Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review of "The Cat from Hue" by John Laurence

John Laurence, a young television reporter for CBS news, was sent to the front to cover the Vietnam War in 1965. Though barely surviving some situations, Laurence would go on to serve two additional “tours of duty”. It is this experience, along with personal reflection and commentary on the social and political arenas of Vietnam and the US that would later be collected in The Cat from Hue.  Interesting reading, those wishing to look deeper into life on the front lines in America’s war in Vietnam and media in the US should have a read.

A devil-may-care attitude is not precisely the mindset with which Laurence arrived in the southeast Asian country at war. It’s fair to say, however, his relative youth played a hand in repressing his fears and being somewhat innocent regarding American political interests in the region. The more time he spends at the front, however, interacting with soldiers and dealing with the contradictions and propaganda produced by not only the government but his own news agency, slowly drives Laurence to take his opinion of the war in the direction of much of America’s counter-culture, though naturally with a higher degree of sympathy for the soldiers and veterans and the clashing expectation from each side.

And it is precisely the personal experiences of being in fire-fights, being in illegal war zones, being in the barracks, being witness to the soldiers personal thoughts, and being in the television study back home while the war continues to burn that flesh out this memoire/documentary. Action mixed with everyday experience mixed with input from media and government influences is the cocktail that serves the book.

The Cat from Hue is a touch long (850 pages), and much of that length is tied up in Laurence’s perceptions of the times, but for those accustomed to reading lengthy biographies or histories, it will pose no problem. Likewise, those potentially bothered by a counter-culture view on the war should be wary. Being a journalist, Laurence never stoops so low to become polemical in his regard for American political interests, and most importantly, never does he berate the situation of so many soldiers drafted into the war. In fact coming to view himself like a bit of a soldier himself, veterans and anti-war proponents can both find something to like about the book. But from the trenches to the backrooms of corporate media, this is an informative if lengthy read that maintains a bias for the anti-war movement.

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