Author Mark Bowden starts his new book, "Hue 1968, A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam," by noting that for a journalist interested in history, the sweet spot is about 50 years.
"Enough time has gone by for a measure of historical perspective and yet there remain many living witnesses," he says in his source notes.
Bowden is writing about the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War in 1968.
"Hue, 1968," published only in June, is a riveting, well-researched text that I predict will win the Pulitzer Prize for history for 2017.
Bowden is the author of a dozen real-life thrillers.
The ones I've read include "Doctor Dealer," "Blackhawk Down," and "Killing Pablo."
This book retraces the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong offensive against American troops in the northern part of South Vietnam in early 1968.
This was a period when U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland was still predicting victory; many Americans assumed that the U.S. was getting control of the insurgency.
But the communists' well-planned attack during a national religious holiday shocked the world.
The enemy stormed scores of cities, which suggested they were more capable and determined than the generals had projected.
Also, several got inside part of the U.S. Embassy.
Westmoreland noted that the attackers were killed, and that the building was defended with skill and ferocity.
But headlines around the world suggested that the bad guys had "invaded" the Embassy, and confidence in U.S. leaders wilted.
The author suggests that after Tet, American leaders were trying to figure out how to get out of Vietnam, not how to win the war.
Bowden does a remarkable job in reconstructing the battle at Hue, a city with a large university and a long religious history.
At some points, he describes the attack - and then the U.S. counterattack - almost as a building-by-building recap.
- Bowden talked to hundreds of Americans who were there, and scores of Vietnamese as well when he went overseas for interviews.
- He suggests the vicious fighting in Hue made it easy to die. He offers a couple sentences like "Roger Smith had just dropped out Rutgers to see the world. He was now a private on his first assignment. On his second day in Hue, he was shot in the neck, and died a week later." There were many such Roger Smiths.
- Bowden suggests that the generals and President Lyndon Johnson didn't ever understand what they had gotten themselves into. The "best and the brightest" could not match the guile and determination of their adversary.
- After all the concern about the "domino theory" and the communists taking over the world, Vietnam today permits some private ownership and small business. Its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world.