Like Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Midway, and Tet, the battle at Dien Bien Phu - a strategic attack launched by France against the Vietnamese in 1954 after eight long years of war - marked a historic turning point. By the end of the 56-day siege, a determined Viet Minh guerrilla force had destroyed a large tactical French colonial army in the heart of Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese victory would not only end French occupation of Indochina and offer a sobering premonition of the US' future military defeat in the region but would also provide a new model of modern warfare in which size and sophistication didn't always dictate victory.
Before his death in Vietnam in 1967, Bernard Fall, a critically acclaimed scholar and reporter, drew upon declassified documents from the French Defense Ministry and interviews with thousands of surviving French and Vietnamese soldiers to weave a compelling account of the key battle of Dien Bien Phu. With Fall's thorough and insightful analysis, Hell in a Very Small Place has become one of the benchmarks in war reportage.
"A thorough account of a brave, sanguinary battle that has since turned out to have immense historic importance." (The New Yorker)
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The complete story of Dien Bien Phu
It's likely I'll listen to this again - it's easy to miss something in a complex history, and this one more so than others. It's hard to remember what each unit is - something that is easily remedied in print and one of the few downsides of audiobooks.
The battle is famous but not well-discussed in most other sources. The detailed research is excellent and the analysis generally pretty good. It's the completeness of the relating of the battle's events that really makes this book worthwhile.
Since there's very little to feel good about in this history, there really isn't a "favorite scene".
The book's weaknesses as an audiobook include a non-adherence to linear time. Some parts of the story are told until the end and then we're returned to a point in the battle without quite recognizing how it meshes with what we just heard. This is less a problem when reading, but in an audiobook makes it hard to follow at times.
Still, it's not nearly as dry as it could have been and one appreciates the comprehensive nature of the book.
Dien Bien Phu
The detail. Made you feel you were right there.
The surrender. Poignant and what a shame so terrible a conflict brought on by imperialism.
Sadly, it was the march to confinement and the horrible casualties rendered thereby. Previously, I had not known about this aspect of the battle.
Arresting and frustrating. In Viet Nam we made many of the same mistakes. What hubris not to have learned from this war what to do and what not to do.
One detail of interest missing: The Viet Ming executed the prostitute-nurses. The nurses were heroes. They should be honored with a memorial.
- William R. Toddmancillas