New Book: To Vietnam in Vain, Memoir of an Irish-American Intelligence Advisor, 1969-70 by Edward A. Hagan



To Vietnam in Vain, Memoir of an Irish-American Intelligence Advisor, 1969-70 is an ambivalent recollection of Edward A. Hagan’s year (1969-70) as a military intelligence advisor in the Mekong Delta.  The memoir also tells the story of his upbringing in the largest Irish neighborhood in New York during the 1950s and 60s.  The son of Irish immigrants, Hagan was raised to be a Catholic American patriot.  The memoir records his coming to awareness of the paradoxes and difficulties of his identity.  He was reared to be idealistic politically, patriotically, and religiously.  His service in the Vietnam War offered little outlet for idealistic behavior.  As a U.S. army advisor on province Advisory Team 56, he worked entirely with Vietnamese military personnel and discovered almost daily the difficulties of supporting the corrupt structure of the Government of Vietnam.  The memoir also records what it has meant to live the rest of his life with almost daily consciousness of that year in Vietnam.  The memoir is a report of the evolution of Hagan’s consciousness from his Irish-American youth to retirement age: it avoids chronology as its structure.   The memoir is written to reflect the muddle of Hagan’s consciousness (and, by extension, the consciousness of the country itself) about the war that continues to define how Americans think of themselves and of the meaning of patriotism to their country.

As a work based both on memory and on exhaustive research in the National Archives, the memoir depicts the attempts of the American military to build the South Vietnamese nation in the showcase province of the Mekong Delta. The perspective of a province advisor differs markedly from that of the average American who served in an American unit and actually knew few Vietnamese.  Hagan worked in Vietnamese offices and went out on operations with Vietnamese soldiers.

The story of the Irish-American warrior in Vietnam has yet to be told in any real depth.  Hagan’s memoir makes detailed reference to his youth in the Inwood neighborhood of New York as the son of Irish immigrants.  He also details the military history of his family: it includes his grandfather’s service in the British Army during the Boer War and the First World War as well as his father’s service in the American army during the Second World War.  An immigrant from County Tyrone, he was drafted at age 35.  Hagan also describes his family’s Irish revolutionary activities in some depth.  Many of his fellow junior officers were Irish-Americans, and those wounded or killed on his advisory team were disproportionately Irish in surname.

To Vietnam in Vain offers a picture of Irish-American participation in a war that is often remembered with great bitterness by Irish-Americans.

The book was recently published by McFarland Publishing: