Monday, June 06, 2005

The Last Valley

It was lost before it started. And yet it was not, strictly speaking, a military defeat. As Martin Windrow pointed out in his wonderful history of Dien Bien Phu, The Last Valley, of the three Chinese Communist challenges to the West in the immediate postwar period, the other two being the Malayan Emergency and North Korea's invasion of the South, only the French were unambiguously driven from the field. And yet

If France herself had not been overwhelmed by a sense of hopeless catastrophe, Dien Bien Phu could easily have proved a Pyrrhic victory for General Vo Nguyen Giap ... who lost something between a third and a half of his infantry on its ghastly slopes.

The instrument of the French garrison's destruction in the valley of the Noum Yam was the unprecedented creation by Vo Nguyen Giap of a powerful conventional army of 111 regular infantry battalions (in 1954) from his earlier guerilla force of which 50 would be ranged against the fortress commanded Colonel Christian de Castries. It was made possible by two things: the victory of Mao Tse Tung in China across the border from Vietnam and the opening of a direct supply route between Mao's forces and Ho Chi Minh's Free Zones of the Viet Bac. The French had interposed a semi-mobile force of a few battalions along the China-Vietnam border along Route Coloniale 4 or RC4 (which though grandly named was really a logging road built along a river) to keep the two apart. A less ambitious commander than Giap would have remained within the familiar confines of guerilla operations; but the ex-schoolteacher with a passion for military history was determined to have a regular army with which to drive the hated French into the sea. From 1949 onward he sent his new formations, trained and equipped in China, against the RC4 line until in 1950 the French were obliged to cede him an undisturbed route into China. The French withdrew their forces to the Red River Delta leaving Giap undisturbed to build up his conventional force.

By 1953, Giap's infantry units actually had a higher proportion of automatic weapons than the French. Three soldiers in ten, for example, had the Chinese Type 50 submachineguns. But not only had the People's Army achieved parity in infantry weapons, they actually deployed more mortars, recoiless rifles and antitank weapons than their equivalent French formations. The only real superiority left the French were in artillery, airpower, signals and tactical experience. But Giap had other advantages: he was free to swell his ranks with what amounted to a levee en masse from populations under his control, while French politicians had forbidden its army from using conscripts in Indochina and so starved it of money that until US military assistance provided it with modern weapons many French infantrymen were armed with bolt-action relics of the First World War. It was an army which, not to put too fine a point on it, consisted of the starvelings of Europe -- when it consisted of Europeans. A French private in Indochina then earned enough to buy a softdrink or three quarters of a bottle of the cheapest beer available per day. That he was not always French is driven home in Windrow's account and underlined by the photographs in the book. Even the most elite French parachute formations had large Vietnamese components. An ethnic breakdown of the garrison at Dien Bien Phu illustrates this.

French mainland 18.6%
Foreign legion 26.0%
North African 17.5%
West African 1.6%
Vietnamese 36.3%

The French high command's decision to garrison Dien Bien Phu was described by a US Army analyst as a violation of "nearly all of the principles of war at every level of war-- strategic, operational, and tactical", yet to a degree it made some sense. By choosing to build a fort in a remote mountain location near the Laotian border the French were choosing a battlefield that was as equally distant from the Viet Minh's own base of operations as it was from theirs. They were in effect inviting Giap to send forward his modern, conventional divisions -- with the logistical tail they required -- to square off in the middle of nowhere. To their amazement, Giap accepted. What the French had not understood was that Giap had imbibed the entire corpus of European military knowledge and had mastered logistics in his own way. In order to give his regular formations mobility, Giap had created a huge corps of porters trained to march standard distances with known loads. He would need them. It was with extreme reluctance that Giap's political masters approved his plan to risk the People's Army in a winner-take-all slugfest.

Even to bring his army to the battlefield would involve marching them -- and dragging their artillery -- at least 300 miles through hills from the Viet Bac and the South Delta base areas; and Giap's supply lines from the Chinese frontier would eventually extend over 500 miles, along a network of rudimentary roads which in many places still had to be excavated from the jungle ... the Viet Minh would have to assemble and carry over that distance every piece of equipment, every bullet, every bowl of rice for an army of perhaps 50,000 men; and they would have to keep these vulnerable lines of communication open to supply that army, in a mountain wilderness, during a major positional battle which might last for weeks.

Although it may be plausibly argued that the fate of Dien Bien Phu had been strategically sealed by the loss of RC4, in tactical terms it was decisively lost at the logistical race between the French, with their single airfield supplying 16 battalions and Giap, with his 100,000 porters desperately sustaining 50 battalions. Giap got there 'firstest with the mostest'. Until the storm broke on Dien Bien Phu on March 13, 1954 the French high command refused to accept the possibility that Giap had concentrated five divisions: 304 'Nam Dinh', 304 'Viet Bac', 312 'Ben Tre', 316 'Bien Hoa' and heavy division 351 with 24 x 105 mm and 18 x 75 mm field guns, numerous mortars, recoiless rifles and anti-aircraft weapons in the hills around the depression in which the French fortress sat like an inviting target. Windrow's description of Giap's initial assault is a tour de force. French commanders thought at first that a thunderstorm had broken out in the hills to east of their position. It was the first of thousands of shells that would rain down on the mud fortification that first night. The US 105 mm howitzer, with which Giap was supplied by the Chinese, ripped sandbagged strongpoints of the French to pieces and closed the camp runway, its only connection to the world. Of those it struck "the spinal column -- surprisingly resilient -- often survives, after a shell has fallen among a group of men, counting the remaining spines" was how the French knew how many had died. Then Giap sent his human waves against the loneliest and most exposed positions of the Dien Bien Phu.

In hindsight, the French could even then have turned the tide if the fortresses' commanders had kept their heads. But confusion, abetted by a lucky shell hit which killed de Castries' sector commander, prevented the garrison from launching a counterattack. The key northeastern hill positions fell in a night; the French artillery commander killed himself in despair; de Castries radioed Hanoi to say it would all be over in a couple of days. De Castries subordinate infantry commanders decided to take matters into their own hands. Realizing that unless the the eastern positions were held the main camp would be overlooked with direct fire weapons and anti-aircraft guns, senior para commander LTC Pierre Langlais told de Castries to clear his broken staff out and put him in charge. It was then that Dien Bien Phu became an epic of endurance.

I will not relate how Langlais and his Parachute and Legion mafia managed to hold off Giap's men until that stolid general was almost reduced to despair. Buy or borrow Windrow's book to read that. But Dien Bien Phu was not to fall in two or three days, as de Castries predicted, but go for 55 days and force Giap to declare a national emergency in the Viet Bac, which required sending every available replacement to the front. The key to Langlais' success was his realization that the Viet Minh, in digging in their artillery pieces to camouflage them and protect them from counterbattery, had limited their traverse and coordination. By counterattacking Langlais took the fight outside of the Viet Minhs pre-registered fields of fire onto a dynamic battlefield where French artillery had the comparative advantage. He pleaded with Hanoi to send him reinforcements for the punch to drive the enemy off the hills. There were few because Hanoi, in its infinite wisdom had scheduled Operation Atlante to improve security in the Red River delta to run concurrently with scheduled battle for Dien Bien Phu. Still, volunteers were permitted to jump into the beleaguered fortress, with or without parachute training. One of the most striking descriptive passages is when Langlais orders fuel drums lit to guide them in and dark sky above him crackles with snap of opening T-7 parachutes, some men making the first jump in their lives.

