Michael Green, United States Marine Corps in Vietnam (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In the latest of Pen & Sword’s Images of War series, Michael Green surveys the actions of the United States Marine Corps through the Vietnam War. He does this in four chapters, creating a narrative arc familiar to most readers of the war: the USMC were the first American forces to arrive as a fighting force in 1965; their numbers increased as the war escalated; they were a pivotal force in the defining year of 1968; and the Marines fought through to the end in 1975 but large-scale operations ended much earlier. Along the way, Green describes the major actions involving the Marines, how they were organized, and the problems they faced, of which there were too many to list here, but not the least of which was a determined and elusive enemy that held most of the cards except supporting firepower. He concludes his chapters with brief assessments of that phase of the war, and for the most part it is not pretty reading for Americans.
The backbone of the Images of War books are the photographs, which in United States Marine Corps in Vietnam include colour plates. There are, as you might expect, many pictures of Marines in action in all their different roles with the combat photos, particularly from Hue and Khe Sanh, being the most impactful. Marine artillery and support weapons are fully described, and USMC warplanes are given due prominence. Green also includes photos of the enemy and their equipment, highlighting the disparities in resources available to the VC. Every photo tells a story, but so too does comparing photos. For example, compare the photographs of exhausted marines with the determined faces of their native enemies. For all the potent firepower available to the Marines, how much did all that matter when face to face with their enemies in their environment? Overall, the photos left me with the impression that the USMC was not designed for the Vietnam War, and the text confirms how they struggled to adapt to those unfamiliar conditions.
Green makes no great claims for this book, which is refreshingly honest, but the survey he has produced is illuminating while achieving what all introductory books should do: satisfy those who just need to know enough but prompt questions that demand further reading for those who want to know more. Green’s text is structured in short well-defined passages with sub-headings to help guide the reader along. There is perhaps an unavoidable emphasis on numbers and statistics, especially the body counts that American commanders during Vietnam took as a sign of winning, but crucially their enemy did not. Setting that aside, United States Marine Corps in Vietnam is a solid addition to the series and well worth a read. 8/10.