by Nathaniel Moir
The work of Bernard Fall converges with two contemporary events, one recent and one soon to commence. Fredrik Logevall’s spirited New York Times Op-Ed reminded readers, on the fiftieth anniversary of Fall’s death, that studying Fall merits the effort due to the persistent relevance of his prolific scholarship on matters pertaining to war. The second event scheduled for March 18 consists of the United States Army’s Heritage and Education Center’s roundtable, “Cassandra in Oz: Counterinsurgency and Future War,” with Conrad Crane, David Petraeus, and current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. At this event, the development, implementation, and legacy of the United States’ Counterinsurgency doctrine provides the focus for a forum that deserves significant attention.
However, as shown in a memorable War On the Rocks article, the legacy of the United States’ Counterinsurgency doctrine includes a contentious foundation. Bernard Fall, in contrast with proponents of French military doctrine known as la guerre révolutionnaire, upon which key components of the United States’ Counterinsurgency doctrine was based, provided a more circumspect corpus of work from which the United States’ Counterinsurgency doctrine may potentially still benefit. Fundamentally, Bernard Fall believed that successful resolution of the Vietnam War could occur through negotiations informed by more judicious understanding of the cultural and historical realities of the Vietnamese Revolution, particularly in the construction of foreign policy related to Southeast Asia. The military-focused efforts Fall personally observed in Indochina – during his first research trip to Hanoi and much of Tonkin in 1953 - did not appear to work despite the superior military advantage of the French Army over the Viet-Minh. Fall’s contention proved impossible to ignore after the decisive French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. As a result of the Viet-Minh victory, French proponents of la guerre révolutionnaire appropriated Viet-Minh tactics – tactics which had been successful against them – for France’s growing conflict against the FLN in Algeria. Problematically, however, as the introduction to the United States Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24 makes clear, proponents of this doctrine, especially David Galula, provided a conceptual basis for FM 3-24 utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan.