Fire in the Lake

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Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972) is a book by American journalist Frances FitzGerald (1940-) about Vietnam, its history and national character, and the United States warfare there. It was initially published by both Little, Brown and Company and Back Bay Publishing.[1][2] The book was ranked by critics as one of the top books of the year, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 10 weeks, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, the Bancroft Prize for history, and the National Book Award. It was published in paperback in 1973 by Vintage Books.[3]

Summary[edit]

This was the first major book by an American on Vietnam, its history, and the United States activities there. FitzGerald said it was a "first draft of history." She explored thousands of years of the history and culture of Vietnam, showing how these affected the relations of its peoples with the relatively brief encounter with the United States. She says that the US understood little about the country and its leaders, reacting to the threat of communism rather than recognizing the nation's long struggle to gain and keep its independence from foreign invaders.

She argued that American values of freedom, democracy, optimism, and technological progress were inconsistent with Vietnam's values, culture, agrarian economy, and long history of warfare with France and China, making the Vietnam War effort doomed from the start. The Vietnamese sense of government, history, politics, and war is completely different from the American one. They have had a cultural tradition of ancestor worship and a different belief in what constitutes effective government (the Mandate of Heaven). The US government's failure to acknowledge these differences led to its failure in waging war there against the North Vietnamese and insurgents.

FitzGerald wrote, "But the American officials in supporting the Saigon government insisted that they were defending 'freedom and democracy' in Asia. They left the GIs to discover that the Vietnamese did not fit into their experience of either 'communist' or 'democrats.' Under different circumstances this invincible ignorance…" She continued, "Whatever strategy the American government uses to carry on the war, it will only be delaying the inevitable."

The book discusses the US government's ignorance of Vietnam's history, especially their determination to rid themselves of foreign invaders. They fought against Chinese domination for 1000 years, despite the latter's vastly superior population and resources. Many of the people considered United States forces to be another wave of foreign invaders.

The book covers the history in depth and reaches the Tet Offensive 90% of the way through the narrative. It explores the Cao Đài monotheist religious sect in Tay Ninh, the corrupt regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, and "Nixon's War".

In her discussion of the Battle of Bong Son, Fitzgerald discusses the futility of the US use of body counts to tally successes:

"Furthermore, as the only 'indicator of progress,' it suggested that death and destruction had some absolute value in terms of winning the war. That the enemy might continue to recruit, rearm, and rebuild (often with the help of people enraged by the American destruction) did not seem to enter into the calculations."

The book is one of the first to explore the Vietnamese shanty towns that developed around US bases. They were centers of laundry services, bars and food, and prostitution.

Critical reception[edit]

The book was highly acclaimed; it was noted by New York Times reviewers as one of the five most important books published in 1972.[4] It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 weeks by May 1973.[4] Due to its popularity and significance, it was published in paperback in 1973 by Vintage and is available online at the Internet Archive.[3]

It won several literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction,[5] the National Book Award in Contemporary Affairs,[6] and the Bancroft Prize for history.[7]

Scholar David G. Marr in The Journal of Asian Studies criticized FitzGerald's discussion of Vietnamese history and national character, given that she lacked the language and could not read its literature. He said that she tried to explain a "grand Vietnamese Gestalt" that was in opposition to Western values, but relied on Western thinkers to form her conclusions. But he said she was much more successful in her sections on US involvement, superior to other journalists in analyzing the "Diem regime's fundamental social and political weaknesses" and assessing the National Liberation Front.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ FitzGerald, Frances (1972). Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-28423-8. 
  2. ^ FitzGerald, Frances (1972). Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Back Bay. pp. 500 Pages. ISBN 0-316-15919-0. 
  3. ^ a b Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake, Internet Archive Open Library
  4. ^ a b c David G. Marr (May 1973). "Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. By Frances Fitzgerald". Book Reviews—Southeast Asia. The Journal of Asian Studies. 32 (3): 564–565. doi:10.2307/2052735. 
  5. ^ "General Nonfiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  6. ^ "National Book Awards - 1973" (web). National Book Foundation. 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-03. .
    There was a "Contemporary" or "Current" award category from 1972 to 1980.
  7. ^ "The Bancroft Prizes; Previous Awards". Columbia University Libraries. 2007. Archived from the original (web) on 2007-07-14. Retrieved 2008-03-03. 

External links[edit]