Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War is the story of the 5,069 junior officers who died in Vietnam as well as the ones who survived. We learn all officers were volunteers. Even a draftee who attended Officer Candidate School had to volunteer to go to OCS.
Based on Ron Milam’s detailed and thorough research, Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War gives an excellent analysis of these men. The author has the rare combination of scholarly research and with an easy reading text. The book has two main parts.
Part one views the future officers and leaders in the United States Army. It examines their pre-commissioning training programs: West Point, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The selection, training, and evaluation process of each are explained in detail. We see how the army ramped up for the increased demand in officers. We feel the arrogance of the West Point educated toward the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the slow change of curriculum at the United States Military Academy. We learn that the majority of officers earned their commissions through ROTC. A lowering of selection standards for Officer Candidate School did not occur. A sharp reminder that the changing views on college campuses impacted the worldviews of men commissioned through ROTC.
Part two has the young officer in Vietnam. The four chapters in this section examine the junior officer’s performance as combat leaders. We experience the life and death tests they faced. We confront the myths about the men. We experience the different leadership challenges of being on a mission in the field and being in a firebase or in garrison such as preventing alcohol and drug abuse as well as racial tensions.
Myths about the Vietnam War say the junior officer was a no-talent, inadequately trained, and unenthusiastic soldier. Lt. William Calley of My Lai often is held up as the typical junior officer baby killer. Ron Milam debunks this view with detailed research including oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other records.
The author has excellent primary resource materials. He clearly shows that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well. The junior officers were competent. They served with great skill. While they were not always clean shaven and often had mud on their boots, they were dedicated and committed to the men they led. Ron Milam’s story provides a vibrant, you-are-there portrayal of what the platoon leader faced and his ability to meet the challenges as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.
Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War is a book that all students of the Vietnam War should read. I encourage all military officers to read the book as well. The book should be in every college library in the world. Ron Milam has written an excellent book. Dr. Milam is an assistant professor of military history at Texas Tech University.
On a personal level, the book helped me better understand my experience as a US Army officer. I received my pre-commissioning training through the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (Army ROTC) between 1971 and 1975. Some of the training I received was based on decisions explained in the book.
Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.