Time and again Giap sent his regiments against the eastern hills -- the Elianes -- and just as often Langlais would retake them, but without the strength to hold.  Survivors, recalling these attacks and counterattacks, would relate how the French units would approach the hills singing their regimental marching songs, though the Vietnamese among them, uncomfortable with these Germanic cadences, would break into the Marsellaise. Ninety one percent of the Vietnamese soldiers of France captured at Dien Bien Phu would be killed in Viet Minh prison camps.

Perhaps those men were climbing their own hill toward some summit of personal loyalty and pride, a place beyond any power of human government to cheapen or betray. Just a few months later the French would hastily embark the remnants of their colonial empire at shipping in Haiphong. Of the men, only their song remains.

We are bright sparks
Low life of an extraordinary kind
Who are sometime somewhat regretful
Of fever and fire and of Death who we never forget
Though it may forget us for a little while.
-- verses loosely adapted from Le Boudin

It's worth the read.


Blogger miklos rosza said...

Bui Diem's book "In the Jaws of History" is an interesting story of someone who was at one time a student of Giap's, how he became disillusioned, later to become a diplomat under Thieu.

But the history of Dien Bien Phieu is gripping stuff, no matter the outcome.

Incidentally, an US member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an admiral whose name I do not recall, allegedly offered the French a nuclear bomb when it became obvious they were going to be defeated on the battlefield. President Eisenhower consulted with Anthony Eden, who was utterly opposed to such use, and there the proposal died.

This is what recall without looking at anything.

6/06/2005 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

One of the great myths of the Vietnam War was that a group of devoted Vietnamese patriots armed with nothing more than black pajamas and AK's defeated the mighty U.S.
The reality was that the local insurgents essentially were wiped out and South Vietnam fell to a massive conventional invasion that employed more military vehicles than did the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. The invading forces were not utterly wiped out only because of their fifth column in the U.S. and a failed peace treaty.
The history of the fall of Dien Bien Phieu shows that it was a case of history repeating itself.
By the way, the U.S. was unable to replace the losses the French suffered in their favorite ground attack aircraft, the P-63 - we had sent almost all of the production run to the USSR.

6/06/2005 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The French did not have the logistical capacity to maintain the outpost they had created. They choose a poor tactical location for the encampment and had poor leadership in the early days of the battle. I always have found it interesting that the French artillery officer choose suicide rather then the fight. I have thought that to be indicitive of the French mentality since first reading the story as a teenager, during the Marine battle at Khe San.
There are many similarities between the two battles, as well as signifigent differences. I do not think any Marines comitted suicide when things looked bleak and the going got tough.
Giap could not pull a rabbit out of his hat, twice.

6/06/2005 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Dien Bien Phu was preshadowed by the 2d Division's fight in Korea in May, 1952. The Chinese used similar tactics, but lost. The conduct of the US/ROK forces in developing the situation then dealing with it can be contrasted to that of the FFL at Dien Bien Phu. A similar determined effort by the French would have similarly succeeded.

"In the twenty day period proceeding the conclusion of the final attack the Indianhead Division had killed more than 65,000 enemy soldiers, the cream of the armies of Red China. Ten enemy divisions had been committed against the 2d Division with soldiers from an additional 2 communist divisions identified among the thousands of dead who littered the battle-field. It was a major defeat for the Chinese and North Korean forces. Their ranks were decimated, entire divisions rendered useless. They had flung themselves in an all-out attempt to annihilate the 2d Division and had failed under the merciless pounding of hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery, tons of bombs and millions of around of small arms ammunition thrown at them by the determined, steadfast and victorious men of the 2d Infantry Division."

6/06/2005 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

red rivers link to the 2nd ID story proves Napoleons point about artillery. To achieve success against the Chicoms the tubes most have glowed red from use. Tens of thousands of rounds flew down range from the 2nd's 300 guns and that stemmed the Chicom tide.
The French in Indochina never had that kind of capacity.

6/06/2005 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger WichitaBoy said...

The paramount fact about France is that the French lost the will to live in the Great War. Everything else, the entire history since 1918, is consequential.

6/06/2005 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

I read somewhere that the toughest of the French troops weren't French at all, but former Waffen SS that enlisted in the Legion after WW2 to continue fighting against communism.

I guess once you've been through the battle of Berlin, a siege in Vietnam would seem such a minor ruckus in comparison.

6/06/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

I read a book authored by a German that serve in the Foriegn Legion in Indochina. As I recall a lot of the junior officers and NCOs were WWII vets of the Russian Front.
I read this 30 years ago or so, when my interest in 'Nam was on a more personal level. I was coming of draft age and wanted to know as much about what was happening there, and why.

6/06/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

I have always avoided books purporting to show the cause of our retreat from Vietnam. It seemed so out of character, anomalous, that I didn't trust anyone who tried to explain it. Those in charge seemed too defensive, those connected to the MSM, academia, etc., had their animus hanging out like an extra limb.

As a child, I read the news stories starting to come out then about North Vietnamese Catholics finding their way south after having been tortured in various ways*. It was shattering to discover such inhumanity -- it's been downhill from there, unfortunately.

Just as we will have to wait another generation for the post-mortem of the current conflict, it is only now that we are beginning to hone in on the antecedent causes for the Vietnam of the main causes seems to have been the perfidious French, in some way or other.

Could/would Wretchard or one of you recommend a book or several on Vietnam from the WWII era to the time when our first "advisors" arrived on the scene? Especially one which looks at the actors in the scene: their character, foibles, motive, etc.


* I guess the moral is, don't let your little kids have Reader's Digest -- never can tell where you'll find the chopsticks-thru-the-eardrums stories.

6/06/2005 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger MW said...

How does Windrow's book stack up against Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place? Also, what do Wretchard and the other posters think of Fall's other books, like The Two Vietnams and Street Without Joy? Fall, by the way, was killed in (I think) 1967 by a landmine while accompanying U.S. troops on a mision in Vietnam. His last book was the posthumous Last Reflections on a War

6/06/2005 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Windrow became "hooked" on Dien Bien Phu because of Fall's book. It essentially complements Bernard Fall's work. Last Valley is a massive scholarly work which reads like a novel, but the footnotes and tables are there if you like.

A note re the "Waffen SS". Windrow says that generation largely passed through the Foreign Legion between 1945 and 1950. By 1954 the ranks had few Germans veterans of WW2. However, many of the senior NCOs were.

6/06/2005 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

If France herself had not been overwhelmed by a sense of hopeless catastrophe, Dien Bien Phu could easily have proved a Pyrrhic victory for General Vo Nguyen Giap ... who lost something between a third and a half of his infantry on its ghastly slopes.

The Vietnamese among them, uncomfortable with these Germanic cadences, would break into the Marsellaise
Very odd bunch of coincidences today, so many I cannot relate them all in one post.
I break into songs frequently these days, just because they appear, and also because they so effectively bother or amuse my wife.
(probable medical cause is early onset senility)
So yesterday, I broke into "The Halls of Montezuma."
My wife knew the words as well as I, which is unusual for most of my eccentric collection of recollections, but neither of us really recall where, specifically, we might have picked it up.
Most likely answer I think, is that it was performed most everywhere.

