Historical Notes: The War That Might Not Have Been

Outmanned 3 to 1 and heavily outgunned, the 13,000-man French force trapped in the small North Vietnamese valley of Dienbienphu was slowly being decimated by the Viet Minh. The Communists, entrenched in the surrounding hills, kept up such a deadly hail of flak that resupply flights to the defenders were down to a dribble. In those bleak days of April 1954, only one thing could have saved the besieged garrison: American help. That help was denied—and, according to French-born Historian Bernard B. Fall, it was largely because of objections by then Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Had the...

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