tiens bien fou

Le Chant des Partisans (or in English: The guerrillas’ song) was a famous French song, widespread among members of France’s resistant movement against the Nazi, many of whom later fought at Điện Biên Phủ battle, including De Castries, Langlais, Bigeard… The guerrillas’ song was once used by French against the Nazi, now ironically used by Vietnamese fighting the French.

Éliane-2 hill nowadays, vestige of the blew-away top.

ay, 6th, 1954, 11 PM: Nguyễn Hữu An, commander of the 174th regiment, 316th division, ordered the last attack on the Éliane-2 height (Vietnam nomenclature: A1 hill). The hill ownership has been shifted from side to side many times during the past 55 days, on the Viet Minh side, a price of about 2000 deaths was paid for the area of 2000 m2 of the hilltop. Finally, a tunnel was digged into the hill foot, one ton of TNT explosive was placed in to blow up the whole fortification. The mine blast was starting signal for the ultimate assault into Điện Biên Phủ garrison, fate of the famous battle has just been decided.

Le Chant des Partisans (Anna Marly) 

May, 7th, 1954, 04 AM

Captain Pouget, from Éliane-2 called the commanding post on radio, asking for reinforcements, the situation was hopeless. Major Vadot, in an indifferent voice, told Pouget, like a professor trying to explain a hard problem to his student: Reinforcement? Be reasonable boy, we have no more such!. Then, he ordered Pouget to destroy the radio and defend to death. Suddenly, a voice intercepted on the wave, in French, the Viet Minh radio operator said: Hold the line, please! Gentleman, we invite you one piece of music: Le Chant des Partisants. Vadot listened to the whole song, then blew 3 carbine shots destroying the device.

Later the same day, May, 7th, 1945

Gia Lâm airport, Hà Nội, a certain French drunk soldier dragging his feet on the street, crying: Quoi? Điện Biên Phủ? C’est exactement: Tiens bien fou! (kind of French playing on words, literally translated into English as: What? Điện Biên Phủ? It’s exactly: should probably go mad there).

chhom nimol

   Connect four 
   Seeing hands 

ot to know about music of our neighbor, Cambodia. Sure it used to be a country with brilliant art traditions, from dancing, music to architecture… Quite a strange combination: Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol and the Los Angeles world-music rock-band Dengue Fever.

Together, they brought back popular music of the 60s in Cambodia, which was Khmer music with Western influences, now retrofitted in a new psychedelic style. You’re listening to some songs in Venus On Earth album, selected as one of the best world music records of 2008 by iTunes Store. Beautiful!

the sorrow of war… film?

“Better to die than surrender, my brothers! Better to die!” – the battalion commander yelled insanely; waving his pistol, and in front of Kien, he blew his own brains out through his ear. (The Sorrow of War)

An un-put-down-able novel. It should win the Pulitzer prize, but it won’t. It’s too gripping for that. (The Guardian)

Dramatic… Will force American readers to acknowledge how little they still understand of the long war that left such a legacy of grief and guilt in their own country. (The Washington Post)

The Sorrow of War has won worldwide acclaim and become an international best-seller. (Amazon.com)

good news: 8th, May, 2008, The Sorrow of War novel will be turned into movie by an American director: Nicolas Simon. After 10 years of discussion and negotiation, Bảo Ninh, the novel’s author finally permitted making of the film based on his famous book. The producer, Dominic Scriven, a very passionate admirer and friend of the author, who now holds the book copyright and want to transfer it onto the silver screen. An even better news: 9th, Aug, 2008, author of The Sorrow of War novel stated that he wouldn’t have any further connection with the The Sorrow of War movie project.

The reason given is: film’s script is not aligned with the author’s ideas. In fact, many people is doubtful that an unnamed director would be capable of working on such a great novel, although the producer (Dominic Scriven) ‘s goodwill is widely recognized! The movie project is now paused, in searching for another director! That’s a very good thing in my opinion, in the fear that we would have another history distortion (or even worse)! A picture is worth a thousand words? That’s not always true, think twice (or read the book)! In this case, words are worth thousands of pictures (or a movie)!

The novel is, more or less, an semi – autobiography. Bảo Ninh himself (or the protagonist Kiên in the novel) was a soldier in the 24th battalion, a special formation commissioned to the B3 front (central highland) in 1969. Of the unit’s 500 man, he is among the only 10 survivors. The story is an nonlinear scatter of memories, mixed the past with the moments of post-war time: childhood, a high school’s love story, the battles, and importantly lives after war.

