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Bernard Fall on Street Without Joy


In the late afternoon of February 21, 1967, the United States infantrymen of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines were conducting the third day of Operation Chinook, a sweep down Route 1 in pursuit of Viet Cong Battalion 800. Bernard Fall was with them, revisiting the road that French soldiers had christened 'la rue sans joie,' a highway already immortalized in his best-known book, Street Without Joy (1961).

Around 4:30, Fall was dictating notes into a tape recorder while he watched the end of a minor skirmish. "We’ve reached one of our phase lines after the fire fight, he said, and it smells bad–meaning it’s a little bit suspicious….Could be an amb–"

He would never finish his sentence, as his foot touched off a Viet Cong landmine, immediately ending the life of the foremost authority on the wars in Vietnam --  a man whose books about the country became must reading for scholars and soldiers alike to this day.

At the time of his death, in February of 1967, Bernard Fall was the leading authority on the French and American wars in Vietnam. He had written seven books and some 200 articles in fourteen years, including his classic account of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Hell in a Very Small Place. Valued for his deep knowledge and acute analysis, he taught journalists, antiwar intellectuals and military officers the political and military realities of Vietnam. No one had more experience with the two wars than he did, or saw them as clearly.


Colin Powell

Colin Powell, Former National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State

"I recently reread Bernard Fall's book on Vietnam, Street Without Joy. Fall makes painfully clear that we had almost no understanding of what we had gotten ourselves into. I cannot help thinking that if President Kennedy or President Johnson had spent a quiet weekend at Camp David reading that perceptive book, they would have returned to the White House Monday morning and immediately started to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from the quicksand of Vietnam."

Lyndon Johnson

Jack Valenti, Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson

"Mr. President, I would like to have you invite Bernard Fall and other historians of Indochina to tell you who are these people. What do we know about them?" And he said, "I think that's a good idea. Go see Bundy." And I went to see McGeorge Bundy who said, "Listen, Jack," he said, "We have our own historians at the Agency, the CIA, and State. And our historians know as much as anybody needs to know about that country." Well, as I left, I said to Mac, "That may be so, Mac, but I haven't seen any of our historians briefing the President on who these people are."

John Kerry.jpg

John Kerry, Secretary of State / U.S. Senator of MA

"It was an interesting time. It was very much the last vestige of the colonial struggle in many ways, which we didn’t understand originally when we went in. More people in the government should have read Graham Greene and Bernard Fall and people, they would’ve had a better sense of what was really going on."

Ted Kennedy

Edward Kennedy,  US Senator from Massachusetts (1962 – 2009)

"...the ultimate transformation of my position on the war was spurred by the critical conversation awaiting me back in the United States.  The figure I spoke with was Bernard Fall, the extraordinary French journalist and historian who’d been writing about Vietnam since his country withdrew as a colonial power…. He applied brilliantly unorthodox measurements to his study of the war. Bernard Fall, sitting in his study and drawing only upon American documents, would contrast what our official sources had told us with what could be inferred from our government’s own statistics.  And thus, he raised the most serious questions I had yet encountered about honesty, truthfulness and candor in war."  Additional quotes

John McCain, US Senator from Arizona (1987-),

Vietnam War POW

“After I came home from Vietnam in 1973, I read everything I could get my hands on about both the French and American wars there, starting with Bernard Fall's ‘Hell in a Very Small Place,’ his classic study of the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu, where French colonial rule effectively ended and Giap's genius first became apparent to an astonished world.”

John McCain
Hillary Clinton

Email: Sidney Blumenthal  | To: Hillary Clinton Date: 11/2009


Counterinsurgency — a much failed strategy? Bernard Fall was one of the most significant theoreticians and practitioner of Counterinsurgency (COIN) in the 20th Century. He was the expert most listened to at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg when LTG William Yarborough commanded the school there in the Kennedy and Johnson eras. Fall defined COIN clearly. He said that: Counterinsurgency = political reform + economic development + counter guerrilla operations This theory of warfare was developed by the colonial powers as a "cure" for the wave on "wars of national liberation" that swept through their overseas possessions after World War Two. 

