GRAPHIC NONFICTION: THE VIETNAM WAR

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Unless you were of newspaper reading age at the time, odds are your understanding of the Viet Nam war is that it was generally bad. It went on too long, wasn’t fought with sufficient political will to win, and was fraught with the complications of fighting guerilla style in someone else’s war.

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Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant —both longtime Marvel Comics writers with plenty of experience on military issues—take up the subject with enough detail to cover significant military events and political turns to give a sound understanding of what happened there. In The Vietnam War: A Graphic History (Hill and Wang, 2009, 138 pages, 1995), they narrate the more than a decade, from battlefield events to political pressures, to the anti-war movement to the aftermath.

The book’s major strength is its neutral reportage. Quotes attributed to real historic figures are taken from documented statements by those people. Neither the pictures nor the prose sensationalize the events. In fact, both have the sober tone of journalism, from simple, news-y statements (“Viet cong attacks throughout the south escalated—including, as General Westmoreland feared, attacks on American air bases”) to the soberly realistic black and white art. But it’s done with the benefit of 35 years’ hindsight, so the authors are able to put events in context and measure their significance.

They also do something that the national appraisal of the war seems to fall short on, which is to give credit for successes. Soldiers went to do a job, and in many cases did it well—not just bravely, but with battlefield successes. It’s a good read which in a short time gives a substantial overview of our most influential conflict of the last half century.

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