The last valley came out to good reviews a couple of years ago and it was appreciated because Martin Windrow had chosen a period of history not that well documented.
When most people think of the Vietnam war they think of the US involvement but before that the country was run by the French and most of the errors that were made by the Americans had already been done by the French. The reason for posting this review is that the attitude the French display in Journey to the end of the night towards the natives of Africa is hideously similar to the approach they took to the Vietnamese.
A history of the French demise in Vietnam, with an in-depth look at the collapse at Dien Bien Phu. After following a strategy of “castles in the sky”, which could dominate areas of the jungle and be supplied from the air the French ended up being surrounded and defeated in the hills at Dien Bien Phu. The problem was one of underestimation of the National Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces and a failure to pull out when defeat became a serious possibility. After they lost the prisoners had to walk a March of Death, to prison camps and few returned.
Is it well written?
In terms of the names and places it can get confusing but there are useful maps that help and because most of the action takes place in a single location, Dien Bein Phu, it becomes easier to follow. The book appears to be based on secondary sources but it is balanced with an insight into how the NVA operated, in particular how they exploited unrest back in France to undermine their enemies, a tactic that would be used again with Nixon in the peace talks.
Is it worth reading?
As a backgrounder to the numerous books on the US conflict it is a good introduction to establishing the context for the sorts of problems that the Americans would encounter. The US seemed to think that the French had failed because they were not as strong militarily and sadly underestimated the enemy as well.
Numerous history books on Vietnam but specifically on the French problems the next book to turn to should be Street without joy by Bernard Fall, which was one of the sources Windrow used in The last valley.
Version read – Cassell Military paperbacks