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Once a Warrior King gives rare and unique insight into the battles of Vietnam. David Donavan gives his account as the Army First Lieutenant in charge of a southern Vietnamese district. Based in the southern, rural village of Tram Chim, this book shifts the focus of the war from the political misunderstanding and shortcomings to the social effects they had on both the Vietnamese people and Donovan himself.


The war in Vietnam is fraught with paradox. The facts of the war in Vietnam contrast sharply with American perceptions of it at the time. American intentions were as misunderstood as the people they were intended to protect.

The information gathered in order to report the state of affairs during the Vietnam War was far from factual. Miscommunication was a major part of America’s problem in Vietnam. Top officials and politicians in the U.S. government didn’t understand what was taking place on the front lines and therefor they were less than effective in strategic decision making processes. The American people also understood very little about the war. Understanding this puts anti-war protests in perspective; the American people could not envision the death and mutilation of children.

American intentions in Vietnam were muddled, thus forces were misguided and outcomes were unfavorable. Originally the American presence in South Vietnam was mainly to push for the social betterment of the Vietnamese people. Soon however, an offensive stance was required in the face of socialist expansion into the region. America feared that communist control of Vietnam would tip the balance of world power in Russia’s favor. This led to much criticism of the US for its role as an international police force.

Effects on Vietnamese

The Vietnamese suffered on many levels as a result of the United States intervention. The Saigon government, which controlled South Vietnam, was corrupt and alien to the rural peoples. The majority of the population gained very little in spite of American intentions.

Donovan reflects, “It appeared to me that corruption was the clear enemy from within. It was a cancer eating away at the Vietnamese government. Corruption violated the people’s hope for fair treatment under their laws and made them cynical about the legitimate needs of government.”(p251)

Vietnam has historically been a controlled nation. Following the French withdraw from the area, the Vietnamese seemed lost and have been perceived as a people dependent on the guidance of others. However, “It wasn’t long before the paradox developed that the Vietnamese resented the pushy Americans for always telling them what to do.”(133)

These people needed essential supplies in order to survive. We mostly gave them weapons, tactic training and Christianity. Donavan took part in a seemingly rare situation where positive, personal interaction of American and Vietnamese cultures can be seen. A death of a child from ringworm is disturbing.

“To think what just a bar of soap would have meant to that child if he had had it in time! What a little elementary sanitation, or even a few rudimentary medicines, could have done to save the life of that child or to reduce the misery of thousands of others in my district alone.”(p289)

The author understood the needs of the Vietnamese people; he became one of them. “Americans don’t understand about soap.”(p289)


David Donovan was deeply affected by his tour in Vietnam. The time he spent in the service of two countries forced him to reevaluate himself and his nation. He tells of feelings of confusion, isolation and grief in response to his experiences.

The author experienced feelings of isolation; first, upon his arrival in Vietnam, secondly with his return to America. Donovan had become part of the Vietnamese district under his control. “I had the pulse of the place, its sights and smells, its winds and rains, its droughts and floods, its bugs and beasts, its people and its beauty. I had been forced to absorb it all in order to survive.”(p308)

He did not allow uneducated views of Vietnam disturb him. These beliefs did alienate him, however, from much of mainstream America. “I made peace with the fact that Americans really didn’t know anything about poverty, deprivation, or suffering. In short, I could live with the way they ran their lives and the way they thought about issues.”(322)

I am sure that many veterans were personally affected as Donovan was. He lost many aspects of himself. This is evident in his lack of emotion when dealing with the death of his father and the feelings of waste when he had free time. Donovan was an idealistic person of action who is distraught that the war was not successful on any front.

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