Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975

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Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975 by the Military History Institute of Vietnam, translated by Merle L. Pribbenow. University Press of Kansas (http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu), 2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66049-3905, 2002, 512 pages, $49.95 (hardcover).

Victory in Vietnam is a translated and updated version of the official history published by the Military History Institute of Vietnam, Ministry of Defense, Hanoi, Vietnam, 1988, and revised in 1994. Merle Pribbenow is well qualified for this task, having served as a Central Intelligence Agency officer and interpreter in Vietnam for five years during the war. Up front, I highly recommend this book to any serious student of the war. At times it is tedious and dry, full of political bombast and outright bragging. But it contains some very revealing information, especially for airmen, and offers a view of American airpower through the eyes of an enemy.

This "official" history of the war assumes the perspective of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), a term used by the North Vietnamese for their army and, by extension, the Vietcong. They claim that, in toto, the two made up the larger army of the Vietnamese people. To buttress this fiction, they declare that the PAVN consisted of three components: the main force, local force, and militia and guerillas. The North Vietnamese revile those who fought against them, referring to all South Vietnamese troops as lackeys or puppet troops of the French and then the United States. The book reveals the skillful use of all three components to carry out the strategy of liberating Vietnam from all "foreign intrusions," unifying it under the control of the Communist Party, and ultimately establishing hegemony over Southeast Asia. The PAVN served as the main tool for achieving these objectives.

Victory in Vietnam describes the various stages of the war as seen from Hanoi, discussing in detail several particularly difficult times during the struggle:

* 1955-59, when South Vietnam almost destroyed the Communist movement in the South.

* 1961-62, when American-supported helicopter assaults and M-113 armored personnel carriers inflicted serious losses on North Vietnamese forces.

* 1966, when US troop strength and airpower increased dramatically, and sustained air strikes against the North began to seriously damage North Vietnam's economy.

* 1969, when Gen Creighton Abrams, the US commander, directly attacked the PAVN and almost destroyed it.

* 1971, when South Vietnamese forces attacked the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

* 1972, when South Vietnamese ground forces and US airpower killed over 100,000 PAVN troops.

This book, the definitive statement of the Vietnamese Communist point of view, reveals that many of the accepted truths in our own histories of the war are simply wrong. For example, we saw the conflict as the Vietnam War-a self-imposed limitation-and considered the fighting in Laos and Cambodia separate struggles. To the North Vietnamese, though, it was a regional conflict that raged across Cambodia and Laos, involving all of the nations in the area. They did not hesitate to send "volunteers" to Laos or Cambodia to do their "international duty." Such a perspective gave them great flexibility and strategic advantage.

From 1959 on, the North Vietnamese built a great network of roads through the interior of Laos to tie all of the fronts together with the "rear area" (i.e., North Vietnam). They called this complex the Trung Son Road, named for the range of mountains that ran down the western spine of North Vietnam into Laos and the south. We called it the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This book clearly reveals in some detail the tremendous effort the PAVN put into building and defending the trail.

Recognizing the value of this artery, we expended a vast number of men and amount of materiel to shut it down. For almost 10 years, we attacked the trail with endless air strikes, using B-52s, AC-130 gunships, and a host of other weapons systems in the effort. …