The Sorrow of War is without doubt timeless. Perhaps it is one of the world’s greatest war novels ever written. Imagine the film Apocalypse Now and increase its effect, say by a factor of a thousand – this is the power of Bảo Ninh’s writing. I remember shivers in my spine when first reading the book, some 15 years ago! Just surf around some online bookstores, to see what readers have said about the book:

  • If this book doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.

  • It’s definitely not a book for everyone, and I nearly put it down during the first 50-60 pages. But, I soon became wrapped up in the story and the language.

  • Books usually lay with me on my bed and after their formal end we sleep together for a few days but after the last sentence I promptly put this right back on my shelf and am having trouble thinking about it again. I had horrible nightmares during the read.

  • This book is amazing. The story progresses thematically rather than chronologically, and leaves you piecing together historical non-fictional events… He succeeds in taking the reader on a difficult journey of emotional and spiritual crisis, right to the core of the human condition and captures a sorrowful despair like no other literature I’ve ever read.

  • Like pouring acid on your moral center…

  • Just an excellent novel. To everybody who considers The Things They Carried the penultimate work of fiction about the Vietnam War: pick up The Sorrow of War and be prepared to be blown away by the stories of a Vietnamese.

  • In fact, my view of just about everything I thought I knew about North Vietnam from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s was altered by this book.

  • This book is unbelievably emotional. The style of writing is unique: it is not linear or chronological in any way. It is chaotic, a reflection on the subject of the book. The writing style, though chaotic, seems to be a perfected style. The book was written with total disregard to order; there is no doubt that all was deliberate.

the battle of iadrang

To make war all you need is intelligence.
But to win you need talent and material.

For whom the bell tolls – E. Hemingway

Col.Gen. Harold Moore and Col.Gen. Nguyễn Hữu An returned to the old battlefield, Oct, 1993, exchanging their diaries, maps, operational notes, memories and friendship.

The IaDrang Campaign was to the Vietnam War what the terrible Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s was to World War II – a dress rehearsal. The place where new tactics, techniques and weapons were tested, perfected and validated. In the IaDrang, both sides claimed victory and both sides drew lessons, some of them dangerously deceptive, which echoed and resonated throughout the decade of bloody fighting and bitter sacrifice that was to come.

While those who have never known war may fail to see the logic, this story also stands as tribute to the hundreds of young men of the 320th, 33rd and 66th regiments of the Peoples Army of Vietnam who died by our hand in that place. They, too, fought and died bravely. They were a worthy enemy.

Wild flowers now grow in those places of violent death. The IaDrang from PleiMe west is uninhabited except for a few montagnards who are/have been driven out to the east near PleiKu. The Ia Drang/Chu Pong area is now known as The forest of Screaming Souls and remains mysterious and beautiful.

Hoa dại giờ mọc đầy trên mảnh đất từng đầy rẫy chết chóc. Vùng IaDrang đến giờ vẫn không có ai cư trú, ngoại trừ một vài sắc dân miền núi đang được di dân về hướng đông gần PleiKu. IaDrang, ChưPrông nay được biết đến với cái tên Truông Gọi Hồn, vẫn nguyên vẹn huyền bí và đẹp đẽ như tự ngàn xưa.

ar, 1965, the first U.S troops arrived in Vietnam (Danang). 8 months later, their first major engagement with the VPA in a large battle (of regimental, divisional size) took place at the Valley of IaDrang, which is since then known as the Valley of Death. Feb, 1994, President Bill Clinton announced the normalization in relationship with Vietnam. In an action to bootstrap of the process, in 1993, a film was made featuring the old bloodshed battle of IaDrang. Thus, battle of IaDrang marks the begin and end of a long-time painful and bitter relationship between the two nations. Up to the present days, lots of people from both sides still can not get it right about what had really happened then and there. The story below tries to recall the truth.

But first, about the film: We were soldiers is based on We were soldiers once… and young, a book written by Harold Moore himself, as one of the direct commanders in the battle (on the American side). It’s a Randall Wallace‘s film, the famous director of Brave Heart, Pearl Harbor, and now We were soldiers, with Mel Gibson as Lt.Col. Hal Moore, and Đơn Dương as Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An. To my disappointment, the film is no better than any other Hollywood’s films such as Black Hawk Down, solely made to demonstrate American heroism. Exactly as written in Harold Moore’s book: Hollywood got it wrong every damned time, whetting twisted political knives on the bones of our dead brothers.

