Saturday, 3 November 2012

Vietnam from the other side of the hill (UPDATED)

Following a request from one of my club mates, today I put a question in the TooFatLardies and the Society of the 20th Century Warfare Yahoo groups requesting recommendedreading materials on Vietna, but from the side of the VC/NVA ("the other side of the hill").

I got a good response to a difficult question, and I thought it may be worth sharing with my blog readers the findings so far. Please note that as it was just posted today,  this is an informative post and no recommendations are made. Hope you find this information interesting.

The Blood Road Review
"The Trail undeniably lay at the heart of the war," writes John Prados in the introduction to The Blood Road. The Vietnam War cannot be understood properly without considering this elusive path from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, which helped the Viet Cong defeat the armed forces of a much more powerful country. "Building the Trail or hiking it became the central experience for a generation of Vietnamese from the North," says Prados. The Trail--known as the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route to the Communists and as the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the Americans--was composed of more than 12,000 miles of roads and paths, and it remained open throughout the course of the conflict despite American efforts to close it. When the Nixon administration ordered attacks on Cambodia and Laos, the goal was to destroy the Trail and its supply depots. Prados suggests that the result of the Vietnam War might have been different if the United States had somehow managed to shut down the Trail, even though he also acknowledges the extreme difficulty of succeeding at this task. The Blood Road offers a fresh look at an old debate, and marks a welcome contribution to the literature on the Vietnam War. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Military historian Prados (The Japanese Navy in World War II) uses the notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail both as a focus for his history and as a metaphor for this blow-by-blow account of America's involvement in Vietnam. For the North, the trail was the "Truong Son Strategic Supply Route"; for Saigon, it was the path over which men and materiel moved to harry the South. And for the U.S., which supported the South after 1954, it was the "infiltration route" to the South and lower Laos, itself the "gateway to Southeast Asia" in America's Cold War against Communism. Prados draws on a wide array of sources, including formerly secret records of the U.S. government obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, to show how the American effort was unable to choke the flow of armaments, troops and civilians along the 12,000-mile road despite a "rain of destruction [that] peaked in 1969, when more than 433,000 tons of munitions fell on the land." Prados also describes the Cold War strategies of U.S. policy wonks like Walt. W. Rostow, JFK's main adviser on Indochina, and espionage services like the CIA. In sections specifically on the history of the Trail, Prados's massing of facts can be rough going. But when he treats the Trail as a microcosm of the war, it does allow for a measure of understanding of two devastating decades in Southeast Asia.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. 

Perfect Spy (2009)
Historian Berman (Lyndon Johnson's War) draws on several years of interviews with Pham Xuan An before his death in 2006 for this engaging biography of the Time reporter who spied for North Vietnam throughout the Vietnam War. Pham Xuan An's deep cover began in 1957, when the Vietnamese Communist Party sent him to study journalism in California. After an internship at the Sacramento Bee and traveling around the U.S., he returned to South Vietnam in 1959. As a reporter for Reuters and Time, he was privy to classified information that made him a hero in Hanoi after the war. Amiable, fluent in English and adept at explaining Vietnam to Americans and vice versa, he was popular with reporters and officials of both nations. Readers may suspect some of An's recollections are self-serving, but the evidence in his favor is that almost everyone he befriended continued to admire him after learning his role. It's also clear An liked Americans, so much so that superiors suspected his loyalty and confined him to Vietnam after relations thawed. Without glossing over An's responsibility for American deaths, Berman portrays an attractive, sometimes tragic character. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

PAVN People's Army of Vietnam (1991)

