Читать онлайн "100 Mistakes That Changed History: Backfires and Blunders That Collapsed Empires, Crashed Economies, and Altered the Course of Our World" автора Fawcett Bill - RuLIT.Net - Страница 73

 
 
     



The idea was to set up a target that was such a challenge and so enticing that Giap had to take the bait. To offer this, the French established a base near the town of Dien Bien Phu. This was in the far western part of Vietnam, near nothing except the Laotian border and across trackless jungle from just about anything else. Then, to sweeten its appeal as a target, Navarre built his base in a valley surrounded by steep mountains and did not occupy the mountains. Then Navarre moved most of his army there.

This location seemed to so favor the Viet Minh that they had to attack or lose credibility. Navarre also thought that it really favored him. He saw the battle in his mind and was sure how Giap would react. Since the French flew in all of their supplies and reinforcements, it wasn't too inconvenient to be far from everyone else. But the French general's expectation was that the dense jungles and distances would limit Giap to troops armed with only what they could bring with them. This would be men with rifles and little else. It was a long walk.

The Vietnamese had shown a liking, as they later did against the Americans, for human wave attacks. Navarre expected Giap to rush thousands of his rifle-armed guerrillas in suicidal charges at the base to be slaughtered by his planes, tanks, and artillery. Then, once the strength of the Viet Minh had been wasted, Navarre's army could easily pacify the rest of the country. His decisive battle would win the war, retrieve French honor, and provide an ideal position for the negotiators. And it would work if Giap did as expected.

But of course Giap did not do what Navarre wanted. He did summon every Vietnamese he could muster, but not for suicidal attacks. For months, the French would get glimpses of the guerrillas in the mountains around them, but they would vanish before the French airplanes could be called in for a strike. Viet Minh snipers regularly took shots into the camp, most at maximum range. But other than harassment, nothing happened for months at the French base in Dien Bien Phu.

What General Henri Navarre did not see was that during all those months of seeming inactivity, tens of thousands of peasants and guerrillas were hauling on their backs ammunition, artillery pieces broken down into parts, and everything else needed to win a modern battle against the arrogant French in the valley. Villagers would put one artillery shell weighing seventy or eighty pounds in a sling and spend weeks carrying it along jungle paths, which were invisible under the trees, to deliver them to caves cut into the mountains. Finally, the heights on every side of Dien Bien Phu were covered with dug-in artillery and mortar positions. Shells were stockpiled, and when the rainy season arrived, Giap was ready.

With the rain came the clouds. The clouds were so constant and thick that the French airplanes could not be used effectively. And the rain came on like a monsoon, because it was one. Soon the French tanks could not even move in the deep mud. Everything rusted and had mold. Then the Viet Minh attacked. The French camp was first subjected to a round-the-clock barrage. Thousands of artillery shells were fired. French casualties mounted, and the survivors began shooting blindly into the mountains. There was nothing Navarre's men could do. After several days of bombardment, the human wave attacks did begin. Yes, the Viet Minh losses were high, but the attacks succeeded. Section by section, building by building, the French perimeter contracted. Brave French Foreign Legionnaires attempted to parachute into the diminishing French-controlled area by jumping blindly through the clouds. This was before the era of controllable parachutes, and almost all of those volunteers were either killed or captured. When the airstrip was lost, there was no more hope. A short time later, the French command bunker was overrun. The decisive battle was over with a decisive result. The French had lost, and lost badly.

The peace talks had stalled for months, awaiting the results of the battle at Dien Bien Phu. Once it was apparent just how greatly the Viet Minh had won, they were able to drive a hard bargain. The French agreed to split the country, ceding the northern half to the Viet Minh and setting up a friendly government in the south. The North Vietnamese waited to unite the country under their control.

The Viet Minh were communists and so Western nations began to support and assist the South Vietnamese government even as the Viet Minh, now known as the Vietcong, began an insurgency. Had Navarre not lost at Dien Bien Phu, the settlement might not have split Vietnam. A more peaceful resolution might have been reached: one in which the two halves of Vietnam were actually joined under a single government.

The Western fear was that Vietnam would become a Chinese satellite. But we know now that the Vietnamese were never willingly going to become pawns of the Chinese. After the United States pulled out, and the country was united, Vietnam and China fought three little-publicized but vicious wars. Relations even today are chilly.

But in the name of containing communism, America sent some "military advisers" and began their involvement in Vietnam. And whole books have been written about the mistakes made by the United States. But the entire mess started because a brave French general wanted a decisive battle so badly that he was willing to put his army in a position from which it could not win. Had he not, there would have been no American Vietnam War.

90. MARKETING DISASTER

The Ford Edsel

1957

In "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, he quips that the "Edsel is a no-go." He was referring to a colossal flop by Ford Motor Company in the late 1950s that incurred heavy financial losses for the company and served as a negative example for future endeavors by Ford and other companies. The Edsel was such a failure that on the fiftieth anniversary of its unveiling, Time magazine made a list of the fifty worst cars of all time in its honor.

Numerous factors combined to make the Edsel a colossal failure. Described frequently as "the wrong car at the wrong time," it was a large, gas-guzzling car at a time when consumer preferences were shifting toward smaller cars. Sales trends in the years preceding its release suggested that the automobile market had nowhere to go but up. With the onset of a recession in 1958, the Edsel's release was hardly opportune; only two cars saw an increase from 1957 production in that year. Moreover, the Edsel was released in September, a time when most dealers were discounting 1957 models. In 1958, Ford first released its most inexpensive model of the Edsel, the Citation, causing its later-released model, the Corsair, to seem excessively expensive by comparison.

A certain mystique surrounded the Edsel's release as a result of an intense advertising campaign by Ford. The car was billed as a revolutionary design, and in some ways it was: Its self-adjusting rear brakes and automatic lubrication were unprecedented features. However, leading up to its release, the Edsel was presented as a car of the future. All ads featured only blurred images of the car or pictured only its hood, stating, "The Edsel is coming." As vehicles were shipped to dealers, the dealerships were required to keep the cars covered with tarps. Ford created a television program called the Edsel Show, featuring big-name celebrities like Frank Sinatra. Ford advertising heralded the day the car would be unveiled as "E-Day." Consumers expected an auto that could drive on water and brew coffee; they got, in their view, a rehashed version of other Ford models. Members of the media derisively referred to the vehicle as "an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon" or "a Pontiac pushing a toilet seat." While many people flocked to dealers to see for themselves what this new model looked like, few bought the car. Internally projected to sell 200,000 vehicles, the Edsel sold only about a third of that. The company lost about $250 million, equivalent to more than $2.25 billion today. The only possible silver lining was that technological advances in the Edsel were incorporated in future Ford vehicles. Moreover, on the strength of other sales, Ford still maintained a profit in the years the Edsel was in production.

     

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