Admiring biography of two officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which fought far better than most American histories have acknowledged.
Vietnam has a long martial tradition, writes military historian Wiest (Haig: The Evolution of a Commander, 2005, etc.), so there was no shortage of young men eager for a military career when ARVN was created in the 1950s. They fought for 25 years and suffered more than 200,000 casualties, laboring under two critical flaws. Vietnamese leaders wanted a lightly armed, mobile anti-insurgency force, but American military advisors insisted on a heavily armed, Western-style army dependent on the United States for equipment and logistics. In addition, Vietnamese rulers relied on the army to remain in power, so they chose senior officers for loyalty rather than competence. Despite this, good commanders existed, and some ARVN units fought well. Wiest tells the story of two officers, Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, who led their units with courage and energy well documented in reports from American advisors who worked with them. Hue was captured during the disastrous invasion of Laos in 1970 and spent 13 years in North Vietnamese prisons. Dinh switched sides during the equally disastrous 1972 Easter Offensive and served in the North Vietnamese Army until his retirement. The author spends a great deal of time describing the fighting. While several hundred pages on small-unit actions will interest only military buffs, they present the war from the unfamiliar point of view of the Vietnamese. For example, ARVN did much of the fighting in the epic 1968 battle for the Citadel of Hue City, but saw Vietnamese contributions downplayed by American journalists more interested in depicting heroic Marines. The later offensives make painful reading as lack of good generalship and absence of American firepower undid the efforts of many brave Vietnamese soldiers.
A unique perspective on the Vietnam War, though no less depressing than the old one.