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Five Best: Max Boot

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
January 25, 2013
Wall Street Journal


The Centurions

By Jean Lartéguy (1960)

1. This book is nearly impossible to buy (a used copy goes for $800 on Amazon), but it is well worth making the effort to find it at the library. There is no better portrait of the French troops who fought and lost the wars in Indochina (1945-54) and Algeria (1954-62). Jean Lartéguy, a former soldier, follows a group of fictional paratroopers from their confinement in a brutal Vietminh prison camp after the fall of Dien Bien Phu back to France, where "they were almost horrified to realize that they now had more common with the Vietminh . . . than with these people who were waiting for them," and finally to Algeria, where they are determined to vindicate their honor by any means necessary—including the use of torture. Raspeguy, an officer modeled on the legendary Gen. Marcel Bigeard, gives a classic summation of the differences between conventional and counterinsurgency warfare when he tells a Verdun veteran: "We no longer wage the same sort of war as you, colonel. Nowadays it's a mixture of everything, a regular witches' brew . . . yes everything, including even the breeding of black pigs. I knew an officer in Cochin-China who, by breeding black pigs, completely restored a situation which all of us regarded as lost."

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