Thursday, March 13, 2008

56 Days of Hell in a Very Small Place

It begins today:
The whole French position looked, as so many observers had already stated, like a huge Boy Scout jamboree, with its tents, the rising smoke of the many cooking fires, and the laundry laid out to dry over the strands of barbed wire. For a few seconds the camera seemed to "zoom" in on the flapping laundry and on a jeep racing like a little toy on the dusty road between Claudine and Huguette.

And then this whole bucolic scene suddenly dissolved in what seemed to be a fantastic series of ferocious black tornadoes which completely covered the neat geometrical outlines of the French positions. The Communist bombardment of the French fortress of Dien Bien Phu had begun. It was March 13, 1954; the hour was 1700.
That's from Bernard Fall's classic history of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Hell in a Very Small Place. If you are remotely interested in military history and haven't read it, you really ought to. I certainly won't be making fun of the French military anytime soon after reading it.