Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land
The Vietnam War Revisited

Edited by Andrew Wiest

This book is a compilation of fifteen essays by authors from various walks of life. It covers not only the history of the conflict, but in depth reflections by both sides on what actually occurred during the times of the Vietnamese War. The book begins with a Chronology of the conflicts in Indochina beginning with the conquest of Saigon by French forces in 1861. In 1883 France established a “Protectorate” over Annam and Tonkin and ruled all of Cochin China as a colony. In 1940, the Japanese took over Cochin China and controlled the French administration; the Viet Minh was formed around the same time. After the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, the French came back to Indochina on the assumption they could pick-up where they left off with Indochina as a colony. This assumption led to the First Indochina War.

The French war was backed up logistically by the United States starting in 1950. The French were finally defeated in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. At that time the Indochina conference in Geneva resulted in the splitting up of Viet Nam into the North, controlled by Ho Chi Minh and the Communists, and the South , with the Catholic run government of Bao Dai. The ancient kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia were also established as nations which could not be invaded. In 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem declared the establishment of the Republic of South Vietnam and asked for assistance from the United States to train its military, thus began the involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia.

The fifteen essays in this book begin with an Introduction piece by the editor, Andrew Weist. In this essay he covers the road from decolonization and the desires of the Viet Minh to re-unite the country into a single entity. The French, however, had other ideas and worked to re-assume their colonial control over the entire peninsula. This led to an on-going fight between the Viet Minh and the Paris government. The second essay covers the history of the French Indochina War and the ultimate defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

A member of the Viet Minh wrote the third essay. He covers the feelings that regardless of how long the war would last the Communist regime of Ho Chi Minh would ultimately be successful. His analysis of the regular North Vietnam forces and the Viet Cong soldiers gives an insight into the motivation of these fighters. He also discusses Hanoi’s vision of their strategies and their assessment of the strategies of the Diem government and their US allies.

The next two essays cover the history of the Ho Chi Minh Trail as the main infiltration route into South Viet Nam through Cambodia and the war as it extended into Cambodia and Laos. The next essay was written by a former General of the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam. He is critical of the policies of the US command and the public impressions of the ARVN troops as being cowardly and letting the US troops do all the fighting. He further says that after the United States withdrew its troops from Viet Nam they abandoned the South politically and financially, thereby being directly responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Republic.

A civilian survivor of the war writes essay 7. She outlines the hardships of the population, not only from the actions of the Viet Cong, but also those of the government and the United States forces. She notes that the “Strategic Hamlet” program forced peaceful people from their ancestral lands and into communities where they were considered outsiders. Uprooted families went from an existence of being able to support themselves to an existence of utmost poverty and suspicion.

Essays are included showing the contributions of the Australian and New Zealand forces. Chapters cover the evolution of the tactics of individual units on land and on the rivers of Viet Nam during the course of the war.

The final two chapters cover the impact of the media coverage on public opinion and the increased disillusion of that public opinion on the continuation of United States involvement in that war. Arguments are presented as to whether the media was the prime influence on public opinion or whether the media coverage was influenced by public perception and opinion. The last chapter covers what occurred when the Communists finally took over the South and the speed in which the takeover was accomplished. Attention was given to the crackdowns imposed on the South and its population after the takeover happened, which eventually forced the flow of “boat people” out of the country.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, be he a veteran or just plain reader to read this book. It provides the reader a more comprehensive look on the war rather then just a one sided history of what occurred.

This book is available from Osprey Publications.

This book is available in three different formats and they are;

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