Don't think too many today will be remembering memorable war tunes, except for those who serve.
Closest I could come up with is "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," but as events outlined below show, it's performances over a period of years has been, shall we say, "severely curtailed."
At least the French had the excuse of Decades of Unfathomable losses:
What do we have, Decades of Unfathomable Decadence?
On March 24, 2001, Keith's father, H.K. Covel, was killed in a traffic accident in Oklahoma. Covel's truck was sideswiped by another vehicle, which caused his truck to swerve into another lane, where it collided with a charter bus.
Within six months, the events of 9/11 prompted Keith to write "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," a song about his father's patriotism that pulled no punches. As the lead single from the 2002 album Unleashed, the song peaked at No. 1 over the Independence Day weekend.

Keith had been invited to sing the hit during an ABC special hosted by Peter Jennings, but the offer was rescinded because the song didn't fit the format of the show, according to Jennings.
Keith's fans were in an uproar. Shortly after that, the Dixie Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines told a Los Angeles newspaper that she considered the song "ignorant" and that "anybody could write 'boot in your ass,'" a memorable lyric from that song
Both events made headlines around the country, and Keith found himself on several news programs, which introduced him to a more mainstream audience.

Nominated for numerous awards, Keith opened the 2003 ACM ceremony with Nelson, singing "Beer for My Horses." Later, toward the end of the telecast, the Dixie Chicks were beamed in from an Austin, Texas, performance, with Maines wearing a T-shirt with the letters "F.U.T.K." When Keith was absent when his name was called for entertainer of the year, many figured he'd left in anger.
But he later remarked that he was on the bus writing a song with Nelson. Later in the year, he was nominated for seven CMA awards, but again, won none.

Keith released the album Shock 'n Y'all in 2003, and it debuted at No. 1. A year later, he offered Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, although none of the songs on Shock 'n Y'all -- including "American Soldier" and "I Love This Bar" -- appeared on that collection.
. _____Toby Keith Bio_____

6/06/2005 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The paramount fact about France is that the French lost the will to live in the Great War. Everything else, the entire history since 1918, is consequential.
What date shall we choose for the left, the MSM, the Churchs, the Teachers Unions, and etc?

6/06/2005 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The myth of the "Black Pajamas" is a testimony to the power of the media. There's a famous picture of a Bo Doi waving a flag over Castrie's headquarters which a posed echo of the Red Army's flag waving over Berlin. There are the famous shots of the NVA tanks rolling down the Saigon streets in 1975. The public sees the photos with their eyes but never "sees" this in their mind. It will always be Black Pajamas; that is the power of myth.

Already, we are calling the enemy "insurgents" and "militants" in the War on Terror. The Black Pajamas live again.

6/06/2005 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Well what would/ should we call them? A large number of the Opfor in Iraq are Iraqi and they are not pacifists. That would make them 'militant insurgents'. Granted the suicide bombers are not Iraqi and are there for not 'Insurgents'. There are many US enemies in the World, not all of them are Iraqi. Who are they and what should we call the enemy if not the ever popular terms. Are they all opponents in the WoT or are only the Islamists in that category? I ask this in seriousness. Last year I thought I knew the answer, but now US global policies seem more muddled. It may just be my vision but if I cannot see it, others cannot either.
I fear this lack of focus will keep us from Victory.
We are losing the knowledge and information battles and that is why the power of myth is so potent

6/06/2005 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Lie of the Day:
"My personal political views have nothing to do with Amnesty's position," claimed William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, regarding the "gulag" comment.
. I think we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners," said Sen. Joe Biden Jr., D-Del.
The allegations of mistreatment of inmates at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad, Iraq -- along with last week's Pentagon report of five instances where Guantanamo guards desecrated the Quran -- have "become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position."

Biden said the Judiciary Committee was expected to hold hearings in the next couple of weeks on his proposal to set up an independent commission to examine Guantanamo and other prisons housing terrorism suspects.

"But the bottom line," he said, "is I think more Americans are in jeopardy as a consequence of the perception that exists worldwide with its existence than if there were no Gitmo."
. Gitmo Grovel: Enough Already .
The self-flagellation over reports of abuse at Guantanamo Bay has turned into a full-scale panic. There are calls for the United States, with all this worldwide publicity, to simply shut the place down.
A terrible idea. One does not run and hide simply because allegations have been made. If the charges are unverified, as they overwhelmingly are in this case, then they need to be challenged. The United States ought to say what it has and has not done, and not simply surrender to rumor.

Moreover, shutting down Guantanamo will solve nothing. We will capture more terrorists, and we will have to interrogate them, if not at Guantanamo then somewhere else. There will then be reports from that somewhere else that will precisely mirror the charges coming out of Guantanamo. What will we do then? Keep shutting down one detention center after another?
The self-flagellation has gone far enough.
...We should get over it, stop whimpering and start defending ourselves.

6/06/2005 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Soundbite of the week -
"The explosion didn't change who I am. I want to continue to serve. It's just part of really is a privilege to me."
-- Major Tammy Duckworth, an Army Aviator who lost two legs and severely wounded her arm.

6/06/2005 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Desert Rat Said:

"red rivers link to the 2nd ID story proves Napoleons point about artillery"

The 2d ID and the Eighth Army prepared the battlefield in response to intel by massing over 300 tubes across a small front. They also prepared the fixed fighting positions and prepared fall back positions and ensured the frontline troops had ammo. Numerous local counterattacks and constant manuever by infantry and arty combined with the arty to win the battle. It was not a sure thing.

The French had the same opportunity. They had the means to gather intel and react to it. But they did not. They did have good arty, but did not bring in more nor did they build the battle around it.

Desert Rat Said

"The French did not have the logistical capacity to maintain the outpost they had created. They choose a poor tactical location for the encampment and had poor leadership in the early days of the battle."

The NVA had much greater difficulties with resupply and were much more vulnerable to disruption in the early stages.

The initial French plan was a good one and could have destroyed the NVA in totality had the French been committed to the battle. One key is the terrain that the NVA HAD to use, which made their arty useless across much of the battlefield. Another key was the human resupply chain which a blocking force supplied by arty could totally disrupt. A third was the fact that the NVA were on the hills which lacked water.

The NVA made many rookie mistakes and barely won in the end as they had to commit everything.

In wargames, with committed FFL resources, the NVA lose. The French did not want to win.

6/06/2005 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The Arty officer blew his brains out when his bravado did not meet the reality of the situation. Their ability to resupply the base at Dien Bien Phieu was never their strong suit. Their airlift capacity could never get the tons of ammo to the fight that would have been required to beat the NVA.
War Games often have different outcomes than history. It is the quality of the people as much as the roll of the dice that determines the outcome in combat.
Grit, determination and will have a larger impact than many people would like to admit.
I would not argue the French had a "will to win". They were surrender monkeys, even then.

6/06/2005 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The 2nd ID story is important in another aspect. The Chicoms were willing to commit, what, over 150,000 troops to the battle to loose 65,000 KIA in 20 days. That would have been a meat grinder that makes D-day look tame in comparison. No wonder my father never talks much about it.
Today we seemed shocked that 80 troops were lost last month, in Iraq. What a difference in attitude.

