peteg's blog

David Halberstam: Ho

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I picked this one up on a whim from the UNSW Library. Halberstam had a lot of insight into the American side of the Vietnam War, and seemed willing to learn from those who understood the Viets, such as Graham Greene and Paul Mus. As a quick sketch of Hồ Chí Minh so soon after he died (this 117 page book was first published in 1971), it is not bad. However he touches on then glosses over so much history that his assertions on just about every other topic are too glib. The origins of the North's People's Army deserve better treatment (I expect Greg Lockhart sets the pace here), the connections with Mao and Russia are elided (who made the tanks used by the North?), and the life of the people in the North under the new Communist regime is not canvassed at all. It is not clear what the problems were with the old mandarin system; indeed, given the ruthlessness ascribed by Halberstam to Ho it may have been just another rival power base that needed to be suppressed.

Given this lack of depth, Halberstam opens himself up to charges of whitewashing the Communist regime's activities, though he probably intended to focus on their nationalistic motivations and avoid the stereotypical hysteria over the red bogeyman. This is something he dodges much more successfully when analysing the American political and war machinery. From what I've seen, those who criticise him do not appear to grapple with the nationalism versus Communism distinction.