Oct 27

(Today's guest post is by John Mikolajczyk. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

If you’ve heard the “Muslims are savages/barbarians from the 6th/7th/12th century” trope before, you’ve probably heard its counterpart, “Why aren’t more Muslims speaking out/protesting/resisting the Islamic extremist tide?” Often paired with the century designation, this talking point asks the reader to consider why there is a seeming lack of push-back against Islamic extremism worldwide and assumes that the apparent silence on the matter hints at complicity.

So why aren’t more Muslims speaking out, protesting or resisting the actions of their so-called brethren? Well, consider that as you read this:

- In Libya, government forces, as well as tribal forces and even former Gaddafi loyalists, are presently dueling with a burgeoning Islamist insurgency. Over 2,000 people have died in such clashes this year alone.

- In Iraq, Iraqi police and military forces from December 2011 to June 2014 have lost at least 6,788 personnel combating an Islamic extremist insurgency. Battling, mind you, the same kinds of terrorists, in some cases perhaps the very same terrorists, US forces fought during their nearly decade long deployment in the region.

- In Syria, Pro-Assad, as well as Anti-Assad forces, have been engaged against Islamic militants for years, with an estimated 10,467 Islamic militants killed in the war as of 9/3/14. Recently over 700 people were in killed in just 48 hours of combat between Syrian government forces and ISIS fighters.

- In Egypt, since the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egyptian military and police forces have been struggling with an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, suffering “hundreds” of dead in the ongoing conflict.

- In Pakistan, from 2003 to October 2014, at least 5,938 soldiers and police officers have died fighting Islamic militants inside their borders. Like in Iraq, many of these militants are same that were and are currently engaging US forces in the region.

That’s quite an appalling amount of blood to be spilled fighting against people you supposedly agree with. It’s also an incredible amount of fighting, for years nonetheless, to be doing to be called out for not doing enough.

Thus the question posed earlier in this article proves itself not just to be a fallacy, but perhaps the very definition of a fallacy as not only are “good Muslims” suffering the most in the struggle against Islamic terrorism, but also they’ve done the most damage to it.

Muslims worldwide aren’t just speaking out; they’re dying fighting back against something they probably don’t like any more than Americans do.

John Mikolajczyk is currently an office administrator with a government healthcare agency and a part-time bookseller. He graduated in the top 10% of his class from Kean University with degrees in criminology and history. While at Kean, he was a standout Air Force ROTC cadet and student activist. He also received an award for “best undergraduate term paper” for his treatise on the theoretical costs of the Trojan War. In his spare time he enjoys reading, playing video games, creative writing, hiking, and walking his golden labrador.

Oct 23

(Today's guest post is by Daniel Faris. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Gun control is one of the defining issues of our lifetimes. It ranks alongside climate change, gay marriage, pot legalization, and health care reform in the list of issues that Americans desperately want to see addressed in a productive and realistic way.

And yet, we can’t seem to get any traction on it. I’m as guilty as anyone of using my heart instead of my head to formulate my opinions, but that’s going to have to change--for all of us--before we put this issue to bed.

I have, historically, supported reasonable gun ownership rights. I refuse to believe that we can continue to shape our public policy around the tiniest percentage of American citizens who own guns and kill people with them.

After all, isn’t that what America wants? The Occupy Wall Street movement rallied against the 1% and their privilege, citing America’s growing fondness for giving the tiniest minority--the wealthy--special treatment. Neither can we allow the tiny fraction of violent gun owners to shape our nation’s laws.

However, we all owe it to ourselves to challenge our beliefs. Here’s what challenged mine.

Historical Precedent: The Port Arthur Massacre

As you may or may not know, Port Arthur in Australia was the setting for one of the deadliest shootings in world history; in fact, it remains the deadliest attack of its kind in the entire English-speaking world. In 1996, 26-year-old Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others at the Port Arthur prison colony.

What makes it a truly remarkable event, however, is not the lost life but the overwhelming response of the Australian people; a reported 90% of poll respondents indicated that they favored stricter gun control methods, culminating in what remains one of the most successful gun control overhauls ever.

Just twelve days after the shooting, Australia’s leadership agreed to ban semi-automatic and automatic weapons, and also instituted a buy-back program for those who already owned high-powered firearms. Australia had, more or less overnight, rallied to deliver one of the most comprehensive and consistent gun control packages in recorded history, to nearly universal approval.

