(French Army commanders - Dien Bien Phu - 1954 - Reality came as a shock) Sometimes you wonder how we get into seemingly impossible situations that
October 19, 2009


(French Army commanders - Dien Bien Phu - 1954 - Reality came as a shock)

Sometimes you wonder how we get into seemingly impossible situations that appear to have no ending in sight.

While running through my archive looking for tapes associated with our involvement in the Vietnam war, I ran across an earlier broadcast, from May 1954 - the occasion was the recent fall of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, which effectively ended the French involvement in that former colony. Edward R. Murrow, as part of his See It Now program put together a panel consisting of Senate Majority Leader William F. Knowland (R-California), Sir Robert Boothby, a conservative member of Parliament in Britain and a member of the De Gaulle cabinet in France. Togther they discussed, as a sort of postmortem examination of what went wrong and what was next.

Sir Robert Boothby: “When the French the other day implied and our French colleague implied just now that we’d rather left them out on a limb, left them to do this thing alone, they are I think to some extent to blame themselves. We’re speaking quite frankly, but they have made it plain for five years that they regarded this Indo-China as a domestic concern, this Indo-China business. They didn’t want intervention by anybody else, that they didn’t want to make it an international issue. They didn’t want our help or the help of the United States. And it was only three or four weeks that they made the request for help which was really too late.”

French Representative: “Maybe it was too late, but if I may interrupt here, as you have really put my country in question here. Yes, for five years we have asked for nothing. In five years we have lost 400,000 men. If China had not come into the picture we might not be where we are today. And after all, I think that . . well if I may say so, it wasn’t very kind of you to say what you just said. We have done our best as I told you. And . . well, if we had found all the help that we could have expected, perhaps we would not be here today, at least saying alas what we have to say”.

Maybe it's hindsight, but judging from Knowland's reaction to the situation, it almost feels prophetic that the U.S. was destined to get involved sooner rather than later - as was the case.

As I am hearing now about the potential domino effect of an U.S. pullout in the region, with the potential repercussions being an overthrow of the Pakistani government, a return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and, as Chris Matthews pointed out "all hell breaking loose" with nuclear weapons hanging in the balance - it's almost identical language to that being said some 55 years ago.

The stakes are different this time - but not by much.

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