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Historical Dictionary

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BOUDAREL, GEORGES (1926–2003)

French crossover to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and highly controversial figure in the politics of memory surrounding the French war in Indochina. Born into a Catholic family in Saint-Étienne, he completed his secondary studies there at the Institution Notre Dame de Valbenoite (1944–1945) and obtained his undergraduate degree in Lyon (licence d’enseignement) in 1947 certifying him to teach philosophy at the secondary level. It was also during this period that he drifted away from Catholicism and towards communism and anti-colonialism. This became more pronounced following his decision to begin his teaching career in French Indochina. He arrived in Saigon on 19 April 1948 to begin work as a student teacher in philosophy at the Lycées Lalande and Yersin in Dalat (1948), the Lycée Pavie in Vientiane (1949), and the Lycée Marie Curie in Saigon (1949–1950). During this time, he became involved in the political activities of left-leaning and communist Vietnamese and French intellectuals running the Groupe culturel marxiste opposed to the Indochina war. Boudarel became increasingly critical of heavy-handed French methods used against the Vietnamese, especially the French crackdown on a Vietnamese student demonstration in 1950, which seems to have been the deciding factor in his decision to cross over to the other side. In December 1950, he secretly left Saigon on the invitation of Pham Ngoc Thach, who had him escorted to DRV territory and put to work in propaganda affairs. In January 1951, Boudarel called upon his former students to rally to the Vietnamese nationalist cause led by the DRV. The French army charged him with treason on 15 March 1951. In 1952, as the war intensified in the north, DRV authorities transferred Boudarel to northern Vietnam. There, he was responsible for winning over and indoctrinating Expeditionary Corps soldiers taken prisoner by the Vietnamese in increasing large numbers since 1950, many of whom died due to the appalling health conditions, lack of medicine, and poor medical care. Following the end of the Indochina War, Boudarel resided in Hanoi and continued working as a propagandist and editor in the official Radio Viet Nam until 1958. Between 1959 and 1964, he worked in the Foreign Language Publishing House before leaving for Czechoslovakia and eventually France in 1968, thanks to a French general amnesty (also extended to former French military officers who had turned against the 4th Republic over the decolonization of Algeria). Back in France, between 1968 and 1970, Boudarel put his knowledge of Vietnamese to work as a research scholar in the Centre national de la recherche scientifique and in the Section langues et civilisations orientales in Paris. Thanks to support from Jean Chesneaux and other intellectuals on the Left and Far Left, Boudarel taught at the University of Paris VII from 1970 as a lecturer. Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, he became increasingly disillusioned with and critical of Vietnamese communism, publishing a major history of Vietnamese dissent in North Vietnam in the 1950s. This, however, did not prevent politically active veteran associations and survivors of the Vietnamese prisoner camps to launch a (failed) legal battle against Boudarel for “crimes against humanity” during the Indochina War. They were more successful in their media blitz against him, the Boudarel affair, effectively forcing him to retire early from his university career. See also ALGERIAN WAR; PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE; RECTIFICATION; TORTURE.