There have been no further mass killings since the laws took effect.

Inspiration from an Unlikely Place

When I said my beliefs had been challenged lately, I wasn’t kidding. And the most recent challenge came from an unlikely source: a stand-up comedy special on Netflix. Jim Jeffries, an Australian who now calls America home, is particularly outspoken when it comes to gun control. And he’s not throwing around tired talking points or politically-charged sound bites; he knows what he’s talking about.

He rightfully calls on the evidence that Australia is a demonstrably safer place after instituting this ban, and he does it with the showmanship of a professional entertainer.

More than that, he demonstrates an understanding of common sense that seems to be lacking from America’s current discussions on the subject.

Jeffries points out that the Second Amendment is just that: an amendment. It’s an alteration to an already existing document, so to pretend that it and the rest of the Constitution is somehow immutable is to seriously misunderstand the point of the document. It was designed to be organic, to change according to our shifting perspectives.

He also points out how fallacious it is for die-hard gun owners to cling to the empty argument that personal firearms are for “protection.” Your average gun owner in suburbia has no need for high-caliber protection; Joe Six Pack is not nearly as tempting a target as he might like to believe.

Whatever you happen to believe about guns – and hopefully, like me, you’re at least ambivalent on the subject – you’re making an informed decision. We too readily abandon reason for gut reactions and blind grasping after privileges that were never a part of the original Constitution – a document that too many of us seem to want to deify.

The truth is, this argument is driven by personal arguments rather than practical ones. In much the same way that our dependence on oil will continue, in defiance of reason and progress, until we embrace new technologies like electric and driverless cars, so too will the gun control debate continue to distract us on a cultural level until we decide to act together with the common good in mind.

At the end of the day, I’m not saying that Jeffries is 100% right, or that further study isn’t necessary, or even that the evidence wholly supports the theory that fewer guns would mean fewer crimes. All I’m saying is that, so long as comedians are making points that our lawmakers seem not to have considered, we’re as far away from closure on this issue as we could possibly be.

Daniel Faris is a graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University and a current resident of Harrisburg, PA. If you want to talk politics, you can check out his work at Only Slightly Biased, or you can join his alter ego for discussions about progressive music over at New Music Friday.

Apr 29

(Today's guest post is by John Mikolajczyk. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Everyone has an opinion on mass shootings, their causes, and their solutions. Among the endless sea of opinions on the subject, the belief that mass shootings are a common occurrence, increasing in frequency, and becoming more deadly, is perhaps one of the most widely held. Despite, as oft cited criminologist Dr. James Alan Fox (who specializes in mass murder) has said on multiple occasions, it not being true.

(For the purposes of this article, I will be defining a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more fatalities occur, although multiple definitions for “mass shooting” exist, most articles referenced here seem to use to this criteria.)

Capitalizing on this misguided belief, Attorney General Eric Holder was proud to announce during a lecture to a group of police chiefs in December of 2013, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had “prevented” 148 mass shootings and “other violent attacks” from January through November of that year and “hundreds” of attacks had been disrupted since the inception of it’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center in 2011.

That is quite the claim, considering the same man practically debunked his own statement a month earlier when in another speech to police chiefs he said there were an average of five “active shooting” incidents per year from 2000 to 2008. Adding that the annual average of “active shooting” incidents had tripled since then. An “active shooting,” as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, is a mass shooting or an attempted mass shooting (i.e. the Clackamas Town Center incident).

So before the FBI’s “Behavioral Threat Assessment Center” program began in 2011, there were five incidents a year, with no outside intervention taking place. Now, with FBI intervention stepping in, there are three times as many incidents a year in addition to 148 thwarted attacks in just 11 months? These numbers don’t reconcile.

How exactly does the Behavioral Threat Assessment Center prevent scores of mass shootings?

First, cases of “troubling behavior” (e.g. “bizarre behavior” coupled with an interest in firearms) are referred to the center by “federal, state, local and campus law enforcement, schools, businesses, and houses of worship.” Then center staff, composed of government law enforcement personnel and psychiatrists, evaluate the potential threat and sanction a course of action for how to proceed. However, Andre Simmons, the unit chief of the center, admits that most often the recommendation is merely a referral for mental health treatment.

Essentially, the FBI runs a mental health treatment referral center, distinguishable from the countless volunteer and state-run referral centers around the country only in that it is funded and staffed by US government personnel.