The film is no exception, it takes many of the small facts of the book onto it, but only to falsely portray the historical events. In fact, the film is a distortion of facts that happened, of peoples involved in the battle, especially the figure of Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An. In a sense, the film has undermined the author Hal Moore’s (and many other American veterans) sincerity and goodwill. Hal Moore is also a man of literature talent, the following line is written upon his revisiting the old battlefield, 1993, accompanied by general An, about the battle and his old enemy (column on the left).

Strictly speaking, Lt.Col. Harold Moore was not the corresponding counterpart of Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An, he was one of the three direct commanders in the battle, a battalion under Thomas W. Brown. Nguyễn Hữu An was then the division commander of the 325th. But history has brought the two man into one battle and a rendezvous aftermath. Battle of IaDrang was actually two main battles in an operation which lasted for one month (between American 1st division and VPA’s 320th, 33rd and 66th regiments). The main confrontations were at the X-Ray and Albany landing zones, between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of the 7th cavalry regiment of the U.S army with the 7th, 8th, 9th battalions of the 66th regiment (and one company of the 33th regiment) of the VPA. Hence, in formations’ numbers, the two sides have equal forces.

Contrary to many many sources, Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An did not have any advantages in power comparison, even in number of man. All his infantry battalions are light-armed units, with just some mortars. On the adversary side are air assault and air mobility cavalry units, with superior fire power support. From the air, an average number of 300 sorties per day was made, with all available air units in south Vietnam, and on land, field artillery came in heavy use. So the ratio here is at least 3:1 with the weaker is the Vietnamese side. Some sources give intentionally wrong information like: the landing troop of 400 man was surrounded by 4,000 soldiers, in fact, 4,000 was number in the whole area (not each individual landing zone), in the same way, we can say: two VPA regiments confronted with forces of the 1st division (a typical American division has at least 20,000 personnel).

The battle witnessed extreme uses of fire power: for the first time in history, strategic bombers B52 are used for tactical roles, air mobility by helicopters reached the highest level ever since the start of WWII. The VPA learned that they could neutralize the effectiveness of that fire power by quickly engaging American forces at close range, thus turned the battle into a close-quarter struggles with mainly knife, bayonet and other small arms. A series of well-planed ambushes turned the American situation to desperate. Finally, they know that they can not deny or hide an obvious defeat, then dropped napalm bombs to clear all vestiges, sacrificing all, including man of their own. This is known as one of the most savage battle and can be considered as microcosm of the whole war.

The American casualties is about 700, the Vietnamese is about 1100, a victory to Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An in consideration to forces participated in the confrontation. The battle set up, for the first time, an example in which a modern Calvary division can be defeated (Calvary division was then a new concept of air assault and air mobility units, formed firstly in the Vietnam war). In fact, the battle is blueprint of tactics successfully anticipated by Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An, many interesting details can be found in his memoir (all details, facts, formations, numbers, estimations… in this post can be confirmed by both 2 memoirs from the 2 sides). He is named: the General of Battles for his exceptional talent in tactical problems. The man is among only a few number of generals in Vietnam who truly gained respect from the people, not only for his success in military career but also for his righteous attitude toward history and moral principles he’s practiced in life.

⓵⏎ Hemingway’s words were true in the Spanish civil war, but it’s not true anymore in the Vietnam war. Even with talent and material, you still can not win it.

⓶⏎ The phrase: The forest of Screaming Souls may have been first introduced in the famous Vietnamese novel The sorrow of war by Bảo Ninh. The author (also the main character Kiên in the novel) was also a soldier in this B3 (Central Highland) front.

phạm mạnh cương

Phạm Mạnh Cương và vợ, Như Hảo

inh hoạt âm nhạc miền Nam trước 1975 có 3 ông họ Phạm nổi tiếng, ngoài Phạm Duy và Phạm Đình Chương ra còn có thêm Phạm Mạnh Cương (tuy vậy không bà con gì với hai ông Phạm trước). Sinh ra và lớn lên tại Huế, học Cao đẳng Sư phạm tại Hà Nội, và làm giáo viên môn Triết tại miền Nam (trường Petrus Ký, Sài gòn).

Con người suốt đời theo đuổi nghiệp giáo viên mô phạm này có những hoạt động trái nghề hết sức thành công: là một nhạc sĩ, một nhà sản xuất băng đĩa hát (nhiều băng nhạc trước 1975 là của hãng đĩa Tú Quỳnh, hãng do ông thành lập), và là người tổ chức những chương trình ca nhạc trên vô tuyến truyền hình đầu tiên tại miền Nam (chương trình mang tên Phạm Mạnh Cương, kéo dài từ 1966 đến 1975).

