Henry David Thoreau. His book Walden and essay Civil Disobedience influenced my thinking greatly when I read them in college. I was not the only one– Tolstoy, Gandhi, MLK, John Muir, Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright all mention being profoundly affected by his writings. In the 1960s Thoreau’s concepts of civil disobedience and direct action helped shape the strategies of the civil rights movement, the free speech movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. His spirit is never far from the surface throughout the SDS manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, written by Tom Hayden.
When arrested in 1846 for refusing to pay poll taxes because of his opposition to slavery, the event that led to his writing of Civil Disobedience, he was visited in jail by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson reportedly asked: Henry David, what are you doing in there? Thoreau’s reply: Ralph Waldo, what are you doing out there?
On the evening of May 7, 1954 the last remaining French position, strong point Lily, manned by Moroccan soldiers commanded by a French officer, surrendered to the attacking Vietminh, ending the two-month long siege of Dien Bien Phu and with it the French-Indochina War. The French fought long, hard, and at times effectively, for French Indochina. The U.S. government gave more financial aid to the French cause in Indochina than it gave to France in the Marshall Plan. But in the end Eisenhower refused to send troops to rescue the garrison.
Dien Bien Phu was unquestionably an important event in world history. In a sense it was the last stand of western colonialism in the Far East. The Brits had already fled India and were in the midst of the Malayan Emergency. The Dutch war of reconquest in Indonesia had been futile. Unfortunately for Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese people, their Chinese and Soviet allies sold them short at the bargaining table later that year in Geneva. That, mixed with American actions to negate the treaty in subsequent years, set the table for the second Indochina War, known to many Vietnamese as the “American Phase.”
The picture below is probably the most famous of the battle, in reality it was taken after the battle as part of a re-enactment staged by a Russian filmographer…
Vietnam People’s Army, First publish in 1954. – Vietnam People’s Army museum (still from Soviet filmographer Roman Karmen).