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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid


The cover design brought this book to my attention on the Bookazine shelves. Written by an American historian David Halberstam, “Ho” (Talisman Publishing 2007, ISBN 9-7898-1058-8, third printing), was originally written in 1971 and updated in 1987 and again last year.
The back cover advertises that the book contains “a fine and vividly drawn sketch of Ho Chi Minh’s lifelong struggle for Vietnamese independence through political mobilization, diplomacy and warfare.”
The author, David Halberstam, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Vietnam and has written several other books. In his new introduction he states that his first book about Vietnam called “The Making of a Quagmire” was written in 1965 but he was then invited to write about Ho Chi Minh for a consortium of international publishers. This he did, but the editorial board differed in their concept of Ho Chi Minh, to that of Halberstam. No middle ground was reached and his take on the leader of the Vietnamese resistance was then withdrawn, revamped and became this book, just called “Ho”.
The book begins by taking you through colonial Vietnam, governed by the French (French Indo-China), and highlights the problems that French rule brought to the Vietnamese people. He quotes an unidentified Vietnamese in 1963, “If you were very bright, the choices were quite terrible because the brighter you were the more you understood exactly what was happening to you, and you either accommodated yourself to them and played on their side, or you had to leave them and fight them.”
Ho Chi Minh was certainly bright, and was not prepared to accommodate himself, but took himself to France towards the end of WW I and found the French in France were not the same as the French who lorded over colonies. He found himself siding with the downtrodden. “Contact with the French Left was soon to turn an angry patriot into a modern revolutionary.”
By the end of WW II, Ho Chi Minh was leading the Vietminh and had molded it into a military wing as well as a political wing. He knew that ideology alone was not enough.
When the Americans waded into the Vietnam conflict, they were convinced that their superior firepower would soon rid Vietnam of the revolutionaries. Ho Chi Minh knew differently as he controlled the population!
At B. 650 for a slim 120 page book, this is looks like top money. Indeed, if you want some details of Ho Chi Minh as a man, there are other tracts that will tell you more; however, for me, the value of this book lies in its very detailed examination of just why the French lost in Vietnam, and the Americans likewise. It also shows the astute reader just why America cannot win in Iraq either. This book makes it plainly obvious, and if George Dubbya had read it beforehand, he obviously did not understand it!
If you are interested in international conflicts, and the reasons why colonies revolt, you will find this book very interesting, but do not buy it as a reference treatise on Ho Chi Minh himself.