Death Zones & Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting

Article excerpt

Keever, Beverly Deepe. Death Zones & Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 337 pp. $26.95.

Beverly Deepe Keever's journal-memoir Death Zones & Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting is so visceral it took me back to 1970 when I saw Alices Restaurant projected on the wall of a mess hall in Pleiku, South Vietnam. "Pleiku," as Keever vividly reports, "sat on a high plateau surrounded by mountains and served as a strategic hub for the dusty, twenty-mile stretch of Highway 19 that ran eastward to the South China Sea. Along that cinnamon-colored highway [which precisely describes it] eleven years earlier 3,500 French troops equipped with tanks and artillery were practically annihilated in a series of Communist ambushes launched so regularly that the foreign fighters labeled it the 'War of the Wide Open Spaces.'" I knew Pleiku was a hot spot; I did not know it was President Johnson's "pretext" for bombing in February 1965. Keever explains that history.

Keever also put me back in Dalat, the tier-farmed paradise two hundred miles northeast of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). We slept in an underground artillery bunker with rats scratching above the framework. By day, the extraordinary vista revealed incongruous horrors of war in a lovely setting. As Keever writes: "Dalat reminded me of an alpine village filled with facsimiles of Swiss chalets or European grand hotels amid fog-enshrouded mountains. ... Newsweek editors assigned me to investigate the atomic research they were astonished to see that the United States was opening there under an agreement signed in 1959 by Eisenhower's Atoms-for-Peace Program. . . . On Easter Sunday 1975 . . . two pro-American volunteers unsuccessfully attempted to retrieve [2.82 ounces of] plutonium, but it fell into Communist hands."

As I warmed to Keever's book I realized two aspects of its credibility-she was there living the same reality as soldiers and civilians who were her subjects; and, unlike me, who plopped in for a one-year tour, Keever stayed for seven continuous years. The war imbued the correspondent bylined "Beverly Deepe"-before her 1969 marriage to Chuck Keever-with accrued wisdom wrought from involvement, attention, and circumspection depicted in the character of British journalist Thomas Fowler in the novel The Quiet American. To understand why Keever waited four decades to tell her story requires us to unpack the difference between journalism and journalism history.

Beverly Deepe went to Vietnam in 1962, stayed through 1968, and saw firsthand how France's struggles became Americas-the early U.S. advisers, escalation of bombing and troop deployments, failed U.S.-South Vietnamese military-political strategies, the debacle ofTet. That Deepe is a woman is both important and irrelevant-important in that we need to pay more attention to her pioneering career; irrelevant because "gender" is dwarfed by the fact that Deepe was on the ground filing for seven years. Death Zones & Darling Spies-despite a few oddities-is gripping, like Michael Herr's Dispatches, but more historically useful. The book offers a ready-made syllabus on war reporting, women in journalism, and Vietnam-journalism history.

Nebraska native Deepe studied political science and journalism at the University of Nebraska and went to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She filed from Vietnam for AP, Newsweek, New York Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor (which nominated her in 1968 for the Pulitzer Prize), and other dailies. She first used the phrase "death zone" in 1962, referring to villages where occupants could "be shot on sight," which evolved into the euphemism "free-fire zones." Among the familiar topics Deepe reported are the first helicopter war; impact of the deaths of Presidents Diem and Kennedy; Buddhist self-immolations and religious protests; and fierce battles of Hue, Khe Sanh, and Tet. …