The Vietnam War was the second post-war conflict to be fought in Indochina after the Second World War, following on from the equally bitter clash between the French and the Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh. This book looks at that first struggle, a major war in its own right, as well as the background to the American involvement.
The book starts with a look at the background to the outbreak of the First Indochina War, starting with Ho Chi Minh's disappointing visit to the Paris peace conference of 1919. We then move on to look at the massive impact of the Second World War - the collapse of France in 1940 left the Empire vulnerable, and the easy Japanese take-over of Indochina was a blow from which the French never really recovered.
The bulk of the book looks at the long struggle to expel the French from Vietnam, which ended with the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu, and the almost immediate collapse of the French position in northern Vietnam. Finally we look at the period between the end of the French phase of the war and the outbreak of the American phase, a period in which the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem failed to establish a stable government.
One thing this excellent book does is dispel any idea that the Americans got involved to defend a 'free' South Vietnam against aggression. US involvement went back far too long for that to be the case, with an increasing amount of weaponry going to the French during their war, and an awareness in Washington of the failures of Diem in the south - instead of creating a bastion of freedom to compete with the successful Ho Chi Minh, Diem created a personal dictatorship with rule increasingly held within his own family and all dissent suppressed violently.
Logevall is excellent on all aspects of the war - the military action in the north of Vietnam, the political debates within France, the United States and even Britain, and the role of China and the Soviet Union, and the diplomatic efforts that ran alongside the fighting.
As the war develops it becomes increasingly clear that the French have less and less idea of why they are fighting in Vietnam, while the level of American influence increased all the time. Both powers failed to understand the nature of the war they were fighting, and both were prone to over-estimating their successes. The author draws convincing parallels between the behaviour of French officials during the 1950s, when they claimed to control much larger areas than they really did, and American officials in the period between the wars, where they convinced themselves that Diem was doing much better than he really was.
This is an excellent study of this crucial period in post-war history, and a compelling account both of the French struggle in Vietnam and the way in which the United States was dragged into a war she couldn't really win.
Part 1: Liberations, 1940-1945
1 - The Empire is With Us!
2 - The Anti-Imperialist
3 - Crossroads
4 - All Men Are Created Equal
Part 2: Colonial Struggle, 1946-1949
5 - The Warrior Monk
6 - The Spark
7 - War Without Fronts
8 - 'If I Accepted These Terms I'd Be a Coward'
Part 3: East meets West, 1949-1953
9 - 'The Centre of the Cold War'
10 - Attack on the RC4
11 - King Jean
12 - The Quiet Englishman
13 - The Turning Point That Didn't Turn
14 - Eisenhower in Charge
15 - Navarre's American Plan
Part 4: The Cauldron, 1953-1954
16 - Arena of the Gods
17 - 'We Have the Impression They Are Going to Attack Tonight'
18 - 'Vietnam Is a Part of the World'
19 - America Wants In
20 - Dulles Versus Eden
21 - Valley of Tears
Part 5: Peace of a Kind, 1954
22 - With Friends Like These
23 - 'We Must Go Fast'
24 - 'I Have Seen Destiny Bend to That Will'
Part 6: Seizing the Torch, 1954-1959
25 - 'We Have No Other Choice but to Win Here'
26 - Miracle Man
27 - Things Fall Apart
Epilogue: Different Dreams, Same Footsteps
Author: Frederick Logevall
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2013 edition of 2012 original