Viet Cong: A Photographic Portrait, by Edward J. Emering, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, Pa., 1999, $39.95.
The VC have been an intriguing topic of study for military historians as well as veterans. They were able to survive without the resources or conveniences available to American soldiers, and to adapt to their environment while staying highly mobile. Edward J. Emering’s Viet Cong: A Photographic Portrait helps expand our knowledge of the VC way of life. Using photos from the National Vietnam Veterans’ Art Museum, Emering has put together a fascinating visual portrait of our former enemies.
Each of the seven chapters begins with a few paragraphs of explanation followed by a collection of black-and-white pictures. Although the photos–which were all captured by allied forces during the war–lack captions, they provide detailed images that help reconstruct the VC lifestyle. Apparently, the VC realized the importance of the war in their lives and made a point of recording it on film.
The introductory chapter provides interesting background information, stressing the importance of the 1963 VC victory at Ap Bac, where they repulsed much larger ARVN units supported by armored personnel carriers, helicopters and airborne troops.
But the chapter that military historians will probably find most interesting focuses on weapons, showing the homemade rifles and pistols the VC fashioned. Their ingenuity is impressive. Many of the pictures show the VC picking over American equipment, wrecked vehicles and unexploded ordnance to find weaponry as well as spare parts.
Viet Cong: A Photographic Portrait is a fascinating photographic collection for anyone interested in the intricacies of our former enemy’s world. While some books do a better job of explaining the VC viewpoint, Emering’s work provides a new look at the lives the soldiers led while fighting an unrelenting war to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese, and to defeat the modern military establishment of the United States.