A useful, well-researched, fascinating look into the innards of the world's most astonishing military phenomenon, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). As a US Foreign Service officer, Pike spent 15 years in Vietnam analyzing the Viet Cong and has continued to track the growth and purposes of PAVN; he probably is the foremost western expert on the subject. One of the world's poorest countries, Vietnam supports the largest per capita army in the world and the world's third largest armed force after those of China and the Soviet Union. ""It began in the last days of World War II in a Vietnamese mountain cave near the China border when a 32-year-old history teacher named Vo Nguyn Giap and 33 others, three of them women, all on the run from the French, banded themselves into what they called an Armed Propaganda Team."" Pike says it would have been logically correct at the time to view the group's act ""as a piece of romantic madness to be expected in a colonial backwater from a clutch of reformers, Confucianists, and academics who had read a bit of Marx and Napoleonic lore. Yet these 34 triggered a chain of events that has revolutionized the conduct of warfare in our lifetime. ""PAVN has grown relentlessly, often faster in peacetime than during war. In 1945, it numbered several tens of thousands; by 1965, 400,000; by 1975, 650,000. Today, it is over one million and continuing to grow. Pike, however, has produced much more than a mere numerical analysis of units, capabilities and weaponry. Unlike western armies, or even those of other Cummunist states, PAVN plays a powerful role in Vietnam's political, economic and cultural life. In politics, it is charged with ensuring the primacy of the Communist Party. In economics, it contributes to the rebuilding of the country and is even beginning to build and operate its own factories to produce the supplies it needs--and also some for the civilian economy. And culturally, its sheer size has produced a social system ""that is deeply militaristic, not the stereotypical goose-stepping Junker variety, but, still, one of the most militaristically ingrained societies on earth. ""In his earlier studies of the Viet Cong, Pike's writing displayed a mildly jingoistic attitude. This time, he treats his subject in a studiedly neutral and scholarly tone. This first book on PAVN deserves to be widely read, even at this late date for Americans.