A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

by Neil Sheehan

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

In this magisterial book, a monument of history and biography that was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, renowned journalist Neil Sheehan tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann–"the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam"–and of the tragedy that destroyed that country and the lives of so many Americans.

Outspoken and fearless, John Paul Vann arrived in Vietnam in 1962, full of confidence in America's might and right to prevail. A Bright Shining Lie reveals the truth about the war in Vietnam as it unfolded before Vann's eyes: the arrogance and professional corruption of the U.S. military system of the 1960s, the incompetence and venality of the South Vietnamese army, the nightmare of death and destruction that began with the arrival of the American forces. Witnessing the arrogance and self-deception firsthand, Vann put his life and career on the line in an attempt to convince his superiors that the war should be fought another way. But by the time he died in 1972, Vann had embraced the follies he once decried. He went to his grave believing that the war had been won.

A haunting and critically acclaimed masterpiece, A Bright Shining Lie is a timeless account of the American experience in Vietnam–a work that is epic in scope, piercing in detail, and told with the keen understanding of a journalist who was actually there. Neil Sheehan' s classic serves as a stunning revelation for all who thought they understood the war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679603801
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/20/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 896
Sales rank: 21,420
File size: 14 MB
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About the Author

Neil Sheehan is the author of A Fiery Peace in a Cold War. He spent three years in Vietnam as a war correspondent for United Press International and The New York Times and won numerous awards for his reporting. In 1971 he obtained the Pentagon Papers, which brought the Times the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for meritorious public service. Sheehan lives in Washington, D.C. He is married to the writer Susan Sheehan.

Read an Excerpt

from "The Funeral"

It was a funeral to which they all came. They gathered in the red brick chapel beside the cemetery gate. Six gray horses were hitched to a caisson that would carry the coffin to the grave. A marching band was ready. An honor guard from the Army's oldest regiment, the regiment whose rolls reached back to the Revolution, was also formed in ranks before the white Georgian portico of the chapel. The soldiers were in full dress, dark blue trimmed with gold, the colors of the Union Army, which had safeguarded the integrity of the nation. The uniform was unsuited to the warmth and humidity of this Friday morning in the early summer of Washington, but this state funeral was worthy of the discomfort. John Paul Vann, the soldier of the war in Vietnam, was being buried at Arlington on June 16, 1972.
The war had already lasted longer than any other in the nation's history and had divided America more than any conflict since the Civil War. In this war without heroes, this man had been the one compelling figure. The intensity and distinctiveness of his character and the courage and drama of his life had seemed to sum up so many of the qualities Americans admired in themselves as a people. By an obsession, by an unyielding dedication to the war, he had come to personify the American endeavor in Vietnam. He had exemplified it in his illusions, in his good intentions gone awry, in his pride, in his will to win. Where others had been defeated or discouraged over the years, or had become disenchanted and had turned against the war, he had been undeterred in his crusade to find a way to redeem the unredeemable, to lay hold of victory in this doomed enterprise. At the end of a decade of struggle to prevail, he had been killed one night a week earlier when his helicopter had Kontum, an offensive by the North Vietnamese Army which had threatened to bring the Vietnam venture down in defeat.
Those who had assembled to see John Vann to his grave reflected the divisions and the wounds that the war had inflicted on American society. At the same time they had, almost every one, been touched by this man. Some had come because they had admired him and shared his cause even now; some because they had parted with him along the way, but still thought of him as a friend; some because they had been harmed by him, but cherished him for what he might have been. Although the war was to continue for nearly another three years with no dearth of dying in Vietnam, many at Arlington on that June morning in 1972 sensed that they were burying with John Vann the war and the decade of Vietnam. With Vann dead, the rest could be no more than a postscript.
He had gone to Vietnam at the beginning of the decade, in March 1962, at the age of thirty-seven, as an Army lieutenant colonel, volunteering to serve as senior advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry division in the Mekong Delta south of Saigon. The war was still an adventure then. The previous December, President John F. Kennedy had committed the arms of the United States to the task of suppressing a Communist-led rebellion and preserving South Vietnam as a separate state governed by an American-sponsored regime in Saigon.

