The Centurions – A Review
By Garland Davis
A book I first read in 1960. A riveting story and a treatise on guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. The author, Jean Larteguy served as a paratrooper and later as a journalist during the French war in Vietnam.
The movie “Lost Command” starring Anthony Quinn was based on the book.
The Centurions by Jean Larteguy is a polemology of the French-Indochina War, the politics, and mindset of the people, and conditions that eventually led to American involvement in Vietnam. Although the tale of a fictional Parachute Regiment and the officers and men who embraced the “new” kind of warfare, the book tells the story of a group of French Officers who were captured at the fall of Dien Bien Phu, their imprisonment and their realization that warfare was no longer fought with great armies, static lines, or with class distinctions among the warriors but with small groups moving rapidly to engage and retreat with officers and men living and working as teams. The book tells of how they applied the new form of warfare in Algeria and Suez.
When The Centurions was first published in 1960, readers were riveted by the thrilling account of soldiers fighting for survival in hostile environments. They were equally transfixed by the chilling moral questions the novel posed: how to fight when the “age of heroics is over.” As relevant today as it was half a century ago, The Centurions is a gripping military adventure, an extended symposium on waging war in a new global order, and an essential investigation of the ethics of counterinsurgency.
Featuring a foreword by renowned military expert Robert D. Kaplan, this important wartime novel will again spark debate about controversial tactics in hot spots around the world. A book that General David Petraeus admittedly referred to and was prominent on the shelf in his office.