General Giap celebrated his 100th birthday this week and Vietnam celebrated with him. An outstanding strategist, after having led a resistance army against the Japanese during WWII, General Giap inflicted a major defeat on the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 (2,200 dead and 11,000 prisoners) causing France to give up French Indochina, and then led his troops to victory over the Americans, among other things taking Da Nang in 1975 when it was defended by 100,000 men. Immensely popular he hasn't hesitated to take the regime to task over corruption and creeping capitalism. Recently he virulently criticized a government decision to allow a Chinese mining group to take over a major bauxite deposit in central Vietnam.
photo: Richard Harris (Victor de Lavaleye Park, Saint-Gilles, Brussels)
If you think that Winston Churchill invented the V for Victory sign, think again:
"On January 14, 1941, Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-speaking broadcasts on the BBC (1940–1944), suggested in a broadcast that Belgians use a V for victoire (French: “victory”) and vrijheid (Dutch: "freedom") as a rallying emblem during World War II. In the BBC broadcast, de Laveleye said that "the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure." Indeed, within weeks chalked up Vs began appearing on walls throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and northern France.
Buoyed by this success, the BBC set out a plan, the "V for Victory" campaign, for which they put in charge the assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie posing as “Colonel Britton”. Ritchie suggested an audible V using its Morse code rhythm (three dots and a dash). Having the same rhythm, the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was then used as the call-sign by the BBC in its foreign language programmes to occupied Europe for the rest of the war. The irony that they were composed by a German was not lost on many of the audience or for the more musically educated that it was "Fate knocking on the door" of the Third Reich. The BBC also encouraged the use of the V gesture introduced by de Laveleye.
By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe, and on July 19, Winston Churchill put the British government’s stamp of approval on the V for Victory campaign in a speech, from which point he started using the V hand sign..."
Beethoven may well be German but not completely - his name "van Beethoven" is Belgian (Flemish) and his paternal grandfather was from Belgium (Wallonia). He's also part black African but that's another story.
Could it be that the fact that the name Victor de Lavaleye contains 2 V's have played a part in his idea?
The Battlefield of Waterloo, one of my childhood playgrounds. The first part of the video is of the Waterloo Panorama. The historical panoramas were the XIXth century equivalent of a movie. This one is one of the few still in existence (though there is a new one in Los Angeles - The Velaslavasay Panorama, 24th street at Hoover and Vermont, Fri-Sat-Sun Noon-6, 213-746-2166 - well worth the visit) and still as evocative now as it was decades ago.
The rest of the video is the climbing of the mound. The mound has to be climbed because it's there. There used to be trees growing on it at odd angles here and there, but it seems when it was restored (it's not solid, it's a brick foundation covered in dirt) they had to cut them down. The circular white building with the skylights that you can see at the base of the mound is the Panorama.
The Countess du Barry was the bastard child of a servant, a member of the proletariat if there ever was one. But due to her beauty and her mother's, she received a convent education which led to a promising career as a courtesan to the highest placed aristocrats in mid eighteenth century France. This in turn brought her to the attention of Louis XV who fell hard for her. He wanted to make her his official Favorite but one could not be an official mistress of the king if one wasn't noble. So she was married to the Count du Barry who retired to his ancestral home far from court while she stayed at Versailles. Fast forward to 1791. It's been almost two years since the beginning of the French Revolution. Louis XVI is still king and the aristocracy is still living the high life. While the countess attends a party at the Paris home of her lover the Duke de Brissac, her phenomenal jewelry is stolen from her château in Louveciennes. She posts public notices seeking information, thus reminding everyone that her fortune came from her former status as a royal mistress, at a time when that probably wasn't a great idea. She learns that her jewelry is in London. She travels to London to identify it but doesn't retrieve it. She returns to France. The king is executed the next year and things start to get really iffy. The Duke is killed by a mob in Paris and his head is thrown into the room she is occupying in her château in Louveciennes by a mob that has come all the way down from Paris just for that purpose. Now, one would think that after that, she might have decided to stay in London on her next attempt to regain her jewels. But no, she returned to Paris at the height of the Terreur and was arrested, accused of treason and despite testimony on her behalf by the citizens of Louveciennes, sentenced to death. Her last words were "If you please Mr. Executioner, one moment more!"