Max Hastings' massive Vietnam War history and Nathaniel Philbrick's examination of how the American colonies defeated the British Empire mark the heroic beginning and dismal low point of America's primal relationship with France.
The American-French partnership that overcame the British in America's revolutionary war led to disaster nearly 200 years later when the United States took up France's colonial mantle in Vietnam.
Philbrick's "In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown" demonstrates that the United States never would have defeated the British without France's might.
Along with the brilliant military leadership of Lafayette, French ships thwarted the dominant British navy. France's sea power was the main factor in the Americans' victory at Yorktown.
In Hastings' "Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975," the United States and France plunge together into folly and devastating defeat in Vietnam.
Hastings successfully demolishes North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh's heroic stature among some American leftists. Yet the irony cuts deep when Ho cites the American Declaration of Independence in a plea for independence from France.
The U.S. victory over the British in the Revolutionary War yields a few facile parallels to the Vietnamese defeat of France and the United States nearly 200 years later. In the 18th century, the United States was the colonial upstart seeking to cut ties with a global superpower. The United States and France were the superpower aggressors in the Vietnam War.
Like Ho and General Giap's Viet Cong, Washington's ragged army won the war despite suffering devastating losses. With the financial and military aid of France, the continentals outlasted the royal army and navy.
Foreshadowing the Vietnamese strategy with their foes, the Americans drained British resources until the British decided the costs were too high. The Americans' local knowledge and inventive guerrilla tactics matched the Viet Cong's.
But the American colonies were founded by the British, and shared a language and culture, which had divulged from that of the mother country. Vietnam was an Asian country conquered by the French, and invaded by the United States. The cultural and social divide was immense.
Philbrick has a more popular style than Hastings, but they tell opposite sides of the same story. The tragedy of Vietnam marks a decisive turning point in the partnership that began the American experiment. That relationship has frayed further under Trump's political mayhem.
From the beginning, the United States, France and Britain have shared intertwined fates. The survival of America's most cherished values depends upon a renewal of those ties.