Recommended Readings for the Vietnam War
A History of the Vietnamese, K. W. Taylor, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
The best single volume history of the Vietnamese people. The last chapter of this book provides the most concise and cogent analysis of the period covering the Indochinese wars from 1945-1975.
Vietnam at War: The History 1946-1975, Gen. Philip B Davidson, Presidio Press, 1988.
An accurate and thoughtful history of the war by a major participant with access to information not commonly available to the general public. If you read just one history of the Second Indochina War, the “American War,” as the communists called it, this is the one to read.
The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections 25 Years after the Fall of Saigon, edited by John N. Moore and Robert F. Turner, Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
Written 25 years after the conclusion of the war, these essays lay waste to many of the misconceptions and outright falsehoods about the war that have become part of the conventional narrative among academics and politicians. Edited by two distinguished law professors at the University of Virginia.
The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam, by Geoffrey Shaw, Ignatius Press, 2015.
To understand how and why President Diem was removed by a coterie of anti-Diem Americans in the State Department, aided and abetted by several influential members of the Saigon press corps, one must read this book. It tells the sad tale of what turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes the Americans made during the war.
Viet Cong: The Organization and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, Douglas Pike, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1966.
It is impossible to understand how the communists organized and controlled the rural population of South Vietnam without reading this book. My personal experience fighting the Viet Cong Infrastructure in South Vietnam confirmed in my mind that everything Pike said in this book is correct.
The Village, F. J. West, Jr., Harper and Roe Publishers, 1972.
A small book that tells the story of a Combined Action Platoon made up of US Marines and Popular Forces in a village in I Corps, South Vietnam. To understand the village war, this is the best book written.
Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: The CIA’s Secret Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong, Mark Moyar, US Naval Institute Press, 1997.
There are very few good books that tell the true story of the Phoenix Program, but Mark Moyar’s is the best of this very small lot. The Phoenix Program is one of the most misunderstood programs of the Vietnam War, due largely to the propaganda war waged against it by pro-Hanoi supporters in the West and the fact that it was veiled in secrecy (without justification in my opinion). After the war, the communists admitted that the program was highly successful.
War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province, Jeffrey Race, University of California Press, 1972.
A very erudite and scholarly treatment of the conflict between the GVN and the Viet Cong in a province southwest of Saigon. Race points to the failure of the GVN to govern effectively at the village level and the ability of the Viet Cong to fill this political vacuum, but he draws too broad a conclusion as to the solution(s).
On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, Col. Harry G. Summers, Presidio Press, 1982.
This book does not get the recognition it deserves and is often attacked by the Left since it clearly identifies the flawed strategy of the Americans and debunks the idea that the war was “unwinnable.” Col. Summers’s analysis of the importance of southern Laos and the need to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail is spot on. Using Clausewitzian doctrine, he proves convincingly that the failure to “isolate the battle space” by cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail spelled doom to the attrition-based strategy adopted by the Americans. This is a MUST read for anyone who wants to understand why the Americans and South Vietnamese lost the war.
The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War, Norman B. Hannah, Madison Books, 1987.
A very compelling expose of the duplicity and stupidity of the Americans, especially a small group of State Department analysts who insisted in the face of overwhelming evidence that the North Vietnamese use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords on the Neutrality of Laos and Cambodia, thus precluding the necessary use of American ground forces in southern Laos to block the trail and prevent the infiltration of men and supplies from North Vietnam. Col. Summers wrote the preface to this book and it reinforces his thesis about the failure of the Americans to isolate the battle space of South Vietnam.
A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954, Charles R. Shrader, University Press of Kentucky, 2015.
An explanation of the Viet Minh logistics system during the First Indochina War and how base areas, training facilities, and supply dumps in China after 1949, coupled with infiltration routes and base areas in Tonkin China, made defeat of the French inevitable. This same system served as a template for the logistics organization and doctrine employed by the North Vietnamese when they attacked South Vietnam. The system’s major vulnerability during the Second Indochina War was the trail and road system in Laos called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but the US was unable to take advantage of this vulnerability due to their slavish insistence on trying to stem the flow of men and arms south using air power and indigenous guerrillas.
The Vietnam War: An Assessment by South Vietnam’s Generals, edited by Robert Sorely, Texas Tech University Press, 2010.
A good analysis of the Vietnam War by the ARVN generals who fought it.
Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975, George J. Veith, Encounter Books, 2012.
This book lays bare the false claim that the South Vietnamese Army could not fight and was easily defeated by the North Vietnamese once the US forces left South Vietnam.
Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia, Major General Ira A. Hunt, Jr., University Press of Kentucky, 2013.
Facts and figures on the effect of the US government’s failure to provide promised military supplies and support to the South Vietnamese after 1973.
Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
This book tells of the political infighting in North Vietnam that went on during the Vietnam War using North Vietnamese sources. If there were any doubts about who launched the Vietnam War, this book, based on archival access and interviews with key North Vietnamese players, should put those doubts to rest.
Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975. Translated by Merle L. Pribbenow, University of Kansas Press, 2002.
The unvarnished view of the war from the North Vietnamese perspective. Dodgy figures on casualties, but highly accurate information on how they viewed their strategy, operational techniques, training, organization, as well as the weaknesses and strengths of the US and ARVN forces. It also clearly points out the importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in determining their ultimate success.
The Myth of Inevitable US Defeat in Vietnam, C. Dale Walton, Frank Cass publisher, 2002.
In just 160 pages, this academic identifies and cogently refutes all of the major myths associated with the Vietnam War. It is thoroughly researched, footnoted, and logical. It dramatically shows that the US failed in Vietnam because of repeated strategic mistakes that could have been avoided.
TET 1968: Understanding the Surprise, Capt. R. E. Ford, US Army, Frank Cass publisher, 1995.
While this book does not provide a battle study of the TET Offensive, it does provide a wealth of information gained from the North Vietnamese on how and why they launched their Great Offensive-Great Uprising in 1968. It presents a very cogent and well-documented argument for why the Americans failed to accurately predict the timing and the extent of the attack, a failure primarily based on the misperceptions of the intelligence community in the United States and the resultant lack of support by the national leadership for the recommendations of MACV to cancel the TET ceasefire. It is a perfect case study of how intelligence analysts allow their perceptions of an enemy’s intentions to cloud their recommendations, instead of relying on an enemy’s capabilities.