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Notes on leadership, in war story format

a book review by Eric Jackson

Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing:
the untold day to day history
by LTC Patrick H. Dockery (USAR, Ret)
Trafford, Victoria BC, 2002
227 pages in paperback


Here we have the tale of someone who grew up playing war games in the bush around Margarita, graduated from Cristobal High, went to Niagara University in large part because it had an ROTC program that would help him become the army officer he wanted to be, and served two tours of duty in Vietnam and Cambodia. The author mentions that at least one of his purposes is to tell his story to his children and grandchildren, but this memoir of his is useful for other things. Most important of all, though maybe coincidental to the reasons it was written, "Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing" is a case study in leadership that would not only help an aspiring military officer but would also be instructive for someone in a leadership position in civilian life.

Dockery published his book through a small Canadian publish-on-demand company, without the cash advances and professional editing that the corporate oligarchy that dominates the book publishing world offer. If that means a paragraph that’s not indented here or the use of "affect" when the proper word is "effect" there, no matter. Even if it doesn’t suit the New York publishing houses’ commercial aims and won’t figure in the competition for the Pulitzer Prize, the author’s labor has been worthwhile.

This is not a braggart’s macho tale, nor a polemic about how the US would have won the Vietnam War but for this or that factor, nor another analysis of the geopolitical big picture. It’s a book about life under fire, platoon and company level tactics and negotiating around the obstacles of a vast military bureaucracy. Giving the work its more universal significance, it’s also a diary of the personnel management problems faced by a junior officer --- Dockery was a lieutenant, then a captain, during his tours in Southeast Asia --- which imparts lessons transferable to those who supervise others in many other human endeavors.

"Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing" would be a useful text in an ROTC course. It wouldn’t be very helpful for a politician promoting the case for a generation of war against a supposed Axis of Evil. It would assist a non-soldier, even an anti-war protester, to understand the notions of honor that motivate a conscientious military officer.

This book doesn’t indulge in either the "positive" or "negative" forms of dehumanization, the mirror images of hero worship and vilification. Sure, Dockery mentions discipline problems and not-so-competent commanders, as well as brave and brilliant soldiers, on the American side. He comments upon his enemies’ mistakes and mastery, avoiding stereotypes. Dockery’s concentration on human factors is what makes "Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing" a study in leadership.

Had more of America’s corporate CEOs absorbed the attitudes about leadership that Dockery exudes, Wall Street wouldn’t be plagued with so many scandals. Were most Panamanians to expect such attitudes in public officials, the current generation of politicians would go the way of the dinosaurs.

The publishing-on-demand route by which Dockery was able to get his story into print is also an example for Panama’s English-language writers, a relatively small minority in a small market. Though Time/Warner/AOL/CNN, Random House, McGraw Hill and the Hollywood moguls can’t be bothered, we have stories that ought to be told, and this small-scale publishing method is one of the few ways that it can be done.

Order your copy of "Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing" by email at http://www.trafford.com/robots/02-0057.html .


© 2002 by The Panama News
All Rights Reserved

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editor@ThePanamaNews.com
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