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Against Interpretation

In response to:

Our Air War from the January 4, 1968 issue

To the Editors:

…There are several places in his review of Air WarVietnam [NYR, January 4] where Mr. Robert Crichton imputes to me certain feelings which I think are his own, and I would like to set these points right. My reason is very personal and basic. I’ve been reporting Air Force stories around the world for many many years and have warm friends in that great outfit. Some have been killed or captured in Vietnam and the way things are going, I fear that more will be. When I came back from Vietnam I was terribly shocked and upset by the casualties I saw there on both sides. I felt very strongly that we should get out, hopefully by a powerful decisive military action if such could be mounted. But in the months since then I have seen our country steadily growing more bitter and divided here at home. I am torn. I want to stop our casualties and the Vietnamese civilian casualties. I also want to hold our country together. I guess this is the dilemma of many of us.

My reason for writing this letter is to affirm my steadfast loyalty to the guys in American uniforms who are fighting in Vietnam, to say that I am against draft-card burners and those who carry signs calling for Victory for the NLF. And I would like to say that in the places in his review where Mr. Crichton speaks of napalm and its routine use, of FACS and their casual actions, of chopper pilots and their conduct, and my name appears, I believe he was speaking from his own deep feelings in the matter. I know that there have been some hasty and irresponsible actions taken in the war; there are in all wars (doesn’t excuse them); but from my own personal observation I cannot say that I saw any American do anything other than was required of him in the carrying out of his job. I am perfectly willing for others, who feel differently than I do, to have their say. But I wouldn’t want any of my many friends in the armed services, some of them now in combat, to think I’m disloyal to them….

Frank Harvey

Hackettstown, New Jersey

Robert Crichton replies:

There is no question that in attributing certain reactions to Frank Harvey—such as surprise that Huey Hog commanders had so much individual authority to act—I was imposing my own interpretation on his text and on my conversations with him. One quality of Mr. Harvey’s book, which does him credit as a reporter, is that his descriptions of such events as a visit to a civilian hospital are bound to produce strong reactions in the reader. In places in my piece I attributed reactions to Mr. Harvey that I thought were indicated by his factual account: if I appeared to be putting words in his mouth I can only apologize.

What is important to me is that the information contained in Harvey’s book goes unchallenged and that the American people get a chance to examine it without Mr. Harvey’s or my reactions. (In my piece I erroneously placed 3,000 pound bombs on B-52’s when it should be F-105’s and B-52 pilots where they should be F-105 pilots). In Mr. Harvey’s case, when he returned from Vietnam and began assembling his facts he concluded we should unilaterally withdraw. As time has passed he has returned to his former conclusion that as bloody and tragic as the war is (he believes there are considerably more than the 150,000 civilian casualties Sen. Edward Kennedy reports) we have no option but to see it through. In my case his book serves to reinforce my conviction that if this is indeed the price we have to extract to stay in Vietnam, then morally we can’t afford it and should get out at once, although this was never the intention of Mr. Harvey in writing Air WarVietnam.

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