I started reading Street Without Joy this week, about what the author called the First Indochina War, that is, the war between the French and the Viet Minh that preceded the US involvement in Vietnam (what we American snowflakes call the “Vietnam War,” more history-minded folks could plausibly refer to as the “Second Indochina War.” Just as how it’s weird that Americans refer to the 1991 war as the “Gulf War,” when during the previous decade there was a real Gulf War that cost the lives of perhaps a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers. But I digress . . .).
Anyway, it seems to be the unknown war these days, I’ve really never read much else about it. And holy crap was it harrowing. French forces lost 90,000 men before it was over. Some of the battle descriptions will make your hair stand up.
I was introduced to the book when I read in a memoir by Hal Moore (the American commanding officer at the first battle of Ia Drang) that he read Street Without Joy as preparation for his work in Vietnam (or maybe it was Clark Welch, who commanded a company at the battle of Ong Thanh, I forget which). Book blurbs insist the book was widely read by US planners, but I don’t know about that. How the hell anyone cold read that book and still believe America had any business in Vietnam, or could possibly prevail where the French failed, is beyond my understanding. The “Best and the Brightest” were truly a gang of arrogant idiots.
The author, a Frenchman, was extremely critical of French strategy and tactics, but unlike Neil Sheehan or David Halberstam, he actually wanted to see French victory, not a pullout. So he’s very conflicted (the Viet Minh are referred to throughout the book as “the enemy,” “commies” or “Reds”). Well, I guess he was a French nationalist. From my point of view, there was no way hanging on to Vietnam was worth 90,000 French soldiers, or 50,000 American ones, or the maybe two million Vietnamese lives the two wars cost.
Really an amazing book.