top of page

Book Reviews

John Olmsted
July 14, 2022


5.0 out of 5 stars Vital link in the history of the war.

How often does one get to hear about the war from the perspective of the fighters in the south who the U.S. sacrificed so many lives to defeat?

We are indebted to Micheal Dedrick for having the compassion to go to the lengths he did to track down these stories. In Vietnam it is common to hear that the past is the past and few want to revisit the war.

The fighters Michael interviewed made sacrifices and did so out of selfless love for their country. We hear not only of the suffering but the of the strategies, the organization, the discipline, the tactics used in the war. These won out over the massive firepower advantage help by their U.S military. We can call it one of the great upsets in history.

We also hear of Michael's experience in the war and a glimpse at the range of emotions going back to such a time evokes. He has said that his interrogation experience during the war was valuable for these "interrogations" of a much different sort.

__________________________

Jan Kelly

July 13, 2022

Just finished Southern Voices and wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. Even though you'd told me about the project, I hadn't grasped the scope and importance of it. It is, truly, a different, and unique, take on reporting  the history of a war and it's aftermath. The courage, dedication and drive of the individuals profiled, no matter what the personal cost to them, is impressive. Thank you for pursuing this and memorializing these histories before these men and women are no longer with us.

I also appreciated your introduction that gives a clear and concise the history of the Vietnam War, as well as the detailed  glossary making it much easier to follow.

I hope it continues to be well received.

Best,
Jan

___________________________
 

Abby Howell
Jul 01, 2022


Fascinating compilation of oral histories of Viet Cong soldiers in the south. Dedrick, a former intelligence officer in the Vietnam War, travels back to Vietnam and records these interviews that give background and substance to voices and people that have rarely been heard in the United States. So much bravery and so much suffering.

___________________________

Mary Catlin

Goodreads Oct 2022

I cannot imagine, some fifty years hence, members of Al-Shabab discussing their lives with US army officers, mid-bites of cucumber sandwiches. Nor do I see Taliban commanders and U.S. intelligence operatives sharing each side of the US exit from Afghanistan over tea. Yet that is exactly what Michael Dedrick has achieved in his remarkable book, Southern Voices – the Biet Dong and the National Liberation Front (University Press of Kentucky).

Once a military interrogator in Vietnam for the US army, Michael Dedrick returned to Viet Nam 45 years later to interview Vietnamese Biet Dong special operatives about their lives before, during and after the war.

With formal courtesy and mutual respect, these Vietnamese men and women impart lessons for the urban wars of today. These “ordinary citizens” engaged in sabotage, espionage, and assassinations, in their decades of continued resistance against French and US occupiers.

But what this remarkable book shows is the long-standing commitment, honor, and courage of the Biet Dong, who fought in secret groups of 1-3 at enormous personal cost. The interviewees’ unwavering clarity of purpose defending their invaded homeland against superior firepower is remarkable; it warns me what may lie ahead for the Russia invaders in Ukraine.

The other unexpected gift is the courtesy shown by the Vietnamese towards a one-time enemy. The author too furthers his cause by honoring grave sites with incense and translating the interviews into both English and Vietnamese in hopes of that rarest of tales, a narrative of war shared by soldiers of opposing sides who have now lain their weapons down.

My mild criticism is this: I would put the glossary in the beginning, so a reader can find help untangling terms such as the PAVN, NLF, NVA, PLAF, Viet Dong, and Viet Minh. But the complexity of the first chapter’s historical context is forgotten by the gripping tales of those interviewed. The exceptional transcripts enrich our understanding of those who won the war: these tales move from legend to history, the stories of heroes, the dead and of ordinary people who bear the continuing cost of war.

______________________

John Balaban

Amazon 2022

 Powerful interviews with former enemies by their wartime American interrogator

Reviewed in the United States on August 28, 2022  Amazon review

I've read and written about the Vietnam War for most of my adult life and, like many Americans who were there during the war, have always wondered who they were, i.e. the spies and saboteurs who were rumored to be all around us in South Vietnam. Michael Dedrick, a former U.S. Army interrogator during war, went back to find out. His Southern Voices: Biet Dong and the National Liberation Front is based on interviews he made with former, secret "Special Forces" comprised of farmers, cabbies, market workers, cooks, maids, and office staff who hid in plain sight and assassinated and bombed their American and South Vietnamese targets. It's an amazing book and an important new addition to the history of the Vietnam War.

