Gloria Emerson – Winners & Losers (1976)

“When Gloria Emerson’s Winners & Losers, a sprawling portrait of the United States in the wake of the Vietnam War, was first published in 1976,it was hailed as a classic and won the National Book Award. But it also inspired some strikingly hostile reviews, even from liberal publications such as the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. This vastly polarized response would suggest that one of Emerson’s major arguments—she insisted, in despair and disgust, that the Vietnam War had made no significant impact on America or Americans—might itself be wrong. I grew up with the antiwar movement, and I loved Winners & Losers when it first appeared; almost four decades later, I still think that Emerson’s analysis of the war as an American crime rather than an American mistake—a crucial distinction—is one that bears repeating for future generations. Yet rereading this book, which Norton is reissuing this summer, is an odd and disturbing experience; I now find Emerson to be an unreliable narrator, and some of what she writes strikes me as simplistic, even repellent. Still, Winners & Losers is a fascinating document. It embodies the impressive moral strengths and equally tremendous political failures of the antiwar movement itself and, by extension, of the Left in America. Much can be learned from it, though the lessons are not always happy ones. Emerson first visited Vietnam as a freelance journalist in 1956, when Saigon was a soft, plump, clean place of greens and yellows. . . . I thought it the most beautiful country I had ever seen.’ She returned in 1970 as a reporter for the New York Times to cover ‘the great unhappiness’ of the war; the corruption, the violence, the sheer cruelty infuriated and grieved her. In Winners & Losers, she writes again of the tortured and the dead, of the child prisoners and child pimps, of the burning of the land and the ‘making’ of the internal refugees—of the degradation and destruction of a culture, a people, a way of life. Describing a conversation with a survivor of the infamous tiger cages, she writes: ‘Once I was a tailor, Anh Ba said. So many Vietnamese spoke of themselves this way. Once I was, they said.’ …”
BOOKFORUM: Antiwar Machine – The tough lessons of Gloria Emerson’s Vietnam reportage
NYBooks: Imprisoned in the Sixties – Garry Wills
VVA Veteran
W – Gloria Emerson
Linda Robinson, NF ’01

Denis Cameron, photojournalist, Gloria Emerson NY Times correspondent and Nguyen Ngoc Luong interpreter. Saigon, South Vietnam, April 19 1971.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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