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~ ~ l l e y OW
A ry
The Frrst Complete Account
of Vietnam at War
I The War Nobody Won
The town of Langson, near the border of China, was partly destroyed when Chinese
forces invaded Vietnam in early 1979. The Vietnamese preserve the ruins as testimony
to what they call Chinese aggression.
The Vietnam memorial ill Washil1gtoll, D.C., a wall of polished black granite bearing
the names of 57,939 Americmls who died or are missillg ill actioll ill the Vietnam war,
was dedicated ill November 1982.
Wounded veterans watch a
soccer match in Vietnam
after the war. Though
Vietnamese authorities
never published the
figures, estimates are that
the Communists lost some
600,000 men in the
Thousands of Vietnam
veterans and their families
appeared in Washington in
November 1982 to
commemorate the
American soldiers who
died in the war. They
participated irl a parade
arId other ceremorlies,
ineluding a vigil at the
Narional arhedral.
A few of the
one m'II' more than
I Ion V'
who fled V' letnamese
I etnam aifte
war. These "b r the
languish b oat people"
' a oard a shl'p ,
an/Ia B In
auth ' awaiting
, by the
land Th government to
, ousands of
rejUgees are still con/;
to camps th ':J,ned
outheast A ' Sla.
A Texan with h
or V' t e family
'J letnamese ,t;,
has adopt d reJ..gees she
h' e , Nearl
aif-million V. y a
, letname
Immigrated to the
States fioII . United
oWIng V'
conquest b h letnam's
Co y t e
mmunlsts ill A '/
1975. pYl
Peasants in Tayninh, a province in the southern part of Vietnam, work in an area
defoliated by American herbicides during the war. Many of the 250,000 acres offorest
in the area, ruined in 1966 alone, remained barren for years after the war.
The mausolelwl in Hanoi cOlltaillillg the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is one oj
the few Ilew stYl/eture bllilt ill the city. The mal/solel/m, desigrled by Soviet architects,
IVa modeled 011 Lellil/' tomb ill Mo (OIV. Ho died ill eptelllber 1969.
A "re-education" camp in southern Vietnam for former Saigon government officers
arrested after the war. More than 50,000 political prisoners remain in such camps,
many of them suffering from mistreatment and hunger.
Peasants at a "cooperative," the government euphemism for a collective farm, in
southern Vietnam. The Communist authorities were compelled to reverse the
collectivizatioll programs ill the years after the war, when peasant opposition reduced
food prod.wiol1.
Young Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City continue to defy "socialist transformation."
nre T-shirt is either a remnant from the American period or a new copy, and the
motor scooters are fueled by black-market gasoline.
'rile mall/urs alld mores of the old regime corltilll/e ill Ho Chi Minh City, formerly
Saigol/, despite the omllll4llist takeover. 7 1 ~ l o yor"'g prostitutes ply their trade near
YOlltils peddlil/,(I black-markef Allleri all cr;l/arette .
Ne of tile saddest legacies
of tile war are Amerasian
cllildren like this girl, the
offsprirlg of a GI and a
Vietnamese woman.
Ostracized by the
ommunists, they survive
by beggillg or hawking
black-market wares.
The skulls piled up in
Phnompenh, capital of
Cambodia, are those of
victims ofgenocide carried
out by the Khmer Rouge,
the Cambodian Commu-
nist movement. As many
as two million people may
have beer! slaughtered in
the purge.
Piety and Power
I /II/ltis Cart/ier, a heroic French officer, led an attack against the Citadel irl Hanoi.
JIf' 11'(1.1 killed, as seen here, by lIIercetwries fighth/JZ Jor the Vietrlamese in December
Ilf/i. A(('oll/w oj his (O/lrage spfirmlllll' ,.."t'III'h irnperialist drille to I'M/qUe/' Vietnam.
An eighteenth-centttry
European view of Torzkin,
the northern area of
Vietnam. The British and
Dutch had designated areas
in which foreign traders
were permitted to maintain
commercial posts.
Pierre Pigneau de
Behaine, bishop of Adran,
the Catholic missionary
who first evoked France's
interest in Vietnam in the
late eighteenth century.
He befriended a pretender
to the Viettlamese throl/e,
N.ft11yen Anh (Cia LOI/J!) ,
who foul/ded a dynasty.