Thu ca - Thu Phương 
Thương hoài ngàn năm - Khánh Ly 

Ông có thể được xem như một người tiên phong trong việc thương mại hoá hoạt động âm nhạc. Xin trích giới thiệu hai tác phẩm nổi tiếng nhất của Phạm Mạnh Cương: Thu ca, bản tango thoáng một chút âm giai Nhật Bản, và Thương hoài ngàn năm, bản này chắc nhiều người biết vì mấy năm gần đây liên tục bị Mr. Đàm đem ra phá hôi! 😬

Một vài bìa nhạc Phạm Mạnh Cương:

hiểu quá hương giang



高伯適 – 曉過香江


âu không trở lại chủ đề thơ chữ Hán của Cao Chu Thần. Con người ông tính khí ngang tàng, tư tưởng xã hội chính trị không có gì mới lạ, nhưng văn tài thì đúng là lạ lùng. Một trường hợp nổi bật hiếm hoi trong cổ văn Việt Nam. Đôi câu thơ giáo đầu ở trên: Thập tải luân giao cầu cổ kiếm, Nhất sinh đê thủ bái mai hoa (Mười năm giao du tìm bạn tri âm, khó như tìm cổ kiếm, Cả một đời chỉ biết cúi đầu trước hoa mai) vẫn thường được truyền tụng như chính cốt cách con người Mẫn Hiên – Cúc Đường vậy!

Hiểu quá Hương Giang

Vạn chướng như bôn nhiễu lục điền,
Trường giang như kiếm lập thanh thiên.
Sổ hàng ngư đĩnh liên thanh trạo,
Lưỡng cá sa cầm khuất túc miên.
Trần lộ du du song quyện nhãn,
Viễn tình hạo hạo nhất qui tiên.
Kiều đầu xa mã phi ngô sự,
Phả ái nam phong giác chẩm biền.

Xin đọc thêm về thơ Cao Bá Quát trong những post trước của tôi: Trà giang thu nguyệt ca, Sa hành đoản ca, Trệ vũ chung dạ cảm tác.

to liberate the south

atching the famous film of Forest Gump, you would probably recognize dozens of war-protesting songs very popular the years of 60s, 70s in America: Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan), Where have all the flowers gone? (Pete Seeger), Mrs. Robinson (Simon & Garfunkel), Against the Wind (Bob Seger), Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd)… American anti-war music, at its height in the Vietnam war, is only known to most of us (Vietnamese) through just some popular pieces.

Giải phóng miền Nam 
Giải phóng miền Nam (Joe Bangert) 
Italian lyric: Liberiamo il sud Vietnam 
Swedish lyric: Befria Södern 

My name is Joe Bangert. I’m a Philadelphia resident. I enlisted in the Marine Corps for four years in 1967. I went to Vietnam in 1968. My unit in Vietnam was Marine Observation Squadron Six with the First Marine Air Wing and my testimony will cover the slaughter of civilians, the skinning of a Vietnamese woman, the type of observing our squadron did in Vietnam and the crucifixion of Vietnamese either suspects or civilians in Vietnam. (from American thinker)

To my surprise, they also sang Vietnamese songs, such as this Giải phóng miền Nam (To Liberate the South), sang in Vietnamese by Joe Bangert, a famous Vietnam war veteran. It’s notable that the song is national anthem of the Republic of South Vietnam (1969 ~ 1976). If you understand the lyric, you would know how truthful and brave the men of Joe Bangert is, an American to sing: To liberate the South, we are determined to advance, to defeat the American Empire… Advance! The brave people of the South!… Let listen to the what he said prior to singing: It’s the song that they’d fought, it’s the song that they’d sung marching down the Ho Chi Minh trail…

the rain on the leaves

ome interesting recently – collected video documents: Phạm Duy with Steve Addiss on his song: Giọt mưa trên lá (the rain on the leaves) and Phạm Duy with the legendary Pete Seeger and the American folk song Clementine. Center image: the original poster of the song, and the original Vietnamese rendition (by the singer Thái Thanh) on the left.

Giọt mưa trên lá - Thái Thanh 
The rain on the leaves 
Steve Addiss & Phạm Duy

It’s not an abnormal thing to see church – music – influential songs like this to be the first to catch notices from Westerners (the Vietnamese – native pentatonic is harder to digest however). Indeed the song has been thought by some as a translation of a certain American folk song, which is absolutely not. The same is applied to several other Vietnamese songs, such as this Scents of Yesteryears, which easily touch the hearts of listeners outside VN.