But in the case of France, the centurion exists as a live human being; eight at this moment, he is either emerging from colonelcy to general’s rank, or being placed on the compulsory retirement list-?or, perhaps, being sentenced to the jails of the French Republic for Secret Army activities. For at least another decade, he and his kind are likely to exert a strong ; Jean Alarming, The Centurions (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. , 1 961; New York: Avon Book Corp.. , 1082 [paperback]). VIC INTRODUCTION influence upon French military thinking and planning and, therefore, upon the Western alliance as a whole.
The French Army officer, to a far greater extent than his British-American counterpart, has spent the last quarter of a century fighting desperate rear-guard actions against highly politicized irregulars. In addition, the lack of coherent political leadership from Paris in the chaotic years of the Fourth Republic left the French military with a heavy burden Of making political decisions at every level. Local commanders, for example, had to make the decision whether or not to arm local levies and if so, of what political or religious persuasion.
In Indochina, such officers-? often of captain’s rank or lower-?raised Catholic, Buddhist, Cacao-Dad, Ho-Ha, or mountain tribal militia ores whenever they did not use outright river pirates or deserters from the Communists. In return for such military chesterfields undertook political Comanche by the mittens of a far-reach ins nature: They swore solemn oaths to protect either a liven group from Communist reprisals or a given territory whose population had committed itself to them.
From a purely tactical involvement, the war (both in Indochina and Algeria, but even more in the latter) became a highly personal involvement. An officer who would, under normal circumstances, have abandoned a given position for tactical seasons felt compelled to hold it because he himself had ” promised” to hold it and promised not his own superiors, but the people among whom he fought To withdraw became not o! Rill proof of military failure, but-?and this above all-?a blemish on one’s personal honor as an “officer and a gentleman. To the Anglo-American mind, which sees its officers as Colonel Blimps and General Jubilation T. Cicerones (or their real-life counterparts of the retired extreme right-wing variety), this view offer FAA seems inconceivable. And it is, of course, inconceivable in conventional war, where it is perfectly permissible to lose r win a terrain feature without losing one’s military honor. The “l shall return” of General MacArthur amply redeemed the surrender of Corridor; the Inch landing, the bloody retreat to Pupas beachhead.
But in such conventional wars (Trinities calls them “traditional,” to emphasize their obsoleteness), military operations go on without regard for the hapless civilian population. No one asks it to take sides in the struggle-?at any rate, not at first, while the battle rages. In revolutionary war (or, as Trinities calls it throughout the book, titillating the term for emphasis, “modern warfare), the allegiance Of the civilian population becomes one of the most vital objectives of the whole struggle.
This is indeed the key message that Trinities seeks to impress upon his reader: Military tactics and hardware are all well and good, but they are really quite useless if one has lost the confidence of the population among whom one is fighting. And Roger Trinities is extremely well qualified to write on this subject, for his own background makes him the perfect example of the scholarly warrior of peasant stock that is a vanishing breed in the other Western armies. (In all likelihood, Communist China’s armies still have a few n their ranks, not the least of whom is Mao TTS-tune. Trinities was born in 1908 in La Beam, a small mountain village in the French Alps where he still owns a home and spends his vacations. Until the age of thirteen, he went to the one-room village school. Because he was a bright student, his parents directed him toward what was then the most obvious path to social betterment for the son of a poor farmer-?schoolteachers. He successfully passed the entrance examinations to the Normal School of Xix-en-Provence and graduated at the age of twenty, ready for a lifetime of teaching in the back country of southeastern France.
But like all other Frenchmen his age, he first had to put in his two years of compulsory military service. Since it is still a French saying that the schoolteachers make up the backbone of the French Army’s reserve officers’ corps, it was not surprising that Trinities was sent to Reserve Officers’ School. Although most schoolteachers consider their military career a necessary evil, Trinities thought it a revelation of a vaster, more active world.
He requested a transfer to the Officers’ School of Saint-Machine, then graduated, in 1931 , into the French Marine Infantry; and since the French Marines (they were known s “Colonials” from 1870 until 1961 , but have now taken on their old name again) were specifically trained for overseas duty, the young lieutenant soon found himself on a trip to the Far East His first assignment, as was the rule then, was probably his toughest: He found himself in command of an outpost at Chi-Mar in the wildest and most isolated part of the Sino-Tontine’s border region, aptly called the “One Hundred Thousand Mountains, 19 fighting Chinese pirates and opium smugglers. To stay alive there, one had to rely on native help, and Trinities quickly learned how to find it.
