Battlefield Vietnam (1998) Discovery Channel

Dien Bien Phu - The Legacy

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Video Description Review :

No serious student of history can view this tape without being saddened by how events unfolded in Vietnam. During World War II, the United States had military personnel with the Chinese Communist armies of Mao Zedong and the Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh. Circumstances had made them allies of the United States against the Japanese and these military people were in agreement. In China they made it clear that Mao was going to eventually rule in China and Ho was eventually going to rule in Vietnam. This would not be due to a military coup, both leaders enjoyed broad popular support and their opposition was largely corrupt and incompetent. However, the post war political atmosphere in the United States was so shrill in anti-communist rhetoric that the realists were shouted down with cries of being "soft on communism." It took a little longer in Vietnam, but eventually the United States went down a very tragic path.

In the initial days after World War II ended, the United States supported Ho Chi Minh as the eventual ruler of Vietnam. This all changed when the French made the hopeless decision that they were once again going to rule Indochina. The consequence of this was the absurd tactic of rearming the Japanese soldiers that had surrendered and using them as a bulwark against the Viet Minh. As the battle for control of Indochina grew more intense, the French commanders made a fatal strategic decision; they created a strongpoint at Dien Bien Phu in the Northwest region of Vietnam near the border with Laos.

This military outpost far from any supply base was dangerously exposed, yet the French firmly believed that their superior firepower would make it invulnerable. What happened there should have been a lesson for the Americans in their later involvement but few paid attention. The Viet Minh forces proved far stronger, more resilient and more determined than the French thought possible. One of the most significant scenes in this tape is the one showing large numbers of people hauling artillery pieces up steep hills using ropes. With large numbers of people available that were strong enough to walk the hills, the Viet Minh forces simply carried all their supplies to the attacking points. The Viet Minh forces were also experts in low-tech defenses against air power. Their tactics were simple:

* Use effective camouflage so that it was difficult to spot them from the air. This meant the only effective air tactic was to fire indiscriminately and hope for a lucky strike.

* Use logs and deep bunkers to protect the dispersed forces and rapidly replace any losses.

* Install simple anti-aircraft guns so that the skies could be saturated with fire when French planes attacked.

These tactics proved successful against the French and were used again against the Americans.

After Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh, there was a conference at Geneva and an "interim" solution was developed. Vietnam would be split into two sections, with Ho Chi Minh in charge in the north and the French and other Vietnamese in charge in the south. Elections were scheduled to unify the country at a later date. In two points somewhat lost to history, Chinese leader Chou En Lai sold out his Vietnamese "comrades" in agreeing to the partition of the country. This initial split in the Communist "monolith" was lost on the American side. Secondly, the Vietnamese man who emerged as the leader of the south (Diem) was a corrupt tyrant who silenced legitimate political opposition with gunfire. It was Diem that cancelled the nationwide elections because he and his American allies knew that Ho Chi Minh would win.

In the era of the American involvement in Iraq, proponents of "staying the course" in Iraq have argued that the American anti-war movement is what lost the war in Vietnam. It is sad to see such revisionist nonsense, short of turning the country into radioactive glass, the United States could never have defeated the forces of Ho Chi Minh. That is clear from this tape and one can only hope that it will do something to dispel this last and nonsensical myth about a venture that was doomed to failure from the beginning.

By Charles Ashbacher ([email protected]), Marion, Iowa, USA (TOP 50 REVIEWER)

Documentary Description

Features twelve episodes exploring the events of the Vietnam conflict from a military perspective. Twelve Classic One-Hour Episodes From The Acclaimed TV Series Devoted To Vietnam's Key Battles. Judgement of the Vietnam war has been clouded by issues which occurred away from Vietnam: the campus protests, the controversial presidencies of Johnson and Nixon, the agonised arguments over MIAs and POWs and the tormented veterans of that war. For so many people, the Vietnam War brings to mind events in America, not in Vietnam. When thoughts turn to Vietnam, attention focuses on a young girl burned by the napalm, piles of bodies at My Lai and the summary execution of a Viet Cong insurgent on the streets of Saigon. Those events are important, but they do not shed a great deal of light on the military realities of the conflict. Battlefield Series Three: Vietnam was the first definitive documentary of the Vietnam War as a war. It will intentionally avoid the subsidiary issues which cloud judgement of the war, so that a clearer picture of what actually happened on the ground and in the air will emerge.


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