Vietnam's Forgotten Army

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2009 Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award for Biography

Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN chronicles the lives of Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, two of the brightest young stars in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Both men fought with valor in a war that seemed to have no end, exemplifying ARVN bravery and determination that is largely forgotten or ignored in the West. However, while Hue fought until he was captured by the North Vietnamese Army and then endured thirteen years of captivity, Dinh surrendered and defected to the enemy, for whom he served as a teacher in the reeducation of his former ARVN comrades.

An understanding of how two lives that were so similar diverged so dramatically provides a lens through which to understand the ARVN and South Vietnam’s complex relationship with Americas government and military. The lives of Dinh and Hue reflect the ARVNs battlefield successes, from the recapture of the Citadel in Hue City in the Tet Offensive of 1968, to Dinhs unheralded role in the seizure of Hamburger Hill a year later. However, their careers expose an ARVN that was over-politicized, tactically flawed, and dependent on American logistical and firepower support. Marginalized within an American war, ARVN faced a grim fate as U.S. forces began to exit the conflict. As the structure of the ARVN/U.S. alliance unraveled, Dinh and Hue were left alone to make the most difficult decisions of their lives.

Andrew Wiest weaves historical analysis with a compelling narrative, culled from extensive interviews with Dinh, Hue, and other key figures. Once both military superstars, Dinh is viewed by a traitor by many within the South Vietnamese community, while Hue, an expatriate living in northern Virginia, is seen as a hero who never let go of his ideals. Their experiences and legacies mirror that of the ARVNs rise and fall as well as the tragic history of South Vietnam.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is a fascinating study of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)—the South Vietnamese army—during America's involvement in the Vietnam War. . . . This well-written, compassionate study is a major contribution to most libraries.”
-Library Journal

“This sympathetic biography of Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, mid-level officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), provides a unique perspective among American war histories. . . . [Readers] will gain new respect for the mishandled South Vietnamese army.”
-Publishers Weekly

“No book about the Vietnam War can be simply a book about the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s Forgotten Army appears in the midst of a raging debate over American armed interventions abroad and over the proper lessons to draw from Vietnam for the war in Iraq.”
-The Nation

Publishers Weekly

This sympathetic biography of Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, mid-level officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), provides a unique perspective among American war histories. Built by American advisers in 1955 to repel a conventional invasion, the ARVN was a Western-style force that actually spent most of its 25-year life battling a lightly armed insurgency. Ironically, its destruction came at the hands of a traditional invading army from North Vietnam, but by this time U.S. forces (which it had relied on for heavy artillery and airpower) were gone. Vietnam's army suffered a chronic lack of imaginative leadership at the top, yet historian Wiest (Haig) makes a good case that it often fought well, especially at the battalion and regimental level, when led by good officers such as Dinh and Hue. Wiest describes their energetic leadership as the war intensified during the 1960s, but it is not a story that ends happily. Hue spent 13 years in a North Vietnamese prison after his capture in 1970. Dinh surrendered his regiment in 1972, finishing his career in the NVA. Readers who persist through dense nuts-and-bolts battle descriptions will gain new respect for the mishandled South Vietnamese army. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This is a fascinating study of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)-the South Vietnamese army-during America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Historian Wiest (Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam War Revisited) focuses on two ARVN officers, Tran Ngoc Hue and Pham Van Dinh, and their parallel but ultimately divergent paths as successful young officers who demonstrated extraordinary courage and tactical skill, painting them as symbolizing the best hope for victory against the Communists. However, they both believed that South Vietnam was doomed to lose the war. Hue continued to fight, was captured by the North Vietnamese in 1971, and spent years in virtual poverty until he migrated to the United States, where he was perceived as a hero. Dinh, hoping to save the lives of his men, surrendered to Communist forces in 1972, defected to their side, and was seen as a traitor by most South Vietnamese émigrés. Wiest argues that had American strategy focused more on enabling the arvin and had U.S. troops not been withdrawn so quickly, the war might have been won. This well-written, compassionate study is a major contribution to most libraries.
—A.O. Edmonds

Kirkus Reviews
Admiring biography of two officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which fought far better than most American histories have acknowledged. Vietnam has a long martial tradition, writes military historian Wiest (Haig: The Evolution of a Commander, 2005, etc.), so there was no shortage of young men eager for a military career when ARVN was created in the 1950s. They fought for 25 years and suffered more than 200,000 casualties, laboring under two critical flaws. Vietnamese leaders wanted a lightly armed, mobile anti-insurgency force, but American military advisors insisted on a heavily armed, Western-style army dependent on the United States for equipment and logistics. In addition, Vietnamese rulers relied on the army to remain in power, so they chose senior officers for loyalty rather than competence. Despite this, good commanders existed, and some ARVN units fought well. Wiest tells the story of two officers, Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, who led their units with courage and energy well documented in reports from American advisors who worked with them. Hue was captured during the disastrous invasion of Laos in 1970 and spent 13 years in North Vietnamese prisons. Dinh switched sides during the equally disastrous 1972 Easter Offensive and served in the North Vietnamese Army until his retirement. The author spends a great deal of time describing the fighting. While several hundred pages on small-unit actions will interest only military buffs, they present the war from the unfamiliar point of view of the Vietnamese. For example, ARVN did much of the fighting in the epic 1968 battle for the Citadel of Hue City, but saw Vietnamese contributions downplayed by Americanjournalists more interested in depicting heroic Marines. The later offensives make painful reading as lack of good generalship and absence of American firepower undid the efforts of many brave Vietnamese soldiers. A unique perspective on the Vietnam War, though no less depressing than the old one.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814794104
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,506,160
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Wiest is Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is co-editor of War in the Age of Technology: Myriad Faces of Modern Armed Combat (NYU Press, 2001) and author or co-author of numerous books, including Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam War Revisited, Atlas of World War II, and The Vietnam War, 1959–1975. He lives in Hattiesburg, MS.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by James Webb
Preface:Welcome to America
Introduction: Welcome to Vietnam
1 Coming of Age in a Time of War
2 A War Transformed: Battle, Politics, and the Americanization of the War, 1963–1966
3 Fighting Two Wars: Years of Attrition and Pacification, 1966–1967
4 A Time for Heroes: The Tet Offensive
5 After Tet: The Year of Hope
6 Hamburger Hill: The Untold Story of the Battle for Dong Ap Bia
7 A War Transformed: Vietnamization, 1969–1970
8 Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams: Operation
Lam Son
9 The Making of a Traitor
10 Journeys Home: Life in the Wake of a Lost War
About the Author

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