Latest read: A War of Logistics

What really caused France’s humiliating loss to the Viet Minh in the French Indochina war? To understand we must focus on logistics. Charles Shrader’s A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945–1954 reveals the true staggering failures of the French were simply the result of poor logistics. On the surface it may not make sense. A western power falling to an agrarian band of guerrilla fighters?
A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945--1954 (Foreign Military Studies) by Charles R. ShraderNo author has precisely examined Viet Minh and French military logistics in great detail. This is an impressive view.

Shrader has taught at West Point, the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and at the Army War College.

He is a former executive director of the Society for Military History. His metrics and well written history document those French military pillars that collapsed triggering their retreat not only from Indochina but from the world stage.

Many respected books point to Dien Bien Phu as the surprising French loss and subsequent defeat in the war. Shrader documents how this battle was the culmination in a series of shocking logistical failures that plagued their efforts against the Viet Minh.

The shift benefitting the Viet Minh developed after the Korean War. China began delivering overwhelming logistical resources to the Viet Minh. While French and CIA intelligence captured communications confirming numerous deliveries of infrastructure, France did not adjust to this threat.

In retrospect the logistical failure to support the French effort should have been sending strong signals to American military advisors that success against this communist enemy would be a long and difficult task.
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Latest read: Operation Vulture

Operation Vulture by John Prados reveals plans by President Eisenhower to use nuclear weapons at Dien Bien Phu to rescue the French garrison. An analyst of national security based in Washington DC, Prados is a senior fellow and Project Director with the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Prados heads the Archive’s documentation projects for Vietnam and CIA.
Operation VultureThe US National Archive released multiple classified documents since the war.

We now understand Eisenhower’s deep involvement. He ordered the US military into the First Indochina War in 1953.

Prados reveals startling details of Eisenhower’s desire to use nuclear weapons and his order to the US Air Force and Navy bringing a nuclear weapons attack upon the valley as the French garrison was being suffocated by the Viet Minh.

The details of those military actions moving men and arms throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along with the international political maneuvering by Allen Dulles in the early 1950s dispels any myth that America simply went to war in Vietnam under President Kennedy.

Prados stitches an enormous amount of Eisenhower’s actions regarding Vietnam beginning in 1953. Eisenhower acted on his view of the world that required a strong American confrontation in Asia to offset China.
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Latest read: Who the Hell Are We Fighting?

Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars

Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars is the story Sam’s incomplete memoir War of Numbers could not deliver. Sam Adams died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 54. Sam was a gifted analyst at the CIA. Author C. Michael Hiam delivers a well written narrative of Sam’s life.
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence WarsSam displayed the uncommon trait of speaking truth to power. As history often suggests Sam was in the right place at the right time.

His truth revealed outcomes that pitted him against the White House, MACV and even senior leadership within the CIA.

What also made Sam unique was his inability to backdown to the highest offices in the government. Sam created a point of great turmoil by discovering and confronting repeated MACV intelligence failures. His analysis was not supported by CIA Director Richard Helms. Nobody wants to make their boss look bad.

Haim traces Sam’s life from Harvard to a rising star within the CIA to a disillusioned analyst. War of Numbers did not shed light on Sam’s death. Realizing Haim was going to address his passing at the close of the book I dreaded the final chapter to the life of Sam Adams.
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Latest read – War of Numbers

War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir was published after the death of Sam Adams. He spent his career working in CIA intelligence during the Vietnam War. He leaves behind a memory of dedication to country and an unbending legacy speaking truth to power.
War of NumbersSam graduated from Harvard and began a CIA intelligence career in the Congo. Adams won high praise for accurately predicting changes to the Congolese government in 1966.

His initial Vietnam war research focused on the moral of Viet Cong troops in 1967. He wrote a larger Viet Cong order of battle. This began a long clash with CIA, MACV, the Joint Chiefs and the White House over the size of VC forces before the Tet Offensive.

His initial reports never made it out of the CIA. His experiences in chapter 4 “Bulletin 689” changed everything. Adams was able to discover errors in the MACV order of battle. Insights from CIA interrogations allowed Sam to separate deserters vs. defectors regarding guerrilla troops at the hamlet, village and district levels. His order of battle data revealed MACV underestimating VC guerrillas by 120,000 by 1967.
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Latest read: None So Blind

Regarded as one of the CIA’s premiere Vietnam intelligence experts George W. Allen wrote a 2001 memoir None So Blind: A personal account of the intelligence failure in Vietnam that remains an alarming insight of intelligence failures that forecasted both France and America’s defeat in Vietnam. Allen’s contributions set the stage regrettably for the Pentagon and White House to also follow France’s misplaced goals in Indochina for the next twenty-five years.

