Dien Bien Phu: “The Fruit are Ripe”

May 8, 2014–French shortwave radio in Tonkin broadcast the phrase “The Fruit are Ripe” at 1:05 PM of May 8, 1954 (1:05 AM on the American east coast). The message was an “open code,” of the same sort the British had sent over the BBC in World War II to alert various Resistance networks on the continent. The French military commander in Tonkin, Major General Rene Cogny, had agreed to send this message when he was certain of the fall of the entrenched camp at Dien Bien Phu. French army units in Laos had been warned, in messages dropped to them by scout planes, to listen for the open code message.

The Tonkin radio was actually late–the French at Dien Bien Phu had stopped shooting around 5:30 in the afternoon of the 7th. Like much else about this decisive battle, the reasons for the discrepancy remain obscure. Perhaps Cogny was reluctant to acknowledge final defeat. Or again, there had been a last-minute plan for a sally of the fittest remaining French troops and maybe the Tonkin command, hoping that action had taken place, was trying to make time for the desperate sortie.

“The Fruit are Ripe” began a sort of delicate dance with many movements. One was among the French units in Laos, alerted to be on the watch for from Dien Bien Phu. Seventy-eight men made it to join either the Franco-Laotian regulars and commandos, or the Hmong partisans strung in an arc along the Laotian side of the border. Remarkably, one survivor had also walked out of another French entrenched camp, Na San, when that had been abandoned in the summer of 1953.

Another dance movement was the Viet Minh pursuit. General Giap wanted to regroup his main forces closer to Hanoi for a final offensive–but he also wished to follow up into Laos. He ordered Viet Minh who had not been at the battle–and some who were–into northern Laos. That meant a race between the French perched in their arc and the Viet Minh pursuers.

It was an irony of Dien Bien Phu that the worst French wounded became the luckiest survivors. With but a handful of doctors and medical personnel, and almost no drugs, the Viet Minh were in no position to treat French wounded. Meanwhile French medical staff, led by the redoubtable Doctor Paul Grauwin, shared their drug supplies with the Viets and helped their wounded. Together with the Viet Minh’s chief surgeon, General Giap decided to make a deal. In exchange for French medicines and medical assistance, they would re-open the airfield at Dien Bien Phu. The French air force could fly in medical supplies and evacuate the wounded. Some 858 seriously wounded soldiers left the entrenched camp that way.

In yet another United States connection to Dien Bien Phu, many of those French wounded would immediately be evacuated to France by the U.S. Air Force. It happened this way: There had been a secret U.S. airlift of paratroops and French Navy pilots called Project “Blue Star”–you can read all about it in Operation Vulture. Blue Star had used huge C-124 transport planes–the C-5As of that day–to deliver the French troops to what is now Da Nang. The Blue Star planes were still there when the smaller French Dakotas began to lift out the wounded from Dien Bien Phu. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a French appeal to carry the wounded home aboard the big American planes.

Thus ended the epic siege in the Vietnamese uplands.

The End at Dien Bien Phu

May 7, 2014–At 10:20 AM on May 7, 1954 (10:20 PM of May 6 on the U.S. east coast), the Frenchman leading all forces in Laos asked the general commanding the north of Indochina to give him immediate notice if there were a “grave event” concerning Dien Bien Phu. The Laotian commander, Colonel Boucher de Crevecoeur, was clearly thinking that he should warn the troops sent to effect an overland rescue of the entrenched camp that they should get out of the way. Tonkin theater commander Major General Rene Cogny advised De Crevecoeur a few hours later that if the threatened event occurred he would have French radios broadcast the phrase “The fruit are ripe.”

In gaming there are only a few boardgames which deal with the Franco-Vietnamese war, and even fewer that concern Dien Bien Phu itself. The ones that do uniformly confirm the French did not have a chance at that battle, indicating the dubious strategy of selecting that high mountain valley for the scene of a major encounter.

That was true of my game as well. Around the time I first wrote my book on Dien Bien Phu, Operation Vulture , I also designed a boardgame on the battle. For those familiar with the gaming of that era, it was a “mini-monster” design with a main board depicting the valley center and French strongpoints, plus a strategic board of the region surrounding Dien Bien Phu. The strategic/tactical split followed the concept of the Avalon Hill Roman era siege game Alesia. Using the strategic board forces could maneuver to the battle, the French in Laos could try and rescue the camp, and the French air force could attempt to reduce the scale of Viet Minh supply. French forces were modeled in companies, with breakdowns to platoons; the Viet Minh were at the battalion-level, with breakdowns to companies. It was a highly detailed boardgame and showed very well the dynamics of the strongpoint battle. Viet Minh forces sustained tremendous losses, but the French could not win.

