on 13 March 2013
A well researched and well written account of American and French involvement in Vietnam (primarily 1945-59). I had always thought that France's involvement in Vietnam post 1945 was due to a failure to recognise that the days of empire were over. While this may have been true initially the author conclusively proves that in the latter years the only factors keeping the French in Vietnam were American support and pressure, with the latter coming from the US administration's dogmatic belief in the now defunct domino theory (Vietnam was seen as the front line in preventing the communist hordes sweep through Asia)and, after the Korean stalemate, to deflect criticism at home that they were 'losing' Asia. Eisenhower came very close to committing US ground forces into Vietnam in 53/54 and the UK deserves some credit for effectively preventing this by refusing to join the coalition of countries that Eisenhower required to justify ground forces. Eden was wary of the vietnam situation and did not subscribe to the domino theory- if only he had been around to advise Blair on Iraq. In another parallel with Iraq a constant theme of the book is the US administration's token understanding of both Vietnam and Asia outside Japan and the accompanying policy mistakes-history repeating itself. An excellent and very readable book.
on 1 December 2012
I have a large collection of books on the war in Southeast Asia, almost 700 as a matter of fact, and I am immodest enough to consider myself a fairly serious and knowledgable student of the conflict; yet Professor Logevall's books exposed gaps in my knowledge. This book is a first class study of the collapse of the French Indo-Chinese empire and the inexorable slide towards US commitment to military involvement in Southeast Asia. As with many of the books I have read on the subject Logevall exposes the French disconnection from reality, clinging to an outmoded Imperial past and in one breath excorating America yet in the next making extravagant demands for US support. Professor Logevall also places the conflict within the larger panorama of the growing Cold War; essential to any understanding of the Vietnam War. The accounts of the political machinations in great places among the great men of the age, judging how the final disposition of Vietnam would be of benefit or not to their position, is both fascinating and disturbing.
This is not a dry impenetrable tome rather an immensely readable account of the opening shots in a tragedy that engulfed America and Vietnam; and the echoes of which resonate still. Once you have read this book you should turn your attention to the excellent 'Choosing War' also written by Professor Logevall.
Frederik Logevall's book is a masterly account of the wars fought by France and America against the Vietnamese. It dissects the political, strategic and operational errors made by both countries at a time when Cold War hysteria was on the rise. Sadly, some of the same errors have and are being repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan
He reminds readers that Ho Chi Minh, who later became the communist leader of North Vietnam,was made an honorary member of the OSS before being denounced in 1946 as an agent of international communism!Ho and Giap were superb political and military figures, in many ways far superior to anyone on the French or American sides.
Logeville demonstrates how American leaders in the period 1950-75 thought themselves invincible on the battlefield. They were to learn a bitter lesson in Vietnam just as the French had at Dien Bien Phu.
In the war America lost some 58000 men plus thousands more wounded physically and mentally. Contrast these figures with losses in Iraq and Afghanistan despite these two wars having already lasted longer than WW1 and WW2 combined.
This book is a must read for anyone who wishes to understand the Vietnam wars and today's conflict in American political and military circles over pragmatism and idealism.
on 23 September 2014
Fredrik Logevall is John S. Knight Professor of International Studies and professor of history at Cornell University. He has written a very fine book about France’s vicious colonial war against Vietnam.
From the start, the US government backed the French. President Eisenhower always refused to entertain even the idea of negotiations to end the war. He wanted the French to persist, even after it was clear to all that they were losing.
Luu Doan Huynh, a veteran of both the French and American wars, recalled, “We were never happy slaves under the colons, and yet when I went into the jungle in 1946 I carried with me a book of French poetry! I believed in the eternal truths: liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Towards the end of the battle at Dien Bien Phu in April 1954, the French government, desperately trying to avoid defeat, begged the Eisenhower government to intervene with a huge bombing raid on the Vietminh forces. Eisenhower said that the USA would only intervene if the Churchill government did too.
To their eternal credit, Churchill and Eden refused. They rejected Eisenhower’s absurd domino theory. They pointed out, correctly, that ‘losing’ Indochina would not seriously make them lose their war against Malaya.
On 21 June, Churchill wrote to Eisenhower, “in no foreseeable circumstances, except possibly a local rescue, could British troops be used in Indochina, and if we were asked our opinion we should advise against US local intervention except for rescue.”
Eisenhower then tried to get the Australian government to intervene. It too refused. Its allies forced the US government not to intervene.
Logevall sums up, “The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was over. The Viet Minh had won. Vo Nguyen Giap had overturned history, had accomplished the unprecedented, had beaten the West at its own game. For the first time in the annals of colonial warfare, Asian troops had defeated a European army in fixed battle.”
After their defeat, as Logevall observes, “the departing French had dismantled post offices and hospitals and stripped factories of tools and machinery, even lightbulbs in some cases.”
The CIA’s Saigon Military Mission at once started to conduct sabotage operations in the DRV. When, in the 1950s, the DRV distributed land to more than half of all families, some cadres broke the government’s guidelines.
When a people’s tribunal had a woman landlord executed, Ho Chi Minh said, “The French say that one should never hit a woman, even with a flower, and you, you allowed her to be shot!” On 8 February 1955, at a conference on land reform, Ho Chi Minh said, “Some cadres are using the same methods to crush the masses as the imperialists, capitalists, and feudalists did. These methods are barbaric. … It is absolutely forbidden to use physical punishment.”