According to Lam Quang Thi, this image of the ARVN is erroneous.
This book –whose title paraphrases a famous quote from Victor Hugo (“This century had two years!) is devastating in its revelations, arguments, and opinions.
Surprise after surprise is revealed by General Thi. For example, while not glossing over what happened during the infamous battle of Ap Bac (fought on January 2nd, 1963, barely a year before the “Gulf of Tonkin incident”), he argues –convincingly- that the only real fault with ARVN that day was simply bad luck and inexperience, not the fault of the ARVN officers present, as an American advisor claimed. Indeed, he drops a bombshell when he reveals that an US advisor panicked during the battle and could provide no real assistance. Hardly the sort of scenario depicted in the book Once Upon A Distant War which depicts ARVN officers as ignoring US advisors! Furthermore, Thi reveals he planned a highly successful operation into the same location a year later which was a great success for ARVN that avenged their defeat the previous year … but the western media did not give it so much as a glance (nor, for that matter, have books on the Vietnam War either.)
Thi is a candid narrator who admits to his own mistakes, a rare quality for a general, I must say: usually they use memoirs as a means of gilding their images or defending themselves against all comers. Compared to them, Thi’s candor is very refreshing and enjoyable.
His personal story is interesting and reveals something not given much notice by Vietnam War scholars: many, many South Vietnamese were genuinely against Communism. In fact, Thi and several of his friends had briefly joined the Viet Minh after World War Two believing their promises at first … only to discover how they rigged elections on the Soviet Union model and were no better than the French colonialists when it came to corruption. So Thi and his mates went to the devil they knew –France- to fight the devil they did not know. A devil they continued to fight by serving South Vietnam under the bitter end.
Finally, after reading this book, I believe you will come away with two things:
-ARVN was a force to be reckoned with right up to the dark days of the end of South Vietnam.
-America abandoned South Vietnam to its fate without so much as a twinge of consciousness on her part.
I also believe this book is essential reading to those interested in the Vietnam War.