;::; ... ::;.:::.

Prince Canh, the young
son oj Nguyen Anh, who
accompanied Monsignor
Pigneau de Bihaine to the
court oj Louis XVI at
Versailles, where he
caused a sensation. His
exotic cosiume, contrived
Jor the visit, was more
Indian than Vietnamese.
/111',\'1/11111'1' de Rhodes, the
II,III{CIII(/I'Y who traveled
IIIIlIllgl1 Asia in the
lil'I/IN'lIth cenlury. An
IIIll111lfJlished linguist, he
" IIlmlll system, still in
1I1I' lodlly, to transcribe the
I'I I'll/III/leSe language in
1'1111/111/ letters instead oj
,''''1/1'.11' ideo.'Zraphs.
Emperor Minh Mang,
who ruled Vietnam in the
early nineteenth century.
The son of Gia Long,
founder of the Nguyen
dynasty, Minh Mang was
a gentle scholar whom
French propagandists of
the time depicted as a cruel
The port of Faifo, on the
Vietnamese coast, was one
of the first European
trading stations in
Vietnam. It was founded
by Portuguese merchants,
but commerce with
Vietnam failed to make
much headway until the
early twentieth century.
Jean-Baptiste de
Chaigneau, a French
soldier offortune who
entered the service of
Emperor Gia Long.
Married to a Vietnamese
woman, he was promoted
by the emperor to the rank
of mandarin first class.
Many Europeans served
Asian rulers as mer-
III//liral Pierre Paul de
1.11 ;ralldiere, a French
Ill/crt/or oj Cochinchina
/11 Ille rllid-nineteenth
IllIl/ry, A Ilirtual Iliceroy,
lit' j/'cqueHtly acted without
1I,(I'rel/ce 10 gOllernment
/111/1 y made in Paris,
.... ! \ ,
',- ',j)-) ...... -
....... __ =.,
lit . .. I
A French Ilersion oj the
execution by the
Vietnamese oj Father
Borie, a Catholic
missionary, Relatillely jew
European priests were
executed in Vietnam, but
their martyrdom was
publicized in France to stir
up religious jerllor.
Phan Thanh Giang, a
prominent Vietnamese
mandarin oj the nineteenth
century, tralleled to Paris
to negotiate a treaty with
Napoleon III. When the
French Iliolated the pact,
Phan committed suicide
after pledging his sons
neller to cooperate with
FraII ce ,
An engraving of the Mekong made by a French exploratory expedition. Asian folklore
held that the river represented a sacred serpent that wound its way down .from Tibet
into Southeast Asia.
The French expedition organized in 1868 to explore the Mekong pauses on the steps
of Angkor Wat, the great Cambodian temple. The group believed that the Mekong
was a waterway to China, and would thus serve as a major trade route, but it was not
always navigable and thus poor for trade.
;ctllamese portrayal of a French battle in Vietnam in 1884. The French soldiers
IIIIIlfT r(lIht) are supported by Vietnamese auxiliaries, distinguishable by their bare
I ,'t, The fleeing forces (left) are Chinese who have invaded Vietnam to profit from the
Vietnam at the turn of the
century was populated by
French adventurers like
the weapons merchant
Jean Dupuis, dressed here
in a Chinese costume. He
persuaded the French to
launch an attack against
Tonkin, the northern part
No figure during the late
nineteenth century did
more to promote French
imperialism in Vietnam
than Prime Minister Jules
Ferry. A liberal politician,
he considered colonialism
to be vital to France's
industrial growth.
The French maintained
the fiction of "protecting"
the areas of Tonkin and
Annam through a
Vietnamese government.
One puppet emperor was
Dong Khanh, who was
selected to rule because of
his docility. The French
often sent recalcitrant
Vietnamese emperors into
3 The Heritage of
Vietnamese Nationalism
~ ~
'Ii-jeu Au, the Vietnamese equivalent ofJoan of Are, fought for Vietnam's
iI/dependence against Chirla in the third centllry A. D. Defeated at the age of twenty-
three, she committed suicide. lie I still worshiped as a sacred figure.
The economy of Vietnam, like that of all Southeast Asia, is based on the cultivation of
rice-a technique learned .from the Chinese. Crowing rice requires two factors: manual
labor alld water, both plentifUl in Vietrlam.
