The Invisible Country

Vietnamese Anticolonialism 1885-1925

by David G. Marr
University of California, 322 pp., $3.65 (paper)

Hô Chi Minh, le Viêtnam, l'Asie

by Paul Mus, edited by Annie Nguyen Nguyet Hô
Editions du Seuil, 256 pp., 21F

War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province

by Jeffrey Race
University of California, 299 pp., $11.95

A few months ago a friend of mine, a Vietnamese journalist from Saigon, visited a hamlet in Kien Hoa province—a hamlet that like so many of its neighbors had been ravaged by the American operations of 1968-1969 and the subsequent GVN attempts at pacification. Houses lay in ruins, most of the inhabitants had fled, and the defoliated coconut groves looked like fields of telephone poles. As there were Government troops throughout the hamlet and almost no other young men, the journalist concluded that the pacification had finally succeeded. But at ten o’clock at night the Government troops retired to their outposts and there appeared at his doorway a man with a pistol under his shirt who introduced himself as the hamlet chief for the National Liberation Front.

The man led my friend out to a lonely garden and questioned him about his business in the hamlet. Having satisfied himself about the journalist’s intentions, he went on to talk about himself and about his village. An elderly man, he had fought with the Viet Minh during the first Indochina war, survived the Diemist repressions of the former resisters, and joined the Liberation Front soon after it was formed. During the past decade, in which the Government conducted four separate pacification programs, he saw the tide of war change many times in his village. Looking about at the empty houses and the overgrown gardens, the journalist asked the old man whether he thought that this time the revolution had finally been defeated. The old man considered the question for a moment and then said, “No. You see, as long as the people have grievances, the struggle will continue, and as long as there is a struggle, there will be a revolution.”

In 1965, only a decade after the close of the first Indochina war, the United States began bombing North Vietnam on a graduated schedule designed to force the North Vietnamese and the NLF to negotiate the surrender of the resistance in the South. Now, after nearly seven years of bombing, after more than seven years of large-scale warfare, the schedule is approaching its end, with daily attacks on an almost unrestricted list of military targets, accompanied by the destruction of villages, cities, and dikes.

The Vietnamese resistance is one of the extraordinary phenomena of the twentieth century; to Americans, at least, it is also one of the most mysterious. What drives the Vietnamese and what sustains them? Is it ideology? National character? A particular stage of development? Certainly American officials do not know. Their policies have never been designed to deal with the resistance, and the explanations they give of it are patently absurd. (As Jeffrey Race points out, the argument that only an authoritarian government forces a people to fight leads only to the conundrum of who coerces the coercers.)

But American officials are hardly unique, even after all the reporting on Vietnam, all the years of debate on the two Indochina wars. Now, in 1972, even Jean Sainteny,…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.