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The Tragedy of Dien Bien Phu that Led America Into the Vietnam War
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A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian observes that had Franklin Roosevelt served another few terms, Americans might never have had fought and died in Vietnam.

Having fought in Algeria in the French Army, Morgan (My Battle of Algiers, 2006, etc.) understands military culture and lost causes. The great lost cause in question is French control of Indochina after World War II, a conflict that witnessed a curious accommodation. Under Japanese command, French soldiers and colonialists continued to administer the territory throughout much of the war, even as Communist fighters under Ho Chi Minh and other leaders waged a steady campaign of national liberation. Ho saw no problem in the French defeat by Japan, reckoning that it exposed the faraway European power as a paper tiger. Moreover, he served as a good ally of the Allies throughout the years of the war, in at least one instance rescuing a downed American flyer but being rebuffed by American officials for his troubles. Meanwhile, writes Morgan, “FDR felt strongly that colonialism had no place in the postwar world,” grimly noting that Americans were dying in the Pacific Theatre precisely because of what he called “the short-sighted greed of the French and the British and the Dutch.” The French refusal to give up Indochina led to a grinding war of suppression that a post-FDR America supported to the tune of millions of dollars, a war against China and the Soviet Union by proxy. It also led to the legendary defeat at Dien Bien Phu, when waves of Vietminh fighters surrounded a French army—“not a single Viet ran, they all had to be killed,” said one exhausted French soldier—and, over the course of weeks, bled it dry. The author writes of the battle in specific detail rivaling the best of Bernard Fall, Neil Sheehan and other writers on the French and American wars in Indochina, linking it to the eventual immersion of the United States in Vietnam, extending the war another 20 years.

A superb portrait of battle and its reverberations beyond the fields of fire.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6664-3
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2009


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