Hien V. Ho
The Fall of the Đại Nam Empire
         Louis -Marie-Julien Viaud, (1850-1923), was an officer of the French Navy. Following his naval schooling and training in Brest, he was promoted ship's lieutenant in 1881 and for the first time published a novel under the pseudonym of Pierre Loti. In 1883, he embarked on the ship L'Atalante, participated in the French campaign against Tonkin (North Vietnam). He later published an hour by hour account of the attack in August 1883 of Hue, the capital of Vietnam at the center of the country, in his article "Trois journées de guerre en Annam" in the newspaper Le Figaro. It was based on his own involvement as a naval officer and on retrospective accounts of other people who had been there. Loti described the "sinister pleasure" young French soldiers took in firing at the Vietnamese as if they were on a hunting spree, but also mentioned their compassions and their guilt after the battle, among the destructions that they had caused.
         Loti was threatened with suspension from the service, thus gaining more public notoriety. His article set off a diplomatic crisis for the French government headed by Prime Minister Jules Ferry. European adversaries of France considered it a proof of French "atrocities" and of a "bad colonialism" while political opposition inside the country used it to condemn "the immorality and the high cost" of the Republican government. Republican nationalists hated him for telling so many negative things about France and its youth who was fighting for their country. Loti was called back to Paris and reprimanded. Furious, he replied that he only described what young people had done during a battle, and retorted that "war is never magnificent" (la guerre n'est jamais magnifique.)(Christopher E. Goscha).

        Please read the rest of the story in THE LANDS OF FREEDOM.
Back