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Two Armies

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Journal article

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Colonel Raspeguy, veteran of Dien Bien Phu Id like France to have two armies one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their generals bowel movements or their colonels piles an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded, and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. Thats the army in which I should like to fight. Colonel Mestreville, veteran of Verdun Youre headed for a lot of trouble.- Jean Larteguy, The Centurions When Jean Larteguy first published those bitter lines in 1960, experienced French soldiers had employed almost every stratagem of conventional combat to grapple with determined insurgents in Indochina-and failed. When a similar situation arose in Algeria, some hard-eyed French paratroopers, like Larteguys character Colonel Raspeguy, discarded their armys schooling in regular European warfare. They created the sort of army needed to fight and win savage little wars. But the ponderous weight of the conventional French military tradition and the deep cleavages in the French political landscape derailed and stifled the reform effort. France kept the display army and lost Algeria. In the United States, Colonel Raspeguys sardonic dream has come true. Today, America fields two armies, one for show and one for real fighting. Unlike Raspeguys satirical prescription for a complete divorce between the show troops and the combat elements, Americas pair of ground forces exist in uneasy tandem, the result of a shotgun wedding between what worked yesterday and what is needed now.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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