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May 29th, 2023
In recent weeks, I've been engaged in the books of Eric Vuillard. I started with Une Sortie Honorable, and I was utterly captivated. It prompted me to eagerly seek out his other books. I've already devoured L'Ordre du Jour and La Guerre des Pauvres. Next on my list is Congo, which I hope to get my hands on soon.
Une Sortie Honorable tells the story of the end of the Indochina War, exposing how French financiers relentlessly pushed it forward despite knowing they wouldn't emerge victorious. It delves into the exploitation and virtual slavery established by French companies in Southeast Asia, as well as the detached oligarchs of the French Republic who mourned the deaths of "our boys" on the battlefield from the comfort of their luxurious Parisian chalets. Vuillard harbors an intense disdain for those deputies, politicians, and businessmen, and his masterful descriptions of them are truly remarkable. I wish I could recount everything he wrote, but I'll focus on one aspect.
In chapter six, Vuillard proposes renaming the Battle of Cao Bang as the Battle for the Mines de Cao Bang Company, as there were no French settlers present nor any national interests involved apart from those of the company. Likewise, the Battle of Mao Khe would be more aptly labeled the Battle for the Société Française des Charbonnages du Tonkin. I believe the war could be referred to as the War for Michelin, considering the rubber-exploiting company's vested interests. "Our glorious battles transformed into joint-stock companies," Vuillard concludes.
Today, the United States commemorates Memorial Day, honoring "our boys" who lost their lives in the numerous wars waged by the country. Many were convinced they were fighting for their nation, their families, or even humanity as a whole. Following Vuillard's proposition, should we consider renaming the battles and wars of the USA?
A couple of days ago, Henry Kissinger celebrated his 100th birthday, and the National Security Archive released some declassified documents, some of which pertained to the Vietnam War. I discovered that Kissinger advised Richard Nixon to impede peace negotiations in the fall of 1968. Nixon feared that if President Johnson succeeded in ending the war, he would lose the election to the Vice President. As history shows, Nixon achieved his goal. The Americans remained in the war until the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, and Nixon secured the presidency. The cost? An additional twenty-one thousand young American soldiers died in Southeast Asia between 1969 and the Paris Agreement. Perhaps that period of the Vietnam War should be dubbed "The Battle for Nixon's Election."
While those fallen soldiers are remembered in the United States today, let's not forget that over three and a half million Vietnamese, mostly civilians, also perished in the wars waged by France and the United States in their country.