'. ",'
1\ wealrhy Vietllamese couple phoroj!raphed il'l front oj their luxurious !Jilla ill the
/'"rly twel'llierh cerl/ury. The mall is wearillg his French decoratio'l and Western shoes.
Ilis wife's /ems firl,<!ernails dl'l/ott' Iter ",({amiliarity with mam/(/I lahor.
A Vietnamese nationalist cartoon of the early 1930s depicts peasants routing French
colonial troops. The peasants are shouting: "Wipe out the gang of imperialists,
mandarins, capitalists, and big landlords!"
Vietnamese prisoners being held in stocks after an attempt to subvert a French army
garrison. This plot, uncovered in 1907, led to the execution of several Vietnamese
nationalists and the incarceration of many others.
No Chi Minh, then known as Nguyen Ai Quoc, at a French Socialist party congress
in December 1920. It was here that the Communists broke away to form their own
party, and Ho joined them. He was thirty years old.
//0 hi Minh (back row, third from left) with other Communist agents in Moscow in
tlir mid-J920s. He was then ,./si'lg the name Unh, and his identity papers testified to
Ii Is fluency in Vietnamese, French, Brill/ish, R,./SSian, and Chinese.
The French exported the
life-style of Paris to
Saigon-as they did to all
their colonies. The scene
here is the terrace of the
Continental Palace Hotel,
where the French elite met
to dine. The hotel is still
French colonial officials,
known as "native affairs
officers," in a Vietnamese
village at the turn of the
century. These officials
were said to be participat-
ing in a local ceremony de-
signed to rid the village of
an epidemic.
A local caricature spoofs a
Vietnamese who has been
converted by French
culture into a tennis
player. In fact, many
Vietnamese nationalists
who opposed colonial rule
were the products of
French schools.
Vietnamese art students
surround their French
teacher in a school in
Tonkin. Only a handjUl
of upper-class Vietnamese
benefited from French
education, which
nevertheless contributed to
Vietnam's modernization.
A handsome Vietnamese
prostitute poses in a
high-class opium den,
presumably in Saigon.
The French colonial
administration organized
the opium traffic in order
to raise revenues, and the
operation was highly
Paul Doumer, the French
governor-general oj
Indochina around the turn
oJ the century, put the
possession on a paying
basis by exploiting its
resources. Later president
oj France, he was
assassinated in Paris in
4 The War with the French
Ho Chi Minh addresses an audience in Paris in 1946, prior to his departure from the
French capital following the breakdown of negotiations. Behind him is Admiral
Thierry d'Argenlieu, the French governor in southern Vietnam, who had maneuvered
to subvert the talks with Ho.
During World War II, the
u.s. Office oj Strategic
Services, precursor oj the
CIA, trained Ho Chi
Minh's Jorces in the
jungles oj northern
Vietnam. The ass team,
known as the Deer
Mission, was
headquartered in
Kunming, in southwest
Lieutenant Colonel Peter
Dewey oJthe ass,
assigned to Saigon in
1945. He alienated French
and British officers by
contacting the Vietminh.
Accidentally killed in a
Vietminh ambush, he was
the first American to die
in Vietnam.
A roundup of Vietnamese nationalists by French troops in Saigon in late 1945. The
city was torn by rioting as Vietnamese nationalists tried to prevent the French from re-
establishing colonial rule.
Ullder an agreement to remove the Chinese forces, Ho Chi Minh agreed to the return
of the French army to Hanoi in 1946. Troops are seen here re-entering the city. The
welcoming crowd was composed mostly of French residents.
/11 /946, as they moved to install their new government in northern Vietnam, Ho Chi
Millil (l/'Id his followers organized various associatiorls-including this youth group,
/1I1I"s(' members were trained to sirlg political songs extolling Vietnam's independence.
Two senior French
officers, General Philippe
Leclerc (left) and Admiral
Thierry d'Argenlieu,
confer in Saigon in 1945
as they plan to reimpose
France's rule in Vietnam.
Behind d'Argenlieu is
General Douglas Gracey,
the British commander
who was ,assigned to
disarm the Japanese in
southern Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh in 1946
with General Leclerc (left)
and Jean Sainteny, a
French emissary. Sainteny
later acted as an intermedi-
ary between President
Nixon and the Vietnamese
Communists in 1969.
