For readers interested in the origins of America’s involvement in Vietnam, David G. Marr’s VIETNAM 1945: THE QUEST FOR POWER offers a fascinating inside look at a year in which the country almost gained full independence from its former colonial masters, the French. Just how close Ho Chi Minh came then to realize his ambitious plans for a united Democratic Republic of Vietnam is part of Marr’s comprehensive inquiry.
As his well-researched book showcases convincingly, 1945 was a pivotal year for Vietnam. In March, the Japanese had ended their policy of allowing a limited French administration to collaborate with them, only to surrender to the Allies in August. The Japanese collapse left a sudden vacuum of power which various nations and individuals sought to fill. In different chapters, VIETNAM 1945 introduces the reader to the different players competing in a fierce struggle for control over Vietnam. The French are shown negotiating with the Japanese and trying to maintain their colonial hold over the Vietnamese, who react differently to colonial and occupying forces, and increasingly rally around the Communists and Viet Minh. British, Chinese, and American political concerns also shape the struggle over determining the country’s future. Here, Marr’s work with an astounding wealth of archival material really brings to life those bygone days.
Beyond offering an excellent, rich case study, VIETNAM 1945 succeeds also to showcase in a more general sense how history is shaped. As Marr illustrates, those, like Ho Chi Minh, who are ready to grasp quickly at new opportunities, are often able to come within a hair’s breadth of fulfilling their dreams. Those less adept at seizing historical moments, or refusing to gauge correctly a country’s overall sentiment, like the French, may end up losing in the long run.
Sources for Further Study
America. CLXXV, December 14, 1996, p. 27.
Asian Affairs. XXVII, October, 1996, p. 382.
Choice. XXXIII, March, 1996, p. 1192.
Far Eastern Economic Review. CLIX, July 4, 1996, p. 58.
History: Reviews of New Books. XXIV, Spring, 1996, p. 134.
The International History Review. XVIII, November, 1996, p. 964.
The Journal of Asian Studies. LV, May, 1996, p. 520.
Kirkus Reviews. LXIII, April 15, 1996, p. 537.