Our Air War

Air War: Vietnam

by Frank Harvey
Bantam, 192 pp., $.75 (paper)

In the spring of 1966 a freelance writer named Frank Harvey was invited by Maj. George Weiss, PIO officer for the 7th Air Force in Saigon, to Vietnam to do a “definitive” study of the conduct of the air war. Harvey was reluctant to go; he is fifty-three and the assignment would be arduous and hazardous. But because of his record as a military specialist (Harvey has written some eighty articles on military subjects in the past eighteen years, all of them laudatory, some of them adulatory), Weiss argued that Harvey was “obligated” to go.

At the same time, Edward Muhlfeld, Publisher of Flying, a well-edited, hawkish aviation magazine, also felt the time was right for such a study, and asked the Air Force officials in the Pentagon to suggest a writer for the job. The Pentagon named Frank Harvey. In spite of Harvey’s reluctance, a liaison was arranged between Flying and Harvey, with the Pentagon acting as matchmaker. The arrangement was consummated in June of that year when Harvey, at Flying’s expense, flew to Saigon.

In all Harvey spent fifty-five days in Vietnam. Because of his credentials, he was allowed and encouraged to fly every kind of mission being flown in Vietnam. When he returned to this country, he had sampled everything except a bombing run over North Vietnam and a B-52 raid over South Vietnam. His article, fifty-eight pages long, appeared in the November issue of Flying. In December a publisher asked Harvey to expand it to book length (he put back material Flying had cut, emphasized material the Pentagon had suggested be de-emphasized) and in July Air War: Vietnam was published in a silence which has persisted. This is unfortunate, since the book is the most complete record so far of what our airmen are actually doing to the people of Vietnam; it is extremely revealing, if at times reluctantly so, precisely because of those qualities that made Harvey so acceptable to the Air Force in the first place.

AT THE OUTSET Harvey intended to do no more than record, as clearly as possible, every aspect of the air war that he had experienced. From the carrier Constellation in the South China Sea he wrote Muhlfeld: “I am leaving the political situation strictly alone. My assignment is to tell about the air war—not the reasons for it. And I certainly won’t leave until we have spent some time in combat. To leave before that would be to miss the very heart of the excitement.”

The very heart of the excitement! It is interesting to compare this with the celebrated opening paragraph of Mary McCarthy’s Vietnam. “I confess that when I went to Vietnam I was looking for material damaging to the American interest and that I found it, though often by accident or in the process of being briefed by an official.” In Harvey’s case he decidedly was not looking for damaging material, but, as Miss McCarthy did, he found it, and often in the same…

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 nybooks.com account.