Also consider that we live in the age of “zero tolerance policies” in the American school system, where a doodle drawn by a bored tween can attract local law enforcement attention. In light of this and the current climate of fear (over the erroneous belief in mass shooting frequency mentioned earlier), it is easy to see how the FBI’s assessment center has been getting three new cases to consider every week.

Then again, all things considered, 148 mass shootings prevented sounds much better for the government law enforcement community than 148 mentally ill persons referred for treatment, right? But most likely this isn’t true.

John Mikolajczyk is currently an office administrator with a government healthcare agency and a part-time bookseller. He graduated in the top 10% of his class from Kean University with degrees in criminology and history. While at Kean, he was a standout Air Force ROTC cadet and student activist. He also received an award for “best undergraduate term paper” for his treatise on the theoretical costs of the Trojan War. In his spare time he enjoys reading, playing video games, creative writing, hiking, and walking his golden labrador.

Aug 07

(Today's guest post is by Don Gomez of the blog Carrying the Gun. He is an old enlisted infantryman and a new infantry officer. He tweets @dongomezjr. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Although I have written extensively and passionately on the subject of the infantry in regards to gender integration, I’ve stayed away from getting sucked into tit-for-tat exchanges with so-and-so over the arguments for and against the whole thing. I’ve found that the main arguments have been, for the most part, exhausted. I’ve met no one who has argued that training standards should be lowered in order to allow women to serve in combat arms.

And then yesterday I saw this article by Rowan Scarborough pop up with fiery rage on social media and beyond: “Double Standard: Pentagon hints at changes to allow more women in ground combat.”

Whoa, I said to myself, what happened?

And then I read the article and realized nothing happened. The article is a lay-analysis of comments from key military leaders on the topic and interviews with folks who hold the strong belief that women do not belong in combat arms.

The article suggests that something has been discovered or something has changed. Nothing has changed. And I intend to show that right here.

A review of news conferences and congressional testimony shows that the top brass repeatedly use the word “validate” — not necessarily “retain” — when talking about ongoing studies of tasks to qualify for infantry, armored and special operations jobs.

In other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the argument that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant.

Who did this review? And okay, the word ‘validate’ is used instead of ‘retain.’ So what? How does that necessarily lead to the conclusion that “in other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the arrangement that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant?”

Standards need to be validated precisely because they have never been validated before because there was never a reason to validate them in the first place. How long does it take an average squad of infantrymen to fill 100 sandbags? We don’t know, because we never really had to test it. Men signed up for the infantry, learned some skills, passed some gates, drank the grog, and earned their crossed rifles.

Senior officers for the first time also are stressing the mental aspect of ground combat, not just physical strength and endurance. Analysts say that is another sign that the military is looking at different ways to ensure that women qualify.

For the first time? That’s wrong. When the services released their plans for integrating women into combat arms almost two months ago, they stated directly in their publicly released memos what they would be looking for. The Army, for example, writes:

1. TRADOC Analysis Center (TRAC) is conducting a study of institutional and cultural factors associated with integration of women into previously closed Military Occupational Specialties and units. The gender integration study draws upon literature reviews, surveys, focus groups, interviews, and process mapping to identify potential factors affecting integration. TRAC is also engaging Soldiers and leaders throughout the Army to ensure that their perspectives are evaluated. This study was initiated in January 2013 and is projected to close by January 2015.

The article then goes on to quote Robert Maginnis, a former artillery officer who is fervently against women in combat units. He just wrote a book titled “Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women Into Combat.” He says:

“It will begin as an ‘experiment,’ and meanwhile there will be a whittling away of standards — gender-norming — regarding what is required to graduate from certain schools, such as Army Rangers,” Mr. Maginnis said. “The administration and its ideological radical feminist soul mates are willing to accept less effectiveness at the point of the spear in order to put women into every last military occupational specialty.”

Nice. Mr. Maginnis states the future eroding of standards as fact. It is to be because he has predicted it. There is no use in arguing with someone with that kind of an opinion because it is absolutist. He has a firm belief and he has staked himself on it.

Scarborough then goes on to quote some key leaders and ends with what has now become an infamous quote from GEN Dempsey. Scarborough punches up the quote by making it seem like General Dempsey was slamming his fist on the table to the service branches, writing that they “had better have a good argument for keeping it [the standard.]“

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in January that if a standard keeps women out of a combat job, the military branch had better have a good argument for keeping it.

