Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion…Norman Schwarzkopf


There are more than a few gaps and omissions in this book. What you need to remember first of all is that France was divided in World War II between the half that was unwillingly subjugated by the Germans and the half that collaborated with the Germans and became, in essence, a satellite state – Vichy France. It was from Vichy that a unit of the French Foreign Legion joined with the Waffen SS and their commander became the only non-German to be awarded the Iron Cross for services to the Reich. At the end of the war the French – all of them – were anxious to be on the winning side again and so there were trials, including the Parisians tried for collaboration horizontal, but other than sentencing Petain to hang – and then not hanging him – the French did not engage in an orgy of vengeance.

There was however the problem of what to do with the Foreign Legion unit. Colonies are convenient for sweeping dirt under the rug and so the unit was shipped out to French Indochina and allow to use their Waffen SS learned skills on the lesser people of the empire. Even without communist agitation it would have been surprising if the people did not revolt but with the combination of storms brewed in other men’s worlds wafting through the jungles revolt was inevitable. America’s need – just as much of Europe’s need in the 1930’s –  was to defeat communism and it made for some strange and ultimately detrimental alliances.

Eisenhower denied De Gaulle both troop support and the use of tactical nuclear weapons – just as he would deny the British the same things at Suez in 1956 – decisions that kept small wars small and for which he is typically not given credit. It was only when we got a president of dubious personal courage and no political courage that we fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident and poured men, munitions and material into a gaping hole where our leadership had neither the courage to win nor the decency to withdraw. Unfortunately Lyndon Johnson has been the model for modern Democratic presidents and their military interventions.

Valley of death : the tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that led America into the Vietnam War New York : Random House, c 2010 Ted Morgan Dien Bien Phu, Battle of, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, 1954. Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xxii, 722 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map, plans ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [645]-692) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

Ted Morgan has written an account of the battle that ended French rule in Indochina — and led to America’s Vietnam War. Dien Bien Phu was a remote valley on the border of Laos along a simple rural trade route. But it would also be where a great European power fell to an underestimated insurgent army and lost control of a crucial colony. Valley of Death is the untold story of the 1954 battle that, in six weeks, changed the course of history.

A veteran of the French Army, Morgan has made use of exclusive firsthand reports to create the most complete and dramatic telling of the conflict ever written. Here is the history of the Vietminh liberation movement’s rebellion against French occupation after World War II and its growth as an adversary, eventually backed by Communist China. Here too is the ill-fated French plan to build a base in Dien Bien Phu and draw the Vietminh into a debilitating defeat — which instead led to the Europeans being encircled in the surrounding hills, besieged by heavy artillery, overrun, and defeated.

Making use of recently unearthed or released information, Morgan reveals the inner workings of the American effort to aid France, with Eisenhower secretly disdainful of the French effort and prophetically worried that “no military victory was possible in that type of theater.” Morgan paints indelible portraits of all the major players, from Henri Navarre, head of the French Union forces, a rigid professional unprepared for an enemy fortified by rice carried on bicycles, to his commander, General Christian de Castries, a privileged, miscast cavalry officer, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, a master of guerrilla warfare working out of a one-room hut on the side of a hill. Most devastatingly, Morgan sets the stage for the Vietnam quagmire that was to come.

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