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on January 14, 2004
In this his final work, the late Dr. Bernard B. Fall chronicles America's ever deepening involvement in Vietnam drawing parallels to his native France's involvement earlier. Published from notes and tape recordings recovered after his death in 1967 from a Vietcong booby trap, he shows the triumph and tragedy of that conflict for both sides. A clear warning emerged: America was headed down the same, "Street Without Joy," traveled by France a few years earlier.
Fall begins with a short history of the country. Vietnam has been dominated, through the ages, by a host of foreign powers: first, China, then France, then, during World War II, Japan, and finally the U.S. The reader sympathizes with nationalist leaders like Ho Chi Minh after reviewing Fall's indictment of the French colonial administration. Feelings change after reading how Franklin Roosevelt allowed the slaughter of his allies, the Free-French forces fighting against his bitter enemies, the Japanese, in order to insure France would never return to Indo-China as a colonial power.
In the post World War II period, America's preoccupation with the U.S.S.R.and the PRC and its vacillating foreign policy regarding Indo-China provided the Communists with numerous opportunities to entrench themselves north and south of the 17th parallel. After France's humiliation at Dien Bien Phu America was left to "contain communism" in Southeast Asia alone. To do this we had to support the repressive dictatorship of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem whose police state tactics had thoroughly alienated the populace. His chapter on, "Viet-Nam's Twelve Elections," is particularly enlightening; call it "democracy" at its absolute worst!
He then examines numerous successful and unsuccessful insurgencies worldwide and shows how conditions were similar or dissimilar in Viet Nam. By simply enumerating the number of South Vietnamese provinces not paying taxes and counting the number of Saigon appointed village chiefs assassinated annually, he predicted the regime would fall. The South Vietnamese government simply did not have the popular support necessary to survive even with massive U.S. support. Sadly, his predictions would be proven true a few years after his death.
Fall's work is a first hand account of the shortcomings of French and America policy that led to a Communist victory. Inspired by the plight of North and South Vietnamese, and later, French and American soldiers in the field, men who bore the brunt of the ill-conceived policies of their leader's, Last Reflections stands as a tribute to the fallen of both sides. Hopefully the spirit of freedom that has motivated the Vietnamese peasant to struggle against domination through the ages is still alive today, even under the repressive, Communist dictatorship currently in power in Vietnam. If so, the present leaders of Vietnam should beware!
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on September 13, 2010
I am a veteran of the American war in Vietnam. I served two tours as a helicopter gunship pilot. I returned in 1971 totally disillusioned with my government, the South Vietnamese government, the mainstream media, and mainstream religion -- all of whom promoted this war as the way to make the world safe for democracy (wasn't that supposed to be WW-I?). I began to do my research about Vietnam to understand how I, a 19-year old college student, could be so deceived and betrayed to give up my college deferment and volunteer to go to war for the American oligarchy. Dozens of books later, I found two books that were far and away above the rest. The first, Bernard Fall's ''Last Reflections'' is the most comprehensive and truthful account of Vietnam and the colonial powers that tried to occupy and rule that ''domino'' in Southeast Asian. The second, ''Novel Without a Name'' by Duong Thu Huong, was written by a VC soldier who fought the Americans for 10-years. She was one of three survivors of her unit. She told the heart-wrenching story of the American war from the Vietnamese point of view. Her description of combat PTSD on page 152 is the most authentic I have ever read. To quote another author, Major General Smedley Butler, ''War is a Racket.'' Maybe someday the American voters will wake up.
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Bernard Fall was the son of Austrian Jews who emigrated to France after the Anschluss of Austria by Germany in 1938. He lost both his parents in the war; he followed his father in fighting in the French Resistance. After the war he emigrated to the United States, where he became a scholar who specialized in Indochina. He wrote two classic accounts of the French involvement in Indochina, Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, which is an account of the climatic battle of the French war at Dien Bien Phu, and Street Without Joy: The French Debacle In Indochina (Stackpole Military History Series) which was the name the French expeditionary force gave to the area between Hue and Quang Tri along Highway 1. In the latter book he also provides an account of the destruction of Groupe Mobile 100, along Highway 19, in the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam. The destruction of GM 100 took place six weeks after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which most people think of as the end of the French war. The destruction of GM 100 is indeed a bloody footnote, and Fall's account is the definitive one, and I am most grateful to him for it. I read his account when I was stationed in exactly the same place, at LZ Schueller, on Highway 19, with a tank unit. To those of us who noticed and considered the implications, the French tank, from GM 100, lying on the side of the road, about 2 km from LZ Schueller, was indeed haunting. The destruction of GM 100 is the opening scene in the movie We Were Soldiers (Widescreen Edition) with Mel Gibson.

Fall was not the sort of man to obtain his information from what was dubbed the "5 o'clock follies", that is, the American military briefings in Saigon. He was compelled to find "primary sources," as they say, which meant being in the field. On February 21, 1967, he was on the Street Without Joy, with US Marines. He died after stepping on a landmine. His tape recorder was going, which is the last story in the book, and his last words were: "Could be an amb..."

This is a posthumous collection of 17 articles which he wrote that were selected by his wife. By the very nature of the selection, they are uneven. Nonetheless, all are quintessential Fall: the rare erudition of the scholar, who understands both the political overview, as well as the nitty-gritty of small unit combat. Even at the very beginning of the American involvement, he seemed to know the enterprise was doomed. The "red flags" of warning are in his stories, though he never issued a full-throated cry to abandon the effort. Perhaps if he had lived a little longer...

