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Rediscovering Bernard Fall

America can learn lessons from Bernard Fall that should improve our approach to the Middle East today. First, discover Professor Fall.

Dorothy Fall
'Bernard Fall, Memoirs of a Soldier Scholar,' by Dorothy Fall

From art to politics, this is a story about Dorothy and Bernard Fall. While attending an art exhibit at the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE), I was covering an opening to write an arts story. My wife pointed to a painting, and without saying a word I connected to it as did she. It was explosive with energy; dazzling with color and most imaginative while being elegantly uncomplicated. Who is the artist? The label read, Dorothy Fall. Boy, that sounds familiar, I thought aloud. Is she here?

Sure enough, there was the artist three feet away and I extended my hand to meet her, and to introduce myself as a journalist doing an art story. She gave to me her card, and I promised to send a link to the article.

I completed reviewing most of the work in the show, and then focused on Dorothy Fall. In the back of my mind it finally clicked. I wondered if she is related to the author whose works I read as a political science student in the 1960s while attending the Ohio State University? I looked it up and surely enough, this is the wife of Dr. Bernard Fall. Dr. Fall was the preeminent expert on Viet-Nam. I was assigned to read his books and papers. I recall how detailed they were and how creative and sophisticated was his analysis.

Professor Fall from Howard University left a mark because his work was a challenge to understand. His use of data and data points seemed oblique to what he was trying to prove. Yet, if you stuck with his logic one could correlate to prove assessments about the war that were sometimes contradictory to the line fed to the public by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the Pentagon. Yet, his work was so good that the military academies asked him to lecture and his papers were assigned reading.

After having written a story about Dorothy Fall’s single painting, she sent to me an email thanking me including my recalling her husband, Bernard Fall. She told me that she had written Bernard Fall, Memories of a Soldier-Scholar. She asked if I would enjoy reading a copy and of course I said yes. I could hardly wait.

Let me say upfront that if Dorothy Fall had been writing surveys of Dr. Fall’s work at the time political science professors were making his papers reading assignments, students would have enjoyed her help immensely. She is a tremendous writer as well as artist.

Without taking away from your reading her book, just note these things about Dr. Fall:

  1. He was born in Austria and spoke German
  2. He was a survivor of Nazis, while his parents were killed
  3. He became a resistance fighter for the French at age 16.
  4. He became a French military officer on merit as well as gaining French citizenship.
  5. He became a translator at the Nuremberg trials, and was then promoted to analyst and investigator.
  6. He successfully produced evidence that convicted Krupp industries
  7. He completed his undergraduate work in France.
  8. He began his studies of Viet Minh and the French war at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.
  9. He earned a doctorate from Syracuse University and became an assistant professor at American University in Washington, D.C..
  10. He became a professor at Howard University.

All during his academic years, he persisted in seeking facts about his Indochina studies by going directly to the source to obtain primary data from which he prepared scholarly analysis. That ultimately cost him his life.

One thing that stood out from Dr. Fall that influenced my own thinking when I wrote Smart Data, Enterprise Performance Optimization Strategy, and that is how to associate seemingly related, but dissimilar elements to make conceptual relationships that can be proven when facts are added to the equation. I confess that his equation for revolutionary war was perplexing to me, “RW = G + P”. I will never forget it. Revolutionary war = Guerilla + Political Action. Now, you must read his papers to understand this powerful idea and to be able to apply it to understanding the Middle East today.

"The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency," Bernard Fall:

I have drifted from the lead in this story and that is having discovered the woman behind the man. Dorothy Fall faithfully supported her soldier scholar as he persisted in putting his life on the line to get the story first hand. He was driven by academic pursuit to produce lessons from which government policy makers could identify their mistakes and to correct their policies to prevent unnecessary deaths, both soldiers and civilians. His analysis produced substance and analytical techniques that are as applicable today as in any time before.

Dorothy Fall has given a boost to Bernard Fall’s assets as a lifecycle extension.

All the while, she is telling a story that is her own about an artist being equally dedicated to her work while raising three children and honoring her husband’s passion to produce lessons from war. Hopefully, by retelling her story we can give it more legs as it is exciting to rediscover Dorothy’s paintings as it is to learn much more about another dimension of Bernard Fall.

Dorothy’s story is romantic, tragic and loving. It is the stuff that makes a great Hollywood movie story. Read her memoir, but have a fresh box of tissues handy as your going to need them.

There will be more articles to come about Bernard Fall and applying his ideas to the Middle East today.

To see Dorothy Fall’s recent work, refer to her art link:

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