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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Business & Economics eBook: Valley of Death|
|Release Date: 02-23-2010|
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|Publisher: Random House|
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Valley of Death
The First Partition of Vietnam
Sometime or other, before the day is over, just as a matter of fact in straightening myself out, I’d like to try and find out just what it was, and why it was, that Indochina seemed to move from an idea which President Roosevelt had when he was alive that the French were not going to end up back in Indochina, and then sometime or other in 1945 they ended up. I don’t know how they got there or what happened or what was done.
Dean Acheson, May 15, 1954, at the Princeton seminar he conducted after leaving the State Department
This all began when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially decided not to run for a third term in 1940. On May 8, Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle wrote in his diary: “It is understood that Roosevelt, unless the situation changes, will wait until the last minute and then issue a statement in favor of Mr. Hull.” FDR was planning to endorse Secretary of State Cordell Hull for the nomination in July at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, before retiring to the life of a country gentleman in Hyde Park.
He had a compelling reason not to run, as he told the Nebraska senator George Norris: “I am tied down to this chair day after day and month after month. I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t go on with it.” He was only fifty-eight, but he was exhausted, imprisoned in his wheelchair, his withered legs the size of the crutches he used to get in and out of cars, and he smoked too many cigarettes. He spoke with enthusiasm about moving his papers to Hyde Park, where he would write twenty-six articles for Collier’s at $75,000 a year. He told his visitors that he&rs...