Battle for Dien Bien Phu (1986) - Movie Review for History Teachers | Student Handouts
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Battle for Dien Bien Phu (1986) > U.S. History > Decades of Change > Books and Films
Battle for Dien Bien Phu (1986) Documentary Movie Guide and Review Length: 48 minutes

Age appropriateness: This documentary film is not officially rated in the United States. It is appropriate for classroom viewing by high school students.

Creators and stars: Bernard Archard, Hubert de Seguins-Pazzis, Jean-Louis Rondy, Malcolm MacDonald, Peter Batty, Pierre Tourret

Accuracy: Battle for Dien Bien Phu is quite an accurate documentary film. This movie largely relies on historical footage and photographs, interspersed with interviews of survivors and experts. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu took place in French Indochina (Vietnam) on March 13-May 7, 1954, as part of the First Indochina War. It ended in complete defeat for the French forces against the Viet Minh. The simplistic style of this movie, along with its narration, help to make the complex material easy for kids to understand.

Review: Battle for Dien Bien Phu is an excellent resource for teaching students about the events in southeast Asia that preceded American involvement in the Vietnam War. The collapse of the French Empire in Indochina is a topic of which most students are unaware; most history teachers also have little knowledge on the subject.

Battle for Dien Bien Phu opens with a brief overview of the history of French imperialism in Vietnam. The budding independence movement is described, along with the Japanese occupation of World War II. The events leading up to the battle are given in detail.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu is fascinating for both teachers and students. Unlike a lot of battles that students learn about in school, Dien Bien Phu was full of so many tragic blunders that students never have any trouble recognizing and understanding the numerous mistakes that were made. This film highlights each of these errors in planning, strategy, and execution.

I recommend watching this movie (only 48 minutes long) with World History-Global Studies students in order to illustrate how and why France was reluctant to allow for the dismantling of its colonial empire. Students will also gain a lot of information on the politics of the Cold War. The brief glimpses into budding American involvement in Vietnam also serve to provide terrific background knowledge for students who will go on to take a United States History course.

Feel free to use our printable Vietnam War outline with your students.
Review and discussion questions: (1) Why did the French first become interested in Vietnam? (2) Describe events in Vietnam during World War II. (3) What events led to war between the French and the Viet Minh? (4) Why were the French so reluctant to give up their colonial empire? (5) Why did General Navarre want to reoccupy Dien Bien Phu? (6) Describe the Viet Minh's preparations for the battle. (7) Create a chart to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of the French and the Viet Minh. (8) What role did the United States play in Vietnam at this time? (9) Summarize the agreements reached in Geneva. (10) Imagine that you are a French citizen living in Paris, learning about these events through the local media. What might you think of the war raging in Vietnam? Would you be for or against it? Explain your answer.

Vocabulary terms and names: air strip, ammunition, artillery, battle, Christian de Castries, communism, coolies, corpses, deserted, dog tags, Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Indochina War, fortifications, France, French Foreign Legion, French Union, Geneva, Hanoi, Henri-Eugene Navarre, Ho Chi Minh, John Foster Dulles, Laos, nationalism, Paris, Pierre Langlais, premise, Saigon, strongpoint, trenches, valley, Viet Minh, Vietnam, Vo Nguyen Giap, Wei Guoqing
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Battle for Dien Bien Phu Movie Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: June 25, 2012