6/06/2005 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The French tried to push out battalion-sized combat patrols but by the Christmas, 1953 found they could no longer go more than a few clicks from the wire. The Viet Minh had dug a ring of investing fortifications around them. The French artillery were in open gunpits, for all azimuth fire, whereas the Viet Minh weapons were essentially casemated into caves firing out of a slit. Because the French strongpoints were fixed, they did not need to shift their fires to hit them or massacre the French artillery crews. But when Langlais began counterattacking, this defect cost Giap dearly. The all-azimuth pits clobbered Giaps men in fluid tactical situations. In the end, the French guns were silenced by ammunition starvation. Logistics, or the lack thereof especially after the airfield was closed, killed their artillery arm.

The classic riposte to Giap would have been to counter-invest the beseiging force by attacking his lines of communication. But the French needed all their mobility assets to supply Dien Bien Phu. They lost mobility by being pinned down to hold the fortress. If you consider Khe Sanh, the anti-Dien Bien Phu, the US had firebases external to Khe Sanh at Camp Caroll and the Rockpile (I think) plus a huge reserve of mobile firepower in the form of tactical air and they used this to beat the NVA over the head. It was counterinvestment. In the end, Giap slunk away without ever being able to mount a proper assault, despite being there for months, while paying a huge casualty bill for sitting and taking the Arc Light strikes day in and day out.

6/06/2005 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"No wonder my father never talks much about it.
What were our losses in those 20 days?

6/06/2005 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The US, at Khe Sanh were able to resupply the Marines with tons of ammo. Even after the air strip was closed the US Airforce was able to deliver the goods.
I have never heard or read of a Marine shooting himself in the brain when the enemy zeroed in on his position. The men of the 2nd ID did not dispair of being outnumbered, as rr stated they hunkered down, moved, retreated and advanced as the situation demanded. They had a will to win, and they did.

6/06/2005 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Our casualties are not in the story, but they could not have come close to the Chicom numbers.

6/06/2005 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The French artillery commander, Colonel Piroth, killed himself in shame shortly after the opening assault. He had assured the garrison that his artillery would silence any pieces Giap dared deploy had within a few hours of their opening fire. By ballistic analysis, Piroth had come to the (correct) conclusion that Giap needed to emplace his tubes on the forward slopes of the surrounding mountains. But for reasons known only to Piroth, he assumed Giap would position them in more or less open view where they could be spotted by his Fiesler Storch (redesignated Moranes) light aircraft. But Giap did the un-European thing. He practically buried his guns into the mountains, moving them by night and engaged Piroth's gunners who were in completely visible open pits.

One of the pathetic scenes Windrow describes is how the French artillery spotters would get into these Fiesler Storchs, with maps fluttering in the wind, grease pencils in hand and hung about with several kinds of radios, and a supply of smoke grenades which they would pitch out by hand at whatever they wanted to mark. Until the very end, the French had no real maps of the area. What they had was aerial photos which they divided into grids, constructing their maps as they went along, though in the event, they never finished. Piroth had provided the fatal assurance on the basis of unsupported assumptions. He knew he had killed the garrison for underestimating his enemy and overestimating his capability.

6/06/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

BTW, the problem with using aerial photos in the raw is that they are vertical views, without obvious contour info. In the photos in Windrow's book, you can see Langlais poring over aerial photos with a stereoscopic viewer to get a topographic sense of the grounds. When you consider the kind of handicap he was working under, its a wonder he and his parachute and legion buddies didn't go out and shoot their high command in sheer disgust. In the case of Piroth, he saved them the trouble. Years later, in Algeria, after the French army actually won the battlefield but were ordered to surrender nevertheless to the enemy, it sparked a mini-rebelion. (An incident immortalized in the Day of the Jackal). But that is another story.

6/06/2005 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

" Years later, in Algeria, after the French army actually won the battlefield but were ordered to surrender nevertheless to the enemy,"
Nominations are now open for closest equivalent in the present war.
Two that come to mind had they had any IMMEDIATE forceful effect, are the declarations of Quagmire in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

I forget the number of days, hours and minutes in, in each case.

Soon they will equip journalists w/ atomic clocks so we can pick an accurate winner.

6/06/2005 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Colonel Piroth took the French way out. If he had had some courage he would have stood by his men and helped with the defense. Instead he abandoned his men, his post and what ever honor he had left. The ultimate desertion in the face of the enemy, if he wasn't already dead he would have been hung, not for being wrong about the tactical sitiation but for cowardice.
Whine drinking surrender monkeys.

6/06/2005 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger niall said...

On the matter of the maps, I recall Fall noting one or two incidents toward the end where the air-dropped satchel of aerial maps, including the nicely marked positions of all the French forces, ended up in enemy hands. Insult upon injury and all that ...

6/06/2005 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Seriously, one of Last Valley's goals was to describe the mental landscape of the French Army in the immediate postwar years. The first question for many who had escaped German imprisonment, evaded to England, fought in the Free French only to be embroiled in the post-1945 power struggles, was what in France was not prepared to betray them. In 1954 there were many who regarded those who fought in the Free French as traitors. Yet many kept faith in an ideal, almost abstract France, like the brilliant Colonel Bigeard, who survived the Viet Minh POW camp to lead a para brigade in Algeria, only to be betrayed, in some sense, yet again.

Viewed against this background, it is easy to understand much of the modern French distaste for military action. Imagine -- imagine -- if you had to go into combat under the command of Chirac and Dominique de Villepin. Better that you should not, not if you had the choice.

6/06/2005 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

After sixty years of military defeats and politcal ineptitude the French are still on a roll. They cannot even win in the Political realm of the EU. They dislike the Anglo-American culture because they cannot best it, and deep inside themselves they know it to be true.
Perpetual losers, no wonder JFKerry wanted to emulate them.

6/06/2005 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger hamint said...

dymphna: For your purposes, you should borrow or buy Phillip B. Davidson's Vietnam At War (1988). The book serves as a bona fide attempt at objective, in-depth history with respect to the French War, dating back to WWII. Since the author was a senior intelligence officer under Westmoreland during Tet, the book's treatment is also part primary source material. But, since Davidson, a former West Point history professor, presents extensive amounts of stuff from Politburo material as well as nearly everybody else's published primary material (thru the late '80s), his nearly as extensive discussion of the American war ('til 1973) and the South Vietnamese war ('til 1975) provides an excellent early effort at objective history of those later conflicts.

Now, would someone give me the name of a good history on the Korean War.

6/06/2005 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

red river said, "The initial French plan was a good one and could have destroyed the NVA in totality had the French been committed to the battle".

"Committed to the battle". In retrospect that phrase could be aptly applied to the U.S. failures in Korea, Viet Nam, Somalia, and maybe even now it might be partially directed toward our situation in Iraq.

Not to put too fine a line on it, but when we wage war with one or more hands tied behind our backs, the results are not very satisfactory.

IMHO the ultimate blame for each of these military misadventures (and Iraq,too, if it eventually joins that roster) lies with pentagon staff so enamored of their "positions" and "careers" that they sign off on waging less than total war knowing the cost in lives, time, munitions, and everything, will be much higher because we've limited our troops with restrictive 'rules of engagement'.

