Dien Bien Phu, May 1954

Self is tackling her back issues of The Economist with great gusto.  Today, she got through three.

The 12 October 2013 issue has an obituary of General Nguyen Giap, the man who won the battle of Dien Bien Phu, a great watershed which marked the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam.  The general died Oct. 4.  He was 102.

There was a war movie made of this battle, starring Mel Gibson (Self finally remembered the name of the movie:  “We Are Soldiers.”)  In that movie, self remembers the warren of tunnels the Vietnamese had built, and a small man who seemed to be a general (though his uniform was just as plain as that of an ordinary soldier) telling his men:  “We will grab the enemy by the belt buckle, and pull him close.”  (This line was delivered in Vietnamese, with subtitles.  Which added greatly to the power of the scene. Self remembers being so stunned by that line that she never forgot it.  Even though, at the time she saw the movie, she knew very little about the battle itself.)

The Economist describes the battle strategy thus:

This victory had been a long time in the making.  The French had fortified the valley, in northwest Tonkin on the border with Laos, so he had taken his troops into the mountains that encircled it.  The French thought the hills impassable:  craggy, forested, foggy, riddled with caves.  General Giap recalled the words of his hero Bonaparte, whose battle plans he was sketching out with chalk when he was still at the Lycée in Hue:  “If a goat can get through, so can a man; if a man can get through, so can a battalion.”  Slowly, stealthily, in single file, 55,000 men took up positions there, supplied by 260,000 coolies with baskets, 20,000 bicycles and 11,800 bamboo rafts.  Artillery was carried up in sections.  From this eyrie, trenches and tunnels were dug down until they almost touched the French.  The enemy never stood a chance.

General Giap’s heroes were Bonaparte (audace, surprise), Lawrence of Arabia, and Mao Zedong, especially Mao’s “three-stage doctrine of warfare (guerrilla tactics, stalemate, offensive warfare).”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

2 Comments

  1. January 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    The tunnels of Cuchi. This is fabulous. May I share it on my blog and FB.

    • January 3, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      Kyi! Of course. There’s so much more in The Economist article. I’ll add a few more excerpts to it.


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