Panel on the Vietnam War

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With Shawn McHale, Christopher Goscha, and George Veith.

More details about this session will be available shortly.

On May 7, 1954, when the bullets stopped and the air stilled in Dien Bien Phu, there was no doubt that Vietnam could fight a mighty colonial power and win. After nearly a decade of struggle, a nation forged in the crucible of war had achieved a victory undreamed of by any other national liberation movement. The Road to Dien Bien Phu tells the story of how Ho Chi Minh turned a ragtag guerrilla army into a modern fighting force capable of bringing down the formidable French army. Taking readers from the outbreak of fighting in 1945 to the epic battle at Dien Bien Phu, Christopher Goscha shows how Ho transformed Vietnam from a decentralized guerrilla state based in the countryside to a single-party communist state shaped by a specific form of “War Communism.” Goscha discusses how the Vietnamese operated both states through economics, trade, policing, information gathering, and communications technology. He challenges the wisdom of counterinsurgency methods developed by the French and still used by the Americans today, and explains why the First Indochina War was arguably the most brutal war of decolonization in the twentieth century, killing a million Vietnamese, most of them civilians. Panoramic in scope, The Road to Dien Bien Phu transforms our understanding of this conflict and the one the United States would later enter, and sheds new light on communist warfare and statecraft in East Asia today.

Christopher Goscha is professor of history at the University of Quebec at Montreal. He has spent much of his adult life studying the people, politics and history of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. He studied at Georgetown University and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (IVème Section, La Sorbonne). He has written extensively about many of the different regions of Indo-China and on the wars for Vietnam. He recently published the Penguin History of Modern Vietnam.