Book Review: Rolling Thunder by Mark Berent (Four Stars)

Book Review: Rolling Thunder (Wings of War #1) by Mark Berent (Four Stars)

“Precisely how a crashing jet fighter breaks up is a function of its speed, of its angle of impact, and of the topography of the ground it strikes.”

The opening work in a five-volume fictional Vietnam War series. Berent was there; it shows. He manages to capture the insanity and the pathos of the war most Americans would like to forget, especially those who served in it.

“I’ve got to tell Ho Chi Minh that unless he stops his aggression in South Veet-nam, that I’m going to hammer hell out of him; and at the same time I’ve got to tell, to convince the American people, that I am not going to escalate this Veet-nam war.” LBJ

Berent captures the attitudes, vocabulary, antics and pain of the men (mostly) who fought this pointless ruin in Southeast Asia. He also reveals the lack of understanding and empathy of American leaders up to Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara, who bear much of the blame for getting us in so deeply with no clue what they were doing or how we were to extricate ourselves.

“From half a world away these men, politicians for the most part, would decide which targets would be struck and with what ordnance.”

Heroes and opportunists share the pages with hapless Gilligans who had no clue what was going on. Truth was the first casualty each day. Every day. For politicians—in suits, uniforms, and with press passes—what went on was merely something to be manipulated for ones own advantage and point of view.

“Most youngsters his age were letting their hair grow while investigating the wonderful mind expanding properties of cannabis under the tutelage of Harvard Professor Timothy Leary. Exactly as his own son was doing, Norman reflected sadly.”

Early in my reading I kept thinking Berent was relating needless details, then I realized: most Americans have no clue what went on in SEA in the 60s and 70s. My generation went—willing and unwilling—bled, died, grew up, dropped out, and were scarred for life. The folks in Washington never understood nor apparently the Saigon Commandos.

“So what’s a nice Jewish boy like me doing here anyhow killing Buddhists to make the world safe for Christianity?” “Now that’s profound, [redacted], really profound. The only problem, is, it’s what you always say after you’ve had two beers.”

Many of my generation served; many never came back or returned physically and mentally scarred. Yet, having vowed we would never get into another land way in Asia, here we are: same song; new verse. (Yes, we were treated that poorly on our return landing in California. We were warned not to wear uniforms in public.)

“Does anybody know or care how many Air Force people we’ve lost in this screwed up war?”