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Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
CraigMcK More than 1 year ago
This is simply the best Viet Nam book I've ever read. Sheehan's actual experience reporting from Viet Nam provides a perspective that few could have offered. The history melded within the story is seamless and until the last page is read, you will not realize how much you have learned during the journey. John Paul Vann is portrayed as the man and hero he was, complete with flaws and imperfections. For someone like myself, who was a child during the Viet Nam era, this book was both educational and thrilling to read. Ultimately, it's difficult to not overuse superlatives when commenting on this book.
RFertel More than 1 year ago
This was the best book I've read on the Vietnam War. It's a perfect balance between what was happening on the ground, in Washington, and in John Paul Vann's personnel life. A must read for anyone interested in the subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An outstanding hisory lesson on the Vietnam war - while maintaining the reader's interest as a 'story' as well. A good perspective on the futility and ineptitude of our Vietnam involvement. Also, a good perspective on how a hero cannot be a hero in every sense. Be prepared to spend a long time on this book because its incredibly long - but mostly worth the effort.
exploringNOOK More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough about the importance of this book as a symbol of quality and excellence in writing. The oustanding documentation makes the story real but never burdens the story. The personal story of John Paul Vann alone would make a book worth reading with awe and sadness for the human condition, the paths we choose that lead us to our best and our worst and no place to turn around to go back to our former lives, our former selves. And then there is the story of "America in Vietnam." Always something to learn there - again with awe and sadness. One of the best-written books in any category that I have read in over 60 years of steady reading. I have reread this book periodically since it was first published. It's rarely a "pretty" story, but it is motivating to me: to aspire just another notch higher than I already aspire, to keep believing in myself no matter how alone I stand at times, to seek protection for my sanity when I am in danger of exhausting not only my body but everything within me, to focus on what I can do in the face of odds that seem certain to defeat any ordinary efforts, to get up again after being knocked down hard, to never treat a mortal wound with a bandaid.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1967-68 I proudly served in the Navy on a heavy cruiser off the coasts of both North and South Vietnam. I did my duty as required, came home, attended college on the GI Bill, and got a job. When I first read Sheehan's book over 13 years ago my first thoughts were, 'Those Americans and allied forces who served deserve our deepest thanks but, boy, were their lives and those of so many others - including both North and South Vietnamese - so needlessly wasted.' As a park historian with the National Park Service at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia back in the mid-1970s, I was charged with the task of helping visitors understand the reasons for our Civil War, its ending, and the aftermath. Sheehan's book on Vietnam's 'civil war' offers an eye-opening analogy to that of America's 100 years before....fanatical leaders spoiling for a fight,so many of the country's youngest and brightest answering the call to arms, and all those lives and materiel so needlessly wasted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Retrospective review of an epic event is the only clear and definitive approach to truly understanding the scope of the event. You may have some lingering political or emotional bias concerning this war, but after reading Mr. Sheehan's report you will come away with the facts.
dharper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book did a great job of revealing the dark side of the Vietnam War. It helped clarify the "myths" that we all grew up with. It also helped bring some prospective as to what is going on today in the Middle East. It was a long read, there were some parts that were tough to get through. You also have to keep up with the people.
foof2you on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An inside look of just how screwed up the US role in Vietnam was and one man's change of direction. Very insightful.
bjgoff689 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great insight into the early years of the V war, since Vann was military but also civil advisor who dealt with pacification, strategic hamlets, etc. Sheehan writes a good biography as background as well, this is one I bought to keep and have re-read several times.
Wheatland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author masterly weaves the history of the US military and political quagmire in Vietnam with the biography of Vietnam warrior John Paul Vann. The reader should be prepared for more than 700 pages of detailed but sharp, journalistic writing. The author's contention that the war was "lost" to the Americans very early on is convincing. The continuation of the lie that it was being won is only one of the falsehoods on various levels that are exposed in this intriguing and well-planned book. I was engrossed from the first page to the last. The photographs are well chosen. For any student wanting to the details of the American side of the engagement in Vietnam, it's a must read.
ebethe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down. Great book.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1988 this book won the National Book awrd nonfiction prize and in 1989 it won the Pulitzer nonfiction prize. It is the 29th book I have read which won the Pulitzer nonfiction prize and the 27th I have read which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. It tells the story of Vann, who was not a dove but knew the way the Vietnam war was being fought it was unwinnable. He felt greater effort had to be made to win the people to want us to win. The corruption of the South Vietnamese leaders was astounding, and the waste and evil that some Americans did is sickening. I was appalled that I knew I supported the war until 1968, and never was a total dove. But it seems clear that we should never have gotten into the Vietnam struggle to the extent that we did. And of course reading about the Vietnam war makes me leary of the war we are in now--which I have long supported, although I am glad to say I never favored our instigating the Iraq war. And the private life of Vann was deplorable, I think all would agree.
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WallyC More than 1 year ago
A very interesting insight into the politics of war.
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I cant believe that are no revues on this historical record. This starts from a young man to the end of American involvment in Nam,Van Damms death. This is must read for would be historians and anyone that was there.
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