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Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (2018)

by Max Hastings

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6971533,221 (4.38)5
An absorbing and definitive modern history of the Vietnam War from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Secret War. Vietnam became the Western world's most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the United States in 1975. Max Hastings has spent the past three years interviewing scores of participants on both sides, as well as researching a multitude of American and Vietnamese documents and memoirs, to create an epic narrative of an epic struggle. He portrays the set pieces of Dienbienphu, the 1968 Tet offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam, and also much less familiar miniatures such as the bloodbath at Daido, where a US Marine battalion was almost wiped out, together with extraordinary recollections of Ho Chi Minh's warriors. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people. Many writers treat the war as a US tragedy, yet Hastings sees it as overwhelmingly that of the Vietnamese people, of whom forty died for every American. US blunders and atrocities were matched by those committed by their enemies. While all the world has seen the image of a screaming, naked girl seared by napalm, it forgets countless eviscerations, beheadings, and murders carried out by the communists. The people of both former Vietnams paid a bitter price for the Northerners' victory in privation and oppression. Here is testimony from Vietcong guerrillas, Southern paratroopers, Saigon bargirls, and Hanoi students alongside that of infantrymen from South Dakota, Marines from North Carolina, and Huey pilots from Arkansas. No past volume has blended a political and military narrative of the entire conflict with heart-stopping personal experiences, in the fashion that Max Hastings' readers know so well. The author suggests that neither side deserved to win this struggle with so many lessons for the twenty-first century about the misuse of military might to confront intractable political and cultural challenges. He marshals testimony from warlords and peasants, statesmen and soldiers, to create an extraordinary record.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This is a strong general history of the wars in Vietnam between 1945-1975. The 'Afterwards' chapter should almost be read as an introduction. The author has some axes to grind, and does a fair bit of grinding, but that said, otherwise does a good job in the telling. You won't find everything in here but you will find a well reasoned overview. ( )
  TomMcGreevy | Jun 30, 2023 |
Outstanding narrative history. Reasonably free from political point scoring and the lure of after the fact wisdom. Still ultimately tells the disastrous and ill-conceived story of American involvement in Vietnam- almost throughout without a clear look at why this commitment was being made. Still, regularly points out the disingenuousness of the easy critics of American goals (by citing viet cong / northern falsity and evil). Also an excellent mix of straight narrative and appropriate dips into anecdotal stories to add depth. ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
It’s hard to know where to start with the Vietnam War such was the lengthy prelude that the people of that nation were subjected to by the French and Japanese. Hastings does a good job of picking up exactly where he should at the end of WW2 where the hopes and promises of independence for Vietnam were dashed. It would be the first of many betrayals by us in the west.

By the time the US are in too deep, you are gripped by the unutterable misery that pride and political idocy can wreak on the world. We’re still suffering the aftershocks of what was a mistake of titanic proportions.

This is a large and well-researched book. If anything, I’m surprised that Hastings managed to get everything into 650 pages. This is the only criticism I’d make. The book could have done with many more detailed descriptions of episodes like the unbelievably awful fire on the USS Forrestal in 1967. The war, like any war, is a collection of individual experiences and Hastings doesn’t really do these justice. I’d have been more than happy for this to be the first of at least two volumes.

Instead, we have a very thorough sweep of 30 critical years of history. You get a very good idea of the motivations of the USAnians and, as with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the hideous self-interest of the political leadership and their willingness to slaughter anyone in their path is laid bare. It’s blatantly obvious that nothing had changed in 200 years. With Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s obvious that Vietnam didn’t change things either.

Hastings is even-handed in his treatment of both sides of the story, especially considering the relative paucity of data from the North, and for this he is to be commended more than the recent Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary which has far too many eulogies for the USAnians who died but gives very brief if nonexistent biographies of those who died repelling their occupation.

