Academic journal article Military Review

Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Vietnam's General Vo Nguyen Giap

Academic journal article Military Review

Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Vietnam's General Vo Nguyen Giap

Article excerpt

VICTORY AT ANY COST: The Genius of Vietnam's General Vo Nguyen Giap by Cecil B. Currey. 432 pages. Brassey's, Washington, DC. 1997. $25.95.

General Vo Nguyen Giap deserves a well-nuanced biography suitable to his Leon Trotsky-like role in southeast Asia. However, retired professor of military history Cecil Currey's book Victory at Any Cost does not meet the task.

Giap's largest battlefield victory was against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. He masterfully concentrated overwhelming force, using manpower to haul artillery, shells and rice across roadless jungle mountains while deceiving his adversaries as to his strength until too late for counteraction. After suffering high casualties in frontal assaults, Giap shifted tactics mid-battle to trench warfare. That the Vietminh persevered and won their gamble at Dien Bien Phu was largely because of Giap's tough-minded leadership. Unfortunately, Currey fails to reflect on the battle's illustration of Giap's adaptability and mental stamina.

After Giap's successful Fabian strategy against the French, he was called on to lead the war effort against the American defense of South Vietnam. Lamentably, Currey provides the reader with little nuance regarding the war. Giap's important logistic effort is mentioned, but there are no details of his involvement in planning and maintaining supply routes to the south. The critical supply of food and munitions Russians and Chinese provided is ignored.

Also, Currey glosses over Giap's great failure to achieve a Dien Bien Phu-like victory at Khe Sanh: It is only in the most complete reversals of fortune that a leader's character is fully displayed. Currey misses his chance to analyze Giap in this light.

While making much of Giap's responsibility for North Vietnam's air defense, Currey strangely focuses on peasants' use of small-arms fire against American air power. He ignores Russian and Chinese contributions to surface-to-air missile batteries and antiaircraft artillery and to Soviet-trained Vietnamese pilots' heroic efforts. A better study would provide a picture of Giap's challenges and successes as a coalition general, coordinating and using multinational support. …

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