Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ted Morgan has now written a rich and definitive account of the fateful battle that ended French rule in Indochina—and led inexorably 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, Ted 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 expert 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.
Superbly researched and powerfully written, Valley of Death is the crowning achievement of an author whose work has always been as compulsively readable as it is important.
A good retelling, but misses the larger picture
By Todd Bartholomew - February 24, 2010
For a pivotal battle that marked the end of France's colonial ambitions in Indochina and America's increasing involvement there, there's been surprisingly few books that focus on it exclusively. Most of the historiography on Dien Bien Phu has incorporated it into the larger framework of the overall efforts at Vietnamese liberation from even before the Second World War to the collapse of Saigon in 1975. Earlier books such as Henri Navarre's "Agonie de l'Indochine" (1958), Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (1985), Jules Roy's The Battle of Dienbienphu (2002), David Stone's DIEN BIEN PHU: (Battles in Focus) (2004) and Martin Windrow's The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and... read more
Excellent and well-written
By D. C. Carrad "augustabookman" - March 1, 2010
Ted Morgan has written an excellent book about the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Actually, it starts in 1940 and takes about a third of the book just to get to the commencement of the battle because it covers the background on the French and Vietminh sides (and the American involvement too). Morgan is an excellent writer who can shift very easily from conferences at the Presidential/Foreign Ministry level to the viewpoint of troops in the field. The interplay between soldiers and politicians in France is fascinating and sometimes revolting if you believe, as I do, that it is obscene to send young men into battle unless you are serious about the war aims and prepared to see them through to the end. The details of the French involvement before the battle and the consequences of the defeat at DBP and how they played out afterward are thought-provoking and fascinating. The popular view is sometimes that the American vs. NVA/VC Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968 was just Dien Bien Phu Part II... read more
valley of death
By ralph hagler "RANGERSIX" - March 26, 2010
For anyone even remotely interested in how we went to war in South-Vietnam this is a MUST study. This book brilliantly captures the politics,culture and frustrations we faced by a leadership who too willingly committed us to war without exploring the unintended results. As an Infantry Officer who served three tours on the ground in SVN, this book provides a seminal study on how we should NOT be deluded into future conflicts without a national debate.
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