Friday, November 10, 2017

Review of Street Without Joy by Bernard B. Fall

Author:  Bernard B. Fall.
Title:  Street Without Joy:  The French Debacle in Indochina.
Publisher:  Stackpole Books.
Copyright:  1961, 1964, 2005.
Pages:  408.
Price:  $19.95.

Overview & Impressions:
Street Without Joy is a defining book on the French debacle to recolonize Vietnam in the 1950s.  The author was there during the conflict.  After the war, he interviewed North Vietnamese leaders who were confident in winning the second Indochina war with the Americans.  Fall wrote pessimistically about the West ability to learn from Revolutionary War.  Especially, when the political will wasn't there to face a prolonged conflict.  Neither the French nor the Americans learned this lesson  Military might is a poor substitute for political acumen when fighting a counter-insurgency. 

American won two counter-insurgencies in her young history.  One of the Philipines' insurrection and the second was the Pony Wars against the Native Americans of the late 19th century.  Both were bloody, unpopular, and high-handed engagements.  That kind of will-power was needed in Indochina.  The French had the firepower, but lacked the will to fight.  The Vietnamese were spurred on by nationalism and a sense of mission to get rid of the hated Europeans.  America made the mistake in continuing the French fight in South Vietnam without learning from their defeat.  Fall made that clear in this book....

Depressing reading.  On the plus side, it goes quick for military history.  Too bad American policy makers didn't read it before committing lives and treasure to a losing cause. 



  1. An excellent summary of one of my favourite books!

  2. A good companion book is The Last Valley by Martin Windrow which takes full advantage of modern research methods. Also have a look at the Ken Burns Vietnam TV series. Lots about the French in first episode. We also learn that the US did not make a mistake going into Vietnam. The White House knew full well they had little chance of winning but still went ahead.

    1. Fully agree about Last Valley. Looks like you have it on you reading list. I would add Embers of War by Logevall about the history leading up to it all.