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The war in Indochina blazed as the Korean fires were thinning down; after it ended the Algerian rebellion began. Into the Far East the French poured the glory boys of St. Cyr and of the Legion; they fought a peasant army, the Viet Cong guerrillas. They defended cotton fields and rubber plantations, scattered heaps of luxury and corruption. They lost. At Dienbienphu there are no graves to mark what was once the Expeditionary Corps' 2000 soldiers, 2 colonels and 100 officers. In war, said Napoleon, a great disaster always indicates a great culprit. For Jules Roy, the culprit has many faces: outmoded imperialism, a government of self-righteous fools, haughty martinets, an ignorant, indifferently bamboozled citizenry. In other words, monumental bad faith, that curious Western mixture of presumptuousness and lassitude, failure of nerve and hubris. Not surprisingly the author's severest scorn is leveled at General Navarre, the no-win commander, at his illusory strategy, his rationalizations for every upset. (Presently he is in retirement in the brick industry.) This savage, sardonic Parisian best-seller, a panoply of political confusion and military shame, is both an indictment and a requiem. Whether one agrees with its conclusions (the hot-under-the-collar rhetoric is not in the Cartesian tradition), one can't help being impressed. And not the least of its considerable value is its ""lesson"" to us, now that we're engaged in the same wretched spot in perhaps the same wretched gambit.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1965
Publisher: Harper & Row