There is much of interest in these stories, even for one who has read many books on Vietnam. For example, in his story, "2000 Years of War in Vietnam," he says that the first American intervention in Vietnam occurred in 1845 (yes, the second digit of the year is "8") when a Marine detachment came ashore at Danang, of all places, to capture several high Vietnamese officials who were "persecuting" Catholics. As Fall later says: "It is doubtful that a single one of the Marines who waded ashore at Danang in 1965 had an inkling that his appearance was a return engagement." Fall starts his cameo portrait of Ho Chi Minh by quoting an American psych-ops guy in Saigon: "You know, it's damned difficult to go out and tell people to hate a guy who looks like a half-starved Santa Claus." "All right, so he is the George Washington of Viet-Nam. But doe we have to get stuck with ALL the Benedict Arnolds?" Fall knew that much of the historical antecedence that we promoted were false. One of his stories is entitled: "This isn't Munich, its Spain." However, I'd even consider this an overstatement, and wondered why he didn't use the comparison of his own work in the French Resistance, just as he reported the Viet Minh did at Dien Bien Phu in Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. He also says: "We always hand on for dear life to the Malayan example, which, of course, is totally unworkable." He goes on to debunk the comparison, and that the famed "10:1 kill ratio" will not work in Vietnam. Fall also took the time to interview NVA and Viet Cong POW's. Tellingly, the story is entitled: "Unrepentant, Unyielding."

Compared to the vast majority of books on Vietnam, this is unquestionably 5-stars. Compared to his two magnums opus, you'd give it 4-stars. But then you'd have to round up for the man with the drive to obtain the authentic information, so much so that it cost him his life: 5-stars.
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VINE VOICEon September 28, 2012
It is very regrettable that Bernard Fall left us so early. His insights on the events in Southeast Asia and Vietnam in particular were insightful and indeed prescient. His scholarship of the events in both the French-Indo China War and the second "American War" in Vietnam are the indeed the most in depth insights of a time period of a place that stood as the ultimate revolutionary event since the American Revolution.
Doctor Fall studied the history of Vietnam, telling of all their struggles and aspirations in trying to dictate the events of their heritage from the influences of China, France and ultimately the forces of the United States. Fall quickly goes to his present of the mid-60's and describes the events of the US forces as they were in 1966/1967. Fall makes his presence known while operating with the US Marines. It was during operations along Highway 1, The Street without Joy, in South Vietnam that Dr. Fall met his death as his vehicle hit a mine and he succumbed to these fatal injuries.
Mr. Fall had the temerity to interview Ho Chi Minh along with General Giap and was able to look into the mindset of what they wanted to accomplish. He interviewed Vietcong prisoners who stated emphatically that in the end the North Vietnamese would win. The consensus was that indeed the Americans would indeed win on the battlefields of Vietnam; however the USA would never be able to continue the battle for 30 to 40 years as the Vietcong prisoners said it would take to accomplish the final victory.
As early as 1966/1967 Dr. Fall knew the happenings on the battlefields of Vietnam. Please remember that Bernard Fall was not writing from the comfortable confines of his home in the USA. He was in South Vietnam trying to formulize the happenings in Southeast Asia. What he found was a cesspool of American mistakes which he said would ultimately fail. Although the Americans would win on the battlefield they would never have the staying power to imperialistically occupy Vietnam as a true imperialistical power.
Fall's last thoughts were both prescient and scary to Americans. In reality his thoughts were correct. LBJ did not know Dr. Fall, what a tragedy!!! Much pain and suffering could have been avoided if LBJ would have read the insight and thoughts of Dr. Fall!! My sincere regrets on this oversight!!!!
Doctor Fall understood all the trappings of the events in Vietnam. Too bad no one listened to him. He really had all the answers!!!!
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on June 9, 2015
This book is a compilation of articles, mostly not previously published in book form, written by Bernard Fall. The articles were selected by Mrs. Fall and are organized into three parts. Part 1 summarizes the history of Viet-Nam and I found this to be the most informative part of the book. Part 2 is an analysis of 20th Century history of Vietnam, primarily during the involvement of the United States and reflects Dr. Fall's experiences with guerilla warfare. Part 3 is an interesting reflection of how Dr. Fall believed the conflict would drag on and would end based on his understanding of what was happening in Viet-Nam just prior to his death in Viet-Nam in 1967.
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on March 8, 2014
This compilation of Fall's late work includes a fascinating brief history of early Vietnamese history. Learning about Marshall Tran Hung Dao's 13th century guerrilla war against the Mongols is worth the price of the book. Fall's understanding of the importance of which villages paid taxes and which village chiefs were murdered as an index of Vietcong control was generally ignored by the ARVN's and US. At the time of Tet in 1968 Saigon was literally surrounded by VC controlled territory and it was only by luck that a small armored combat team of the 25th Division was in place to prevent the fall of Saigon. I read Hell in a Very Small Place and Street Without Joy while in Cu Chi, Vietnam in 1970. Fall's understanding of the war was available in 1970, was ignored then and denied in a recent DOD release of the Vietnam War in retrospect.
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