How anyone can actually believe that the USA is the bastion of democracy and the leader of the free world after reading the truth about the blood this nation has on its hands and for which no one has been held accountable and not one official apology uttered is beyond me.

There aren’t many who are fans of the Northern regime which achieved its aim through the slaughter of unknown numbers of its own people and subsequently boasted of liberating the southern population who it then imprisoned in huge numbers. But at least they had a freedom to fight for.

If the US had truly honoured the words of its national anthem, it would not have quashed a democratic independence movement and attempted to impose a military dictatorship of its own creation on the people of another nation. That it did shows that its entire political system is a farce. That over 50,000 of its own citizens died for it shows how strongly people still believe that farce is a truth. ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
A majestic work, 74 chapters covering nearly every aspect of the war in North and South Vietnam. One trap it does not fall into is to think of the war as only about America. The information on North Vietnam is excellent, some of which I have not seen anywhere else. I wish that it was as good in covering South Vietnam as it does the north. The author is very pessimistic about the south's changes of winning. But he never really dives into why that was. We learn a lot more about Le Duan, the leader of North Vietnam than we do about Theiu the leader of South Vietnam, that is a recurring issue.

The book is a popular history and this is a very good one, however that means that it concentrates on peoples stories. They are interesting, even at times insightful, but it can get in the way of understanding whats happening in the war. For example a chapter is about a particular campaign and we hear from people who were there but not the bigger picture. Things either work or do not work, but why that should be can be missing.

A final point is that this is strictly about the Vietnam war, Laos and Cambodia are neglected. In reality, Laos, Cambodia, North and South Vietnam were intimately connected. In the index President Eisenhower has 17 entries, Laos has 13 and Cambodia has 10. North Korea has 2 entries and South Korea 3, although the information on North Korea is hard to find elsewhere. Australia gets a chapter and I know Neil Smith and have heard a number of his accounts from him. Overall I recommend this book. ( )
  bookmarkaussie | Sep 26, 2020 |
A very comprehensive and fair, balanced assessment of the terrible tragedy to befall Vietnam after the Second World War, when the French colonial empire was dismantled. It deals with the quagmire and increasing immersion of American and Australian military force that seemed powerless to overcome a nations contempt for the people that were there to save them from a so called Communist threat. The promises of a communist nirvana though, were not met and their harsh and brutal regime is also documented. Excellent reading for the general reader. ( )
  aadyer | Sep 15, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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Noble, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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An absorbing and definitive modern history of the Vietnam War from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Secret War. Vietnam became the Western world's most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the United States in 1975. Max Hastings has spent the past three years interviewing scores of participants on both sides, as well as researching a multitude of American and Vietnamese documents and memoirs, to create an epic narrative of an epic struggle. He portrays the set pieces of Dienbienphu, the 1968 Tet offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam, and also much less familiar miniatures such as the bloodbath at Daido, where a US Marine battalion was almost wiped out, together with extraordinary recollections of Ho Chi Minh's warriors. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people. Many writers treat the war as a US tragedy, yet Hastings sees it as overwhelmingly that of the Vietnamese people, of whom forty died for every American. US blunders and atrocities were matched by those committed by their enemies. While all the world has seen the image of a screaming, naked girl seared by napalm, it forgets countless eviscerations, beheadings, and murders carried out by the communists. The people of both former Vietnams paid a bitter price for the Northerners' victory in privation and oppression. Here is testimony from Vietcong guerrillas, Southern paratroopers, Saigon bargirls, and Hanoi students alongside that of infantrymen from South Dakota, Marines from North Carolina, and Huey pilots from Arkansas. No past volume has blended a political and military narrative of the entire conflict with heart-stopping personal experiences, in the fashion that Max Hastings' readers know so well. The author suggests that neither side deserved to win this struggle with so many lessons for the twenty-first century about the misuse of military might to confront intractable political and cultural challenges. He marshals testimony from warlords and peasants, statesmen and soldiers, to create an extraordinary record.

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