January 27, 1997 12:00 PM

by David Harris

Few would argue with Harris’s claim that our nation has never recovered from the devastating wounds of the Vietnam War. Now, almost two decades after Harris, then married to Joan Baez, went to jail for violating the Selective Service Act, he has written this impassioned call for a “reckoning.” He argues that we must understand—and take responsibility for—what happened in Southeast Asia before we can heal from a collective case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mixing memoir and history, Harris captures the confusion of those times. We are reminded of crucial events and daily horrors: the Tonkin Gulf incident, the My Lai massacre, the body counts on the evening news. Harris’s fervor is admirable, and we applaud his determination to keep alive the memory of those tragically costly mistakes. But his analysis stays on the surface: His writing is rambling, circular, murky (“All means are ends in motion, as ends are means in a static state”). He seems unaware that Vietnam was only one of many problematic wars we have fought. A reckoning is indeed needed, but alas, it may still have to wait for a deeper, clearer thinker—and writer—than David Harris. (Times Books, $21)

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