Magazine April 5, 2010, Issue

Searing Defeat

Viet Minh troops plant their flag over the captured French headquarters at Dien Bien Phu, May 1954. (Public domain/via Wikimedia)
Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America Into the Vietnam War, by Ted Morgan (Random House, 752 pp., $35)

May I declare an interest, or two? While France was losing the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 I was a young foreign correspondent, for the British Daily Telegraph, in Germany. I watched the course of the battle with mounting fear and dread. We were painfully conscious that between that “Valley of Death” and us there stood nothing but the apparently invincible forces of Stalinism. At the east end of the Rhine bridges at Bonn there was a sign in three languages: “No member of the Soviet Occupation Forces permitted across the bridge.” With the French still rejecting German

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