Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

‘Hanoi’s War’: A different view of how the Communists conducted the Vietnam war

I’m not a fan of diplomatic history, but still found parts of Hanoi’s War fascinating. It changed the way I think about the Vietnam War. For example: "Ho and Giap were sidelined by Le Duan and Le Duc Tho at nearly all key decision-making junctures . . . . It is worth contemplating how Hanoi’s ...

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I'm not a fan of diplomatic history, but still found parts of Hanoi's War fascinating. It changed the way I think about the Vietnam War. For example: "Ho and Giap were sidelined by Le Duan and Le Duc Tho at nearly all key decision-making junctures . . . . It is worth contemplating how Hanoi's war would have been different had Ho and Giap been in charge."

The basic argument of the book is that Ho Chi Minh was a figurehead and that the war was run by "the Comrades Le." In 1967, opposition inside the Communist Party to the planned Tet Offensive was so pronounced that there was a series of purges and arrests, including generals allied with General Giap. "The alleged traitors were imprisoned in central Hanoi at Hoa Lo, known to Americans as the ‘Hanoi Hilton.'" Giap himself was pushed in a kind of temporary self-exile. 

The focus of participants to post-American Vietnam began to shift surprisingly early. In 1970, Hanoi already was beginning to fear that China would dominate postwar Indochina. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, not long afterward, Pol Pot began killing off his Hanoi-trained cadres.

I’m not a fan of diplomatic history, but still found parts of Hanoi’s War fascinating. It changed the way I think about the Vietnam War. For example: "Ho and Giap were sidelined by Le Duan and Le Duc Tho at nearly all key decision-making junctures . . . . It is worth contemplating how Hanoi’s war would have been different had Ho and Giap been in charge."

The basic argument of the book is that Ho Chi Minh was a figurehead and that the war was run by "the Comrades Le." In 1967, opposition inside the Communist Party to the planned Tet Offensive was so pronounced that there was a series of purges and arrests, including generals allied with General Giap. "The alleged traitors were imprisoned in central Hanoi at Hoa Lo, known to Americans as the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’" Giap himself was pushed in a kind of temporary self-exile. 

The focus of participants to post-American Vietnam began to shift surprisingly early. In 1970, Hanoi already was beginning to fear that China would dominate postwar Indochina. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, not long afterward, Pol Pot began killing off his Hanoi-trained cadres.

Nor did I know that Hanoi was very upset and worried by Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing. And with good reason: That year, both Beijing and Moscow began cutting their military aid to the North Vietnamese. 

All in all, it reminded me of Piers Mackesy’s classic The War for America, which shows us the American revolution through the eyes of the British government.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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