“If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, ‘Why is it that high?’” Gen. Dempsey said. “Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion provision in place, we never had to have that conversation.”

Folks jumped on that line the moment it left the General’s lips. A few days later, aware of the negative backlash it was generating, General Dempsey penned a blog post clarifying what he meant:

I want to address some misperceptions about the decision to rescind the direct combat rule for women. Some fear that this decision will lower standards in our military. That is simply not the case. The services will carefully examine current standards to ensure we have them right, taking into consideration lessons learned from a decade of war and changes in equipment, tactics and technology. We will study each closed occupational field or unit to determine where women are able to serve.

Let me be clear: The standards will be gender-neutral — the same for men and women. This assessment will take time, and the Joint Chiefs and I are committed to making sure that this is done correctly.

Of course, opponents of women in combat arms would argue that the whole idea of “carefully examining current standards” is code for lowering standards to allow women in. And if that’s what you believe, there is nothing I can do for you. If you can’t take the CJCS at his word, than you are far beyond the wall.

This quote is perhaps my favorite in the article.

Apr 18

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

I am a gun owner. Nothing ostentatious, just a single action .22, a gift from my father. I keep it for recreation, home invasion, and the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

When I was five, I saw my first real gun. My dad knew that with guns in the house, gun safety was a necessity. My education was limited to “stay away” and “find an adult”. As I aged/grew older, so did my education. Always, there was an emphasis on danger and respect. It was more than the simple, “this is not a toy” speech, but an explanation of what a gun can do and why it exists. My father made sure there was no confusion. Exposure was progressive. I’m not sure when, but I was finally allowed to handle a gun under supervision after a professionally licensed safety course at a firing range.

I have no intention of ever using my gun on someone. I have been angry and never considered the gun as an option. I have been severely depressed and still never considered the gun an option. I was at home once when someone tried to break in. At that point, the gun became an option; though it never came to that as the burglar ran off after realizing I was home. The only time my gun leaves the house is if I am taking it to the range, and even then it is unloaded. I keep the ammunition and firearm in separate locked boxes as per state law for transporting firearms. I have never fired my gun anywhere other than at a range and I have no intention doing otherwise.

With all the above mentioned; I consider myself a responsible gun owner. As such, I believe I have demonstrated the right to own a firearm. As have scores of Americans who use them at work, for sport, and for recreation. But dangerous people have challenged this right by doing stupid and terrible things.

I understand the motives propelling those who want to reform or even abolish the second amendment. The simple truth is, without guns, there would be no gun deaths. While I will not speculate on how getting rid of guns would affect the statistics on clubbings or knife inflicted injuries, what I will say is that what we need isn’t to get rid of the second amendment, but to better define it and enforce it. Because too much freedom is no better than removing freedom. At this moment in time we have so much freedom we lead the world in non-war gun deaths, which isn’t a tribute to freedom, but to chaos.

The truth is: I don’t trust you. I trust me because I know I know how to responsibly use a firearm. I trust certain members of my family because they’ve demonstrated proper use of a firearm through years of safe use. Some of my fraternity members I don’t trust... And I don’t trust most of you, because I don’t know you or what training you’ve had. Plus, guns are potentially dangerous to me and those I love. And me having a gun doesn’t make me feel safer about you having a gun.

Eddy Izzard had a set of jokes based on the motto “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” in his show Dressed to Kill. While meant as comedy, there’s some truth ringing through the laughs. I have no real answers to the riddle. Only a suggestion that we make gun legislation an issue again rather than avoiding the fact that firearms are constantly finding themselves in dangerous hands. And while people do kill people, guns help.

Apr 18

(Today's guest post is by Austin Bodetti. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

When my friend asked me, “Austin, there was a shooting in Newtown—did you hear?” I thought that he was joking. It would have been a very strange joke. “No, seriously,” he said. Brian was not joking.

December 14 was a long day, and I would have a long week, but I never stopped checking Wikipedia’s daily updates on the Syrian civil war, which I have done since 2011. On December 14, twenty-eight people died in Newtown. That same day, the Syrian Arab Army executed at least one hundred. The next day, it executed another 131 along with 171 on Christmas. Today, December 29, three hundred more Syrian civilians are dead. Dozens of them are children, including infants.

