A Bright Shining Lie
by Neil Sheehan
Neil Sheehan was one of a group of young war correspondents in Vietnam in the early 60s who were beguiled by Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann. Vann, the epitome of a gung ho, idealistic, fighting man, manipulated reporters in order to bypass the bureaucracy and get his own views about the war out in public. Vann perceived early on that the South Vietnamese Army, which he was there advising, was not developing into an effective fighting force. He chafed at the timidity and widespread corruption among South Vietnamese leaders. He saw how these factors were winning converts for the Vietcong guerillas. As a true believer he found all of this enormously frustrating, especially as he understood the South to be losing the War. Despite these frustrations, Vann had become so committed to the cause that after leaving the Army in 1963, he returned to Vietnam in 1965 as a civilian advisor with the Agency for International Development. In this role he became one of the architects of the pacification and Vietnamization programs. This sort of selfless dedication made him even more of a hero to Sheehan and his press cronies. So when Vann was killed in a 1972 helicopter crash, Sheehan saw his life as a prism through which to write about the bigger war--the hook being that such brave and dedicated men were wasting their gallantry on a corrupt endeavor. However, once he began writing, he discovered that there was a dark secret behind Vann's straight shooting facade. He had been forced to leave the Army because of a series of sexual misadventures, including statutory rape charges. And so, the focus of the book changed and Vann became a metaphor for America--with both presenting a noble face which was little more than "a bright shining lie."
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