What the generals learn–or do not learn– from history could fill books. Politicians too. Let’s just hope we’re not seeing this lesson repeated today.

NSA Dragnet Nightmare: Consider the Turkish Scenario

May 6, 2014–Not a lot of time today but I did want to put something out to chew on. The truth is that we need to proceed very carefully about how we reform the National Security Agency. An ill-considered effort can easily result in an eavesdropping regime even more sinister than the one that already exists. As always the devil is in the details.

When President Obama made his reform speech back in January, he issued a directive to the NSA and Justice Department to rein in their activities while attempting to preserve their capabilities. They appear to have succeeded. Last week there were indications the spooks like the reform regime even better, because in leaving the metadata content with the corporations along with the other data the companies already have, a new-system court order will actually afford NSA access to a wider range of the content its analysts want to get.

NSA “reform” is still a work in progress. But this got me to thinking about what is happening in Turkey, where the current political scandal bears a certain functional similarity to what is happening here. Superficially, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. That is, hackers, sharp political observers, and individuals unknown have in effect done the NSA trick and recorded the phone conversations and other insider info from the country’s prime minister, Recep Erdogan, his family, government ministers’ Turkey’s spy chief, and others. With great embarrassment to the Erdogan government, conversations have been replayed on YouTube exposing corruption, malfeasance, and other chicanery. The government’s response of closing certain newspapers and the internet has proven largely unsuccessful. Political opponents are demanding an investigation of the graft.

This kind of Family Jewels crisis is similar to the Snowden leaks in the United States. Like the Obama administration the Erdogan government promises new law to deal with the abuses. But in Turkey much of the new law actually frees the hand of the security services–the law aims to broaden the authority for government wiretaps (in the name of uncovering the source of the leaks) while also making government agents immune from criminal prosecution. Thus does an uncomfortable political scandal lead to the opposite of reform. Let us take care that America avoids the path taken in Turkey.

No Salvation for the French at Dien Bien Phu

May 4, 2014–On this night sixty years ago, French commando units maintained position in Laos, in an arc to the south and southwest of Dien Bien Phu. These troops represented the leading edge of an overland relief attempt that French leaders cobbled together in a desperate effort to save their garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Captain Henri Loustau, chief of one of these commandos, kept a radio watch. At night his men could see the horizon lit by the flashes of explosions inside the mountain valley, and on the radio Loustau could hear the businesslike transmissions in which French officers in the entrenched camp reported the destruction of their strongpoints and the loss of their men.

Loustau’s commandos lacked the strength to fight their way into the fortress from the outside. And he represented the tip of a spear that was rather weak overall. You can read the full story of the desperate French rescue mission in the book Operation Vulture . In Laos the Expeditionary Corps had put together four battalions of troops for the main force. Loustau’s commandos were the equivalent of another battalion, hurriedly assembled and thrown into the fray late in April. There was also “Operation Desperado,” in which a couple of thousand Hmong partisans who were fighting for the French, pitched in to help the relief mission.

In the original French contingency plan the spearhead troops were supposed to be reinforced once they reached near to Dien Bien Phu with a fresh and battle-worthy paratroop force. But when the time came the paras had been sent into the entrenched camp itself. There were no men to join Loustau, and no planes to carry them if there had been. The Hmong partisans were bringing up the rear–they had gotten a late start because the French Expeditionary Corps had been reluctant to approve their participation. The battalions of regular troops in Laos had not been strong enough to get closer than the Nam Ou river valley, still nearly three dozen miles from the embattled entrenched camp. Villagers along the wayside told the French that a Viet Minh force three times their size was expected soon. The French decided to hold their positions and wait.

A certain number of survivors escaped the hell of Dien Bien Phu and made it far enough to join up with either the Hmong partisans or the French-Vietnamese commando groups. But these were individuals, there were no organized units, no break out, no salvation. General Giap and his Viet Minh revolutionaries were poised on the verge of complete victory.

NSA vs Silicon Valley: Can’t Win? Change the Subject!

