Monday, October 21, 2013

Book R & R: Giap

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam" by James A. Warren.

Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap recently passed away on October 4, 2013 at the age of 102. From the time he was born in 1911 until the communist victory over South Vietnam in 1975, his country was either occupied by a foreign power, or at war. Next to Ho Chi Minh, Giap is probably the most revered Vietnamese "founding father." Certainly the most well known in the United States. He is the mastermind behind the French defeat at Dien Bin Phu, the Tet Offensive, the Easter Offensive, and the 1975 Spring Offensive (which finally defeated South Vietnam and united the country under the communist government).

The publication of Warren's book is timely, but that's not the reason to read a biography of this man. Vo Nguyen Giap's life is a history of Vietnam in the Twentieth Century and the United States was one of the key players. His leadership and military decisions were instrumental in ending the American involvement in Southeast Asia. James Warren conveys this without pounding the reader over the head with it. The book is not lengthy (at just over 200 pages) but it is thorough enough so that the reader gets a clear picture of not only the life of a self-taught military genius (too much?) but also a summary history of the French and American involvement in Vietnam.

Giap was in fact a self-taught military strategist. While studying in Hue before WWII, he was a voracious reader of military history and politics (p. 7). He also spent time as a history teacher (p. 10). However, his greatest insight (with a little help from his political mentor Ho Chi Minh) and implementation of the concept, was that "the army and the people are one."(p. 25) This set the stage for building a guerrilla army whose key to victory was outlasting their opponent. Although it took thirty years, Giap served as commander-in-chief of an army that defeated both France and the United States.

Warren's writing style is straightforward and readable. His conclusions are also clear and in my view inarguable. When I was an army officer, I read quite a few biographies of military figures. It was part of how you learned your trade. I would have added this book to my reading list. If you would read a book about Rommel or Robert E. Lee, then you might want to read a book about Vo Nguyen Giap. James Warren's book is a great choice.

Palgrave Macmillan provided a review copy of "Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam."

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