A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Agincourt, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Boris Yeltsin President Russian Federation, Bring Them Home, French Indo-China, General Dwight Eisenhower, God bless the USA, Lee Greenwood, Les Miserables, Peter Sellers, President Dwight Eisenhower, Raoul Wallenberg, Robert Seals, Siberia size American comparison, The Pink Panther, Verdun, Viet Minh, Viet Nam Conflict, Vietnam War, Waterloo
Thirty-seven years ago today, 30 May, America’s national nightmare of the soul, the War in Vietnam, ended.
As Americans knew that “conflict”, it was, in truth, a mere continuation of fool-hardy, failed French battles to retain possession of their former colony, French Indo-China.
French hopes were obliterated and forever buried at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ (French: Bataille de Diên Biên Phu).
“With no clear objective, an unrealistic concept, an over reliance upon airpower and an underestimation of the enemy, it was only a matter of time before the French battalions fighting Viet divisions were utterly destroyed. The fundamental law of military strategy – to be stronger than your enemy at the decisive time and place – was violated. The aftermath of the battle was truly horrific, with an estimated 70% of the 10,000 captured French forces dying on the march into Viet Minh POW camps or of subsequent mistreatment in only three months time.
“Just like Agincourt, Waterloo or Verdun, Dien Bien Phu became a symbol for France, a doomed, heroic effort that captured the world’s imagination, but not the Western Powers sympathy…”.
“By the time Eisenhower became president in 1953, the communist insurgency against the French had become a fierce war. In 1952, President Truman had authorized $60 million for support of the French military efforts in Indochina. In 1953, President Eisenhower increased that authorization six-fold because his advisors convinced him that, “it was the cheapest way to block the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.” Again, he urged the French government to grant independence and withdraw from Indochina. When the French refused, Ike said their response was, ‘An example of the stupidity of men’.”
“Stupidity” continued nonetheless. America’s “battle plan” was a carbon-copy of what the flailing French had used; “no clear objective, an unrealistic concept, an over reliance upon airpower and an underestimation of the enemy,…”.
Escalations kept going apace for years. The “plan” never changed or until, after more than 58,000 had died and hundreds of thousands wounded, America cut her losses. Humiliatingly, she withdrew.
That there are American sons and fathers still missing-in-action or whose whereabouts are unknown troubles me greatly.
Former Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin memorably announced that various gulags across the eleven (11) time zones of the vast Russian Federation might still hold American prisoners from The Second World War, Korea and Vietnam.
From my own contacts with the American Government’s representatives in Moscow at the time just after Mr. Yeltsin was elected, and also from what they had told those Russian parliamentarians who were not of Yeltsin’s party, U.S. authorities considered Yeltsin, Russia’s first elected non-Communist President, a mere drunk. Smugly, Washington’s men-in-Moscow described Boris Yeltsin to me as not being a ‘serious’ person.
You and I have known drunks. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes not. My counter-shot to the tiny-minded American diplomat was to enquire if he knew anything of Winston Churchill’s prodigious consumption of alcohol — every day — during The 1939-1945 War (as the British call The Second World War). You’ll not be surprised. He hadn’t a clue.
Anyone’s merely being labelled a ‘drunk’ does not reduce one to being capable solely of wholesale ravings. Or, except in the eyes of those with other agendas; the “time-to-turn-the-page” types.
Nonetheless, time has been lost. American gullibility and ineptitude with the Russians has continued apace. Perhaps the most recent was the fiasco presentation of a “Reset” button. The large red, Staples-look-alike button read “Peregruzka”. On sight, that drew a spontaneous guffaw from the Russian Foreign Minister: “You got it wrong!”, he loudly declared, in perfectly-accented American-English, naturally.
“Peregruzka” means “over-charged” in Russian, as on a restaurant check. The thing properly should have read “ Perezagruzka” (“reset”).
“Investigations” about the whereabouts of American POWs and MIA’s in Russia were conducted, though only from OUTSIDE The Russian Federation!