Street Without Joy
Viet-Nam Witness
The Two Viet-Nams
Ho Chi Minh - On Revolution
Last Reflections on a War



  • 1926 Born, Vienna, Austria, 11/19. Family moves to France after Nazi Germany's annexation

  • 1941 Mother is deported to Auschwitz and killed. 

  • 1941 Father is captured and tortured to death by the Gestapo

  • 1942 -1946 Bernard,15, serves with French Underground & French Army

  • 1946  Awarded French Liberation Medal

  • 1946 -1948 War Crimes Researcher & Chief Counsel at Nuremberg Trials

  • 1948 -1949 Student, University of Paris, France

  • 1949 -1950 Search Officer, International Tracing Service, UN

  • 1949-1950 Student, University of Munich, Germany

  • 1950 Earns Fulbright grant to study in the US

  • 1950-1951 Assistant District Manager, Stars and Stripes

  • 1952 Student, Johns Hopkins University

  • 1952 Earned M.A. Syracuse University

  • 1953-1967 Six trips to Viet-Nam (1953, 1957, 1962, 1965, 1966-67)

  • 1954 Married Dorothy Winer, 2/20

  • 1954-1955 Research Assistant, Cornell University

  • 1955 Ph.D. Syracuse University, Thesis: Viet-Minh Regime: Government and Administration in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam 

  • 1955-1956 Assistant Professor, American University 

  • 1956-1967 Professor of International Relations, Howard University; 

  • 1957 - Traveled to South Vietnam on grant from Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) for study of Communist infiltration in Southeast Asia

  • 1961 - Wrote book: Street Without Joy

  • 1961-62 - Awarded Rockefeller Foundation Grant to travel to Cambodia

  • 1961-62 - Visited Communist North Vietnam. One of the first Westerners to interview Ho Chi Minh

  • 1963 - Wrote book: The Two Viet-Nams: A Political and Military Analysis

  • 1965 - Traveled to Vietnam with American troops

  • 1966 - Wrote book: Hell in a Very Small Place - The Siege of Dien Bien Phu

  • 1966 - Winner of George Polk Journalism Award

  • 1966 - Wrote book: Vietnam Witness

  • 1967- Edited and contributed to: Ho Chi Minh on Revolution

  • 1967 Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

  • 1967 Feb. 21st. Killed by a booby trap on Street Without Joy, N. Vietnam, while accompanying 1st Battalion 9th Marines on Operation Chinook II, on the Street Without Joy, Thừa Thiên Province


1966 - THE NEW YORK TIMES: 'And Still the Vietcong Keep Coming

Memories of a Solider Scholar
Gaymard Book.jpg
The Nation

THE NEW YORK TIMES | February 21, 2017

Bernard Fall: The Man Who Knew the War

The New York Times
John McCain


May 6, 2018

John McCain: By the Book




Word War II



  • Raised and educated in France, Fall was living on the Riviera when the Germans invaded in 1940.

  • His father became a member of the Underground Resistance movement until 1943, when he was captured and tortured to death by the Gestapo.  His wife was deported and killed in the holocaust.

  • Fall fought with the Maquis in Savoy at age 15, then served in a Moroccan infantry division in the final campaigns across Europe. Twice wounded in battle, he was decorated with the Ordre de la Liberation in 1945.

  • ​From January to May 1949, Fall served as a "child search officer" for a temporary United Nations agency in Munich, where he coordinated efforts by American and German authorities to locate "children of allied nationalities kidnapped by Nazi forces during World War II. 

  • Post World War II, Fall worked as a researcher for the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and in 1950 received a Fulbright grant to study in the United States, where he pursued his graduate education at Syracuse University and Johns Hopkins.

  • In 1953, in order to engage in field research for his doctoral dissertation, Viet-Minh Regime: Government and Administration in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1954), Fall traveled to war-torn Indochina. As a former French soldier he was allowed to accompany French forces on combat operations in all sectors of the country.  This became the earliest real study of Ho Chi Minh and his movement and a catalyst for Fall's lifelong interest on the subject.

