Vietnam A History

The Light That Failed 16

Now Molotov, the grim old Bolshevik, would arbitrate—at the last minute. On the afternoon of July 20, Mendes-France’s deadline, Molotov convened a meeting at his villa, Le Bocage. He conspicuously excluded Bedell Smith and Bao Dai’s delegate, but Mendes-France, Zhou, Eden and Pham Van Dong assembled in the salon, and they bargained. Pham Van Dong, perspiring as the heavyweights encircled ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 15

Zhou Enlai, then fifty-six, showed at Geneva for the first time the skills that made him one of the most brilliant diplomats of the century. Urbane, subtle, tough and determined, he was a unique blend of Chinese mandarin and Communist commissar, and he had a special affinity for the French, having spent his youth in Paris. The Chinese had just ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 14

It was clear by late April, as the battle raged at Dienbienphu, that neither the Americans nor anyone else would come to the rescue of the French. During our chat in Hanoi thirty-six years later, I asked Giap to reflect on what might have happened had Eisenhower inter¬vened. “No doubt we would have had problems,” he replied, “but the outcome ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 13

Giap adopted a different and more cautious strategy. He ordered his cannon hauled higher into the hills so that the artillery could pound the French posts as the infantry crawled slowly toward them through a maze of tunnels. Colonel Bui Tin, who was wounded in the battle, later told me of his experience. Now the shovel became our most important ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 12

The situation had changed drastically. Both the French and Viet- minh forces now faced a deadline at Dienbienphu. And, in the words of General Walter Bedell Smith, who headed the U.S. delegation to the Geneva talks: “You don’t win at the conference table what you’ve lost on the battlefield.” Actually, the French did not lose at Dienbienphu itself, but in ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 11

The Soviet Union was on a similar track. Stalin’s successors had issued a statement as early as August 4, eight days after the Korean agreement was signed, proposing discussions to resolve conflicts in Asia. Such a meeting, they later suggested, could proceed from a conference scheduled to explore ways to settle differences over Ger¬many. Their conciliatory gesture was partly designed ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 10

Navarre flew to Paris in July to present his project to the French government, whose prime minister, Joseph Laniel, had just been re¬volved into office on the Fourth Republic’s political turnstile. The two men failed to understand each other. Though Navarre had arrived with what he regarded to be a formula for victory, Laniel never made it plain to him ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 9

By late 1952, French dead, wounded, missing and captured totaled more than ninety thousand since the war had begun six years earlier, and France had spent twice the sum it had received in U.S. aid under the Marshall Plan. Public enthusiasm for la sale guerre, the dirty war, had long before waned in France, and a mood of uneasiness had ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 8

De Lattre was a Gallic version of Mac Arthur. Handsome and stylish, he wore uniforms tailored by Lanvin, the fashionable Paris couturier. Sometimes charming, he could also be egocentric to the point of megalomania. His flash of glory in Indochina ended abruptly and tragically: his only son, Bernard, was killed in action, and he died of cancer less than a ... Read More »

The Light That Failed 7

During the years that followed, the French frequently attacked Khang’s village, confiscating its rice and water buffalo and burning its huts. They withdrew after each foray, and the Vietminh returned. Khang summed up the story of the war in a sentence: “We couldn’t protect it, and they couldn’t hold it.” The Vietminh also recruited women, among them Khang’s wife, who ... Read More »