Monday, November 20, 2017

"A Surgeon's War"

This book is subtitled "My Year in Vietnam" and is written by Henry Ward Trueblood, M.D.  He grew up in the 1940's and 50's, and was part of the generation that was largely not attuned to initial qualms about the war or thoughts about the United States as anything other that a force for democracy.  As he completed medical school he was subject to the draft and served in Vietnam as part of field medical units.

This book is a straightforward account of the war and battlefield from point of view of a surgeon dealing with horrible wounds helicoptered into a makeshift medical unit.  He arrived there in late 1965.  Just being in the area near the war was not safe, notwithstanding the Marines guarding the compound.  A medical professional might appreciate this book at another level, but here it remained a compelling story.  Trueblood writes well, fluently and without excess flourishes.  Written in the first person, he does not seek to set himself up as any kind of hero.  He focuses on the group effort, and the hardship they endured together.  The individual stories about terribly wounded soldiers are wrenching when read from the perspective of one near the age of those men at that time.

Trueblood's experience changed his life and transformed his view of the Vietnam War, one that was increasingly viewed as a terribly misguided cause.  In mid-1966 when the generals of the Buddhist led part of the ARVN starting fighting with the Catholic led forces of supposedly the same army, the futility became impossible to ignore.  As Trueblood and his fellow doctors began treating those soldiers who had not been fighting the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong, but instead each other, they just kept their heads down and did their job.  The futility of the war was obvious.

This book is published by Astor & Lenox, seemingly a first class house of self-publishing with their own editorial criteria.  Reading books that are self-published can be fraught with self-indulgent tales that are mainly of interest to a narrow group of readers.  Some books can be poorly written and challenging to read.  These issues are decidedly not the case with "A Surgeon's War".  With any interest in this era, most readers will be rewarded.


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