Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Military history books: The Vietnam War according to the South Vietnamese who fought it

The January 2012 volume of the Journal of Military History provides two reviews of The Vietnam War: An Assessment by South Vietnam’s Generals by Lewis Sorley.

From 1976 to 1978 the U.S. Army Center of Military History commissioned the recording of the recollections of 17 South Vietnamese who had fled Vietnam following the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam.  The interviews were published but are difficult to find.  Sorley has combined the 17 interviews into one volume, cutting out parts that are redundant or which do not provide much information on the war.  However, he has left in a large amount of the material, namely the important parts of these personal histories.

Two of the people interviewed were General Cao Van Vien, Chief of the Joint General Staff of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1975 and General Ngo Quang Truong who was I corps commander in the last few years of the war.  Their interviews are very enlightening as are most of the other 15.  They are somewhat biased and protective of the respective interviewees roles but many blame themselves and the Vietnam military for losing the war by not taking advantage of successes.  The pieces show some anxiety with the US effort but they also blame the corruption within their society and the lack of having a strong nation as a big reason for failure. 

The pieces are said to be very thoughtful and informative and they cover a number of the campaigns of the war.  They address management of the South Vietnamese military and dealings with the US military and US advisers.  Both reviewers rate this volume as important to the study of the Vietnam War and recommend it.  Considering the material and the importance of these interviews in understanding US attempts at nation building during a time of conflict, I would recommend this to anyone interested in the Vietnam War or US nation building operations during war.    

     Lieutenant General Hoàng Xuân Lãm, I Corps commander; General Cao Văn Viên of the ARVN general staff; Major General Ngo Quang Truong (Lam's replacement) (far right); with U.S. Army Lieutenant General Richard G. Stilwell

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