The Vietnam War-The Other Side

By Dodge, Griffin N. | Military Review, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

The Vietnam War-The Other Side


Dodge, Griffin N., Military Review


The Vietnam War-The Other Side

by Colonel Griffin N. Dodge, US Army, Retired

Most of the literature published in the United States about the Vietnam War examines the American experience. Tai Sung An, author of The Vietnam War (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1998, 347 pages), takes an alternative approach: "The central focus of this book is on the various aspects of the Vietnamese Communists' political, military, diplomatic and other behaviors during the Vietnam War [also known as the Second Indochina War]."

An briefly sketches Vietnam's 3,000-year history, then quickly brings Vietnam into the 20th century. He includes biographical information on Ho Chi Minh, the dominant Vietnamese personality of the Vietnam War era. An characterizes Ho Chi Minh as an ardent Vietnamese nationalist completely dedicated to communist ideology who possessed political cunning and, above all, cold-blooded ruthlessness. An contrasts this characterization with the contrived public image of the kindly, "venerable Uncle Ho."

Throughout the book, An cites publications on the US experience in Vietnam as well as other recently translated North Vietnamese documents and publications. He also scrutinizes a variety of other sources such as captured documents and radio broadcasts. From his extensive research, he creates an intriguing portrayal of North Vietnamese leaders during the "Second Indochina War." An notes that of those involved in the Vietnamese Communist Party during the early 1930s, many survived to witness the 1975 victory of their revolutionary struggle. It was their "steely determination," intense nationalism and clever political maneuvering that sustained the leaders even after Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969. However, An suggests that in light of the terrible losses and destruction and the subsequent social and economic failures North Vietnam suffered, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

The leaders, with the unwavering objective of expanding North Vietnamese communist control over South Vietnam and, incidentally, Laos and Cambodia, maintained a totalitarian communist state in North Vietnam while conducting direct and indirect warfare. An describes the internal conflicts and intense external pressures the leaders experienced. The reader cannot help but be impressed by the remarkable tenacity of those leaders and the profound discipline they demanded of themselves and of the North Vietnamese people.

An's descriptions of the political skills demonstrated by various leaders in their interactions with foreign governments are fascinating. Their ability to work their patrons, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, against each other to North Vietnam's benefit is little short of amazing. Also remarkable are the descriptions of their ability to recognize the constraints placed by the United States on its own operations. …

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