Book Review: WE SHOT THE WAR, a tribute to Overseas Weekly

We Shot the War (4)We Shot the War
Lisa Nguyen

Stars and Stripes is an American military newspaper, and although independent, is published out of the Department of Defense, and at least at one time took the perspective of officers rather than enlisted men. In 1950, Marion von Rospach, a Stanford University alum, her husband, and three servicemen founded Overseas Weekly as an alternative to what they saw as the official narrative.

In 1966, the paper, based in Germany, sent Ann Bryan to Saigon to start a Pacific edition of the paper focusing on the Vietnam war. Marion von Rospach unexpectedly died in 1969, and the paper was sold, but it ceased operations in 1975.

The Pacific edition hired several women and successfully challenged the ban on women reporting from combat zones. Because it frankly covered such topics as courts martial, racial tensions, and drug use, it earned the ire of the Pentagon which tried to get it banned from PX newsstands. Until that decision was overturned, local children hawked the paper on Saigon streets.

After the magazine closed, its records were largely forgotten, but many of the photographs, negatives, and contact sheets were saved by Calle Hesslefors, a former photographer. They ended up with Mark Goldsworthy, a Swedish designer, who contacted the Hoover Library and Archives once he realized the treasure he possessed.

Out of the archive, Lisa Nguyen curated an exhibit and edited a companion book, We Shot the War. Nguyen offers an introduction giving context to the photographs, and in all my reading on the Vietnam War, I’d never heard of the Overseas Weekly, so it was interesting to me to hear about it and the battles it fought, though I found myself wishing for more details about the key events, e.g., securing the right of women to report from combat zones.

The book includes essays from former Overseas Weekly photographers tracked down by the Hoover Institution once they received the paper’s archive. While these recollections add to the oral narrative of American experience in the Vietnam War, they are by their nature not analytical or in-depth.

Photographs from Overseas Weekly represent the bulk of the book and because of their origin, they haven’t been reproduced in modern books and publications. They include both servicemen and Vietnamese. Unlike most pictures of Vietnamese, these often capture them in the activities of daily living.

Finally, We Shot the War reproduces a few columns of a popular feature from Overseas Weekly: “Man in the Street,” in which a reporter asked servicemen a question. Here, the columns had asked about the utility of body count as a measure of success and the presence of racial discrimination. Because these topics have been analyzed so much in the present, it was very interesting to see how servicemen thought about them at the time they were in Vietnam.

If you plan on purchasing this book, you should invest in the hard copy and not the electronic version. I found the Kindle edition hard to read. The type was very small, and though text bubbles popped up, they were hard to navigate. There was no way to enlarge the photographs, so they were difficult to see as well.