The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War

John Prados, Author John Wiley & Sons $50 (432p) ISBN 978-0-471-25465-2

Military historian Prados (The Japanese Navy in World War II) uses the notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail both as a focus for his history and as a metaphor for this blow-by-blow account of America's involvement in Vietnam. For the North, the trail was the ""Truong Son Strategic Supply Route""; for Saigon, it was the path over which men and materiel moved to harry the South. And for the U.S., which supported the South after 1954, it was the ""infiltration route"" to the South and lower Laos, itself the ""gateway to Southeast Asia"" in America's Cold War against Communism. Prados draws on a wide array of sources, including formerly secret records of the U.S. government obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, to show how the American effort was unable to choke the flow of armaments, troops and civilians along the 12,000-mile road despite a ""rain of destruction [that] peaked in 1969, when more than 433,000 tons of munitions fell on the land."" Prados also describes the Cold War strategies of U.S. policy wonks like Walt. W. Rostow, JFK's main adviser on Indochina, and espionage services like the CIA. In sections specifically on the history of the Trail, Prados's massing of facts can be rough going. But when he treats the Trail as a microcosm of the war, it does allow for a measure of understanding of two devastating decades in Southeast Asia. (Dec.)
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