A Bright Shining Lie
The book dwells on Vann’s background and the various “hidden secrets” of his life: his illegitimacy, his abusive and disreputable mother, his sexual infidelity, and so on. Even more interesting, though, is Sheehan’s analysis of the development of the personal qualities that made Vann such a good leader and strategist: He was fearless but had a good understanding of the weaknesses of those around him, and was thus personally reckless but responsible as a commander; he was a tireless worker, able to function well on only a few hours sleep, and could thus complete far more tasks than most of his peers; and he was a shrewd outsider rather than a complacent insider in the military establishment, able to maintain an independent perspective on what was happening around him.
It was this clear-headed independence of Vann’s that was perhaps his most admirable quality and that, predictably, got him into trouble. Sheehan’s book serves as a much-needed, ironic reminder that one of the most severe critics of the war was a dedicated military man who was by no means against war in general or the Vietnam War in particular. Vann is used as a touchstone to measure the almost criminal “arrogance, lack of imagination, and moral and intellectual insensitivity” that characterized the ranking armed-forces leaders at the time. His criticisms and suggestions to his superiors went unheeded, largely because they were so unpalatable: He came to believe, for example, that the...
(The entire section is 435 words.)