Wednesday, April 23, 2008

COIN Food for Thought

From Bernard Fall's history of the French in Indochina, Street Without Joy. As I mentioned in a previous post, I defy anyone to read either of his two books (the other one being of course Hell in a Very Small Place) and still think poorly of the French military.

I'm about 4/5ths of the way through it and there have been a few passages that have stuck out to me, both in regard to COIN and to other things as well. Today's is counter-insurgency in a nutshell (or about four paragraphs).
By the end of D-Day plus-2, all organized resistance had ceased, and on the following day began the withdrawal of the first-line units, the paratroopers, amphibious groups, and marine commandos. Now came the real job of permanently controlling the newly-occupied area. Bridges that had been dynamited over the past years had to be rebuilt; roads cut into ribbons by Viet-Minh saboteurs had to be filled in, the whole artificial desert which the Communists had created around the "Street Without Joy" had to be eliminated. Vietnamese government administrators made their timid appearance in the face of a hostile or frightened population which, after a week's fighting and years of life in a state of siege, needed everything from rice to anti-malaria tablets.

"Funny," said Major Derrieu from the 6th Spahis, watching some of the new administrators in the village of Dong-Que, "they just never seem to succeed in striking the right note with the population. Either they come in and try to apologize for the mess we've just made with our planes and tanks; or they swagger and threaten the farmers as if they were enemy nationals which-let's face it-they are in many cases."

"That may be so," said young Lieutenant Dujardin, standing on the shady side of his M-24, "but I wouldn't care to be in his shoes tonight, when we pull out. He's going to stay right here in the house which the Commie commander still occupied yesterday, all by himself with the other four guys of his administrative team, with the nearest post three hundred yards away. Hell, I'll bet he won't even sleep here but sleep in the post anyway."

"He probably will, and he'll immediately lose face with the population and become useless."

"And if he doesn't, he'll probably be dead by tomorrow, and just as useless. In any case, there goes the whole psychological effect of the operation and we can start the whole thing all over again three months from now. What a hopeless mess."

"Well, if the Vietnamese can't lick that, we certainly cannot. After all, it's their country. Let's saddle up." With a shrug, both men walked back to their tanks, climbing into the turrets with the litheness of long practice.

Below them, on the tiny square of ruined Dong-Que, the young, earnest, Vietnamese administrator in his khaki shirt and slacks, was still talking to the villagers. They stood there, impassively, like so many wooden statues.

"Street Without Joy," Bernard Fall, p. 169-170
This should sound painfully familiar.