An additional crime our 'disloyal opposition' legislative members commit is to in mid-operation bring pressure on the adminstration to renege on our government's committment to the battle. For their part in encouraging this the MSM are doomed to eventual irrelevance.

6/06/2005 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger mac said...


You're dead on with your last comment. The French military has been sold out in every fight they've undertaken since World War I. The West is still paying for not pushing Suez through to a victorious conclusion, although the majority of the blame for that falls on Eisenhower and Gaitskell rather than on Guy Mollet.

That said, when Maurice Challe was later all set to finish off the FLN and give France an unequivocal military victory in Algeria, even one of their own, their sainted DeGaulle, turned politician and swiped defeat from the jaws of victory. I think the French military learned from this last betrayal what the American military learned from Vietnam, which is that you don't go to fight without making absolutely certain the country is behind you.

Since the French people haven't seen anything worth fighting for since World War II, the French military, after Algeria, has been unwilling to get involved in anything large or extended because they know their support back home is extremely tenuous. It was a bitter lesson for guys like Massu and Bigeard to absorb but, being the smart warriors they were, they learned that lesson well and passed it on to their successors. Lord knows they paid enough in blood for the tuition.

6/06/2005 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

One day someone may write a panoramic account of the entire Cold War, a titanic struggle which in geographic scope and duration completely dwarfed the Second World War. Long before the Nokors crossed into the South, the US was already engaged in battle with Communist Guerillas in the south. Brits fought in Indonesia, Malaya, Africa, the Gulf as did Australians in Indonesia and Malaya. In battlefields long forgotten. But no nation was more extensively engaged than America. From Korea and Vietnam, to stil secret confrontatons beneath the seas and in the air, in the dark alleys of Berlin or Turkey, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, Americans grappled with their nations enemy for over fifty years.

And the amazing thing was that bravery and devotion were not enough. For they were wrestling with a ghost, and if Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul had not come along to lay that specter to rest it might all have been for nought. May still be for nought, because the lesson the GWOT teaches is that while American metal may prevail, unless a Reagan or a Thatcher can give that physical victory voice, the enemy will patiently endure, infest in the dark.

6/06/2005 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger mac said...


Try these two for good histories of Korea: T.R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War" and Clay Blair's "The Forgotten War." I think you'll enjoy them.

6/06/2005 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


If I were a Brit, I'd be "gobsmacked" by your comments, but since I'm just an American, I haven't got the right word for your ongoing dissertation.

Just to throw in a comment -

"If you consider Khe Sanh, the anti-Dien Bien Phu,"

If you compare the NYT's "New Ho Chi Minh Trail" and confirmation of "Gulag" to this war - why hasn't the enemy been able to amount a siege equal to what we sustained at Khe Sanh?

The idea that today's enemy could do such a thing is Laughable, right?

So why are we comparing this world war to Vietnam?

6/06/2005 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Are you Serious?
Everything is Vietnam.
Unless Bill or Hill are CIC.

6/06/2005 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The other thing you apparently ignore, Tony is that the whole "Communist Menace" was a figment of the right wing Military Industrial Extremists, tm, in order to fatten their wallets and those of their buddies.
I guess W's ravings are just meant to try to rewrite history as if this were not so.

6/06/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Think of the stirring speeches calling on poetry and literature Dominique de Villepin could produce.
Would put Churchill to shame.
And calling for honorable surrender instead of dishonorable victory at the same time.

6/06/2005 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

The thought occurs to wonder if the "W" in George W. Bush stands for "Wretchard".

6/06/2005 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Don't give that nosy guy any clues.

6/06/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Wretchard said,
"a titanic struggle which in geographic scope and duration completely dwarfed the Second World War."
Think it was Ledeen that pointed out that the WOT has already gone on longer than the time between Pearl and Hiroshima.
...he thinks his "Faster Please" is being ignored at this point.
(or was it VDH?)
Mac said,
"I think the French military learned from this last betrayal what the American military learned from Vietnam, which is that you don't go to fight without making absolutely certain the country is behind you.
On a local forum soon after 911, I was surprised by the number of Viet Vets that sounded like MSM surrender monkey's with all their accounts of how we couldn't do this and couldn't do that.
I kept trying to remind them of the difference between LBJ and McNamera and W and Rummy.
...but as some of the more clear thinking vets could see then, the real test is keeping it together over time with all the forces at home and abroad rewriting in real time, year after year.

6/06/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Wretchard said, "...Imagine -- imagine -- if you had to go into combat under the command of Chirac and Dominique de Villepin..."

Let me guess: One Frenchman leading point with a white flag. One American would be in the middle carrying his luggage. The other Frenchie would be firing a pea shooter over his shoulder while using him as a shield.

This is a real knee slapper "... French commanders thought at first that a thunderstorm had broken out in the hills to east of their position..." I did not know lightening occurred just above the ground in red balls. It must have been a rainy day

I get the idea the French have made almost every mistake in the book judging from there history of Dien Bien Phu and the Maginot Line. But, the bright spot is they learned to count spines in place of conventional body count;)

I do agree with Red River (via his link) that force multiplication can be had with effective use of artillery fire(including aircraft which are just vertical artillery platforms). I noticed in the report it told of very accurate artillery hits at long ranges - a sign of a well trailed military.

And, I agree with RWE at it's a myth that a group of Vietnamese in black pajamas armed with AK47s defeated the US military. It was propaganda and our MSM that did it. Wretchard says it best, "There are the famous shots of the NVA tanks rolling down the Saigon streets in 1975. The public sees the photos with their eyes but never "sees" this in their mind. It will always be Black Pajamas; that is the power of myth."

Which brings me to our current situation. It's clear that the US military has defeated two totalitarian regimes and brought considerable peace and prosperity to the area. But, the job is hindered by the constant propaganda from both the enemy and our own vengeful MSM. That's is why blogs, such as this, are so important (and are so potent).

The seed of democracy and it's offshoot 'freedom of speech' has sent shock waves through the 7th century Middle East. Assad is terrified of free speech. Assad is clearly afraid that his Baath ruling party will crumble if freedom of speech is allowed to continue. He is what he said:

Assad told the congress of Syria's ruling Baath Party on Monday [06/06/05] that a media influx had left Arabs "swamped by disinformation" about themselves... "These many inputs, especially with the evolution of communication and information technology, made the society open... "The ultimate objective of all this is the destruction of Arab identity... "

see: Minorities Are to Be Seen, Not Heard

[Assad's anti-free speech argument]

see: Assad: Media, tech crushing Arabs

I believe we are in a new phase of the war - the propaganda phase. It's a war of ideas. It's a true media war. And, as more ME police states are threatened there will be more propaganda smearing the US in general and the US military specifically. All of us on this blog realize it. Hence, let's keep our chin up; get the word out and keep blogging.

6/06/2005 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Maybe we can have Toby Keith's Ignorant and Angry tune as our song to blog to.
"Your Right, Your Right,
Your Right, Right, Right."

6/06/2005 08:40:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


When you ask "Are you Serious?
Everything is Vietnam."

I wasn't asking Wretchard why he was writing about it, I was asking why the Sunday NYT leads with such stuff. And why we respond so vociferously.

