There Was a Time

Written by George H. Wittman
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In summer 1945, Major John Guthrie, though hoping for some R&R—possibly in Paris—after serving with the American OSS during the liberation of Europe, finds himself on another assignment in Kunming, China. Along with a small group proficient in French, he is parachuted into North Vietnam to work with Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh against the Japanese. While assisting the communists, they must deal with complex politics and other groups, such as the Vichy French, all vying for control of Indochina. However, while the Americans are under Washington’s instructions to offer no assistance to the French, they help Ho Chi Minh to oust the Japanese. Minh, in turn, uses this support to establish himself in Vietnam. The events of the narrative take place some twenty years before the Vietnam War.

Despite working in the Indochina Branch in 1954, George Wittman, a former soldier and a CIA intelligence officer, acknowledges that he only heard of the OSS’s involvement with Ho Chi Minh years later. He bases his novel on actual events and has purposely chosen fictional characters for his narrative, incorporating his experiences from military service and covert operations. Hence this historical novel, written much like a thriller, holds our interest considerably more than a history text might. The at-times humorous dialogue and the descriptions of the settings transport us to the era. One can easily imagine a movie based on the novel’s scenes, with similar edge-of-the-seat excitement. The novel aptly illustrates the ever-changing political relationships between nations and competing factions within them. It was a time when a friend could become a foe, and enemies could turn into friends. The novel should interest readers unfamiliar with events in Indochina during the closing days of WWII. Highly recommended.