A Bright Shining Lie
Front cover of unknown edition
A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988) is a book by Neil Sheehan, a former New York Times reporter who covered the Vietnam War. It is about retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann and United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
For this book Sheehan was awarded the 1988 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. It was adapted as a film of the same name released by HBO in 1998, starring Bill Paxton and Amy Madigan.
John Paul Vann became an adviser to the Saigon regime in the early 1960s. He was an ardent critic of how the war was fought, both on the part of the Saigon regime, which he viewed as corrupt and incompetent, and, as time went by, increasingly, on the part of the U.S. military. In particular, he was critical of the U.S. military command, especially under William Westmoreland, and their inability to adapt to the fact that they were facing a popular guerrilla movement while backing a corrupt regime. He argued that many of the tactics employed (for example the strategic hamlet relocation) further alienated the population and thus were counterproductive to U.S. objectives. Often he was unable to influence the military command but used the Saigon press corps including Neil Sheehan, David Halberstam and Malcolm Browne to disseminate his views.
The volume begins with a prologue giving an account of Vann's funeral on June 16, 1972, following his death in a helicopter accident in Vietnam. The author, Sheehan, a personal friend, was present. The subsequent account is divided into seven "books" detailing Vann's career in Vietnam and America's involvement in the conflict. Book I tells of Vann's assignment to Vietnam in 1962. Book II "The Antecedents to a Confrontation" tells of the origin of the Vietnam War. Book III gives a detailed account of the shambolic Battle of Ap Bac on January 2, 1963 in which the South Vietnamese army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Viet Cong. Book IV details Vann's criticism of the way the war was being fought, his conflict with the U.S. military command and his transfer back to America. Book V tracks back to give Vann's personal history before his involvement in the war. In the final chapters, Books VI and VII give an account of Vann's return to Vietnam in 1965 and his doomed attempt to implement a war winning formula for the beleaguered U.S. army and how he eventually compromised with the military system he once criticized.
Reception and influence 
A Bright Shining Lie was accorded high praise from critics. According to The New York Times Book Review: "If there is one book that captures the Vietnam war in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it. Neil Sheehan orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the war". The New York Review of Books proclaimed it "An unforgettable narrative, a chronicle grand enough to suit the crash and clangors of whole armies. A Bright Shining Lie is a very great piece of work; its rewards are aesthetic and...almost spiritual".
In September, 1988, Sheehan was interviewed by Brian Lamb about A Bright Shining Lie. The discussion was aired on C-SPAN in five 30-minute segments, and was the basis for the later C-SPAN show Booknotes.
- "National Book Awards – 1988". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "General Nonfiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
- New York Times Book Review: The Man Who Was the War
- New York Review of Books: Heart of Darkness
- Neil Sheehan (1989). A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York, Vintage.
- A Bright Shining Lie on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- A Bright Shining Lie at the Internet Movie Database
- Sheehan's C-SPAN interviews with Brian Lamb, September 14, 1988: