Vietnam: The Turning Point

Here Is Your Enemy

by James Cameron
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 160 pp., $3.95

Lyndon Johnson
Lyndon Johnson; drawing by David Levine

On the screen an old peasant woman stands amidst devastated houses and fields; like twenty-five million men and women in both parts of her country she wears black silk pajamas. Her left sleeve hangs empty. The picture dissolves quickly and those who see her on the television film that James Cameron, an English newspaperman, has brought back from North Vietnam will forget her—unless they have also read his book, Here Is Your Enemy. It is dedicated to the “old lady who lives in the village of Naah Ngang, in the Thanh Hoa province of North Vietnam which is unfortunately near a strategically important bridge.”

The bridge as far as we know still stands, [Cameron writes], but the old lady had her left arm blown off by one of the bombs that went astray, She was more fortunate than her daughter, who was killed. She said: “I suppose there is a reason for all this but I do not understand what it is. It think I am too old now ever to find out.

Most Americans are not too old to understand and are living far enough from the bombed bridges to appraise soberly the Vietnam policy pursued in their name. Indeed they have more information available to them about the war than any other nation that has ever fought in a remote foreign land. Now, at a moment when the war seems to be reaching a turning point, James Cameron’s book and film give us the first perceptive report we have had in years on the lives, reactions, ideas, and leaders of the enemy in the North.

Cameron was the first Western correspondent admitted to Hanoi since the beginning of the bombings. “Why I was selected out of a clamoring multitude of serious newspapermen is an enigma to me,” he writes. “It could have been the fact that I had insisted on going, if I went, on my own terms, uncommitted and unsponsored.” In any case, it was a fortunate choice. Cameron is not a neutral observer—he has been critical of both the Conservative and Labour positions on Vietnam—but he seems less susceptible to the passions and resentment we might have expected from a French or American reporter. An English liberal with long experience in Asia, he is able to distinguish between the totalitarian Communist apparatus which rules in North Vietnam and the authentic drive for national identity and independence which has made the Vietnamese revolution possible.

MUCH OF CAMERON’S BOOK will be familiar to those who read his dispatches in The New York Times and the London Evening Standard last September. What emerges most clearly from the second reading is his sense of the ordinary Vietnamese people he met during the winter of 1965 when American bombs were falling on the transport and communications systems throughout the country. Cameron is not a sentimentalist but he was enormously impressed…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.