He also learned some of the mountaineer dialects. Pond his return to France in 1937, he was picked for another delicate assignment, as a member of the French Marine force guarding the International Concession in Shanghai, where Japan’s aggression had just unleashed World War II. Trinities was then reassigned to the command of one of the two Marine companies guarding the French Embassy in Peking. Other major powers-?the United States, Britain, Italy, and Japan-?also had units in the diplomatic enclave. Trinities became very friendly with the American com- meander, Colonel Marathoners, and he also learned Chinese. When World War II officially broke out in Europe, In
September, 1 939, Trinities was transferred back to Shanghai as deputy to the French battalion commander there. Pearl Harbor and its aftermath created an anomalous situation: Although the British and American units in Shanghai were disarmed and interned by the Japanese, the French-?because they were under the nominal control of the Vichy Government in German-occupied France-?were left unmolested and fully armed. The Japanese, however, did not trust the Vichy forces indefinitely; having overwhelmed them in Indochina, on March 9, 1 945, they did likewise in Shanghai on the following day, whereupon Trinities got a taste of Japanese imprisonment. The existence of the French units in China was to lead, in at least one instance, to a rather comical situation after V-J Day: When American Marines in full battle gear went ashore near Tension, they were greeted by a French Marine detachment that presented arms to them. It was part of the nearby Peking garrison that had picked up its Weapons again after the Japanese surrender. ) Promoted to the rank of captain in 1942 by the Vichy Government, Trinities, like most of his comrades in neighboring Indochina, neither broke with Vichy nor sought to join General De Gazelle’s Free French Forces-?a act that was later to affect his career decisively.
His promotions were to come slowly, and the mutual distrust (more often, dislike) between the Free French officers and those who, though sympathetic to the Allied cause, had remained faithful to their soldier’s oath-?or so they were to rationalize it-?never quite disappeared. It explains Terrier’s strong animosity toward De Gaulle, which he does not bother to hide and which comes through quite clearly in his political statements. Liberated from the Japanese after V-J Day, Trinities, XX like many of his comrades, sought an assignment in Indochina-?perhaps as a ministration that his wartime allegiance was dictated by motives Other than fear of battle. Arriving in Saigon on January 3, 1 946, he became a platoon commander in the commando group of Major Pondered, which had been given the difficult task of clearing Vitamin elements out of the swamps and rice paddies surrounding the city. Pond his return to France, however, Trinities learned that, like other officers who had remained faithful to Vichy, he was to be dismissed from the service. But since a senior officer who had known him when he was a young second lieutenant at Chi-Ma intervened in his behalf, Captain Trinities was assigned, n February 1, 1947, to Tares and Pap, where the French airborne training center had been created. (The officer who had saved Terrier’s career was himself an old “Indochina hand,” General Rural Salsa, later commander-inches in Indochina and Algeria. In 1961 he was to lead the revolt against General De Gazelle’s Algerian policies; caught and convicted of attempting to overthrow the French Republic, Salsa is now serving a life sentence in a French military prison. On November 14, 1947, Trinities again landed in Indochina as second-in- command of the 1st Colonial Parachute Battalion, whose command he was to assume in September, 1948, after its commander had been killed in action. Promoted to the rank of major, Trinities and his unit participated in the grim inch-by-inch clearing operations on the Plain of Reeds-?he was to parachute into it four times-? and in southern Central Vietnam. Those are exactly the same areas in which Vietnamese troops and their American advisers are heavily involved today. After another tour of duty in France as commander of the Commando Training Center in Freaks and of the Cool- nail Paratroop School, Trinities returned to Indochina in December, 195. , to take over a brand-new service just reared by Marshal Jean De Latter De Toasting, France’s best commander-in-chief in the Far East. (Regrettably, he was to die of cancer within a year. ) De Latter had decided to turn the Vitamin’s skill in fighting behind the lines against the Vitamin itself by implanting anti-Communist guerrillas deep inside the enemy’s territory. In view of his knowledge of the northern hill areas and tribal groups, Trinities was selected as the leader for the northern operations; his first efforts were soon crowned with success, for contact team after contact team was dropped into enemy territory, and, contrary to expectations, motet managed to revive and fight.
When Treasuries methods became known to the American military advisers in Saigon, he was invited to visit American entrepreneurial-training centers in Korea and Japan. Two young American officers also returned with him to Indochina to learn from his operations, and American equipment for his guerrilla units became readily available. By mid-1 951 Major Trinities received command of all behind-the-lines operations in Indochina, and his units became officially known as ECMA, or Assortments De Commandos Mixes Reports (Composite Airborne Commando Groups), a name that was changed, in December, 1953, to GUM Groupie Immix deliberation, or Composite Intervention Group), when their mission Was extended beyond airborne commando operations.
By late 1953, almost 20,000 men were under his command-?probably the largest unit ever commanded by an army major-?and engaged in operations covering several ;thousand square miles of enemy territory. Native tribesmen were flocking to his masques in greater numbers than could be armed and trained; but before he could make Ext full use of them, what trinities-in a masterly understatement-?calls “the regrettable Dine Been PH incident* ended the Indochina war. What followed was a horrible beach: Thousands of partisans had to be abandoned to the enemy, since the stipulations of the Geneva cease-fire of 1 954 did not permit the French to continue to supply them. Trinities asserts that he had asked the United States, which had not signed the cease-fire agreement, to continue to supply the guerrillas, but that his request had been turned down.
Although the partisans and their French cadres fought on long beyond the cease-fire, they were eventually wiped out one by one. * In his final operations report (which found in some forgotten archives in Paris)f Trinities could not help but show some of his deep feelings about his abandoned men: The total suppression of logistical support , will bring in its wake the progressive liquidation of our [infiltrated] elements. There is little hope of seeing the leaders of our masques escape the “clemency” of President Ho Chi Mini. As of August 15, 1 954, fifteen enemy regular battalions, fifteen regional battalions and seventeen regional companies are now committed against them.