May 3, 2014–So, what the whistleblower said was all true. In fact, the whistleblower hardly said anything. He let the documents do the talking. The National Security Agency is intercepting anyone they want and collecting the metadata on everyone. The additional documents, legal rulings, that had to be released to “prove” that this dragnet eavesdropping had any juridical basis at all only showed that the denizens of Fort Meade had indeed sought to create a framework for doing precisely what the Snowden documents said.

The diplomatic costs have come home to roost. German-American talks on a spy treaty have collapsed. Our side blames the Germans and makes it out to be somehow off-color that another nation should demand that what American spies do on German soil cannot be illegal under German law. The Word is we don’t make deals like that even with our closest allies. The more insinuating text is that what spies do is basically illegal anyway. Why care?

Ukraine is one reason. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington this week, her talks with President Barack Obama shadowed at every turn by the NSA eavesdropping scandal. Barack needs Merkel now–he needs her to stand with him on Russian encroachments on the Ukraine, an issue on which Germany can be a major player. But Merkel is still licking political wounds inflicted upon her by the NSA scandal. Obama was conspicuously smiling at their joint appearances but underneath the president must be acutely aware of how Fort Meade’s antics have hurt his larger projects.

The NSA started off by insisting it was not collecting data on anyone nor was it eavesdropping. Then it claimed it was “only” dealing in metadata. Then it was only aiming at legitimate intelligence targets, and not Americans. After revelation that our friend Merkel’s phones were bugged, the line went that everybody spies on their allies. As the evidence of massive NSA interception mounted the spooks squirmed on the hook of public disaster. All that interception (phone calls, emails, cloud memory holdings, game moves, web search data) might just send them into oblivion.

President Obama didn’t want that any more than Fort Meade. Back in January he moved on some reforms–not enough, but a start. The problem remains that the spooks still need a way to reframe the issue so they are not at the center of the cross-hairs. It appears that both Mr. Obama and the NSA  are on the verge of creating that narrative.

It was around the New Year when you began to hear–first in Op-Eds by spy-world figures like the former CIA officer John McLaughlin–that the NSA is only doing the same sort of data-mining and cookie reading the corporations engage in. Their point that the privacy issue is bigger than NSA spying is actually well taken. I’ll buy that too. So did Obama. He ordered up a study of web privacy issues and got the first results right around when Chancellor Merkel came to town.

But the White House and Fort Meade should be careful what they wish for. Yes, there should be much more stringent privacy controls on what Silicon Valley can read out on ordinary people. As a matter of fact, Angela Merkel’s country is one where some of those more stringent controls already exist, and those privacy standards are one reason the NSA spying has been so damaging over there. Your phone should not be an NSA target for the same reasons as Merkel’s.

What the spooks would like to come out of this is for citizens to say–for reasons of convenience–that Silicon Valley data-mining is OK and that, if it is, the NSA spying is fine too. But there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in these observations. Silicon Valley cannot target a drone on you or throw you in jail. It collects your data in hopes of winning your (and your friends’) dollars. The NSA eavesdropping is purposeful. It traces your connections in hopes of linking you and your friends, and if at some “hop” there happens to be a bad guy in the chain, woe to you all. What the NSA really doesn’t want is for privacy advocates to say that Silicon Valley and NSA spying are both wrong. Of course, that’s what is actually true. Everyone needs “Merkel rules.”

Michael Hayden’s Faustian Bargain

April 29, 2014–This journey into Alice’s wonderland on the CIA torture program and the now-notorious Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) investigation of it continues. I’ve avoided comment for several weeks. I suppose I thought the issue might go away, what with the SSCI voting to release the report, thus putting its declassification into the hands of the Obama White House. But little seems to have happened there, and the president appears to have taken the course predicted here previously–giving the CIA the job of going up or down on the declassification. This incredible conflict of interest goes forward despite SSCI chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein’s request to President Obama not to permit that big bit of chicanery.

What has happened is that principal culprits in the CIA’s misdeeds are stepping forward to pre-empt the SSCI report. In the vacuum left by the absence of the investigative findings they assert–like former CIA clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez– that no matter what the report says they know torture worked. The psychologist James Mitchell, whose schemes for manipulating individuals lie behind the whole CIA program, has had the audacity–drawing on the image of the principal character of the TV show 24–  to attack critics of torture as “people who have this Jack Bauer mentality.” Of course, it was the perpetrators of the torture, not its critics, who acted in character with agent Bauer. It is of a piece with this whole controversy that “intelligence” is fast disappearing into the maws of poseurs who apparently believe they can convince us that black is white if they say so enough times.