It is always the same: every day in the Syrian Arab Republic, there is an average of one to two hundred civilian casualties, and none are the result of a down-and-outer with his sporting rifle.

It makes little difference to parents whether their children die from a madman or a mortar. Either way, their daughter is dead, their son is dead, the memories are dead, and they may pray if religious, but their child is dead either way. To these parents and anyone who saw what happened, especially anyone who saw a firefighter carrying a body no bigger than his arms, what happens here matters more than over there, yet Syria is off everyone else’s emotional map: for Americans from the President to my neighbor, dead children suddenly matter when they die on American soil or—in my neighbor’s case—a few miles from your house.

In his televised address given the day of the shooting, the President made an offer: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” He meant tragedies here, not in Syria, which is somewhere over there, but the President had made two moves toward the Free Syrian Army (FSA) only days before. On the 3rd, he threatened military action if the Syrian Army deployed chemical weapons, which are apparently worse than shelling the Damascus suburbs. On the 11th, he recognized the FSA as the true government of Syria. The Syrian Army has spent the last week assembling its chemical weapons anyway, and awe-inspiring American recognition has accomplished little for the FSA and the three thousand or so civilians who have died since December 11.

The shooting is a tragedy, and I, like the President, hope to prevent more of these tragedies, but not in the United States of America and here only…unless the hundred-casualty-a-day massacres in Syria, not to mention what the Syrian Army did to boys my age, Jack Pinto’s age, and younger in the early days of the civil war, are collateral damage of some internal problem. When I hear stories of sons burying their fathers and more often of fathers burying their sons, when an FSA rebel, now deceased, has just time enough to write me, “My friends are dying faster than I can make them,” and when two dozen children dead is nothing new to a country thousands of miles away, it looks bigger than an internal problem.

Remember Newtown, but never forget that children died not only on the other side of the state but also on the other side of the world, where a debate on gun control and some kind words from the President were too little to save them.

Apr 10

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

I think I saw him first: a man lying face down on a street corner. I hit my partner in the shoulder.

We were dazed on the ride back to station. Working for an ambulance company that only did facility transfers, we were at the extreme edge of the company’s service area, returning from taking an invalid woman back to her Los Angeles home. It was a difficult transport, just toward the end, because the only access to her home was seven flights of stairs. We muscled our patient to her bed, made sure she was comfortable and taken care of, and trudged back to our ambulance.

Our radio barely worked we were so far from the repeater. My paperwork was done so there was nothing for me to do. I remember leaning my head on the window and looking staring down at the moving pavement. I stared so long I was becoming nauseous. So I adjusted and looked forward. That’s when I saw him.

“Yeah, I see him,” he said.

We were both that mix between excited and panicked. This looked like an unconscious person. A true emergency. True emergencies are something we rarely saw.

My partner radioed the location and situation in as he pulled over. The dispatcher sounded excited too. “Really?” I could hear her ask as I grabbed my clipboard and the jump kit with our supplies. I left the sliding door on the side open. My partner had yet to leave driver’s seat when I reached the patient.

As I knelt, I heard what sounded like a zipper followed by metal very quickly hitting the side of our ambulance. Thunk thunk thunk. Three, maybe more. My kneeling went to me falling on my ass and scurrying backwards. I’m not sure how I got into the ambulance but I remember falling backwards as my partner hit the gas and peering out the back to see who shot at us.

My partner radioed it in. He was yelling into the microphone. I remember telling him, “Shit. I left the jump kit.”

We were interviewed by police on what happened, paramedics checked us out, and our supervisor came to pick us up. They weren’t sure if the ambulance would become evidence since it had seven new holes in it. Either way, the company didn’t want us working for the rest of the day. Our supervisor kept asking if we wanted to talk to someone, a counselor to assess us for PTSD. But I didn’t feel traumatized, I felt dumb.

Scene safety is the first thing they teach you as an EMT. As a first responder, you’re no good to anyone if you’re hurt or dead. You, in fact, become another patient and are then risking someone else who has to retrieve and treat you. I knew this. Coupled with the years of situation awareness lessons [link post] from a paranoid (or ironically erudite) father, I shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.

Unfortunately, our patient was dead by the time police secured the area. An officer told me they probably shot at us because our uniforms. No one contacted me as to whether the shooter or shooters were caught.

