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The Twenty-Five Year Century: A South Vietnamese General Remembers the Indochina War to the Fall of Saigon Hardcover – February 13, 2002
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This valuable memoir of the Indochina War, 1950-75, by a former South Vietnamese general takes its title from the fact that, for him and his generation, the most important events of the twentieth century were packed into that period. An upper-class Vietnamese, Thi was one of the first Vietnamese to receive a French commission. During the late '50s, he received training in the U.S., on which his insights are particularly interesting. He rose rapidly through staff and command positions during 1963-75. Polite but explicit about the deficiencies he encountered among his fellow Vietnamese and among their Western supporters, he never goes overboard into the "How we might have won" syndrome. He is also too polite to be explicit about how the South Vietnamese army's former friends and former foes alike completely ignored it in the postwar period, and that makes his memoir valuably unusual. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“Readers will find in this book a new perspective on the War in Vietnam from one who helped to create and shape the history. His story—the story of the Republic of Vietnam from the eyes of those in the Republic—has been long neglected by historians of the period.”--Ron Frankum, The Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University
“The Twenty-five Year Century is extremely interesting and most professionally written. It provides a rare and most valuable insight into the war from the perspective of a senior field commander fighting it. It is a major contribution to the literature of the Vietnam conflict, and fills a void in the war’s recorded history that can only be filled by the experiences of someone of Thi’s rank and stature.”--Col. Edward P. Metzner, U.S. Army (ret.), author of More Than a Soldier's War
“General Thi fought for twenty-five years in Vietnam until Saigon fell in 1975, serving with the Vietnamese National Army and commanding the Army Corps Task Force along the Demilitarized Zone. Here he provides a rare and valuable insight into the Vietnam War. Thi strongly counters the prevailing ‘American’ view that the Republic of Vietnam’s government and military were hopelessly corrupt and ineffective. Not everyone will agree with General Thi’s viewpoint, but everyone will have to factor it into his own analysis of the Vietnam War.”--John Carroll, Regents Professor of History, Lamar University
Top customer reviews
That is not the conclusion that General Thi wanted you to reach by reading his book. General Thi himself was very much a product of the French colonial system and he was not particularly interested in changing the status quo, but only in beating back the communists. The general tells how the French suddenly reappeared near the end of the war, confirming that the French colonial interests never really left South Vietnam until the communists won.
The book is basically the personal autobiography of an educated, competent, and idealistic military man who was focussed on his military career. It’s full of military details that only a military aficionado will fully appreciate and only if they are looking for a general’s high level perspective on things. Politics enter the picture only to the extent that they had a direct impact on his career, but there is enough to make it interesting.
The general places blame for their loss squarely on the American media, it not having occurred to him to ask if the American media might have had a point. As an afterthought he ruminates that perhaps the South Vietnam regimes were too corrupt and incompetent to succeed as governments, thus unintentionally endorsing the American decision to abandon them. He closes with the mandatory formulaic savaging of the Vietnam government’s performance after 1975. That ending sums up the books performance as a political piece. The general feels compelled to express the political views that are pretty much the conventional wisdom in the diaspora today.
I believe that anyone who is a serious student of Vietnam or especially of the Vietnamese diaspora must read this book. The general has a perspective on things that spans from the last years of the French regime up to the end of the Saigon regime. This first-person perspective is valuable whether or not you agree with the general’s point of view. I give it 4 stars in part because of its importance as a unique perspective on the period.
(Incidentally, the writing of the general’s son, Andrew Lam, is very much worth reading if you are a student of the Vietnamese diaspora. The son does not necessarily adopt the father’s points of view.)
Sadly, the book, while full of extraordinary detail at a personal level, is extremely tedious. It *felt* like it took a century to read, and my eyes just glazed over with page after page of names of relatives, classmates, town, etcetera.
The author's first book, Autopsy: The Death of South Viet Nam is probably a much better book for anyone other than a student of the genealogical details.
The photos were disappointing, and while the strategic maps were helpful there was little to enliven the thirteen chapters.
Over-all I formed three impressions:
1) The author was an extraordinary mix of Chinese and Vietnamese, French-educated, and Cao Dai/Catholic in family heritage. He acquired the viewpoints inherent in the French and the Catholic, and strongly perceives Ho Chi Minh to have been a communist puppet of Moscow, and not at all a nationalist. Th
2) The author considers the US to have betrayed South Viet-Nam, leading to the loss of a one million man Army and the abandonment of five billion dollars in equipment, all in part because the US media decided the war was lost, and the US public forced the politicians to give up. While I dispute this personally, the view is strongly supported by one of the best revisionist histories I have read, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.
3) The author provides excellent context from his point of view on the concurrent ideological splits in Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines at the time, and articulates his view the Viet-Nam was the place where the burden fell for giving the West time to win the Cold War--1.5 million soldiers and 2 million civilians DIED for that time--the wounded are probably ten times that number. In this regard, there are similarities with the Afghanistan point of view presented in The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB
For myself, while acknowledging that the book does indeed fill a void and there are too few books written by South Vietnamese leaders of any sort, I personally found the book very tedious and disappointing. It still merits four stars, there is no contesting the utility of the detail and the perspective, but not for me.
Books have are more consistent with my own experience, both as a young man in Viet-Nam and as a recovering spy, include:
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
War Without Windows
The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Stemme)
The author slams Robert McNamara for his "lucrative" memoires, presubably referring to both Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century and the DVD The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.
Today we are in Afghanistan and President Obama has fallen prey to the military-industrial complex, which is doing to him what Henry Kissinger did to the American public, killing another 20,000 young men so Richard Nixon could win an election. See The Trial of Henry Kissinger. At Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog, see the Event Report on the Counterinsurgency Conference to understand how nothing has changed in Washington between Viet-Nam and Afghanistan.
The language is a little pedestrian and the book isn't unbiased. It's also a little sad that the poor man considers those 25 years of war equal to a century of living.
Still I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in how a Southern general thought, fought and lived during those years of his war.