The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991

Book Revzews

For those interested in Lyndon Johnson's role in this historical trag-
edy, Sheehan's account will offer much useful evidence of what the
president confronted. The American military consistently underesti-
mated the resolve and ability of the Communists in South and North
Vietnam. Sheehan is especially critical of Gen. William Westmoreland,
whom he depicts as a leader fighting a war the way the enemy wished
him to wage it. The confidence and optimism of the Johnson admin-
istration during 1965 and 1966 is captured with a good deal of insight,
and the pivotal impact of the Tet offensive on American opinion is
placed in the context of the domestic political situation in the United
States during 1968. As a reporter on the scene when these events took
place and as a chronicler of the war's history, Sheehan is an observer
turned biographer who has much of importance to say as the nation
relives the trauma of Vietnam.
The central figure of Sheehan's narrative, John Paul Vann, is de-
picted as a flawed hero, like the military enterprise to which he devoted
his life and which ultimately killed him. Sheehan is candid about Vann,
who was a philanderer, a chronic liar, and a consummate opportunist
as well as a brave soldier. In the end the facts of Vann's personal and
professional life do not sustain the large interpretation that Sheehan
imposes on them. It would be easier to believe in Vann's ostensible sen-
sitivity to the plight of the Vietnamese people if he had not taken and
misled two women of that country as his mistresses. This deceit oc-
curred at a time when he still had a wife and family in the United
States.
By the early 1970s Vann had become a rather squalid personality
who courted favor with the Nixon administration in the interest of his
own career goals. Sheehan regards this development as one sign of the
final loss of Vann's integrity. By then it is hard to maintain much faith
in the personal worth of a man who had earlier committed statutory
rape and fooled an Army lie detector to escape the consequences of his
crime. An officer who could befriend Daniel Ellsberg and simultane-
ously leak information about him to the Nixon White House merits
many adjectives. Bright and shining are not ones that come readily to
mind, even in Sheehan's ironic context. For all of Neil Sheehan's skill in
recounting Vann's life and career, this sordid story evokes John Ran-
dolph's famous image of the rotten mackerel in the moonlight that
shines and stinks.
University of Texas at Austin LEWIs L. GOULD
Saving Capitalism: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the New
Deal, 1933-194o. By James S. Olson. (Princeton: Princeton Uni-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed August 20, 2014.