3 out of 4 stars
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My “Enemy” in Vietnam, by Billy Springer, is an account of the time the author spent in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. While tales of this war by black soldiers are not unknown, they are certainly less common than books written by white veterans.
Springer’s story is just fifty-six pages long and is broken up into thirteen chapters. It also contains some fourteen illustrations. Each of the chapters covers a different aspect of the author’s experience in Vietnam. The first four cover what it was like to be a black serviceman in the field at a time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading marches for civil rights back in the United States. Reading these makes it clear why the book’s title has “enemy” in quotation marks. The issue of race is not confined to these early chapters. While they focus on what the experience was like for black soldiers, and for this black G.I. in particular, other chapters (for example, ‘The Mountain Yard’, ‘Marsaleen’, and ‘Bar Bombings’) deal with how black soldiers were received and perceived by the Vietnamese people. The chapters don’t seem to run in any chronological order, nor do they fit together to form an overall narrative; they are standalone pieces that, taken together, provide a cohesive and convincing account of the writer’s time in Vietnam.
This short book held my attention from start to finish. I liked the fact that the writer’s story provides a different perspective on the Vietnam War than those I have previously read. While other books tend to focus on the brutality of the experience for both soldiers and civilians, this one doesn’t get mired in the mud and blood of the conflict. That aspect isn’t completely ignored, but Springer chooses, instead, to present an account that is more social history than a record of the body counts. While I was aware that race discrimination was an issue amongst American troops then, this account by a black writer shines a spotlight on just how serious the problem was.
I also enjoyed the author’s recollection of how the Vietnamese reacted to black Americans and how this differed from their view of white people. Unlike most Vietnam War stories, the Vietnamese in this story are portrayed as real, rounded individuals. The fact that the author took the trouble to learn the Vietnamese language undoubtedly helped him get closer to the locals than most serving soldiers.
The book is not perfect. I don’t think it has been viewed by a professional editor; it contains some minor errors that would surely have been picked up had that been the case. There are also a couple of examples where the same sentences reappear in different chapters; again, a competent editor would have spotted these. However, it is a tribute to the strength of the writing that these flaws did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.
I am happy to award My “Enemy” in Vietnam three out of four stars. I am deducting one star for the errors mentioned in the previous paragraph. I recommend the book to readers who enjoy war stories or historical non-fiction. There are a few instances of strong language in the book, but I still think it’s suitable for those who have reached their mid-to-late teens and above.
My "Enemy" in Vietnam
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