“Nothing to see here, move along now” attitudes reigned. Officials mouthing “We’re so sorry for your loss” bested any deep, legitimate enquiry. Case closed.
One wonders. Perhaps The State Department is impervious to comparatives. For decades, Russia has claimed that Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic Swedish diplomat who saved Hungary’s Jews from the Nazis, died on 17 July 1947, in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison. Yet in 2009, Russian officials finally admitted that Wallenberg had been interrogated as late as 23 July 1947, six days after his official death date.
It also became clear that Russia had intentionally withheld this crucial fact from an official Swedish-Russian working group that had investigated Wallenberg’s fate from 1991-2001. Today, the Russians stiff-arm any enquiry.
Consider this. Siberia is itself 13.1million sq.km. (5.1mil. sq.mi.) or a staggering 75% of the whole landmass of The Russian Federation.
Put another way, Siberia is one-third larger than the whole of the USA. Only the bumbling Inspector Clouseau could deduce that that is not an area large enough to squirrel away some POWs, hundreds of them indeed.
Has The Pink Panther supplanted the American Eagle at the State Department?
A few months ago, an Australian television crew were doing a story in Russian Siberia. Quite literally, they took a wrong turn. They were stunned. They had stumbled upon a never-before-disclosed North Korean prison camp. This was operating over vast areas primarily as a logging operation.
If any POW from any war were in such a camp, he’d likely have endured cruelly inhumane, freezing conditions akin to what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described in his short, compelling, brilliantly evocative “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. Still, these North Korean prisoner-workers were faring well enough.
When our son was a schoolboy in England, aged about 14, he and his class made a trip to Normandy and to the American and British Cemeteries for The Fallen there.
Quite purposefully, I told my son very little about what he might expect to see. My only advice: “Look at each of the tombstones. Look at the ages of the men who lie buried there.”
I’d hoped, and was proven correct, that my son would mention this advice to all his schoolmates. Assuredly, he did.
After this trip, when came home, he looked up at me, looked down, up again, gulped and said:
“They were all so young! They weren’t much older than we are! It was very odd, Dad. On the bus going in, it was noisy; people talking to each other and playing around. As the bus left the cemetery, no one said a word. Not for a long time.”
Lesson taught. Lesson learnt. (Nowadays, it is I who look up, way up to him, not otherwise!)
Few wars end with the decisiveness of World War II. Clearly, Vietnam did not.
Several years ago, an American film crew traipsed through the row upon rows of Christian crosses and Stars of David that make up the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England, a place I, too, have visited.
Surely this crew’s efforts speak not merely for those who then-sacrificed their lives for their loved ones and their Nation, but also for those before them and those whose turn it is or has been to follow them.
(If this link does not open, my apologies. Please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_5aoptI5j0)
This is a painfully sad anniversary for me and indeed for all of us who wore the uniform during ‘The Vietnam Conflict’.
Another army, this time of historians, has now tossed that bloody war off into yet another drawer of yet another of their filing cabinets.
For those who lost a father, brother, or son, or acquaintances much less friends, it remains a grief-stricken day and era.
For those of us whose time in uniform was spent either Stateside or in Europe but not “in theater”, we treasure our lives, our wives, families, loved ones and friends. We cannot believe we were lucky enough to have lived.
We still grieve for those who lost so much. Like a few, I worry for the POWs and MIAs about whom uncomfortable, horrific questions daily come to mind.
Even if they are all now dead, my view persists. For years, American policy has reflected the words of the song from Les Miserables which I’ve quoted in two earlier articles (on 3rd and 17th April).
No longer does America leave her valiant dead on foreign fields. “Bring hm home”.
Does anyone else still give a damn?
(1) Robert Seals: “Peace” in a Very Small Place: Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later”, http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/20thcentury/articles/dienbienphu.aspx and to The Eisenhower Memorial Eisenhower Memorial
(2) For a detailed update on Ambassador Raoul Wallenberg, see this excellent article in The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Wallenberg article from Jerusalem Post
(3) and to the ever-faithful Lee Greenwood for his voice on behalf of America’s troops and their families.