Going Back

France's Mitterrand leads the West's return to Vietnam

ATOP A GRASSY HILL OVERLOOKING THE PLAIN AT Dien Bien Phu, where almost 4,000 French soldiers died and nearly 11,000 were taken prisoner 39 years ago, President Francois Mitterrand listened as General Maurice Schmitt pointed out the landmarks: the mountains from which General Vo Nguyen Giap's troops bombarded the fields below, the airstrip, the hilltop positions that fell one by one until General Christian de Castries and his exhausted men finally surrendered on May 7, 1954, ushering in the end of France's colonial rule in Indochina. "I felt the need to pay my respects," said Mitterrand, who called the war a...

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