I began this work as a doctoral dissertation in the History of American Civilization program at Harvard University. Thesis advisers usually discourage their students from choosing subjects as broad as this one. However, my advisers, Stephan Thernstrom and Robert Coles, graciously encouraged me to pursue the topic I found most compelling. I am deeply grateful for their help and generosity.
I am most indebted to the many Vietnam veterans who told me about their lives. The private, in-depth interviews I conducted with approximately 100 veterans are crucial sources for this book. While most of these oral histories were collected from men living in Massachusetts, I also interviewed about two dozen veterans from places as varied as Alabama, Texas, California, Illinois, and Virginia. Almost all were army and marine noncareer enlisted men; they were, that is, the sort of men who comprised the vast majority of American forces in Vietnam. Among that group, I tried to interview people with a wide range of experiences and perspectives -- draftees and volunteers, combat and rear-echelon, right- and left-wing, working- and middle-class. In quoting from these interviews I decided to use pseudonyms, a decision I shared with veterans before we began our talks. I believed some veterans would feel freer to speak openly knowing that their identities would not be revealed.
In addition to individual interviews, I attended a weekly Vietnam veterans' rap group from 1981 to 1988. I am very thankful to Marie Cassella of the Dorchester House and to the veterans who attended