Bernard and his sister, Lisette in France

Nuremberg Trials

1948 - Fall on right with map he created for Krupp Trials at Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal


With army buddy, Remy Malot, c. 1945

Bfall photo

Carte d'Identite, FFI French Group of the Resistence


Compagnons de France - Vichy Paramilitary Youth Group

Bernard with friend


Researcher and investigator Nuremberg War Crimes

Hermann Goering

Hermann Goering awaiting trial - June 1945

Deceased Nazi


Bernard with his Aunt and Uncle

Paris 1945

Bernard with his sister after the War

Bernard with the Maquis - the French Resistance fighters

Member of the Maquis in Savoy, during the Occupation of France in World War II, age 16

Nuremberg War Trials 1945

Nuremberg War Trials 1945


The Krupp trials at Nuremberg. Bernard Fall, back left


Nuremberg War Trials 1945


Testimony at Nuremberg

IMG_6205 (Edited)

Nuremberg War Trials 1945


Concentration Camps

Bernard & sister, Lisette, after the War


In the years that followed, Fall became the leading expert on the Vietnam War. He was a political scientist, but one who had been a soldier and who spoke the soldier’s language. He obtained his data on the war while slogging through the mud of Vietnam with French colonial troops during the Indochinese War of 1946, and then again with American infantry, and South Vietnamese soldiers in the 1960s. In his seven books and more than 200 articles, Bernard Fall cured the general ignorance about Vietnam and set an imposing standard for the reportage of modern war for all that followed.


On January 21, 1967, Fall was back on the 'Street Without Joy', the main highway between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, as a journalist embedded with U.S. troops. On a patrol near Hué, he was dictating into a tape recorder: "We've reached one of our phase lines after the fire fight and it smells bad—meaning it's a little bit suspicious . . . Could be an amb—"  The recording stopped when Fall stepped on a land mine that killed him and a Marine sergeant.

Last Reflections on a War

The Mills of the Gods

Dorothy Fall, Bernard Fall

Dorothy Fall  discusses her book: "Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar," along with pioneer journalists from the Vietnam War.


Nathaniel Moir 2019 3MT: Bernard Fall and Vietnamese Revolutionary Warfare


On December 14, 1965, two months before his death, ABC Radio and it’s From The Capitol series aired an interview with Dr. Bernard Fall. He was intimately aware of the situation in Indochina since the French involvement in the 1950s and was at first a staunch supporter of our involvement in the Vietnam War. But he grew to become disillusioned over the way the South Vietnamese government was handling their role in the conflict and feared the U.S. would fail in Vietnam the same way the French had a decade earlier.

Bernard Fall - Last recording  on patrol in Vietnam


Click to hear audio

Professor Bernard B. Fall of Howard University discusses the American engagement in North Vietnam being a much more stronger opponent then the French (1960s)

Bernard Fall, Walter Kronkite

U.S Journalist, Walter Cronkite, interviews Bernard B. Fall of Howard University in 1963


Nathaniel Moir, PhD, Bernard Fall Seminar, 3/26/2020, Harvard Kennedy School, Int'l Security Program

Final Years

The FBI opened a file on Fall in 1963 because he was critical of US policies in Vietnam and suspected of engaging in “intelligence activities for the French Intelligence Service.” (Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar by Dorothy Fall).  Besides being dismissive of the “domino theory,” one of Fall’s cardinal sins was his insistence that the first American “illusion” in Viet-Nam was thinking that an insurgency is mainly a military operation, rather than a political problem. The FBI file quotes Fall in one instance as saying that top officials “do not know the kind of war we are in, what our goals are, or what ‘victory’ is.” The FBI called off its investigation in 1965 having discovered nothing of value. (NY Times)


Darling, you will see this only if anything has happened.


I want you to know that I loved you and the children terribly much and was so proud of you.    If I assumed the risks I did in this incredibly stupid and brutal war, I did so because somebody had to be a witness to what was happening.


I hope that those poor blind men who direct America's policies will awaken to the real facts before it is too late. In that case, whatever happened to me will not have happened in vain.


I know that you will be thinking of me as I will think of you - no matter where I will be.

Love, Bernard


December 24, 1966

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