Vietnam! Vietnam! In Photographs and Text by Felix Greene

This neat, square softcover book is an early example of a publication that attempted to mobilise public opinion in the US against the war in Vietnam. Published by Fulton in California in 1966, (1 year after large scale US troops were deployed) it combines a text by Felix Greene (noted for his left-wing progressive views and cousin of novelist Graham Greene) with photographs from a variety of news agency sources.

The narrative is straightforward; we begin with a brief overview of Vietnam illustrated by images of rural harmony, followed by the war against the French which culminates in their defeat in 1954 and the establishment of 2 separate Vietnamese states. This is followed by images and text which discredit the legitimacy of the US-backed South Vietnamese regime and present it as a corrupt entity propped up by American money and military force. Against this corrupt regime we have the heroes of the revolution, the Viet Cong, who are attempting to overthrow South Vietnam and unify Vietnam under happy communist rule. Finally we have images of South Vietnamese protest against their own regime, which are a precursor of things to come in the States in the following years.

The first 120 pages of photographs are gleaned from a number of sources and broken up into various chapters which illustrate the themes of the book. The violence and brutality of the American and South Vietnamese soldiers is made explicit in the number of graphic pictures presented in the book which depict the effects of torture and beatings as well as reference being made to the new horrors of napalm and Agent Orange which began to be used indiscriminately against the Vietnamese. These images were made by news agency photographers ‘embedded’ within the troops at the time.

As always in photography, contrast is an effective way to get your message across so set against the massive American war machine we have images of plucky Vietnamese peasants in the jungle and their paddy fields using their woefully antiquated rifles and home-made weapons to repulse the invaders. Some of these are images Greene photographed himself, which mainly record street scenes in Hanoi and the effects of bombing, while others are credited to the D.R.V. Information Dept.  Photographed in the socialist-realist style these latter images romanticize the defiant guerrillas, making their heroism all the evident in the face of the unscrupulous Yanks.  The fact that these images of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese are all carefully constructed photographs as opposed to the product of the Western photo-journalism is not referred to within the book.

This is an important early work in the anti-Vietnam struggle and played its part in radicalising opinion in the USA against the war. In some ways it is possible to place it alongside Philip Jones Griffith’s Vietnam Inc, although Greenes’ blindness to the darker realities of communism does taint this book by comparison. Unlike Vietnam Inc, which draws the various strands and layers of US involvement together to produce a very effective commentary upon the of nebulous layers of political, social and economic factors involved within modern warfare, Greene’s book is narrower in scope. The message is simple; the Americans should leave and allow the Vietnamese to get on with things and unify their country under communist rule.

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