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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Nov 11, 2018 at 11:14:52 PM EST) Reading, MLP, Watching, Me (all tags)
Reading: "Hue 1968", "Pour Me". Watching: "Smallfoot". Me. Links.

What I'm Reading
Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden. Book about the battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. Good book based on extensive interviews with fighters on both sides, full of fascinating and often tragic stories.

The background is that General Westmoreland had been extensively briefing the media that America was winning the war and the Viet Cong were largely on the run, based on dubious body counts.the North Vietnamese launched a series of attacks on targets throughout South Vietnam, having spent months preparing positions beforehand. The ostensible purpose was to spark a general uprising. I didn't realise that both Ho Chi Minh and General Giap argued against the offensive, correctly realising that the uprising would not happen and the advances would be quickly reversed.

The North Vietnamese held out longest in the historic city of Hue, where they had relatively large forces. Westmoreland and others initially refused to believe in the numbers, Westmoreland convinced that it was all a feint for a real attack at Khe Sanh? They ordered the small US forces into doomed and near-suicidal attacks on numerically superior, well-dug-in troops in an unaccustomed urban environment. Eventually the Americans escalated their forces enough to gradually win at a bloody cost.

Though it was a military defeat for North Vietnam, it was a political successs. Many South Vietnamese people lost belief that the their government could keep them safe. Domestically the Americans looked ridiculuous for their exaggerated claims. Though US public opinion did not turn against the war immediately, this marked a definite turning point when faith began to be lost.

Overall, a fascinating book. Also an interesting example of when political leaders overruled military advice about strategy and were essentially correct.

What I'm Reading
Pour Me, the autobiography of food critic and columnist A.A. Gill. Short book, starting with his period as an alcholic then venturing back into his childhood, and forward into his later career. He's very good on life as an alcoholic which he describes in sleazy detail. The other material isn't as intrisincally interesting but he writes with great enough wit to make it worth while.

One little detail he claims is that in old movies alcholics always got the D.T.s (but they're rare now, because these days they're usually dosed with Valium at that stage which keeps the hallucinations at bay.

Overall, a good read but he does like to be provocative. Some quotes:

"There are few occupations as plainly worthy, as good, as uncomplicatedly worthwhile as shelling peas"

"in writing and in cooking and gardening and fucking and whist, experience always trumps cleverness"

"And the rule of criticising anything is -- first you must love it, innately, the thing itself, the idea of it, the application of it. If you don't wholeheartedly adore the medium, then why would you ever care if someone did it badly or well?"

"'You know something?' the fat, hairy, gnarly-knobbed Ron [Jeremy] said to me prophetically, 'You are going to be the last generation that wanks from memory.'"

What We're Watching
Took kid to the cinema for the first time, saw Smallfoot. Decent enough kids movie about a community of yetis who discover a trace of the legendary Smallfoot or human. Better than I expected with one decent twist. Otherwise a bit formulaic.

Kid liked it and liked the experience though, was already asking to go again, though he seems to be mainly in it for the popcorn.

Running going OK, making steady progress. Work not too bad either, slightly ahead of schedule for once though that won't last. Made holiday plans, having Christmas at home this year so we won't have to lug a ton of presents around, but the very next day heading off to spend nearly two weeks with my wife's family in German. Pretty grim for me but kid and wife both seem keen and it's nice for the MiL who doesn't see much of him. Hope we get a break in the rain this time.

Pics. John Dempsey 1820s street portraits, via

Politics. Germany's Green Party. Ex-Mail editor Paul Dacre's attack on ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, Rusbridger's response.

Technology, nostalgia. The Pointy Stick by Rogerborg, 2003.

Articles. Bohemian Rhapsody movie inaccuracies. Big's Backyard Ultra race eliminates until one runner is left, via.

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In Living Colour | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
Mark Bowden by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Nov 13, 2018 at 05:43:28 AM EST
Black Hawk Down was a good read. Interesting to see the criticism of the movie as one-sided when it came out, even though the script was to a large extent a translation of the book, and even left some of the more brutal parts out.

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Tet Offensive by wumpus (4.00 / 2) #2 Tue Nov 13, 2018 at 10:18:37 AM EST
One thing that shouldn't be ignored by North Vietnam High Command's decision to go through with the Tet Offensive was that the "losing" outcome pre-purged any potential Viet-cong leaders from claiming positions in the post-war communist government. Any leaders still in need of purging (I understand there were still purges) would not have troops capable of opposing the communist leaders.

Ho Chi Minh and General Giap were unlikely to have to worry about their post-war positions. The apparatchiks who went over their heads were likely concerned about future position and possible purges between the NVA and Vietcong forces. First rule of communist party survival (also applies to other dictatorships, but probably not as significantly) purge the other guy before he purges you.


Max Hastings by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #3 Wed Nov 14, 2018 at 06:11:07 AM EST
Happened to be listening to an interview with Max Hastings today about his new book on Vietnam.

We seem to have a rash of them as retiring baby boomers do one last round of introspection. On one hand, enough Vietnam already. OTOH, the books and the Ken Burns doco seem to be rather more thoughtful and able to place things in historical context than previous, especially after the opening of the Soviet records I guess.

Anyway Hastings made the point about how independent the Vietcong were from the North Vietnamese government, at least initially. There seems to be a new consensus that far from remote cells for NV, they were independent local actors in SV, that the NV government had to react to just like anyone else. The interview also puts forward the view that Ho Chi Minh was largely a figurehead by the American phase of the war, with Le Xuan being the actual and far more ruthless wielder of political power. Not that the US would have known, as they couldn't even get enough intel to build a proper org chart of the North Vietnamese leadership until very late in the war.

Also vaguely related - was amused to note the existence of The Hilton Hanoi Opera.

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[ Parent ]
The Pointy Stick triggers a nostalgia attack by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Nov 16, 2018 at 05:12:59 PM EST
I reversed engineered the URL to let me find my story on k5. It is about the causes of RSI.

I had such high hopes for kuro5hin changing politics for the better :-(

In Living Colour | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)