- Impact Zone: The Battle of the DMZ in Vietnam, 1967–1968
Impact Zone is a personal memoir of a tour of duty in Vietnam across the politically pivotal years of 1967 and 1968. Unlike much of the memoir literature, which has mainly been written from the perspective of infantry veterans, Jim Brown's book offers the perspective of an artillery man and therefore is quite distinct. Brown's initial enthusiasm to be sent to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), imbued with the values traditionally associated withWorldWar II, is reflected in a series of accounts, each forming a specific chapter, of his many combat experiences during his tour. The chapter titles reveal Brown's involvement in now well-known locations and battles: ðông Hà, Con Thien, Tê´t, Cao Lu, Khe Sanh. His account juxtaposes the intense account of battle with the seemingly dreary daily routine and periods of prolonged boredom. Written in a deeply personal manner, the book is of greatest interest for those who seek to learn more about the role of artillery in the war. As such it operates within the niche of military history and memoir and will find a ready audience who will gain significant insight from this unusual military perspective.
Beneath the brutality and banality of daily experience the book takes up another familiar theme of the transition of hope and pride to one of disillusion through the 13-month tour. Brown sets out from what appears almost as a mythic America filled with the pride and patriotism associated with the post-1945 period. He finishes high school after taking us through idyllic reference points—hometown life, homecoming [End Page 146] queens—and eventual separation. His self-acknowledged naïveté is captured in such sequences: "Hollywood exalted the American soldier with a never ending sequence of war movies. Watching John Wayne in the Sands of Iwo Jima, most of us understandably took it for granted that this was the way 'red-blooded Americans' ought to conduct themselves. Young boys in those years could hardly avoid a respect for the military, and in my case I needed only a war to fulfill my imagination." The reality of course was nothing like the stuff of imagination. The theme of disillusion permeates Impact Zone. Eager for action at the outset, Brown recounts his growing doubt through the midperiod of his tour. He gives a detailed sense of how some artillerymen dealt with the pervasive news of stateside dissent and the antiwar movement.
Brown and his associates took seriously the criticism of the morality of the war, even though they also sensed that many of the protesters were driven by "a selfish 'me' philosophy." Although the artillerymen did not allow their growing doubts about the morality of the war to hamper their military effectiveness in life-and-death situations, the doubts lingered. As Brown testifies, many also eventually came to realize that the war was fought not just for the values and ideals that filled the cultural consensus of an earlier period but also for the self-centered interests of political leaders in Washington. In this respect, Impact Zone fits within a well-established genre assigning culpability to politicians in Washington. Through a multitude of horrendous experiences, Brown finishes his tour with this ever-increasing disenchantment. As he eventually rotates out of the field, he visits with an incoming friend who is eager for combat and inclined to take what appears to Brown unnecessary risks. Brown admonishes his friend to be more cautious, but to little avail. Brown ultimately sees Vietnam as an unnecessary war that served only narrow political interests, but he maintains and advances distinctions between these criticisms and a wider patriotism. As such this is a thoroughly American story, with all attendant limitations. [End Page 147]