All of which brings us to former CIA director (and NSA director, and ODNI deputy director as well) Michael V. Hayden. A chief, no mere indian, Hayden once had charge of these people. In a sally several weeks ago the former spy chieftain inserted himself yet again into the debate. He suggested that the SSCI took the dim view it does of CIA’s torture because its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein was too emotional. There’s audacity for you! If you’re manly you’re for torture.

I’ve written here before about how Mr. Hayden should recuse himself from this debate–on both the NSA dragnet eavesdropping and the CIA torture the general was a player, his hands not clean and his “legacy,” if we can call it that, threatened by the outcome. But the general shows no inclination to desist. So let’s unpack Michael Hayden’s role in CIA torture and its cover-up.

Michael V. Hayden ascended to the top floor at Langley in May 2006. He moved over from the house of the Director of National Intelligence, for whom he’d been deputy. At the time the black prisons had already been revealed, Jose Rodriguez had already destroyed tapes (and obstructed justice), and the CIA had told a federal court in the Moussaoui terrorism trial that no tapes of interrogations existed (the obstruction). President George W. Bush had signed the Detainee Treatment Act. General Hayden could easily have taken the high road. His incentive to do so grew within the month, when the Supreme Court decided the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case in a way that recognized and widened detainee rights. That triggered a new round of CIA-Justice Department exchanges over its “enhanced interrogation” methods.

Director Hayden took a different path. Until that summer Hayden held the lid on the torture, confining CIA information to Congress to the top leadership. At the agency Hayden pressed for a revitalization that would greatly increase “operational tempo.” Even CIA historians were pressed into service as glorified reports officers, chronicling operational activity, no longer writing agency histories. In September 2006 Mr. Bush closed the CIA prisons and sent the last fourteen detainees to Guantanamo in the care of the U.S. military. But Director Hayden tried to preserve black prisons as a contingency option. CIA issued new guidelines for detention a month later, and in November Hayden participated personally in a round of comprehensive briefings on CIA rendition for the SSCI and Senate Judiciary Committee. Then–and again in February and March 2007–Hayden’s line with the SSCI and its House counterpart was that torture had not been used in years, but that it should be available as a method to exploit. That was the position Mr. Hayden continued to press through the remainder of his tenure. When Barack Obama came to office–and issued an executive order on his very first day that outlawed torture and detention–Hayden’s lawyers made an eleventh-hour intervention to insert language into the order that would preserve a CIA rendition capability.

President Obama got his own CIA directors, starting with Leon Panetta. That put General Hayden on the outside defending the agency’s record. He opposed Obama when the president overrode protests to declassify the original John Yoo legal “opinions” contrived to justify torture. In the fall of 2009 Hayden helped organize and sign a letter from seven former CIA chiefs begging the president to drop all criminal investigations of U.S. intelligence personnel for torture and related offenses. The general commented favorably when Attorney General Eric Holder moved in that direction, and he could be depended upon for negative soundbites when the SSCI investigation got underway, as it progressed, and in the controversy surrounding its release.

The trajectory of Michael Hayden’s participation in these events is quite clear. It’s not likely that the general will, in fact, stand down. But everyone ought to be aware of exactly where Michael V. Hayden is coming from and what he stands for. This is not a matter of a historical debate over CIA achievements, it is about preserving a role for a certain operational capability. The tragedy in all this is that America is better than what General Hayden stood for–and even had laws on the books to prohibit it.

American Spooks Terrified

April 25, 2014–The spy chieftains who run U.S. intelligence are terrified. Not of the North Koreans, or Syrians, or Chinese. Not at the old “Axis of Evil.” Not even with Vladimir Putin’s suddenly muscular diplomacy in the Ukraine. No, the spy mavens are terrified of their own spooks–and of what they might say. I commented here earlier (“U.S. Intelligence Turned Inside Out,” February 5, 2014) at how scary it is that General James Clapper and other American spy chiefs seemingly regard whistleblowers, more than foreign enemies, as principal threats to United States national security. Their concern has now assumed concrete form, far beyond simply asserting before Congress that there may be a problem with leaks.

On March 20 Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, promulgated an order to affect everyone who works for any of our spy agencies. Called Intelligence Community Directive 119, the order says its purpose is “to ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement . . . and to mitigate the risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence related matters.” To achieve these goals Directive 119 orders that no one who works for U.S. intelligence is to have any contact with the media other than designated officials.

