The eight separate fortified positions at the infamous French not-quite-strong-enough stronghold Dien Bien Phu were given women’s names, starting with the first eight letters of the alphabet (skipping F): Anne-Marie, Beatrice, Claudine, Dominique, Eliane, Gabrielle, Huguette, Isabelle. (These were rumoured to be the names of the base commander Colonel de Castries’ mistresses.) The movement of Groupe Mobile 100 from An Khe to Pleiku, which saw them all but annihilated at Mang Yang Pass, was known as “Operation Eglantine.” Dien Bien Phu and Mang Yang Pass were the last engagements before the French bowed out of Indochina; I’m going to miss their naming conventions.
Not that the Americans are going to let me down on that particular front. Names like Arc Light and Rolling Thunder hearken back to when the name of an op was meant to sound good in the history books. These are good, meaty, threatening names, much better than sad, confused creatures like “Operation Desert Snowplough” and “Operation Ivy Cyclone” and “Operation Gothic Serpent”*, names which sound like there’s a Camelot machine buried somewhere in the Pentagon with assorted words-some-desk-jockey’s-wife-thought-sounded-cool on all the balls.
I spent most of the weekend making/eating flapjack, chatting to a certain enchanting young lady on Skype, and doing reading for my 2k Vietnam essay that comes in on Wednesday. Olly was terribly ill so my planned trip to Cov to watch cheap films with his friends was cancelled. Essay is… interesting, the question is whether too much political meddling hobbled the air war campaign, and while the recommended reading is really really good on exploring both intricate and Presidentially-manged ROE and huge phallic high-speed bomb-dropping things, it’s no great shakes on the wider political/strategic context, ie whether LBJ et al were justified in thinking that escalating the bombing would trigger Soviet/Chinese intervention, with connotations of global thermonuclear war. I can still pull a decent essay out of it, but the result would be appallingly even-handed and inconclusive – which is exactly what A-level essays want, but I’m not doing A-levels any more. Rob Thompson likes you to pick a point and argue for it. And this time yesterday I didn’t think I could.
Tried and failed to go to sleep at midnight, my mind and bed piled high with books about bombers. At about four in the morning, gave up, turned on the desktop for a bit of Minecraft and played with mob farmers and TNT until I was properly tired. Set my alarm for the anticipated Vietnam lecture at 11.
Unfortunately, the alarm didn’t go off, and I very luckily woke up at 10:40 to look at my clock and swear loudly. Tore myself out of bed and raced down to the uni; cold air at high speed is at least extremely good for waking me up. Made it on time (just!) – another chap in my group had a problem with his bike lock, so I secured his to mine and we went in together. Lecture on Operation Eglantine was as interesting as expected, and for a change it wasn’t just me and Nick Prime talking; the possibility was later suggested that with an essay deadline looming, feckless student types are actually doing some reading and finding it fun. Not that they’re doing that much; one of the regular contributors kept saying that the people at Dien Bien Phu and Group Mobile 100 were Americans (for those who don’t know anything about the French Indochina War, here is a hint: “French Indochina War”). But that could just be a bit of honest confusion, and is certainly not on the same level of derp as the girl last year talking about satellite photography on the Somme.
Unlocking the other bloke’s bike meant I missed catching Rob after the lecture for dissertation stuff, so I rolled down to his office to try and ambush him there. McLeod (he and Rob share the office) showed up, and we made war-related talk; pissed as I often get at Toby’s often haphazard approach to admin (though he ain’t alone in that by any means…) he’s a very nice guy, and definitely knows his stuff. Then Rob appeared, and we talked about Vietnam and War and Iain Banks and the fiercely optimistic Sixties American love-of-technology-as-a-panacea-for-everything quite a bit, and he gave me lots of PDFs full of cool books and DARPA notes on field tests of mad supervillain gear. I really like talking to academics about things like this, it’s always incredibly interesting and I learn a lot, but the short version is, I’m now much more certain about both dissertation and essay.
Then I came home and had a huge lunch of bacon and eggs and tiger bread and fried onions. This week is going extremely well so far, and I’m only a few hours into it.
brb repaying sleep debt
*The first two are actual operations conducted in the current Iraq scrap. The last was the 1993 op in Somalia that led to the Battle of Mogadishu, widely known as simply “Black Hawk Down.”