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Forward for One Time As An Intelligence Officer

Dr. Sylvester Clifford

     The sky was above, the water was below, and the sailor was in the middle! This Vietnamese saying, quoted by the author, expresses succinctly the major theme, intended or not, of this, the third in a series of books by Hung Tan Nguyen about experiences of himself and other Vietnamese during and after the long conflict known in the United States as "The War in Vietnam."

     Badly, Hung depicts the actions of himself, fellow officers, Thai pirates, black marketeers, grafters, and others as they exist in a world demanding high standards of personal loyalty and patriotism, while simultaneously expecting, countenancing, and rewarding treachery, double-dealing, profiteering, and survival at all costs. With disarming directness the author shows us tenderness and selfishness, crudity and graciousness, heroism and cowardice. There is little adornment, little pretense of philosophical depth or grand principles. These people are trapped, almost powerless in the struggles that enmesh their world.

     Ex-servicemen may wince at the unvarnished presentation of greed, but will recognize also the ability of humanity to re-assert its better aspects. Unsettling as the truth may be, it does not condemn friend or foe. Indeed, as Hung says, ... it was difficult to conclude who was bad or who was good during the war time."

     Touching scenes of family interlace with documentation of events preceding and following the fall of Saigon. Lyrical descriptions of the sea attest to sensibilities that seem overwhelmed in everyday dealings. Despite its surface blandness and simplicity this is a complex book; at least, it evokes complex thoughts and feelings. Though there is action, it is not an adventure story. Though there is not the dependence of lewdness Americans are accustomed to, there is a reality and rawness that cannot be ignored. The readers, unless they have been close to the circumstances, or to the Vietnamese refugees, who, like Hung and his family, have made their way in the United States, will not identify with the main character, but neither will they be able to put aside this military and moral quagmire.

     ONE TIME AS AN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER is recommended reading for all students of Vietnam War, and all students of the human condition.

Sylvester Clifford
Vermillion, S.D.
Refugee Resettlement Committee

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