Before we go any farther I want to make a point that deserves to be repeated from every rooftop: General Clapper and his minions are substituting their own interests, narrow and parochial, for the national interest. They are either confused about what endangers national security, or they seek to use the public’s deference to that concept to avoid the very conversation America needs to be having right now.

To wit, Directive 119 designates agency directors, their deputies, their PR spin doctors, and those individuals asked by a director to do so as the only persons who can be in contact with the media. In other words, all information is to be authorized information–all vanilla, nothing controversial. Even better, not only will intelligence officers have to obtain advance permission to be in touch with media, they are also required to report casual contacts. And approval of a contact by the higher-ups, under Directive 119 does not imply the inclusion of any follow-up conversation.

This is a formula that affords spy chieftains complete ability to manipulate: they approve the medium, they approve the message, and if later on they decide a mistake was made they can retroactively construe a contact as unauthorized. Those ruled guilty of infractions under the directive can be fired or have their security clearances revoked, which pretty much amounts to the same thing, and then be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Moreover Directive 119 defines “media” so widely that the spooks can construe almost anyone as the enemy– “media is any person, organization or entity” that engages in informing the public “in any form,” and–I love this one–is “otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security.” If you and I discuss on our I-phones U.S. trade policy in certain areas (which are now considered matters of national security) we are “media.”

This is as chilling as imaginable. Intelligence officers abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment–illegal on the face of it. And the aim at whistleblowers is plainly revealed in Paragraph 8 of the directive, which goes out of its way to specify that employees have avenues (other than going to the media) to report unlawful, abusive, fraudulent, or wasteful activities. To add to the message DNI Clapper devotes an entire order, Directive 120 (which has not been made public), to layering on details of those avenues. Of course, the current situation is that action through channels is often sterile because agency officials have vested interests in their programs. A number of CIA and NSA whistleblowers have been prosecuted for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse; the very reason Edward Snowden chose to go to the media. I predict that Directive 119 will have a disastrous effect on intelligence agency morale.

Director Clapper has a tin ear. When Congress asked about NSA dragnet eavesdropping he lied about it. (Congress, by the way, is an “entity” that engages in the collection and dissemination of information on national security.) Later he reflected that if he’d just come clean there wouldn’t have been a problem. President Obama had to order Clapper to declassify and make public legal documents in support of the NSA’s version of the reality. Now, with public confidence in U.S. intelligence at a nadir–because of agencies’ actions, not the media’s reporting of them–Clapper goes after his own employees. The spooks cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that national security–the very existence of their agencies–is threatened by their actions and not by the media’s reporting. They prefer to think that shooting the messenger eliminates the problem. What they should be doing is building public confidence with openness and transparency. Instead we get Directive 119. I have the paperback edition of The Family Jewels  coming out shortly. In it I propose a solution for this mess. Take a look at it.

The Putin Doctrine

April 24, 2014–The news today is that Russian troops on the eastern border of the Ukraine are going to conduct military exercises, while Moscow warns the Ukraine not to rock the boat by using force against pro-Russia activists in the eastern Ukraine. This follows reports earlier this week that specific Russian special operations troopers had been identified in mufti among the Ukrainian “protesters.” (Today the New York Times, which reported this story, went back on the original claim after doubts emerged regarding the photographic evidence. The claim nevertheless has a certain plausibility.) Vladimir Putin’s earlier statements affirming his dedication to “New Russia,” in effect all the lands that formed parts of the historical Soviet Union, smack of irredentism– as was discussed here not very long ago (see “What Do You Say to a Country Called Ruthenia?” from March 24th).

Speaking of the old Soviet Union, it was an article of faith in Soviet military doctrine that “maneuvers” furnished great opportunities for disguising the unleashing of force. These various elements lead to a suspicion that Mr. Putin may indeed be laying the groundwork for a military operation.

It’s been a long time–decades now–since leaders of the former Soviet Union renounced the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” and much longer than that since Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev articulated that excuse for military intervention. Remember the “Prague Spring” of 1968? For me the tears still come when I reflect– on how it seemed a people were insisting on forging their own path into the future, and how the Soviet leadership insisted on their right to prevent any Eastern European nation from leaving Moscow’s camp.

