November 17, 2007

Bernard Fall profile

Charlie is a sucker for good profile writing, but this profile of Bernard Fall got to her worse than most. Maybe it's just the subtitle:

Bernard Fall loved his wife, but his heart belonged to Vietnam.

Perhaps it's the description of the recording of his literal last words, spoken from the street in Hue for which his most famous book is named:

"Shadows are lengthening," he says quietly near the tape's abrupt end. "We've reached one of our phase lines after the firefight, and it smells bad, meaning it's a little bit suspicious. Could be an amb -- "

Or his Fall's wife's reaction to Robert McNamara's autobiography:

In 1995, Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense during much of the Vietnam War, published a memoir in which he lamented the lack of Vietnam experts who might have helped the U.S. avoid its mistakes there.

Dorothy Fall was incensed: She knew that one of the most renowned Vietnam experts had lived less than 10 miles from the Pentagon, and McNamara had never called.

But Charlie is pretty sure that what really struck her heart on a cold night in Washington was the title of Dorothy's ode to her husband: Bernard Fall, Memories of a Soldier-Scholar.

Soldier-Scholar. She's known manywhocouldlay claim to that title. And she knows there are countless more. Some have already outlived Fall (who died at what seems the tender age of 40); others have barely seen 30. But much as she loves them, she has no interest in writing their memoirs. She'd much prefer they write their own.