Vietnam VII: Dien Bien Phu

Vietnam VII: Dien Bien Phu
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 2:32:04

Finally we’re here, at the end of the French War, at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Some cool show news: we’re registered for the People’s Choice Podcast Awards. Which means I filled out a form at For that process to get any further, you folks need to head to and nominate Safe for Democracy. We’re always looking for ways to get this show in front of a few more earballs, and this would be an excellent way to do that, even if SFD doesn’t end up winning anything.

So along with all the rating, reviewing, subscribing, tweeting, and sharing I know you’ve already been doing, add “going to and nominating SFD in the News and Politics category, because they don’t have history,” to that list.

Maps first of all (and remember that you can click any of this to make them bigger, and you’ll need to do that):

Here’s Dien Bien Phu in geographical context.

Then we’ve got the French and the Vietnamese lines of supply to the valley.

Then we’ve got the layout of the battle itself:

Let’s take a look at some photos.

Here it’s Vo Nguyen Giap, still the C-in-C of the DRVN and still leading his army to victory.

Next we’ve got his opponent-of-the-moment, General Henri Navarre, the French C-in-C in Indochina.

Navarre’s commander-in-the-north, Rene Cogny, on the right-hand side here in this photo, showing off his well-over-six-foot height:

Cogny’s man in Dien Bien Phu, Colonel Christian de Castries:

And then all three together, during 1953:

Then we’ve got de Castries’ best man in the valley, Pierre Langlais, head of the GAP 2, the Second Airborne Group, a man who will come to great prominence:

Under him, and the last in this list, Major Marcel Bigeard, whose name is pronounced Bee-zhard, and which I’ve been saying, until this episode, Big-eer’d. He’s the head of the 6th BPC, the Sixth Colonial Parachute Battalion, and will likewise become very important in the next show, here wearing more medals than he can fit on his uniform:

Then, like the last few times, we’ve got the audio credits, in video form:


Bayart, Jean-Francois. “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion.” African Affairs, 2000, 217-267.

Duncan, David Douglass. “The Year of the Snake: A time of fear and worry comes over warring Indochina.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Editorial. “Indochina, France and the U.S.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York; Viking Press, 2002.

Fall, Bernard. Hell in a Very Small Place. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966.

Fall, Bernard. Last Reflections on a War. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Fall, Bernard. Street without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1961.

Fall, Bernard. The Two Viet Nams: A Political and Military Analysis. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963.

Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Hickey, Gerald Cannon. A Village in Vietnam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964.

Huntington, Samuel. “The Bases of Accommodation.” Foreign Affairs, 1968.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. New York: Random House, 1968.

Lacouture, Jean. Vietnam: Between Two Truces. New York: Random House, 1966.

Logevall, Frederick. Embers of WarThe Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2012.

Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945-1975. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Mus, Paul and McAlister, John T. The Vietnamese and Their Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Moore, Harold G., and Galloway, Joseph L. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. New York: Random House, 1992.

Niehbuhr, Rienhold. The Irony of American History. Chicago: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1988.

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