Peter Hunt lives in Hong Kong where he was a police officer for 33 years before retiring at the rank of Assistant Commissioner in 2011. He has had a passion about Dien Bien Phu since reading Bernard Fall’s books as an impressionable teenager and can thus claim to have been doing his literary review for my thesis nearly 50 years! He has made six visits to the battlefield including participating in a field ride with members of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. Peter has presented on the topic at conferences in Hanoi, London, Hong Kong and Eugene, Oregon. He holds an MA from King’s College London, a M.Soc.Sci from the University of Hong Kong, and a BA(Hons) from the University of Leeds.
Dien Bien Phu, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, People’s Army of Vietnam, French Indochina War, Veterans’ Interviews
“Determined to Fight Determined to Win” The combat experience of the People’s Army of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu
Although it is over 65 years since Dien Bien Phu the historiography of the battle has remained relatively constant considering the events mainly from the French viewpoint. Now, as more Vietnamese sources become available and, in the spirit of Doi Moi, a more critical analysis is possible, we are better able to focus on the way that Vietnamese actions shaped the battle and how these events impacted on the Geneva Conference that followed.
My thesis critically examines the historiography the Dien Bien Phu and asks whether the interpretation of it as a battle lost by the French, rather than won by the Vietnamese, remains valid. In doing so I evaluate what I describe as "the total war school" epitomised by modern scholars such as Christopher Goscha and Pierre Asselin, who hold that the Vietnamese effort devoted to Dien Bien Phu was only sustainable because of an unprecedented degree of mobilization of resources, both human and material, to a level of "total war," but that this effort so exhausted the DRV that it weakened their negotiating position at Geneva. By making extensive use of the French and Vietnamese archives, Vietnamese secondary sources not previously explored in Western accounts, and personal interviews with 27 Vietnamese veterans of the battle, this analysis will attempt to answer the questions: what was the Vietnamese combat experience at Dien Bien Phu and how sustainable was their effort?
Dr. Peter Busch
Professor Michael Goodman