Air & Space Power Journal

Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap by Cecil B. Currey. Brassey’s, Inc., 1313 Dolly Madison Boulevard, Suite 401, McLean Virgina 22101, 1997, 432 pages, $25.95.

Fascinating! Victory at Any Cost provides a paradigm shift into viewing the Vietnam War through our enemy’s eyes. Cecil B. Currey has performed a great service by carefully researching and presenting this biography of Vietnam’s leading general, Vo Nguyen Giap. The book argues that Giap was a military genius, successfully formulating winning strategies against three of the world’s major powers. Make no mistake, this book does not deify Giap. He was a totally ruthless individual, responsible for the murders of many fellow countrymen who posed a political threat. Currey spent five years thoroughly researching Giap’s life. He conducted interviews with Giap and several key colleagues. Currey recently retired as a professor of military history, University of South Florida, and from the US Army Reserve with the rank of colonel.

Born in 1911, Giap’s life parallels the rise of the anticolonial movement in Vietnam. A gifted student, Giap acquired a Western education in French-managed schools in Vietnam. Giap avidly studied military history. He could present schematics of Napoléon’s campaigns and major battles from memory. Already a vehement anticolonialist, Giap was introduced to Communist ideology, which he quickly adopted as his own. In the 1930s, while working as a teacher and journalist and covertly as a Communist propagandist, Giap became increasingly radical, advocating the revolutionary overthrow of the French. His value to the Communist movement was recognized in 1940 when he was ordered to seek refuge in Southern China. There he became acquainted with Ho Chi Minh and began plans for the formation of the Communist army. Giap proved to have a genius for organization and logistics, basically forming and equipping an army from the ground up with virtually no resources. One of Giap’s fundamental beliefs was the prerequisite for political indoctrination. He professed only properly politically indoctrinated troops would make the sacrifices necessary to obtain victory.

During World War II, Giap’s forces occasionally cooperated with US forces against the Japanese. Japanese surrender brought the return of French colonial rule and resulted in open hostilities between Communist forces and the French. Giap learned his trade by trial and error, learning from his mistakes. He gradually improved and expanded his forces and his logistical base of support. The harshness of the French rule furthered the Communist agenda by alienating the people.

One of Giap’s defining moments was the planning and execution of the defeat of the French garrison at Dienbienphu in 1954. There Giap used low-tech solutions such as undetectable underwater bridges, hand-carrying thousands of artillery rounds, and using thousands of civilians to dig trenches to within close proximity of French lines to surprise the defenders. Similar tactics would be used later against US forces engaged in Vietnam. Giap was a master of analyzing his opponents, identifying strengths to avoid as well as weaknesses to exploit. He correctly surmised that the American people would tire of the conflict and its continual drain of manpower and wealth. All along, his strategy was to take the long-term view, believing he eventually would be victorious if he simply outlasted his opponents. Giap broke with party lines and opposed the 1968 Tet offensive. He contended they were not ready for large-scale offensive operations. He was overruled by other senior party members and went on to develop the plan for the Tet offensive. The United States proved a tougher adversary than the French because of its massive firepower, modern technology, and greater mobility. Following Tet, Giap once again turned to low-tech solutions, using massive amounts of manpower to repair bomb damage and camouflage and deception to mask operations.

After Communist forces overran the South, Giap’s influence and power waned. In later years, he became more of a figurehead representing the party internationally and at ceremonial functions within Vietnam.

I do not hesitate to recommend Victory at Any Cost to all readers of the Airpower Journal. I totally enjoyed reading the book both because of the engrossing subject matter as well as the author’s writing style. Most importantly, the book conveys a different and yet very enlightening perspective of our involvement in Vietnam.

Lt Col Chris Anderson
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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