Brothers in Arms

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Why were we fighting in Vietnam? Who were our friends there and who our enemies? Above all, why did we lose? William Broyles, who served as a marine lieutenant in 1969 near Da Nang, returned to Vietnam in 1984 to seek his own answers to questions that still nagged at him after fifteen years.

One of the first Americans who had been in combat to return to Vietnam, Broyles takes us on a fascinating tour of some important scenes of the war. From Hanoi to Da Nang to Saigon, now officially Ho Chi Minh City, and further, he tries to get to know and understand his former enemy. He finds the former North Vietnamese and Viet Cong firm in their belief that there was no other course for them than the one they took, and just as firm in their feeling that the past is past and life goes on.

The Vietnamese are fascinated by and surprisingly friendly to an American. In fact, Broyles reports that the most important words he could learn in Vietnamese meant “I am not a Russian.” One of the strengths of the book is Broyles’s portrayal of the people he met; he finds them, for the most part, likable and similar to us in their aspirations.

Interwoven into the narrative are Broyles’s reminiscences of the war. Both his past and present experiences tell him that the Vietnamese won because they had no other choice; nothing we could do could make them give up. Although not an apology for North Vietnam, Broyles’s engrossing book helps us understand our former enemy.