President Putin is making a similar claim today, first to Crimea, now it seems, to the eastern Ukraine. It is the latest evolution of a policy that has included armed action in Chechnya and Georgia. Putin would apparently like to reunite the parts of the historic nation under the Russian flag. Thus the “Putin Doctrine.”

Mr. Putin should be careful what he wishes for. In Soviet times the need to enforce the Brezhnev doctrine helped drive unrealistic levels of military spending, and led to aid and trade commitments to Eastern Europe, both of which helped bankrupt the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The situation for Russia is not all that different today. The Russian economy, while stronger by far than Ukraine, remains weak on the international stage, and economic sanctions can wreak real damage to it. Equally to the point the imposition of Russian political, legal, and economic systems on what has become a foreign entity (whether Crimea alone or Ukraine as a whole) is going to involve real costs. Whether the Old Russia can bear those costs remains an open question. So far, reports out of Crimea indicate Putin’s minions are having difficulties creating the administrative mechanisms necessary simply to run the place.

As is so often the case in international relations, the resort to force or to coercive diplomacy is so much easier to initiate than is the follow-through required to make actions stick. With the Putin Doctrine I fear the future will bring continued chaos in the areas Russia has annexed; charges the problems are due to meddling from Kiev and, perhaps, Washington; and force used against Ukraine itself. Putin’s problem is that the further he expands his writ the more deeply he will become entrapped in a bed of quicksand. This would be a good time to reconsider. But it is likely already too late.

[This post was revised on April 25 after I saw reports disputing the accuracy of claimed photographic evidence of Russian special operations troops in the Ukraine.]

Deepening Shadows at Dien Bien Phu

April 24, 2014–Today is the sixtieth anniversary of what is possibly the most controversial episode of the siege of Dien Bien Phu. That 1954 battle, which brought an end to the French colony of Indochina, had already been sputtering on for more than a month. The French had lost key positions and many soldiers. Some of the men were replaced by parachuted reinforcements but the lost strongpoints were gone–and with them much of the area within which the French air force needed to drop in paratroopers and supplies. Only yesterday in that history, April 23, 1954, one more disastrous counterattack showed just how dire the situation had become.

The episode concerned a strongpoint known as Huguette-1, which the Viet Minh army of General Vo Nguyen Giap had first pinched off, then basically starved out. Against the advice of his senior officers the French commander, Colonel Christian de Castries, decided to use his last constituted reserve in an attempt to regain Huguette-1. That unit, the 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion, was in relatively good shape because it had arrived only recently, though in just two weeks at Dien Bien Phu the unit had lost nearly half its strength. The H-1 counterattack would be the first time the battalion had fought together in the battle. Major Hubert Liesenfeldt found his units late to reach their attack positions, making the preparatory air strike premature. An artillery bombardment was truncated due to the confusion. Then the redoubtable Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Bigeard, coordinator of all counterattacks at the entrenched camp, discovered Liesenfeldt out of touch with some of his embattled assault companies because his radios were tuned to the wrong frequency. The venture collapsed.

All that is subtext to the controversy of April 24. By that day the American secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, was in Paris and closeted with top French officials, who were in shock at the crisis of Dien Bien Phu. We have seen Dulles, just the other day in this space (“Dawn of the Vietnam Conflict,” April 19, 2014), trying to stiffen President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s resolve to intervene in this desperate French battle. Now, in company with French foreign minister Georges Bidault, Secretary Dulles supposedly asked, as they descended the stairs in between formal working sessions, “And if I gave you two atomic bombs for Dien Bien Phu?”

Needless to say the question of using nuclear weapons in this Vietnam battle has been disputed ever since. I don’t want to write too much at this sitting because I’d like to come back later today and post something about Putin and the Ukraine, but I’ll say here that the most thorough analysis you’ll find anywhere on the question of nuclear weapons and Dien Bien Phu is in my book Operation Vulture. Take a look at it.

Medal on the Jacket

April 19, 2014–Friends who saw the panel discussion from the San Antonio Book Festival that aired on C-SPAN 2 “Book News” this afternoon have asked just what medal I was wearing on my jacket that day. Here’s the answer.

In San Antonio the Book Festival kicks off a bigger celebration of community activism and social achievement. There are many medals, pins, and tokens–for  a whole range of different municipal activities apparently– that are worn at civic events during the celebration. The medal I’m wearing is from the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and it marks “Uniting and Inspiring Readers and Writers.” It was given to me before the event and I was pleased to support the San Antonio organizers.