I didn’t stay with that transport company much longer. Not because of the incident; I wanted to work for a 911 company, not an EMT company transferring the elderly from place to place. One where I could do primarily emergency response. I wanted more experience.

And I checked the scene for safety on every call.

Feb 20

(Today's guest post is by Austin Bodetti, who attends the Hopkins school in New Haven and has an avid interest in military history. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

From the Vietnam War to the Wars on Drugs and Terror, the United States of America has never stopped searching for pitched battles (i.e. guaranteed victories), yet even the most decisive of these battles mean nothing in terms of counterinsurgency. After the Tết Offensive, the Việt Cộng (vc) ceased to be a problem for the United States Army, but the US Army ceased to have popular support. Today is no different: the Battle of Baghdad and Fall of Kabul yielded similar results to Tết in the long term. Among all the lessons that the Vietnam War, Iraq War, and War in Afghanistan offer, nowhere in American history is there an example of the opposite, a case where guerillas had the means to defeat the counterinsurgent in pitched battle. Exceptions in warfare fall, as always, to the French.

Before the us Army fought the VC, the French Far-East Expeditionary Corps (CEFEO), led by Henri Eugène Navarre 1953–4, fought the Việt Minh. Navarre lacked the tactical genius of opponent Võ Nguyên Giáp; unlike the previous commander in chief Raoul Albin Louis Salan, Navarre had little experience in leadership. He was an intelligence officer thrown the job of leading four hundred thousand Frenchmen, Indochinese, and North Africans, and he blamed his problems on communists in Paris, who blamed the First Indochina War on him. It was this unremarkable man whom the French Fourth Republic and its American ally expected to succeed where six of France’s best generals had failed. It was he who would fail most remarkably of all.

The French high command proposed to Navarre a project that Salan had begun. In 1953’s Operation Castor, Salan had captured a large piece of Việt-Minh territory, where he established a sixteen-square-mile stronghold in a ravine outside the city Điện Biên Phủ. This base had two airstrips, enough artillery to flatten Vietnam, and a 10,800-man garrison, largely legionnaires and paratroopers.Para commander Marcel ‘Bruno’ Bigeard declared, ‘Dien Bien Phu est imprenable!’ and each of Navarre’s American advisors agreed. When Giáp attacked Điện Biên Phủ—he would have to attack since it was the honorable, French thing to do—the cefeo would be so ready that all Giáp’s men might die on the spot. The Americans liked this idea.

Neither the Americans nor Navarre expected Giáp to be an admirer of Napoléon Bonaparte, who first earned fame dragging artillery a few miles across the Alps. Giáp dragged his artillery all the way from Beijing. He shelled the French March through May 1954, when they surrendered…legionnaires, paras, and all. Giáp’s artillery, what ensured his victory, did not cross the Sino–Vietnamese border on his back. Thousands of peasants, communist and nationalist alike, offered to carry ammunition and food hundreds of miles by truck, by bicycle, and most often by foot. Plus, Giáp had forty-eight thousand soldiers, all volunteers, to the cefeo’s 10,800 professionals.

The French had better soldiers. They had better weapons. They even had Bigeard, called the greatest para in history. Decades later, Giáp would write the book People’s War, People’s Army: The Viet Cong Insurrection Manual for Underdeveloped Countries, where he described how guerillas could defeat a Western country as long as they had popular support. This support the French lacked, and five thousand reinforcements airdropped by Central-Intelligence-Agency pilots were never going to get it. The situation became so dire that the CIA proposed Operation Vulture: the US Air Force would nuke Việt-Minh positions around Điện Biên Phủ with British and French support. The French agreed. The British, who have long understood the nuances of counterinsurgency, did not. They saw that the First Indochina War was no Malayan Emergency, which the British had quelled by promising the Malays independence. The French had refused independence to the Khmers, the Laos, and the Vietnamese for the Indochina War’s eight years, and turning Điện Biên Phủ into Hiroshima would change nothing.

Like Giáp, Navarre wrote a book about his experience, where he blamed the defeat not on his own errors and those of the French in general but on communists in Paris, who continued to haunt him till his death in 1983. Bigeard, on the other hand, applied the lessons from the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in French Algeria, where he earned the love of civilians (Arab as well as French) and the respect of his enemy. Somehow, America has spent the last sixty years studying Điện Biên Phủ without learning to do the same.