Magazine article The Spectator

A Veteran under Fire

Magazine article The Spectator

A Veteran under Fire

Article excerpt

THE CAGE: AN ENGLISHMAN IN VIETNAM by Tom Abraham Bantam, L16.99, pp. 299, ISBN 0593049683

The Domino Theory that a communist takeover of all Vietnam would cause the other nations of South-east Asia to topple, one by one, was disproved at vast cost in materiel and body-bags. The United States can still afford to squander a lot of money, of course, but the President can go to war now only if the public and the armed forces are assured that hardly any Americans perhaps just a few experts in various coloured berets - will be killed in it. After all, what are smart bombs for?

Tom Abraham, a 57-year-old English sometime dealer in textiles and antiques, has written a dramatic account of his involvement in America's last large-scale infantry war, which was embarrassingly unsuccessful militarily and domestically politically disastrous, and made most Americans swear 'Never again!' The television news from Vietnam during the war and all the subsequent films and books, notably this new one, make the reluctance to commit infantry abroad entirely understandable.

When his father moved his family from Yorkshire to Pennsylvania, Tom attended Dickinson College. 'Notionally,' he writes, 'I was supposed to be studying what they called "liberal arts", but in reality I spent almost all my time partying and playing sports.' His father bought him a white Ford Mustang, 'a boy-racer's dream'.

'From almost as early as I can remember,' he says, 'I've been a firearms fanatic.' His personal collegiate armoury included a Winchester rifle, 'a high-velocity, longrange weapon', and a .22 semi-automatic rifle, for pigeons and squirrels 'or anything else that was around'. He went deerhunting 'with other guys', but often alone. In a forest in North Carolina, in case a bear charged him, he carried a handgun, a Ruger .44 Magnum, 'the kind Dirty Harry used. I manufactured special bullets, which opened up when they entered the body and brought down the target quickly.' At the age of 19, he seems to have been one of those gun-enthusiasts who help to maintain the National Rifle Association's influence in Washington. When eligible for the draft, he quickly enlisted in the US Army to improve his chances to train for a commission.

In Vietnam, as a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry and was reminded of its 'proud history':

Almost a century before, under the command of General George Armstrong Custer, the regiment was cut to pieces in a heroic last stand against overwhelming Sioux odds at Little Big Horn. …

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