-------------------------------------

Southern Voices Biet Dong And The National Liberation Front

June 23, 2022 Reading at University of Wa book store

Click here...https://youtu.be/aSQyTS8Jk68

___________________________

Stefania Dzhanamova
May 11 2022


I picked up this book, expecting a study of NLF tactics as explained by the Viet Cong fighters themselves, but Michael Robert Dedrick's account is unique and nothing like what I had imagined. Instead of focusing on strategy, he, as is implied by the title of his work, gives voice to the South Vietnamese resistance fighters, allowing them to finally tell their personal stories of love, loss, pain, and sacrifice in the name of freedom and independence for their country. The result is a deeply moving collection of stories that show the human face of the enemy, who was completely dehumanized during the Vietnam conflict so that Americans could kill it with "clear" conscience.

In the introduction, Dedrick tells his own story, which is quite remarkable, and how he decided to interview former NLF cadres. In 1968, he was an American interrogator-linguist in Vietnam. He worked at an American-Vietnamese prisoner of war compound in Cholon, Saigon. After the attack on the American embassy during the Tet Offensive, he interrogated a captured participant, whose alias was Ba Den. Dedrick did not know this at the time, but Ba Den would go down in history as the only survivor of the attack. For the Vietnamese, he was a national hero, having blown a three-foot hole in the impregnable embassy wall. In 2013, Dedrick returned to Saigon with the purpose of finding and interviewing Ba Den only to discover that he had died in a road accident several years after the third Vietnam conflict ended. Thanks to his genuinely kind and sympathetic attitude toward the people he met, and probably the fact that he was a member of Vietnam Veterans against War, locals connected Dedrick to other NLF fighters who had been part of the nationwide Tet attacks. The interviews that he conducted with them are chronicled in his book.

Before proceeding with the interviews, the author offers a helpful chapter that traces the history and development of the Biet Dong. Biet Dong, which means Ranger in translation, was the name of the organization that was responsible for South Vietnam's resistance against the Americans. It was known as the National Liberation Front because the name Biet Dong was kept secret. Its members, whose identities also remained secret not only from the enemy but also from each other, were Vietnamese from all walks of life. They were young and old, men and women, tradespeople, students, agents, monks, intellectuals, and journalists. They were organized in units that hid in plain sight. They worked as taxi drivers, street vendors, soldiers, and according to one of the interviewees, even ballroom dancers – all occupations that provided cover for their clandestine activities. As the author narrates, the inspiration for Biet Dong fighters came from deeply cherished Vietnamese historical mythology that commemorates a century-old tradition of opposition to foreign invaders going back to the long struggle against Chinese occupation that produced national heroes such as the Trung sisters and general Tran Hung Gao. This is why the Biet Dong members were usually driven by their strong patriotism and not by Communist ideology. As the interviews demonstrate, though, the fighters did admire and believe in Ho Chi Minh and his cause, so the conclusion of some historians that the National Liberation Front consisted of insurgents who had no connection to Hanoi and fought for their own anti-government causes is erroneous. The Biet Dong were still coordinated by the Party.

The stories of the NLF fighters that Dedrick has interviewed have a lot in common. The majority, if not all, came from poor families and had experienced hardships since early childhood. Not one of them cites a sense of affinity for Communist ideology as a reason for joining the resistance. Most joined because their family member, or their whole family, were Party members. One interviewee told that he became a Biet Dong cadre out of desire to avenge his uncle, a killed resistance fighter. Another explained that it was a "domino effect" – it is ironic that the name evokes President Dwight D. Eisenhower's domino theory – when a father joined the insurgence, his son would follow in his steps, and thus it went one generation after another, as long as was necessary to fight off the foreign invaders. All in all, I was left with the impression that at first most of them did not have a definite reason for joining, yet the Vietnamese tradition of patriotism motivated them to, and eventually everyone found his reason to continue. Worth noting is that Ho Chi Minh's quote "Nothing is more precious than liberty" is often mentioned throughout their interviews. This serves as proof that Ho had indeed developed his own, special brand of Communism that sought to wake the people's nationalism and patriotism instead of imposing on them the Marxist-Leninist ideology that most of them knew nothing about. 

