by James A. Warren
New York: Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2013. Pp. xxii, 234.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio, index. $28.00. ISBN: 0230107125
The Life and Wars of a Notable Revolutionary Commander
The author of Portrait of a Tragedy, a well-received history of the American experience in Vietnam, Warren’s account of the life and wars of Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013) appeared just weeks before the general’s death.
Naturally, since Giap’s life was so tightly woven into the history of Vietnam in the twentieth century, we get a good dose of that history. Giap was a largely self-educated soldier, a talented man who found innovative solutions to the problem of fighting greatly superior enemies.
To reflect this, Warren devotes much more of the book to Giap’s early years (one chapter) and his wars against the Japanese (one chapter) and the French (four chapters), which shaped his military thought, than to the longer war against first the South Vietnamese regime (one chapter) and then the South Vietnamese and the United States (three chapters).
Along the way Warren makes some important points. Perhaps most notable of these is that that the Vietnamese Communists cleverly conducted not a “Marxist” war but a nationalist one, which drew upon a deep well of anti-foreign sentiment in Vietnamese culture. Although not entirely satisfactory, largely because Warren was not able to access the general’s papers or Vietnamese archives, this excellent work will probably be the standard treatment of Giap for some time to come.