None So Blind: A personal account of the intelligence failure in VietnamMy interest in Allen’s memoir developed from reading a series of confidential reports by the US military and CIA from the 1950s. Declassified in the late 1990s the documents address the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

Many of those documents point to Allen’s intelligence reports and analysis. Naturally this peaked my wish to better understand the American intelligence analysis of the French defeat.

Allen holds a unique, deep understanding of the Indochina Wars (France 1945-1950) and the coming failure of America’s intervention on behalf of South Vietnam 1960-1974. The lessons in his book leave deep, haunting impressions today on the White House and Pentagon leaders who ignored our intelligence community.
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Dien Bien Phu retrospective

The valley of Dien Bien Phu was the site of a historic siege by the Viet Minh on a French garrison from March 13th to May 7th 1953. The result was the first time an Asian guerrilla force defeated a standing Western army in sustained battle.

The French hoped to again draw out their Viet Minh enemy and defeat them with superior artillery fire as they did at Na San in November 1952. However a year later a series of French military blunders would doom the garrison.

To more fully understand the French defeat the six titles below are well written and serve as the entrance to a deeper American involvement that would lead to our own nightmare.

Each author addresses key failure points long after the battle that invalidate immediate reactions to the siege. Each author conveys the inhumanity suffered by both sides before, during and after the siege.

Why Vietnam?: Prelude to America’s Albatross
Archimedes Patti

Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege Of Dien Bien Phu
Bernard Fall

Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina
Bernard Fall

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam Fredrik Logevall

Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War
Ted Gibson

The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam
Martin Windrow

The books all provide powerful experiences from both the Vietnamese and French perspectives:

This garrison was not an all-French unit. Quite the opposite. A majority of soldiers were African, Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian and of course Vietnamese serving the French Far East Expeditionary Corps. This unit included European volunteers from Spain, Poland and Germany. The garrison’s officer corps were French. Make no mistake Paris was no longer interested in sending their sons to die in the jungles of Vietnam.

French Union troops moved a brothel into the garrison. Yes in 1953.

Generals Christian de Castries, Henri Navarre and René Cogny ignored their own very accurate military intelligence reports. The movement of heavy artillery from China into the surrounding hills was discovered by radio intercepts. Yet the Generals never considered the Viet Minh able to position heavy artillery around the surrounding hills.

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Latest read: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam

The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam by Martin Windrow is another stunning book regarding the French defeat in Indochina. He follows the same historical accuracy as Archimedes Patti’s Why Vietnam? Prelude to America’s Albatross and Bernard Fall’s Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege Of Dien Bien Phu.

The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam

Windrow has written an amazing history of France’s approach to defeat the Viet Minh. His work complements a select number of authors who have brought to life an important battle long overlooked in the late 1950s by America that contributed heavily to our entry into Vietnam.

Similar to my review of Ted Morgan’s book Valley of Death The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War the siege is a stunning look by Windrow at a morally bankrupt 4th republic attempting to re-colonize Indochina beginning in 1946. World War II in Europe was over with rebuilding was underway. France attempted along with Britain to reclaim colonial territories after the surrender of Japan.

In great detail the opening chapters document French losses from 1948 to 1952. His attention to detail is amazing. These repeated failures as Windrow noted began to show weak points within the French Union. Clearly they had no ability to defeat the Viet Minh at the Laotian border.
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Latest Read: The Beast was Out There

For the last five years I had Brig. Gen. James E. Shelton’s book The Beast Was Out There: The 28th Infantry Black Lions and the Battle of Ong Thanh Vietnam, October 1967 on my must read list. I finally picked up a copy and read this book in just two days.
The Beast was Out There: The 28th Infantry Black Lions and the Battle of Ông Thanh, Vietnam, October 1967 I first learned of this book while reading David Maraniss’ They Marched into Sunlight review here about the Battle of Ong Thanh while at the same time in Madison Wisconsin a campus protest against Dow Chemical resulted in a riot with City police violently clubbing students.

Shelton, a major at the time of the battle was the Operations Officer for the Black Lions in 1967. He was removed from this unit just two weeks before the battle. He knew so many of the soldiers who died. This was an event that changed his life. Two of Wisconsin’s sons died in this battle: Jack Schroder and Daniel Sikorski.
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Latest Read: Vietnam: The Real War

The Associated Press has released Vietnam: The Real War: A Photographic History by the Associated Press. A new powerful photography book from their top photo journalists who went and in some cases died covering the Vietnam war. Following my just completed read of Once Upon a Distant War it was only natural to seek out the work from those photographers mentioned.