Actually, I meant "gobsmacked" in dictionary terms: "astounded" re Wretchard's posts on this famous battle. Wow.

Still. We're not in Nam anymore, Toto.

6/06/2005 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

" I was asking why the Sunday NYT leads with such stuff."
It's their sacred responsibility.
They are the keepers of the flame, in spite of War and Adversity.

6/06/2005 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't understand what exactly the French were fighting for by the end of the Algerian War.

Yes, the search and destroy missions of Challe defeated the enemy in the field. However, the population had completely turned against them, and colonialization was no longer a serious option. Nor was allowing Algerians to vote in French elections as equal citizens, as they would today be 1/2 of France's population.

So what exactly would you expect De Gaulle to do, than end this albatross around their neck? They had no possible political solution.

I talked a bit about Algeria here.

6/06/2005 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Albert Camus, for one, wanted to build an Algeria in which every human being lived in freedom, prosperity and dignity. He understood that the alternative to incorporation into Metropolitan France was not necessarily a surrender to the FLN, which he regarded as a Stalinist organization. Camus was cast out by the Left in consequence.

Throughout the Cold War it was abundantly clear that choices were not limited to 'colonialism' and 'imperialism'. Present day South Korea is a living historical witness to the prosposition that Kim Il Sung was not the only choice to 'US imperialism' in 1950. The French battlefield victory in the late 1950s created the possibility that Algeria could have become something other than what it is today, hundreds of thousands of internecine casualties later.

It is America's battlefield dominance which has created the possibility of freedom throughout the Middle East, even in Palestine and certainly throughout Lebanon and Syria. Battlefield victory is not a zero. If it were, the enemy would not desire it so ardently.

6/06/2005 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

Don't forget the struggle against COmmunism in Greece almost immediately after WWII; that victory was arguably as important as the Berlin airlift.

6/06/2005 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

The Cat said:"May still be for nought, because the lesson the GWOT teaches is that while American metal may prevail, unless a Reagan or a Thatcher can give that physical victory voice, the enemy will patiently endure, infest in the dark."

We live our lives steeped in it, getting and reading reports of the battles being fought in support of it, read of enemies patiently waiting to spread their darkness, their pain and their dominating oppression...

..and yet when someone suggests this is the worldwide battle between the forces of Dark and the Army of Light, we wince slightly at his naive unrealistic zeal, and go back to LeMay or Giap or KimJongIl...

6/07/2005 02:15:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

In an article appearing in the Marine Corps Times yesterday, John Yaukey of Gannett News Service writes:

"For the 138,000 American troops in Iraq, the rebounding insurgency and the looming constitutional drama raises once again the question of how much longer the campaign will last as some units are facing third tours of duty.

"But then, experts say, that’s the question the insurgents want lingering.

”'The insurgents are trying to wage a protracted fight, because they know they can’t win a short conflict,' said Marine Corps Col. Thomas Hammes, author of an acclaimed book on modern insurgency warfare titled 'The Sling and the Stone.' 'So that raises the question: Can we sustain the force long enough for our side to win?'“

I'd like to know the answer to this myself. It seemed to me last autumn that OIF was a race against time - that a relatively small Army and Marine Corps on a stepped-up rotation schedule cannot sustain OIF indefinitely. Political will, homefront support, media reception, troop morale: these are all important factors. Were they all positive, there would remain the problem of strained/diminishing resources and returns - of no more slack in the system.

Chester wrote some time back on the benefit of committing a smaller force (relative to local population) to Iraq for security and stabilization, as the annual replacement and rotation of this force has allowed us to go longer than we otherwise could with the resouces that we have. But how to keep it up through 2008, the length of significant commitment one retired Army commander and Rand analyst recently projected for Iraq?

I do wonder.

6/07/2005 05:08:00 AM  
Blogger Forklift said...


Both Camp Carroll and The Rockpile had 175mm batteries. Camp Carroll, in particular, was critical to the survival of the combat base at Khe Sanh.

6/07/2005 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

Already, we are calling the enemy "insurgents" and "militants" in the War on Terror. The Black Pajamas live again.

- Wretchard

There was a really good June 1 piece by Niles Lathem in the NY Post:

What Insurgency?

WASHINGTON — More than 40 percent of the suicide bombers dispatched by terror leader Abu Musab al- Zarqawi to attack Iraqis and U.S. troops hailed from Saudi Arabia, according to a new study.

Only 9 percent of the bombers were Iraqis, said the report by the SITE Institute, a counterterror group.

The analysis bolsters the Bush administration's claims that the Iraqi borders are not well policed and fanatical foreign jihadists have been streaming into the country to wreak deadly havoc.

SITE recently discovered a "Martyrs' List" that Zarqawi posted on a Web site to commemorate the fanatics who were recruited as foot soldiers in the group's deadly campaign of car bombings and other attacks to undermine Iraq's transition to democracy.

An analysis of 107 bombers whose names and backgrounds Zarqawi's group published revealed that 45 of the dead extremists, or 42 percent, came from Saudi Arabia, said Rita Katz, SITE director.

Many other bombers were Syrian, Kuwaiti, Palestinian, Afghani, Libyan and even French, while only 10 of the attackers, or 9 percent, were Iraqi-born.

"What we see here is there are a lot of people who appear to be quite well educated leaving universities, good jobs and families to go to Iraq to fight the jihad," Katz said.

"It means there is huge support for Zarqawi and al Qaeda among the younger generation — particularly in Saudi Arabia — who are going to Iraq not to liberate Iraq, but to engage in the battle between the mujahedeen and the crusaders. This is in Iraq now. But it could be somewhere else tomorrow."

The report by SITE is the first phase of a larger study of the nearly 400 suicide attackers' names that appear on the Web list. Katz believes that the analysis of the 107 bombers is reflective of the full list of dead terrorists.

Foreign fighters running amok in Iraq are becoming a growing security issue for the new Iraqi government.

Yesterday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari was at the U.N. Security Council, demanding that Syria do more to stop foreign terrorists from crossing into Iraq. He charged Syria was a "main transit route" for the guerrillas.


6/07/2005 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

Desert Rat asked what the opfor in Iraq ought to be called, if not insurgents.

We could call them what DoD calls them: anti-Iraqi forces - or, in Afghanistan, anti-Afghan forces.

6/07/2005 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

But Trish how can an Iraqi be anti Iraqi. He is anti the Govenment or an insurgent. That is the meaning of the word. An Insurrection is, according to my Radom House dictionary,"the act of rising in open rebellion against an established government or auyhority."
That is what 90% of what we have in Iraq is. To call it anything else is Newspeak

6/07/2005 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I call them OpFor.

6/07/2005 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

RE Wretchard: Viewed against this background, it is easy to understand much of the modern French distaste for military action. Imagine -- imagine -- if you had to go into combat under the command of Chirac and Dominique de Villepin. Better that you should not, not if you had the choice.

I can look back and see some signs where this was already beginning in France before the First World War with the Dreyfuss Affair - Which the Socialist capitalized on - not for Dreyfuss sake - but to clobber the royalists, militarists, and nationalists that supported the army.

6/07/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

exhelodryvr said: Don't forget the struggle against COmmunism in Greece almost immediately after WWII; that victory was arguably as important as the Berlin airlift.