As becomes clear from the interviews, the resistance fighters firmly believed that it was their patriotic spirit that helped them achieve the impossible – prevail over a high-tech military superpower, whose soldiers were armed to their teeth. The insurgents outfought their enemy because, unlike the Americans, they were ready to sneer at death and sacrifice themselves. Of course, as one interviewee pointed out, they could have never won against America's superior weapons and half a million men if they had fought conventionally. "No country can win against the US on the battlefield. However, there were no battlefields in Vietnam. Vietnamese soldiers hid in tunnels and attacked the US [soldiers] when they ate or slept." This quote should have been cited to all those American commanders who insisted in their memoirs that it was not because of their wrong strategy-making that America lost to North Vietnam.

Now that I have addressed the main points that the interviewees made, I would like to bring attention to the many fascinating and horrifying details that their interviews are interspersed with. For instance, I was surprised to find out that the NLF fighters felt sympathy for African-American servicemen because they were former slaves and preferred not to kill them. Another interesting, and sad, detail was the existence of sacrifice units in every insurgent province. Sacrifice units performed suicide attacks, whose purpose was to distract the enemy from their comrades. Before going on a mission, the members of this units signed the Sacrifice Letter, as it was presumed that they probably would not survive.

A sacrifice unit was part of the Biet Dong assassination attempt on Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. This is an interesting story that I was not aware of prior to reading Dedrick's work. McNamara had been regularly visiting Vietnam, and the Biet Dong had practiced attacks on his car in their Duc Hoa-My Hanh base. The original plan was to rent a house along the Secretary's route and detonate a powerful bomb as his car drove by. However, McNamara changed his route, so the team decided to attack his convoy at the Cong Ly Bridge in May 1964. Loi, the Biet Dong fighter whom Dedrick interviewed, and his partner Nguyen Van Troi laid two mines there and calculated the car's velocity and the time it would pass in advance. Everything would have gone smoothly had local people not taken Troi for a thief when he went to check the detonator wires before the convoy arrived. Both he and Loi were captured. Loi was eventually released, but his comrade became the first publicly executed member of the Southern resistance. Troi's last words were powerful: "You are journalists, and so you must be well-informed about what is happening. It is the Americans who have committed aggression against our country; it is they who have been killing our people with planes and bombs . . . I have never acted against the will of my people. It is against the Americans that I have taken action."

He was not wrong. The Americans were committing horrible sins in Vietnam. Every interview that Dedrick has recorded is a testimony to this. Who did not watch his family member or fellow villager get brutally killed was subjected to another form of American atrocity. Women were just as active participants in the resistance as men. In certain cases, they were, such as attacks on bars, of which it was difficult for men to go in and out, even preferred to male cadres. One female Biet Dong fighter, Le Hong Quan, who joined the insurgents as a child, transporting documents hidden inside bamboo fishing rods, weapons, explosives, and supplies, tells the stomach-churning story of her imprisonment and interrogation. Having being captured during the second phase of the Tet Offensive, she was beaten up and her severely wounded arm was further broken by the interrogators. In the maximum security prison that she was transferred to afterwards, she and the other prisoners were held in inhumane conditions, starved, and tortured on a daily basis. Furthermore, evidence from her and another female cadre shows that after the Paris Agreement was signed in 1973, the Saigon authorities changed the status of many political prisoners to that of common criminals so that they would not be released.

 



What impressed and surprised me is that Dedrick underscores several times that none of the former Biet Dong fighters expressed any resentment toward Americans. On the contrary, they sympathized with the draftees who had been sent to Vietnam against their will. They sincerely wanted bygones to be bygones. The only thing that, understandably, troubled them deeply was the effects of Agent Orange on the new generation of Vietnamese. As the author explains in his helpful glossary, Agent Orange, which was used in the massive, and fruitless, American defoliation campaign, contained dioxin, which is a highly persistent carcinogen that slowly degrades in the environment and remains largely unchanged in subsurface soil. Around 400,000 Vietnamese died or suffered permanent injury from exposure to Agent Orange. Furthermore, two million people suffered from illnesses, and half a million babies were born with birth defects. Nothing to say of the fact that around 300,000 American veterans died because of exposure to Agent Orange, which, Dedrick compares, is almost five times as many as the 58,000 American soldiers who died in battle. This is a crime that should not be forgotten.

SOUTHERN VOICES is an outstanding work. My only complaint is that it was too short, and it seemed to me that what the author presents are summaries of the interviews that he conducted. By the time I got fully immersed in someone's story, the chapter had already come to an end. This is still a brilliant, touching book, though, and a valuable contribution to the Vietnam conflict scholarship. Considering Dedrick's evocative style, I was surprised to see that it is his first work. I am looking forward to reading his future books.

____________________________

bottom of page