April 30, 1975-The city of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, falls to the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. The siege of the capital is the final push by North Vietnam on the course towards reunification. The final withdrawal by U.S. military and government personnel marks the of a deadly and protracted war that cost 58,000 American lives and over 1 million Vietnamese lives. To date, it is the only loss suffered by the United States Armed Forces. The success of North Vietnam is a shining moment in the Vietnamese struggle for independence for colonialism by France and the anti-communism policies of the United States. Ho Chih Minh becomes a legend in Vietnamese history and many years later Saigon is renamed in his honor. Ho died on September 2, 1969, several years before the war’s conclusion, but his ideology and belief in a free Vietnam helped his successors continue his goal of unconditional victory. Looking back at the war, it seems almost absurd that a country the size of Vietnam was able to resist and defeat efforts by the French and Americans to impose their will. Both nations were equipped with better weapons, bigger budgets and highly skilled armies. However on the Vietnamese side, there was a general who proved to be just as sharp as any the French or the United States had to offer. And by the end of the war, he would also become a legend in his own right. His name was Võ Nguyên Giáp. (1911-2013)
Giáp was one of the 20th centuries modern marvels. Having lived to 102 years of age, he remained the sole survivor from the time in which several nations battled each other for control over Indochina. His death on October 4, 2013 brought closure to a time in history that changed the world and the view of the American military. James A. Warren has taken another look at the wars in Vietnam in order to examine how this dynamic general helped the People’s Army of Vietnam accomplish two successful military campaigns. It should be noted that the book is not a biography of Giáp. It is strictly about his contributions in the wars. There are other books on Giáp and he wrote several himself. What Warren has done with this book is to take the reader step by step throughout each war to see and understand how and why the wars developed and why the aggressors ultimately failed in their missions to seize control of Vietnam.
Numerical data is critical to any military commander with victory in mind. It is assumed that in order to beat your enemy you must eliminate more of them and they do of you. Warren highlights the data to show us how the age-old strategy of elimination by numbers was virtually impossible in Vietnam. The policies of limited warfare and a Vietnamese nation intent on defending itself until the end through its military and guerrilla fighters. combined to formed a bottomless hole which threatened to first engulf France and subsequently the United States. With an unlimited amount of soldiers at his disposal, a superior knowledge of Vietnam’s terrain and a shrewd mind, Giáp evolves in the book as one of the true greats in military history. And to the Vietnamese, he is one that nation’s greatest figures forever standing tall with the late Uncle Ho. For those seeking to understand the Vietnamese success in the Vietnam wars, this is a good place to start.