How the Vietnamese are similar to the Irish

I am watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.” Among those interviewed in the film is journalist Neal Sheehan, who covered the earlier years of the conflict as a reporter for UPI. His book, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Sheehan was born in 1936 and raised on a dairy farm in Holyoke, Massachusetts, about 100 miles west of Boston. Online biographies say either his mother or both parents were Irish immigrants, but I haven’t been able to determine what county she or they were from.

In A Bright Shining Lie, this passage about the North Vietnamese Communists caught my attention (my emphasis added):

Ho Chi Minh and his disciples became Communists through an accident of French politics. They were mandarins, Vietnamese aristocrats, the natural leaders of a people whom foreigners have repeatedly sought and failed to conquer and pacify. There are only a small number of such peoples on earth. The Irish are one. The Vietnamese are another. The violence of their resistance forms history and legend to remind the living that they must never shame the dead.

Neil Sheehan at work in the Saigon office of UPI, 1963. (©Bettmann/CORBIS)

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