General Vo Nguyen
Giap, Vietminh
commander, reviewing
troops in northern
Vietnam in 1951 as the
war with France began to
gather momentum. The
Vietminh sustained serious
setbacks during the early
period of the war because
Giap overextended its
Ho Chi Minh seated, in
casual attire, flanked by
his senior comrades (left to
right) Pham Van Dong,
Truong Chinh, and Vo
Nguyen Giap. Truong
Chinh borrowed his
pseudonym, which means
Long March, from the
famous exploit of the
Chinese Communists in
Armed women warriors of
the Hoa Hao, a reformist
religious sect founded in
the Mekong delta. Like
most religious cults in
Vietnam, the Hoa Hao
rapidly developed into a
private army that operated
mainly for the benefit of
its leaders.
A leader of the Cao Dai
religious sect with armed
troops of the organization.
The ornate temple, located
near the southern
Vietnamese town of
Tayninh, displays statues
of the sect's saints, among
them Jesus, Buddha, and
Joan of Arc.
5 The Light That Failed
No Chi Mi"h and his 1 1 l ~ f ! " (ommand plamlitlg the battle of Dienbienphu in their
jun.f!Ie headquarters. At r((!IIt is Ge"eral Vo Nguyetl Giap, commander oflhe
Viet",;,,1, Jorces.
Bao Dai, cJlOSefl by the r
Frellc" to be the pflppet
emperor oj Vietnam, seen
here as a boy i1/ Paris,
where the Frmch sent him
to be educated. He lived
with a French fizmily and
acquired a partiwfar
afficrioll Jor Frellch girls.
He also [eamed to play
Late ill 1949, Secretary of
State Achesoll (below, at
right) persuaded President
Truman to earmark $15
million in aid to the
French Jorces itl
bldochitla. Over the next
Jour years, American ....
assistat'ICe Jor the French r'-
war mOlH/ted to more tlla1l
S2 billioll.
Baa Dai abdicated jn
1945 and then fled to
Hong Kong, wllere he
was caricawred by Al
Hirschfeld, then 0" 0
world tOllr with S. J.
Perelman. To Perelmm"
tile ex-emperor was a
Hslippery-looking customer
ratlrer on tile pudgy side
a"d.freshly dipped i"
Crisco. "
Ce"era/jeal' de Lottre de
Tassigny, tile daslli"g
Frenclr commander it!
["dochi"a. A Callie
version of Get/eral
Douglas MacArthur, vai"
a"d brillimH, lie raised
FretlCh morale after
arriving ill 1950.
Ho Chi Minh gained a
major advantage when the
Communists cOflquered
China in 1949: he was
then able to obtain modem
weapons and other assis-
tance directly. Here he
eats with Chinese advisers
under portraits of himself
and Mao Zedong, the
Chinese leader.
The Vietminh forces were
meticulous in planning
battles. Here, using a
sand-table model, they
prepare an assault against
a village fortified by the
French and their Vietnam-
ese auxiliaries. Though
outgunned by the French,
the Vietminh had the ad-
vmllage of mobility.
The French commmJder in IndochifJa, Gmeral He'Jri Navarre {right}, with a deputy,
Major Gmeral Rene CogllY. Navarre's plan to pursue the Vietmi,lh forces in the
hinterland led him to deploy French units in the remote northeastem valley of
Die'lbienphu, near the border of Laos.
Colonel Christian de Cas-
triesJ French commander at
Dienbienphu1 was a ro-
mantic cavalry officer who
had be'" wounded and
decorated in World War
II; he also had a pile of
gambling debts and a list
of brokenhearted wom",.
With the Vietminh shelling them from the hazy hills in the distm,ce, the French forces
at Dienbienphu tried to survive itl trenches reminiscent oj World War I. But the
Vietminh gradually approached the French garrison by digging tu'mels.
... ,., - ~ . . ,
.. -,
Captain James
McCovem, kllOWfl as
"Earthquake MeGoon, 11
was DllC oj two America115
killed at Dicllbiwphu. He
(/lid his copilot, Wallace
Hllfard, were shot down
by t l l f ~ Vietmi"h while
jlyillg SlIpplies to tlie
/:n:I1c1, i" IIfI1lUlrked U.S.