That is so true, As long as Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey stayed out of Stalin's hands, the Black Sea Fleet risked being bottled up in Sevastopol and Odessa if the Cold War got Hot. And that, more than anything else, probably spared the middle east an order-of-magnitude more grief.

6/07/2005 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

Desert Rat,

How can an Iraqi be anti-Iraqi?

Hells bells, how can an American be anti-American? If Ward Churchill and a bunch of his pals, foreign and domestic, banded together to wage a campaign of terror aimed at punishing or undermining or overthrowing the USG or civilian establishments, might we not, with some precision, refer to such a gang as an anti-American force? Timothy McVeigh, American citizen, was nothing if not anti-American, as were the members of the Weather Underground. Perhaps "anti-US" is more satisfying because more specific yet - distinguishing between a geographical region and a political entity. 'Anti-US forces' certainly would have applied to the army of the Confederate States of America.

Doesn't Anti-Iraq Forces make plain enough the common target of those disparate forces' efforts: the Republic of Iraq, as currently under construction, as yet unconstituted?

6/07/2005 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

In WWII the Germans and Italians both fought in Africa and Italy.
While they could be referred to as Axis troops they were still German or Italian. The Japanese were also Axis but independent of the other two.
In Indochina the NVA was not the VC and neither were the same as the Pathet Lo or Pol Pot's Cambodians.
Each aspect of the enemy, while interconnected, were separate.
In Iraq we face a number of Axis opponents. The Jihadists nonIraqis that carry out suicide attacks and the remains of Saddams Baathist organization working with Sunni Tribal and Clan groups.
Some are Insurgents and the others may need a title. The tactical and strategic solutions to each group are different. For us to 'lump' them together makes the picture murkier, not clearer.
In Iraq today the news is of more "attacks". Single car bombings or other types of mechanical ambushes against civilians or police officers are made to sound like an organized military assault. The Jihadists suicide network should never mass in cells of more than squad size elements. The insurgent Baathist elements have massed in battalion size elements and can destroyed when discovered. They are allied but distinct elements of the Battle of Iraq and the Global War on Terror.

6/07/2005 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

Forklift said...

Both Camp Carroll and The Rockpile had 175mm batteries. Camp Carroll, in particular, was critical to the survival of the combat base at Khe Sanh.

175mm? Don't you mean 155mm? I've never heard of a US 175mm tube.

6/07/2005 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

Desert Rat,

"Allied but distinct," yes.

And yet the DoD requires, for its own purposes (and so do we, don't we?) a brief, general indentifier of those "allied but distinct" forces, which are broken down further into constituent units or elements.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I fail to see it as an attempt at Newspeak.

6/07/2005 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Ward Churchill and a bunch of his pals, if in open rebellion, along with McVeigh were or are Insurgents.
They are also criminals, that is part of the dilemma. Are the Jihadists soldiers or criminals?
They do not abide the Geneva Conventions, they behead prisoners and bomb indiscriminately. Their crimes put them beyond the criminal because they are in open rebellion to the US authority, worldwide, they are insurgents. That is the word that defines them.
The Baathists are fighting for Iraq, their Iraq. They also are in open rebellion to the new Government allied with the US authority. That makes them insurgents too, but on a local, not global level

In the American Civil War neither side was anti or un American.
There was the Federal Goverment and the Southern Insurgents. Both Pro American, just different visons of what America is.

McVeigh and his ilk, believing they are Super Patriots, are saving America from a Government that is violating the Constitution. They would tell you they are pro American, but anti government.
When they go into open rebellion they become Insurgents and can be dealt with militarily

6/07/2005 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

Okay, desert rat, why do you suppose DoD has chosen NOT to refer, in its own reports, to those allied but distinct groups in Iraq as insurgent forces? I mean, what purpose of their's does it serve to call them otherwise?

6/07/2005 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

In regards to the Black Pajamas myth, George Lucas admits that he modeled his Ewok War in Return of the Jedi on that myth, the little guys in the woods with sharp sticks beating the big bad superpower.
Amazing how a guy can be so right and so wrong at the same time.
I recall a statement from a book in college, one that someone had underlined: "Today a man hiding in a rice paddy with a rifle holds the fate of the world in his hands."
No, he did not. He did not even hold his own fate in his hands.
Those that insist that we need to "learn the lessons of Vietnam" are all too often pushing the wrong lessons.

6/07/2005 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

I do not know why DoD wants to spin the language.
I do know the the opfor in the War on Terror are today both faceless and nameless.
If it just UBL and his close network than the War will becaome a Criminal investigation. Perhaps needing Military force from time to time.

If the OpFor includes "Terrorists with Global reach and the States that support them" We should have Sudan, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and individual Saudis on the list and should be moving aggressively against them, but we do not.

We are in a Information paradox and if it is not resolved the War will be over and the Opfor will still exist, undefeated.

6/07/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

Desert rat:

"We should have Sudan, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and individual Saudis on the list and should be moving aggressively against them, but we do not."

1) We don't have the resources to do these all at once;

2) From a PR perspective, taking the steps you advocate would quickly lose us much support from other nations in this struggle. And like it or not, we can't do this without at least some support from other nations.

6/07/2005 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

If you do not identify the enemy he cannot be beaten. If you cannot speak of the objective it will not be attained, the Mission will fail if it cannot be articulated. If the scale of the conflict cannot be discussed, do not be surprised that the American public will not support a war without end or enemies. If our Allies support is so thin that simply naming the Opfor will cause it to collapse then there is no Coalition, just bribed Nation States.
We can loose this thing and the idea that we should operate in the murky fog of Newspeak and Double talk makes our position weaker.

In that case the WoT will be over when the Iraqi campaign is complete. Next December.

6/07/2005 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger trish said...

desert rat, for heaven's sake, we can lose whether we call them insurgents, terrorists, guerillas, or anything else. They are non-state actors in any event and even if we HAD unlimited resources at our disposal, that fact alone makes the job far more difficult for US military and civilian leaders to grapple with.

On to Damascus? What in the hell would we do with it? We can't keep the lid on the territory we already administer, rat. Overturning another rock would be insane. Whatever pressure can be brought to bear against Syria, we are going to have to do the work of choking the flow of fighters ourselves. Iran? That's a battle we absolutely don't want.

We cannot do everything everywhere. And the cupboard's getting pretty bare.

6/07/2005 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

We have lost, in lives, in three years, what was lost in the first hours at Normandy Beach.
Let us all get serious.
It is either a War or it is not.
We have enemies or we do not.
The Syrians support and are a part of the Opfor or they are not. Rummy and the Iraqi Security Chief say they do. Bomb 'em or not, but admit who the enemy is or the War is done.
We are losing support within the American public for a protracted conflict without an objective. We have not articulated how all the pieces fit together in a mosaic. This War will soon be without an objective and no definition of victory. Successful Wars are not waged that way.
I'd hate to read either the Warning Order or the Op Order that did not define the Objective. That would be a Mission I'd want to stay far away from.

6/07/2005 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

When Iraq resumes sovereignty sometime in early 2006, Iraq gets to decide what it wants to do about Syria. I don't know what that decision will be, but I can guess that it will not involve US sorties over the border. Chester identifies the current situation as an affect of simple "forbearance" on our part, but I think there's more to it than that. Sometimes, there's more to be lost than won.

