VIETNAM AT WAR: The History 1946-1975 by Phillip B. Davidson
Kirkus Star

VIETNAM AT WAR: The History 1946-1975

Email this review


A monumental (848 pgs.), measured, and masterful chronicle that provides a definitive military history of Vietnam during the post-WW II era. In evenhanded fashion, Davidson (West Point '39, and a career officer who retired from the Army as a three-star general) offers comprehensive and comprehensible accounts of the three wars that convulsed Vietnam for over 30 years. The first lasted from 1946, when French armed forces returned to lndochina, through their 1954 defeat by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu. A second conflict whose origins can be traced to JFK's 1961 commitment of US troops to bolster an unpopular regime in Saigon dragged on until the Paris peace accord of 1973. The final campaign resulted in the 1975 conquest of South Vietnam by the disciplined and dedicated Communists of the North. Each of these wars had its own peculiar characteristics for both sides, as Davidson makes clear--largely by focusing throughout on the setbacks as well as triumphs of North Vietnam's resilient military commander, Vo Nguyen Giap. Drawing on recently declassified material, archival sources, and his own 1967-69 tour of duty as intelligence chief for Generals Westmoreland and Abrams, Davidson complements his absorbingly detailed narrative with forceful but carefully considered judgments on a number of sensitive issues. To illustrate, he concludes (albeit with some reluctance) that ""the most powerful nation in the world won every battle in Vietnam [and] lost the war"" because the Communists ""had a superior grand strategy."" Even if American leaders had understood revolutionary war, the author adds, the government would have been unable to combat it effectively for a host of sociopolitical, psychological, institutional, and bureaucratic reasons. Davidson includes perceptive profiles of leading players in the long-running drama. Robert Komer (of pacification fame) and a handful of others, including Abrams and Westmoreland, receive generally sympathetic treatment; by contrast, the likes of Clark Clifford, LBJ, and Robert McNamara are given shorter shrift. In brief, then, a balanced and meticulously documented record that promises to be the standard reference on Vietnam's martial past for years to come. The consistently engrossing text has 36 helpfulmaps, plus photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0195067924
Publisher: Presidio