(nlt/sport platies .
A wOlmded Foreign
LegiOfI lieutenant amid the
sondbags of a d"go"t at
Dienbietlplw. The Fretlch
were stumted that the
Vietminh had managed to
haul howitzers onto the
ridges overlookit'g the val-
ley mId were pOlmditJg its
airstrip and fortificatiolls.
Prime Minister Mendes-
France poses for photogra-
phers with 2ho" Enlai,
the Chinese foreign minis-
ter, "at Geneva in 1954.
The two mm had met se-
cretly beforehand and laid
the grout,dwork for a set-
tlement oj the war.
. \.
I .
Vietmit,h troops emeritlg
Hmloi ill October 1954,
followil/g the Frel/ch
evacuatioll. For many of
these soldiers, this was the
first time they had
pe"etrated an urban area
si"ce the war agaimt the
French broke OtlC "jlle
years earlier.
Presidem Eise,thower with
Secretary of State Dulles.
They regarded the Frel/ch
stand ill IlIdocJriua as vital
to the U.S. policy of
(fcontaillingJ) Commlmism
througllOtll the world) mId
they fillal/eed the war.
6 America's Mandarin
Ngo Dinh Diem in a characteristic meditative pose in his palace irl Saigon. Aloof and
austere, he mingled poorly with people, preferring instead to isolate himself with his
family and close aides.
In June 1954, when Diem
returned to Vietnam as
prime minister, he was
met at the Saigon airport
by only a handfitl of
enthusiasts, most of them
Catholics like himself.
Though a veteran
nationalist, he was a
virtually unknown figure.
Nearly a million refitgees,
a large proportion of them
Catholic, fleeing from
northern Vietnam in late
1954 as the Communists
prepared their takeover. In
many instances, as here,
the evacuation was han-
dled by the U.S. navy.
Not long after his return to Vietnam as prime minister, Ngo Dinh Diem organized a
referendum to oust Emperor Bao Dai. Diem received almost all the votes, the result of
electoral devices contrived by his American advisers.
Ngo Dinh Diem consolidated his power by defeating the Binh Xuyen, a private gang
supported by the French. Diem's forces clashed with the Binh Xuyen in the streets of
Saigon, devastating the city.
Ngo Dinh Diem owed his
political survival largely to
Colonel Edward Lansdale
(near left), an air force
officer attached to the
CIA. Lansdale, aformer
San Francisco advertising
man, was portrayed as
Colonel Hillendale in the
1965 best-seller The
Ugly American.
Ngo Dinh Diem posing
with his immediate family.
Behind him stands his
brother and chief adviser,
Ngo Dinh Nhu; the
woman in the center is
Madame Nhu, his
powerjUl sister-in-law.
The most influential
figure, however, is
Archbishop Thuc, the
oldest brother.
A meeting of the Lao
Dong in 1961, as the
North Vietnamese
Workers party called itself.
By the 1960s, the North
Vietnamese had decided to
step up the insurgency
against the Diem regime
in Saigon.
A peasant woman mourns
her husband, murdered by
Vietcong terrorists in the
Mekong delta. He was
selected for assassination
because he had informed
on the Vietcong, whose
terrorists tended to be
selective in eliminating
Saigon government
officials and sympathizers.
Nguyen Huu Tho (be-
low), head of the National
Liberation Front, as the
Vietcong was officially
called. The movement was
formed in 1960 on direc-
tives from Hanoi.
Ngo Dinh Diem on one
or his early trips into the
South Vietnamese
cOl/ntryside. Despite his
cheerful expression, Diem
disliked such expeditions,
/I,hich were urged on him
"y his American advisers,
/I,ho thought he lacked the
"common touch."
Ngo Dinh Diem waves to
" New York City lunch-
lilll(' crowd as a parade in
"is IUlllor proceeds up
/lroadway in May 1957.
I 'rry few Americans could
1,"11'(' then found Vietllatr/
"11 a lIIap.
Soon after consolidating its power in Saigon, the Diem regime embarked on a massive
campaign to liquidate the remaining Vietminh elements in South Vietnam. Many were
imprisoned in re-education camps, as seen here. By 1958, almost all the residual insur-
gents had been wiped out.
