lost contact with the father in the chaotic postwar situation.

Then, like the connection between Vietnam and the United States, Lung's contact with Huchthausen was reestablished during the 1980s. Through the efforts of a Vietnamese man who translated for the Americans and an American journalist, Lung and Huchthausen were reunited.

We gain considerable insight about the Vietnam War and its aftermath from this book, not from the depiction of grand events but from the personal observations of two individuals caught up in a tragedy that profoundly changed their lives and the history of their countries.

No Bended Knee: The Battle for Guadalcanal

By V. Keith Fleming Jr.

No Bended Knee:

The Battle for Guadalcanal

General Merrill B. Twining, USMC (Ret.), edited by Neil Carey. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1996. 197 pp. Ind. Maps. Photos. $21.95 ($19.95).

Reviewed by Dr. V. Keith Fleming Jr.

Read this book. If you are a military professional, a student of World War II or even current interservice relationships, or a person who just enjoys a good read, then read this memoir. Most of all, if you have a passion for history, you will treasure the time you spend with such a masterful story-teller as General Twining. But if you are compulsive about history, beware of this book. General Twining drops little bombshells in passing that will have you up and eagerly pawing through other histories as you try to learn even more.

To read No Bended Knee is to share the thoughts and words of one of the best minds to serve in the Marine Corps during the first half of this century. He honed that razor sharp intellect throughout his career, and even earned a law degree off duty while assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps before World War II. He was superb as a staff officer, the kind commanders trusted with the tough jobs. To look at the institutional history of the Marine Corps and the crises facing it from 1940 to 1956 is to find General Twining's name and imprint on the solutions.

Marines respected General Twining and valued his views and contributions. At the same time, one is not likely to find him described as a warm human being; "remote" is a more often encountered adjective. Other impressions describe him as prickly and not very tolerant of half-baked ideas or mediocre staff work. Understand, however, that General Twining was a complex individual. The prevailing view of his personality may not have been shared by his friends, or such giants as Lieutenant General Victor "Brute" Krulak, who were his peers professionally and intellectually.

No Bended Knee is no cold, dry, academic book. Passion flows aplenty, especially when it comes to General Twining's reactions to a discussion with Army generals in the Pacific about Army plans for the postwar defense establishment. (During the postwar political fights over "unification," Merrill Twining was a major force to be reckoned with on the Marines' team.)

General Twining's memoir of Guadalcanal is written from the perspective of an officer who, as a lieutenant colonel, was the operations officer ("D-3" in World War II parlance) of the 1st Marine Division. Read Twining carefully; even his understatements often suggest questions calling for further research.

One interesting example is his treatment of the notorious "Goettge Patrol." Lieutenant Colonel Frank Goettge, who had a national reputation from his successes playing on the Marines' varsity football teams, was the 1st Marine Division's intelligence officer. Early in the Guadalcanal campaign, a prisoner identified a spot on the beach outside Marine lines where a group of Japanese waited to surrender. Colonel Goettge persuaded Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift to allow him and most of his intelligence staff to land on a nearby beach to effect a surrender. They were ambushed on the beach, and only three men managed to survive by swimming away. The remains of those killed never were recovered, and the controversy surrounding the incident never entirely has been resolved.

General Twining's account of the patrol and its fate is brief, and leaves open the question of his exact relationship with Goettge. General Twining characterizes the patrol as a "well-intentioned but ill-advised undertaking," and he laments the decimation of the division's intelligence section more than the loss of Colonel Goettge himself. He dryly concludes, "The lesson we learned was that the scope of military intelligence should not be extended to include the conduct of field operations." This is not meant to be critical of Twining. Rather, it reveals the value of this book for pointing to the immense amount of work remaining to be done on the history of World War II.

As another example, most histories leave the subject of Guadalcanal after the end of the fighting there. Little is written on what happened on Guadalcanal during the remainder of the war. General Twining says he never ceased to be astounded at the extent of the later U.S. buildup on the island. A study of that buildup by a student at the Naval War College or the Marine Corps Command and Staff College might provide valuable insights to today's serving officers.

General Twining is frank in his opinions and insights on the major figures and events in the Guadalcanal campaign. Realize, however, that even the minor figures in the campaign appear in this book. For instance, First Lieutenant Walter S. McIlhenny, a reserve officer with an enviable record as an infantry company commander on Guadalcanal, is mentioned prominently. His family name appears on every bottle of Tabasco Sauce, a product appreciated by generations of Marines enduring a daily diet of field rations. After the war, McIlhenny, as a civilian, mustered invaluable support for the Marine Corps from the business community during the unification hearings in Congress.

The most regrettable thing about No Bended Knee is that it is not part of a larger autobiography of General Twining. There was so much more to his career and life. In the decade following the war, Merrill B. Twining was one of a handful of leaders who played crucial roles in developing-and preserving-the modern U.S. Marine Corps. He died recently, and No Bended Knee, though an enjoyable morsel, is but a hint of the feast we never will have. American military history is the poorer for it.

 

 
 

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