#13 from SE Asia: The decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu

From Dien Bien Phu, Viet Nam
February 5th, 2010
post #13

I am an avid amateur military historian. In May, 1954, the Viet Minh decisively defeated the French forces that were trying to keep Viet Nam as a colony. The defeat was so complete that the French had to drop all negotiating positions at the Geneva Conference that was going on concurrent to the battle. The battlefield fact was that the Viet Minh had won. The French army was destroyed and captured. The war was over.

It was an ultimate act of will power and sacrifice by the Viet Minh. They had moved armor, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and a complete army thru the ‘impassable’ jungles and mountains during the monsoon season by human muscle power alone. No one else in the world thought that this could be done. When you see these mountains, you too will question how they did it. But they did. Two days after the Viet Minh artilery blasted French fortifications, the French general Piroth committed suicide. The battle still went on for 57 days. Despite major US support for the French, paratroop and air support operations, and the US covering 75% of the French cost, the French position was doomed, with no escape in sight. In the end, the US secretary of state John Foster Dulles offered the French the use of carpet bombing AND nuclear weapons. The French declined. The Viet Minh never forgot. What is clear is that the US had been involved militarily since at least the early 50’s.

The French lost in total 38,000 killed with 49,000 casualties. Viet Minh losses may have been as high as 1/4 million total during their war of liberation. 

The French called General Giap the ‘snow-covered’ volcano.  They said that beneath his calm exterior lurked a killer.  They said that Giap wanted to annihilate the French.  And in that respect, they were right.  But the French wondered why Giap was so determined.  Did they forget that in 1936 they captured and tortured his wife, and held her in prison until she died of starvation?  And then they BEHEADED her sister, Giap’s sister-in-l;aw?  Giap never married again.  And the French wondered why Giap was so ‘ruthless’ with them?  Just how far did these French have their tetes up their pompous colonialist  derierres anyhow?   

Perhaps what is most significant about the battle of Dien Bien Phu is that it was the first case in the 20ieth century of a colony decisively defeating a Europen imperialist power on the battlefield. It gave a major boost to the Algerians, Kenyans, and African anti-colonial movements. In the French language now, ‘Dien Bien Phu’ is synonymous with catastrophic defeat. Much like ‘Vietnam’ means ‘quagmire’ now in US English.

The Dien Bien Phu War Museum is a must afor anyone interested in military history. It will take you 2 hours to go thru it. There are massive amounts of war equipment there. It is the history told from the victor’s view of the war. This is something the Vietnamese are extremely proud of. They fought under terrible circumstances, took terrible losses, and still prevailed. Yes, there are some analogies to Valley Forge. Fighting for independence under bad odds, and pulling thru on willpower alone. All evidence is that their war was much more about independence than communism.

To look on the streets of Viet Nam today, I do not see much ‘communism’. I see a lot of individual entrepreneurship under a one-party system. But there are 100s of thousands of small businesses and shops. The Vietnamese are a very energetic, assertive people, very economically astute like the southern Chinese, whom they deeply fear.

If you ever pass this way, Dien Bien Phu is worth a visit.

3 Responses to #13 from SE Asia: The decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu

  1. the french that had propagated children with the vietnamese left a beautiful legacy.

  2. Dwight,
    You are truly one of a kind. I’ve passed along your adventures to my Dad and Uncle, who read your book. Will pass along to Erik as well. Hope you stay healthy and return to the farm soon. Wonderful entries, just read all 13. Next time you pedal through Illinois, stop by for a Guinness-Jared
    I believe the Canadian citizenship was perfectly acceptable! I would welcome any critiques on that one….

  3. I know this was a big one for you…did it live up to its billing?

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Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

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Worker is a former professor at Indiana University, where he created the Information Security program for the Kelley School of Business before retiring in 2008 to farm, write, and travel.….READ MORE