They played a significant role in the AP’s work from 1961-1963. Horst Faas is clearly front and center as one of the great war photographers. This book holds many of his acclaimed photographs. When you think back to almost any powerful photo from the war Horst probably captured the image.

Vietnam The Real War

The book’s overview from Pete Hamill further brings to life the role of AP reporters. Throughout Vietnam from the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu to the NVA tanks rolling into the Palace in Saigon AP reporters covered the entire war.

Photographers always become victims of war. Their work in this book is powerful and a tribute to their craft.

Latest Read: Once Upon a Distant War

Once Upon a Distant War by William Prochnau is a completely fascinating look at journalism coverage of the Vietnam war in the early 1960s. Remember how Napster disrupted the music industry? A handful or journalists did the same.
nce Upon a Distant WarIn 1959 Malcolm Brown arrived in IndoChina having earned his war reporting in Korea for Stars and Stripes.

A number of young journalists stationed in Saigon from 1961-1963 had the same effect on the newspaper industry at a time when television was about to eclipse print in news reporting to middle America.

The focus of Prochnau is the role of Malcolm Brown, David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett, Horst Faas and Stanley Karnow.

They even faced off with their editors who were Korean War reporters themselves but now lived and worked in Washington, New York and LA. The young turks were actually in the jungles with American advisors. They experienced first hand the early failures.
Critical reporting of the US war effort brought them into conflict with General Paul Harkins, commander of the US war effort in Saigon. Yet Prochnau identifies three events within the two year span that reset the war for America: Ap Bac, The Buddhist Crisis and the American coup against Diem. It was interesting to have understood how Halberstam was commanding the stories out of Siagon and establishing strong relationships with John Paul Vann leading into Ap Bac. All while being misled by US General Paul Harkins in Saigon who was commanding MACV.

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Latest read: We Were Soldiers Once and Young

Joe Galloway and Hal Moore wrote We Were Soldiers Once And Young about their battle in the Ia Drang Valley. They reveal a deeper tragedy around the tipping point battle that would haunt America for a generation. As always the book is better than the movie.
we were soldiers: The battle in the Ia Drang ValleyThe battle of the Ia Drang Valley casts a long shadow over America’s role in Vietnam. It carries implications today. The ambush and loss of 155 Americans from a single battle (LZ Albany) was the largest loss of life throughout the entire American war including the siege at Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive. Please recall Khe Sanh was a six month siege while the Ia Drang Valley was less than 48 hours.

America’s fast growing role in Vietnam was largely based upon the Ia Drang Valley. The White House would establish “body count” as the measured outcome. At the same time I somehow missed that Norman Schwarzkopf marched into Ia Drang at LZ X-Ray the day after the battle.

Galloway has written an excellent account of the Air Cav surviving LZ X-Ray and also the failures of command moving troops to LZ Albany on the ground. His attention to detail unique that every man in battle is identified by name and hometown…many times the following paragraph revealed that soldier’s death. Three cities where I have lived lost men in the Ia Drang Valley. One solider killed on the second day at LZ X-Ray lived 9 miles from our home in Milwaukee. Young men from greater Chicago and Northwest Ohio also died in battle.

As portrayed in the opening sequence of the movie based upon this book, NVA soldiers executed wounded Americans in the Ia Drang Valley. The history of war in Asian culture is much harsher than in Europe.
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Latest read: What It Is Like To Go To War

The insights within What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes will take the reader inside the mind of any veteran who faced death in combat. His highly recognized Vietnam war novel Matterhorn based upon his service leading a Marine unit in 1969. This is a harrowing read.
There can be no doubt veterans would agree Marlantes documents the true impact of war across a series of insightful chapter topics including: killing, guilt, lying, loyalty and heroism to name a few.
What It Is Like To Go To WarWithout a doubt that What It Is Like To Go To War addresses a missed topic taught in basic training. And Marlantes does address suicides by veterans in Vietnam and the Gulf War. It becomes very compelling to assist those vets returning home from battle.

He addresses the most important issue from a distinguished military career: you are taught to kill but not how to react to killing.

Marlantes provides extremely deep insights, while not unique to Vietnam does address the 1969 timeframe in which he led men into battle.
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