Not long after establishing their government in North Vietnam, the Vietnamese Com-
mlmists launched a brutal land reform program in which thousands of landlords were
executed. Ho Chi Minh later apologized for the excesses of the episode. Here
"Nguyen Van Dinh, poor peasant," as his sign identifies him, attends a land reform
meeting with his family.
7 Vietnam Is the Place
; ~ . * ''Ii, 0
An. American adviser, Lieutenant Colonel William Dickerson, supervises the
abandonment oj an untenable outpost in the jungle. American helicopters flown by
American pilots helped evacuate the South Vietnamese troops.
President Kennedy and two of his principal advisers on Vietnam-Secretary of Defense
McNamara (left) and Secretary of State Rusk. Rusk's experience in Asian affairs
dated back to his military service during World War II.
Vice-President Johnson chatting with Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon in May 1961.
Johnson, whom Kennedy had sent on an ambassadorial world tour, exuberantly praised
Diem as the "Wil1sto/'/ Churchill of Asia," which reassured Diem of American
Captain Gerald Kilburn
(left), an American
adviser, leads South
Vietnamese troops into
action in the Mekong delta
in 1963. American
advisers then in Vietnam
were supposed to avoid
combat, but many
participated in battle
Frederick Nolting (left),
American ambassador to
South Vietnam, chats
with General Paul
Harkins, commander of
the U. S. military advisory
mission. Nolting's
previous diplomatic
experience had been in
Europe. Harkins had once
played minor roles in the
In February 1962, two in-
surgent South Vietnamese
air force pilots bombed
Diem's palace. Diem and
his family miraculously es-
caped injury, but Madame
Nhu was slightly hurt.
Here, sometime later, Ma-
dame Nhu inspects the
bombed palace.
Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu,
President Diem's beautifUl
and impetuous sister-in-
law, who considered
herself South Vietnam's
First Lady. She was an
active feminist who
organized her own corps
of women warriors, to
whom she here gives a
lesson in target practice.
Diem's younger brother,
Ngo Dinh Nhu. An
t'l"ratic figure with
scholarly pretensions, Nhu
fllolved an arcane doctrine
cal/ed Personalism'- which
rejected both capitalism
(/lid socialism. It was
IIl1derstood by very few
A South Vietnamese
peasant helps a Vietcong
guerrilla make traps to be
used against Saigon
government troops. These
devices, made oj barbed
nails capable ojpenetrat-
ing the sole oj a boot,
were concealed in flooded
rice fields or on jungle
Beginning in the late
1950s, North Vietnam
sent supplies to Vietcong
insurgents in the south.
Porters carried the
equipment along the Ho
Chi Minh Trail, which
threaded through the
mountains and jungles oj
adjacent Laos.
~ " ; . ~ .
", \ ..
" -1, \ \ ~
, .
An American adviser
trains a South Vietnamese
soldier in the use of a
bayonet. Despite training
and equipment, the South
Vietnamese troops were
.frequently no match for the
highly organized and
motivated Vietcong
u. S, advisers also tried to
teach the benefits of
American civilization to
local youths. The effort
was known as "nation-
building"; it made only a
superficial dent in
Vietnamese culture.
To isolate peasants from
the Vietcong guerrillas,
the South Vietnamese
government built fortified
enclosures called <{strategic
hamlets." But this
alienated many peasants,
who resented being moved
from their native villages.
Both the South Vietnam-
ese army and the Vietcong
guerrillas frequerltly tor-
tured peasants, either to
extract information or in
retaliation for sympathiz-
ing with one side or the
A Penguin Book
"This is history writing at its best."
-Chicago Sun-Times
This monumental narrative clarifies, analyzes, and de-
mystifies the tragic ordeal ofthe Vietnamwar. Free ofideologi-
cal bias, profound in its understanding, and compassionate in
its human portrayals, it is filled with fresh revelations drawn
from secret documents and from exclusive interviews with the
participants-French, American, Vietnamese, Chinese;
diplomats, military commanders, high government officials;
journalists, nurses, workers, soldiers.
Vietnam: A History puts events and decisions into such sharp
focus that we come to understand-and make peace with-
a convulsive epoch of our recent history.
"Even those of us who think we know something about it will
read with fascination." -TheNew York Times