From Publishers Weekly
Pike, whose scholarly works on the Vietcong (History of Vietnamese Communism, etc.) are widely admired, describes the creation of the People's Army of Vietnam as "probably the most astounding military phenomenon of our lifetime." Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, PAVN has quadrupled in size and is today the third largest military force in the world, bigger than the U.S. Army. In this study, the first major work on the subject, Pike addresses in detail the question of how a small, underdeveloped, poverty-ridden country could create such an impressive military machine. He discusses too how the Vietnamese Communists developed a new kind of war with an underlying strategy "for which there is no known countermeasure." After a thorough analysis of the Vietnamese Communist Party's control of PAVN, Pike concludes with a speculation on the possibility of a military coup d'etat, now that Party influence is waning.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal
This expert scholarly analysis has been written as an aid to drawing conclusions from the Vietnam War. It is the story of how a small country, starting with a tiny cadre, has developed, according to Pike, the third largest armed force in the world (he counts not only standing army but a paramilitary force of some 2 million). Pike details the militaristic nature of Vietnamese society, describes the organization and functioning of the military forces, and places them in political context. There is little coverage of specific military events, with the emphasis given to Vietnamese strategic thinking. This is the only respectable book of its kind: judicious, clearly written, and current. For most academic and larger public libraries. Edward Gibson, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, Va.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Patriots: The Vietnam War remembered from all sides (2004) Review
Christian Appy’s Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides is an oral history that serves as a "final public record" from many who have struggled publicly with the war for 20 or 30 years. The book is also a monumental effort to capture voices long unheard and ensure that the words are not lost to a new generation.
He includes statements from significant political and military figures from both sides of the conflict, including William Westmoreland, Alexander Haig, Nikita Kruschev's son Sergei, and Vice President Nguyen Thi Bihn. But he tempers these with the voices of a World Airways stewardess who accompanied troops out of the war zone, of the widow of the immolated Norman Morrison, and of numerous Vietnamese and American non-combatants whose lives were torn by the conflagration. These tales, and the contributions from poets, writers, and activists transform the book into a epic dialogue. Indeed, Appy says that he chose the title Patriots not out of a presumed understanding of how that word should be defined, but rather because it served as a locus for so many of the inner struggles of his interviewees: "In what ways might patriotism be a force for good or inspire noble sacrifice, and when does it become a club for stifling dissent and a rallying cry for unjustifiable destruction."

Patriots is a book that will reawaken memories--horrific and jubilant--for those who lived through the troubled 1960s and 1970s; and for those just coming to understand the war, it will make vivid the trials of a different time and place. This is a lasting, powerful book that's essential reading for students of the Vietnam conflict. --Patrick O’Kelley
From Publishers Weekly
When Appy (Working-Class War) says "all sides" he is not exaggerating. It's difficult to think of any group of people who were involved in the many and varied aspects of the American war in Vietnam not represented in these oral history pages. Appy's testifiers include war hawks; peace activists; former Vietcong guerrilla fighters, Vietnamese Communists, Vietnamese anti-Communists; American veterans of many stripes, from privates to generals, medics to infantrymen; POW/MIA activists; poets, novelists, journalists; entertainers; and former government officials from all sides. Appy amply fulfills his goal of presenting a "vast range of war-related memories" in this massive, valuable book. He spent five years traveling around the country and in Vietnam, interviewing 350 people, and included about half of their stories. Oral histories often suffer from loose organization or from voices that pop up confusingly again and again. Appy takes a different approach. Each person appears only once, and Appy gives the participants plenty of room to tell their stories. He also provides on-the-mark, often insightful introductions to each entry, along with brief but to-the-point chapter introductions to set the historical context. The book contains the remembrances of some well-known people, including Gen. William Westmoreland, Gen. Alexander Haig, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Walt Whitman Rostow, Julian Bond, Ward Just, Oliver Stone, poet Yusef Kumunyakaa and writer-activists Todd Gitlin and Jonathan Schell. There are others known mostly to Vietnam cognoscenti (Chester Cooper, Le Minh Kue, Rufus Phillips, Wayne Karlin and Nguyen Qui Duc), as well as many of the voices of just plain folks who experienced the war in myriad ways. It all adds up to a solid contribution to the primary source background of the longest and most controversial overseas war in American history.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The Sorrow of War (2012)
From Publishers Weekly
Kien, the protagonist of this rambling and sometimes nearly incoherent but emotionally gripping account of the Vietnam war, is a 10-year veteran whose experiences bear a striking similarity to those of the author, a Hanoi writer who fought with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. The novel opens just after the war, with Kien working in a unit that recovers soldiers' corpses. Revisiting the sites of battles raises emotional ghosts for him, "a parade of horrific memories" that threatens his sanity, and he finds that writing about those years is the only way to purge them. Juxtaposing battle scenes with dreams and childhood remembrances as well as events in Kien's postwar life, the book builds to a climax of brutality. A trip to the front with Kien's childhood sweetheart ends with her noble act of sacrifice, and it becomes clear to the reader that, in Vietnam, purity and innocence exist only to be besmirched. Covering some of the same physical and thematic terrain as Novel Without a Name (see above), The Sorrow of War is often as chaotic in construction as the events it describes. In fact, it is untidy and uncontrolled, like the battlefield it conveys. The point of view slips willy-nilly from the third person to the first, without any clear semblance of organization. The inclusion of a deaf mute who falls for Kien, and acts for a while as a witness to his life, seems gratuitous. The faults of this book are also its strengths, however. Its raggedness aptly evokes the narrator's feverish view of a dangerous and unpredictable world. And its language possesses a ferocity of expression that strikes the reader with all the subtlety of a gut-punch. Polishing this rough jewel would, strangely, make it less precious.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
These two novelists, both of whom fought for North Vietnam, offer American readers a startlingly different perspective on the war.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Grab Their Belts to Fight Them (2011)
In 1965, despite pronounced disadvantages in firepower and mobility, the Communist Vietnamese endeavored to crush South Vietnam and expel the American military with a strategy for a quick and decisive victory predicated not on guerrilla but big-unit war. Warren Wilkins chronicles the formation, development, and participation of the Viet Cong in the opening phase of the big-unit war and shows how the failure of that strategy profoundly influenced the decision to launch the Tet Offensive. Unlike most books on the war, this one provides an authentic account from the Communist perspective, with the author drawing on memoirs, unit histories, and battlefield studies to reconstruct the formation and deployment of major military units, battles and campaigns, and the strategic debates that informed the big unit war.