How's this for an objective, rat: strangling the opposition in Iraq and ensuring the survivability of a new state. It's a pretty tall order.

As for the greater GWOT, al Qaeda and its affiliates operate in over 60 countries. DIA operates in about 120. CIA in more. It's one bunch of international networks against another. It's not a big show; its not something that fires up the airwaves. Just another kind of gruntwork.

It'll be a long war - or, as it has been so finely put, "a long execution."

The public has lost faith and patience, yet it has. But open-ended commitments and shaky objectives are hardly anything new. The 90's were all about that. The only difference is, we now take casualties. Ralph Peters called Iraq a good thing done very, very badly. Better to try and get your act together on known territory - territory that you have chosen - than to open up more cans of worms.

6/07/2005 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

I do not think that Stability is better than Victory. Free the people of Syria and see what happens. What ever the outcome it would not be worse for US, the Iraqis, the Kurds, Lebonese or the Isrealis than what is in place today.
Leave things "Stable" and after the elections in Iraq, in December, all the current War Objectives will have been met. There will be an incessant demand to draw down the troops in the face of Victory. The Jihadists will still be operating out of Syria and Iran. Hezbollah will still be armed and our opportunity to win the War against the Opfor, quickly, will be gone.

Without State support UBL and his network are no more then Border Bandit outlaws. Not a cause for a continued War. With State support they could be formidable. The only course of assured success is to topple the governments in those States that Sponsor terrorists. One way or the other they have to go, or US will not be secure.
Without US Public support there is no War. The siren song of Victory, this December, will sound quite sweet. Appeasement through Victory. Who could complain.

6/07/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

OK, I'm through with Terrorist, Insurgent, Non-uniformed Combattent, Illegal Combattent, and all the newspeak bs (freedom fighter, etc).

From now on I'm referring to all of them as "the evil ones" TEO for short. So if you see TEO in my future posts, that's who I'm referring to.

How's THAT for controlling the language.

Like the phylosopher said "what language you have to use controls what thinking you can have."

6/07/2005 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/07/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

That will become the whole object.
In December we will be done.
No WMD threat from Iraq = Success
Saddam & cohorts executed = Success
250,000 Iraqi Security Forces = Success
Democratic Government = Success
Mission Success = Victory
War Over

6/07/2005 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Bolivia is in the middle of an Insurgency. The President has offered to resign again. The Anti private property insurgents, that call each other 'Comrade' are funded in part by Hugho Chavez.
No there is not a global conspiracy directed at the Capitalist Society

6/07/2005 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Forklift said...


Yes, they were 175mm guns, manned by Army units in support of the Marines. We used to laugh, as silly teenagers, at the tube lengths which were visible for a great distance, but were aware of their range and accuracy. For all their size, they were used with some regularity for direct fire around The Rockpile. At least one battery at Camp Carroll was replaced with 8 inch guns.

6/07/2005 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

"Albert Camus, for one, wanted to build an Algeria in which every human being lived in freedom, prosperity and dignity. He understood that the alternative to incorporation into Metropolitan France was not necessarily a surrender to the FLN, which he regarded as a Stalinist organization. Camus was cast out by the Left in consequence."

Yes, but Camus himself concluded by the late 1950s/early 1960s that the dream was pretty much impossible, due to the lack of compromise and flexibility on both sides.

De Gaulle himself was still naive enough when he came to power to believe that the Algerians themselves would voluntarily choose to stay in a French federation. He soon realized how poor the situation was and removed half of the French Army from relatively unimportant [even if sentimental] lands in North Africa. Putting down coups along the way. Quite a feat, imo.

"Throughout the Cold War it was abundantly clear that choices were not limited to 'colonialism' and 'imperialism'. Present day South Korea is a living historical witness to the prosposition that Kim Il Sung was not the only choice to 'US imperialism' in 1950. The French battlefield victory in the late 1950s created the possibility that Algeria could have become something other than what it is today, hundreds of thousands of internecine casualties later."

And in the exact context of Algeria, what was that?

6/07/2005 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

What I mean is, what sort of political arrangement could possibly have worked? The FLN had done its job well politically, if not necessarily militarily. The Algerian Muslim population by and large rejected continued political ties with France. They were given the opportunity, like all of French posessions, and declined by a substantial vote.

At the same time, disruption in Algeria occupied a substantial portion of the French Army during the Cold War, and resulted in numerous attempted political coups against the French government.

Setting aside the question of practicality, it also doesn't seem worth it.

6/07/2005 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


It would have been hard, in 1950, to imagine South Korea in 2005. It didn't become a democracy all at once. Park Chung Hee was a strongman for a long time. In Taiwan, too, that other flashpoint of the Cold War, Chiang Kai Shek and his heirs were autocrats until fairly recently. But it found its footing and there is no one today who will seriously argue that South Korea and Taiwan are not among the freest countries in Asia, or indeed the world.

So it is not entirely useful to ask what political package, visible in 1958, could now be argued as an alternative to the FLN. It would be sufficient to say that any such package should have preserved the rights of those who were subsequently murdered by the FLN, and Algerians were killed by the FLN at a rate many times greater than the Frenchmen.

Logically, you should ask why the French should have bothered to fight at all, if they were going to up and run in the end when they had triumphed on the battlefield. In the early stages it would have been to keep Algeria part of Metropolitan France. But in 1958 it might have been for a free Algeria, an Algeria Camus could live in, or people like him.

6/07/2005 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger Strabo the Lesser said...

I feel sorry for Charles DeGaulle. Such a great man, burdened with such a wretched people.

DeGaulle never forgot that the vast majority of his people not only capitulated to the Nazis but also collaborated. And he always considered them with extreme contempt.

He may have been an obstreperous old man, but when things got serious he would throw in with the West. I believe the grumbling was just for show and domestic purposes..

6/08/2005 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/11/2005 07:30:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

I have never meant to deny the appeal of a freer yet independent Algeria, merely its practicality considering the circumstances. The cause of a free and independent Algeria is a noble one, but also something the French themselves did not fight for. It was their refusal to entertain Algerian independence early that cost the support of most Algerians and doomed them.

The poster to which I initially responded suggested that De Gaulle acted incorrectly by cutting French losses in Algeria. I still do not agree, considering the lack of any apparently viable political solution. There were too few like Camus on both sides, something that depressed even him as the war dragged on.

My belief is also compounded by the damage, military and political, that French involvement was incurring. It is true that with military victory, the French Army’s commitments to Algeria would have been reduced, but it still would have remained a potential open sore, necessarily garrisoned by a good number of troops otherwise needed for Europe. Politically, it was ruining France’s international image, and threatening domestic order and Republicanism.

6/11/2005 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger Bar Supply Guy said...

Next time I'll spend a little more time and read more. The Last Valley was good. I wish you had information on bar supply. That is what I was looking for. Anyway got to run thanks wretchard for you slant. Las Vegas is a busy place.

11/30/2005 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Hayward said...

I am stunned by the most of the posts here. It seems that many refuse to acknowledge the saying by the truly great citizen of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin.
"“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
And that of another, George Santayana “Those that do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat their mistakes”
When will US Administrations, no matter of what political stripe( tho' mostly Republican) realise that they do not rule the world?

12/04/2007 03:18:00 AM  

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