and then i see headlines like this Christian Science Monitor article that rile me: "How to fight insurgents? Lessons from the French" about the pentagonia using the Battle of Algiers as offering counter-insurgency lessons for the US occupation of Iraq. though the author gently implies that the french lessons from Algeria is the imperative of political support both in the occupier & occupied countries, this misses the larger lesson in history of occupation & occupied people's will-to-power. you cannot talk about french counterinsurgency tactics in isolation from the revolutionary independence struggle in Algeria and in France's other occupied territory Việt Nam.
that some pentagonian thought that french tactics in Algeria hermetically sealed from historical context could be a blueprint for Iraq, tells me this fool's favorite french movie about Việt Nam is that revisionist colonial belle epoque white man's burden mission civilatrice sentimental la-vie-en-rose drivel, Indochine, written-by-the-losers French film about this beneviolent creole rubber plantation owner (uuubiquitously French Catherine Deneuve) who inherits (ludicrous) an ingrate Vinamese princess (Linh Dan Pham) who not only steals her adoptive mother's boytoy French mercenary soldier lover (preposterous) but also dares to join the liberation movement to overthrow the French colonizers. along the way, homegirl gives up her eurasian baby to said adoptive mother to raise in France where he assimilates and rejects his Vinamese mother in favor of Deneuve after the Geneva Accords (incredulous). heavy on the histerical revision, pathos and metaphor. magnaminous French Mother rejected by the recalcitrant Vinamese Daughter. savais?|get it? like its calorie-free fiction-History loaded with corn syrup, hydrogenated fat, and chock full of preservatives and rose-tinted carcinogenic dyes. unlike most french arthouse movies though, there is no incest (unless you consider the sharing of the boytoy incestuous, in which case, then it does like all other french films involve some measure of incest).
it's pathetic when people get their history from movies. fictionalized history supplants what actually happened with romantic half-truths and out right lies, what i like to call Fictory (or Colbert would call truthiness) in the vein of Forrest Gump. about the only thing the movie got right was the Marie Antoinette gilded bubble of privileged ignorance and excess decadence of the French occupiers with their opium and congaie|mistresses, dehumanization of Vinamese, the callous murders by the French and the just rage for overthrowing French colonizer butchers.
(and while i'm on this tip, by the way, the Nguyễn dynasty sold us out to the French in the first place in addition to invading and conquering Laos, Kampuchea, and Champa. Gia Long was a ignominous traitor who turned to French missionary Pigneau de Behaine after the peasants got done being slaves, revolted in Tây Sơn and overthrew the decadent corrupt exploitative complacent dynasty. as we all know what colonizers bring to civilize the heathen savages, just flip the Cross and you get the Sword. missionaries & religious righteousness have historically been the pretext for military invasion and genocide in the name of the lord from the crusades on. now like any literate/literary person worth her salt, i've read the bible several times and i can't seem to find the commandment, parable, psalm, beatitude etc where god or jesus-the-prince-of-peace says "thou shalt kill in my name. blessed are the christians for they will dominate the earth. god hath given free will except for savages and heathens who art particularly dispensable when interfering with the machinations of capitalism. convert or die. peace." so, predictably, the imperial republic of France (liberté-egalité-fraternité!) invaded in 1858 to protect the catholics, persecute the buddhists, enlighten the savages with democracy, set up occupation shop for a couple hundred years, oh and turn a tidy profit in the process. religious righteousness & democracy are such convenient ideologies to rationalize invasion, domination, oppression, and exploitation. So all you Huế-imperial-superiority people can suck my little pinky toe. as my mama says lưỡi không xương|mealy mouthed fantacists. the last 150 years of Western violence in VN is your royal contribution to Vinamese history. thanks.)
Here's some fun life-under-the-french trivia for you:*
- Rubber plantations were nicknamed nơi tàn sát|slaughterhouses because of their enslavement trickery of luring folks in with promises of wages and then starving, brutalizing , torturing and killing them in the process of extracting latex for Michelin among others. the Michelin man is morbidly bloated with depraved profit cannibalistically drained from the masticated marrow and blood of innocents. the only way to escape the rubber plantations was DEATH. or as it turns out, REBELLION--or what in today's doublethink parlance is dubbed "terror!sm" or "!nsurgency".
- In the plantations, pregnant women--who had been raped & impregnated by the french overseers and owners--were ordered to dig a hole in the ground for their bellies before they were beaten for asking to use the bathroom. torture tactics borrowed from american slaveowners. in a sick parallel irony to today's article, the au courant news article in France at that time would have read "Comment pacifiions des coolies? Les leçons des américains|How to pacify coolies? Lessons from the Americans"
- There was an excrutiating French tax on salt and alcohol to fatten the colonial coffers further. now you may dismiss this as no particular hardship after all, don't we pay an extra five cent "tax" on every bottle or aluminum can we buy (and recently plastic bags). so in the spirit of the Food Stamps Challenge take the seven day Colonizer Salt Challenge: go do some manual labor. alot of it. from dawn to dusk. then make your meal from thin rice gruel and jungle weeds and don't use any salt. not a drop of nước mắm to be had, nor soy sauce. not even the condensated saltine sweat from your own brow. then you'll understand what kind of suffering this is and why there are folksongs about the hardship of the salt tax. and on the upside, you'll lose some weight though you might have a heart attack in the process. there's a reason why gatorade is made with salt yo. salt is the foundation of civilization.
- now the alcohol tax was different. it was a gavage alcohol quota. each village was obligated to purchase alcohol and consume it or be punished with conscription in the coolie corps (those railroads & french colonial architecture got built somehow) or menfolk forced into the colonizer army or face imprisonment (aka the School of the Revolution). i guess the french were hoping to create a society of pacified alcoholics rather than belligerent drunks. lucky for vinamese people, our beer is weaker than Utahian beer. but our rượu đá|rice wine will burn a hole through your liver. in Eastern medicine, the liver is the seat of anger, so if your liver is looking like pâté de foie gras your concern is more likely to be your bequest than rebellion.
- Untold numbers of Vietnamese die under the beneviolent colonist regime (they didnt bother to count how many savages & heathens they threw in the mass graves). 2 million died of famine under the beneviolent Japanese (so much for "Asia for the Asians"). 1 million wounded, ½ million died resisting the beneviolent French back for seconds. over 2 million died under the beneviolent Americans, the number of wounded is still rolling exponentially as leftover landmines and agent orange continue to deploy three decades later. 25,000 died fighting the Khmer Rouge. 10,000 died resisting the 1979 Chinese invasion. not to mention how many perished in the re-education camps and as refugees. 5 wars in the space of 130 years. the price of liberation and independence. (though it begins to make sense why civil society would unravel...)
France lost in Việt Nam. France lost in Algeria. major military and moral/political losses. and so then, it gave up the Empire lest it hemorrhage to its own death. people under occupation and domination will never give up the struggle for liberation and independence no matter what the counter-!nsurgency tactics. that's the real lesson from France. the Western world would do well to remember that lest they be condemned to repeat it...
*oooh, Book Learning about the French in VN. don't just take my word for it.
- Before the Revolution: Vietnamese Peasants under the French by Nguyen Vinh Long
- Red Earth: A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation by Tran Bu Binh