Tunnels of Cu Chi (2005)
At the height of the Vietnam conflict, a complex system of secret underground tunnels sprawled from Cu Chi Province to the edge of Saigon. In these burrows, the Viet Cong cached their weapons, tended their wounded, and prepared to strike. They had only one enemy: U.S. soldiers small and wiry enough to maneuver through the guerrillas’ narrow domain.

The brave souls who descended into these hellholes were known as “tunnel rats.” Armed with only pistols and K-bar knives, these men inched their way through the steamy darkness where any number of horrors could be awaiting them–bullets, booby traps, a tossed grenade. Using firsthand accounts from men and women on both sides who fought and killed in these underground battles, authors Tom Mangold and John Penycate provide a gripping inside look at this fearsome combat. The Tunnels of Cu Chi is a war classic of unbearable tension and unforgettable heroes.

Following Ho Chi Minh (1999)
Some readers reviews:
As a North Vietnamese colonel and high ranking Party member, the author accepted the surrender of Saigon on April 1975. He continued to work for Hanoi until 1990, when disillusioned with the communists he moved to Paris and hoped to see a free and democratic Vietnam. In his memoir, he talked about communism being elevated to the rank of a "blind faith", the purges within the Party, the errors, greed, and corruption of communist leaders, the "arrogance of the Party" and so on. This book is recommended to those who are interested in the inner world of the Vietnamese communist Party and the causes of its failure. It is not the ideal world painted by the communists, not the people's rule but the rule of five or six men who imposed their dictatorship on the people. 
The rarest of gifts -- a credible account from a Vietnamese communist cadre! Bui Tin has done a great service to all of his countrymen, regardless political faction or religion. His assessments of legendary Vietnamese cadres, including Ho Chi Minh, Le Duan and Le Duc Anh are stunningly frank. Those interested in Vietnam or Cambodia should place this title on the top of their reading lists. There is simply no other work of its kind, although we can always hope that another courageous figure will follow in the author's footsteps.  

From enemy to Friend (2002)

Introduction by James Webb. In a question and answer format that simulates an in-depth interview, Bui Tin, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese Army shares his insights into many aspects of the Vietnam War. Once a presidential palace guard for Ho Chi Minh and a participant in the decisive battle of the French-Indochina War at Dien Bien Phu, he later served as a frontline commander and war correspondent in the fighting against the United States. In 1973 Colonel Tin was an official spokesman for the North Vietnamese delegation that arranged the return of American POWs and rode a tank onto the presidential palace grounds in Saigon to accept the South Vietnamese surrender. In September 1990, he left Vietnam to reside in Paris, where he has become a leading critic of the Hanoi leadership. 

