Vo Nguyen Giap was the most important Vietnamese general during the long wars against France and the United States, and played a key part in the defeat of the two great power. The question this book attempts to answer is just how important was Giap in the eventual North Vietnamese victory, or did French and American failings play a more important role.
Giap is often criticised for the high casualty figures he was willing to accept amongst his own men, but the author shows that this was mainly because the Vietnamese took the war more seriously than their opponents. Giap was fighting a long-term battle for what he saw as the independence of his country, while the Americans were trying to fight a limited war. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong are estimated to have lost around one million dead during the twenty years of conflict, including ten years against a military superpower. Assuming that most of these came during the peak of war against the US that comes to just under 100,000 per year. This compares well to the just-over 400,000 US deaths during their involvement in the Second World War.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is just how much mystery still surrounds some of Giap's contributions to the Vietnamese war effort. Sometimes the exact roles of different members of the North Vietnamese elite aren't at all clear, and Warren has to work hard to try and disentangle the sources.
This is very much the pro-Giap view of events. Warren's argument is that Giap's understanding of the nature of the war was the most important element in the Communist victory. This is in contrast to many current accounts that tend to blame French and American mistakes, or a failure of American public opinion to support an allegedly successful campaign. While I'm not entirely convinced by the argument, Warren makes a good case and this is a valuable biography of one of the most successful military leaders of the Twentieth Century.
1 - The Vietnamese Revolution and the Young Revolutionary
2 - Upheaval and Opportunity: World War II
3 - The War of Resistance against France: 1945-1950
4 - The Border Offensive of 1950: Giap's First Victories
5 - 1951-1953
6 - Dien Bein Bhu and Victory
7 - The Long Struggle in the South Begins: 1954-1965
8 - People's War against the United States: The Escalation Phase: 1965-1967
9 - The Tet Offensive
10 - Fighting, Negotiating and Victory: 1969-1975
11 - Reflections
Author: James A Warren
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan