Judged strictly on entertainment terms, these nine tapes of Bob Hope’s visits to cheer up the troops are mild and formulaic. When Ann-Margaret inquires if he’s ever been to a love-in, Hope responds: ”Love-in? My doctor doesn’t even let me watch Laugh-In.” On tape after tape we see Hope asking the reigning Miss World to tell appreciative soldiers her measurements, and a celebrity of sorts like Anita Bryant lead youthful, clean-cut GIs in ”Silent Night.” After one soldier, in 1970, gets to hug a visiting Hollywood beauty, he confesses that he feels ”like I only had one potato chip.”

But as history, as a window onto America’s increasingly uneasy involvement in Vietnam, Bob Hope’s Entertaining the Troops: The Vietnam Years grows curiously compelling, and unexpectedly poignant. If we left Vietnam, Hope the Hawk vows in 1964, ”it would be like saying to the Commies ‘Come and get it.”’ Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky assures viewers in 1967 that within a year, the country would have freedom and peace. And Hope is telling GIs he’d like to see the ”peaceniks” who are burning draft cards back in the U.S. ”come over here, and Charlie will burn them for them.” But in 1968, even he admits worrying that ”we were trapped in a kind of quicksand.” In 1970, he naively vows that when the war is finally over, ”we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that we preserved the freedom of not only South Vietnam but also of Southeast Asia.” By 1971, he acknowledgtes that the war’s eroded ”deeply the fabric of our society.” In the final tape, there are no boasts of what we’ve accomplished. Most GIs, Hope says simply, have at least come home from Vietnam; how many came home in body bags, and to what purpose, goes unremarked. B