Believing that a dialogue between old enemies is both desirable and necessary for the well being of the two nations, Bui Tin is open-minded and candid in his views about the policies and operations of the Vietnamese and U.S. governments. In the book he addresses such matters as the performance of U.S. military forces, varying strategies that might have yielded different outcomes, and the degree of involvement by the Soviet Union and Communist China along with a thought-provoking analysis of the long struggle that eventually brought his side victory but, ultimately, personal disappointment and alienation. To enhance the dialogue, some of his views are supported and others are challenged in a stimulating foreword by the Emmy Award-winning writer, former secretary of the Navy, and outspoken Vietnam War hero, James Webb. The result is a book that offers a rare glimpse into the mind of an enemy we never fully understood.

A Vietcong Memoir (1986)A reader review:
" A Viet Cong Memoir" is an intriguing historical account of the "other side" of the Vietnam War. Mr. Truong was a member of the National Liberation Front, as opposed to an actual military guerilla. The media always referred to the NLF as "the political arm of the Viet Cong". That always struck me as a dark, typical Vietnam type mystery. With "VCM", the NLF has a human face to go with the mystery. Right from the outset, any Vietnam vet as myself must take a story told by a VC with several grains of salt! Mr. Troung is beyond a doubt engaging in a bit of revisionist history, painting the indigenous (Southern) Vietnamese NLF in a fairer light than the more taciturn, hard core Communist Northern invaders. (...) A decent awareness of the conflict is needed to fully appreciate the book. 

With all these constraints aside, "VCM" rates as 5 star history. This should be required reading for serious students of the War, almost on a par with Bernard Fall's epic "Street Without Joy". The reasons are many: Troung is an excellent writer, both at once engagingly formal yet abidingly down to earth. Well educated, well connected and intelligent, he was involved with the NLF from the early 1950s-the French era of the War. The reader senses Troung's commitment to Ho Chi Minh's cause right from the time he meets "Uncle Ho" as a student in Paris. I believe that he believed in Ho's aphorisms- "liberty sweet liberty", "victory great victory", etc. Since Troung was not a jungle guerilla, the military side of the conflict is not emphasized here. 

Four major aspects of the War are mentioned; these are the book's strengths. 1) The reader will understand how the nation of South Vietnam ran and eventually disintegrated. The author paints a grim picture of a string of venal, petty and authoritative Saigon regimes. Troung came from an upper class Southern family and was well placed to report accurately.He even does time in a dank Saigon prison. Typical for Vietnam, his wife springs him with a bribe! 2) For a foreigner, the author had an excellent (!) grasp of the American political scene. The Vietnamese must have seen the U.S. letting the War slip away long before we did. 3) "VCM" is the only place I have read a fair, balanced and nuanced version of the back room deals at the 5-year debacle known as "The Paris Peace Talks". There was actually an ebb and flow, a system of sorts. Did Henry Kissinger blink? Was he outfoxed? Or, as the author seems to suggest, were he and Nixon just out of maneuvering room? 4) Critically, Troung takes pains to paint the South Vietnam oriented NLF as a kinder, gentler "third way" between the real bad guys (the Saigon regimes and their American cronies) and the hard core Marxists from Hanoi. The NLF wanted to set up a quasi-independent government in Saigon that would allow for the obvious differences between the 2 Vietnams. The infighting was intense and the "good guys", if that's what they really were, got stiffed good and hard. I chose to take Troung at his word; other readers may disagree. 

As a finale, "VCM" offers a rare, poignant, and touching chapter on the refugees known as the "boat people". I used to think that "Vietnam" consisted of that remote, little dusty Engineer camp I lived in for a year. Then I started reading other folk's far (!) more earthy accounts of RVN. 30 years after coming home, I continue to be ASTOUNDED by how many stories and sides there are to this foggy and mysterious place. "VCM" makes some sense out of the mystery. Then again, this being Vietnam, it may deepen it! Night always did fall quickly over there.

From Cadre to Exile (1995)
No reviews


  1. Muy interesante; la verdad es que los comunistas sólo aparecen en los libros, normalmente, como "receptores" de la potencia de fuego norteamericana.

  2. Efectivamente, es así. De hecho en la mayoríad e los libros que he leído con como fantasmas: "el enemigo", "los charlies" pero ni un mínimo dato de nada