War is hell. And “hell sucks.” Vietnam War correspondent Michael Herr observed this in 1968. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, confirms it in Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam. He also does something else. He reveals the hell that Huế became resulted largely from decisions made by American and Vietnamese officials.

Delusion drove policies. This made them lethal. The Battle of Huế extinguished thousands of lives. From the perspective of “nearly half a century,” however, this appears as a “tragic and meaningless waste,” one that Bowden contends should elicit “permanent caution” about war for any but “the most immediate, direct, and vital national interest” (526). The case is compelling. Huế 1968 offers a riveting read. It possesses the urgency of a novel even as it shatters the “conspiracy of denial” around the battle (520). It does this by drawing on a...

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