Comparing the French experience at Dien Bien Phu and the American experience with Tet, examine the validity of the idea that "Nobody knows Vietnam like the French."

Asked on by jessew12

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the statement carries some amount of validity.  Yet, I think that the problem here is that the statement presumes that French knowledge and understanding of Vietnam happens post- Dien Bien Phu.  The French obviously did not "know much about Vietnam" before Dien Bien Phu.  Had the French "knew Vietnam," they would not have been surprised at the resourcefulness and brutal efficiency of their adversary.  Had they "known Vietnam," they would have understood the destructive effect of the monsoon on their operations and would have not allowed the airfields to be burned, removing help from the air as an option.  The French did "know" Vietnam after Dien Bien Phu.  The American experience of Tet featured the same amount of surprise and shocking efficiency.  The Americans at Tet were similar to the French at Dien Bien Phu.  Certainly, the turning of public opinion against the war in Vietnam and President Johnson's own acquiescence in refusing to seek another term are realizations that the French experienced in their own light after Dien Bien Phu.  In this, the statement is valid.  Nobody would be able to know Vietnam like the French.  However, the French only got to "know Vietnam" after Dien Bien Phu.  It is after this battle where full knowledge was evident.

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