Quel plus terrible fléau que l'injustice qui a les armes à la main.
(What more terrible curse than injustice with arms in hand.)
During the 1958-1959 school year three close friends were completing the same studies together—an Iranian, a Vietnamese, and myself. It’s not that politics was our principal preoccupation, but we did talk about the situation in our respective countries, where each of us would enter into the working world the following autumn. Even though there were certainly tension and potential conflict spots in the world, even though "revolutions" were still taking place (such as in Cuba where Fidel Castro’s guerrillas would overturn the Batista regime and, incidentally, disrupt the calm at the Cuban Pavilion at the Cité university dormitories where I lived in Paris), we sensed that our countries, at least, had overcome their major trials and that prospects for the future were brighter.
After the upheavals during the Mossadegh epoch, Iran was opening up to the West under the enlightened and firm leadership of its king and would be able to rapidly modernize because of its petroleum resources. After the Geneva agreements, which had been reached five years earlier at the cost of the partitioning of countries and the painful displacing of populations, South Vietnam, then unquestionably independent, could hope to control its destiny in the face of communist subversion. France had just called upon General de Gaulle again and, if the Algerian conflict—“pacification” at the time—dominated political life, the country deeply sensed that it would at last regain a chance to exist and be heard. Its financial situation was being restored, new institutions were being set up and governments would no longer be falling with each change of season.
That’s how, after an end-of-studies voyage which left us with a lot of pleasant memories, life would separate us, each rejoining government service in his country. During several years only sporadic news would keep us in contact.
I met up again with my Iranian friend a dozen years later when my activities as a consulting engineer led me to travel to Iran. He was managing a consulting firm specializing in hydraulics and energy and the similarities in our responsibilities naturally reinforced our relationship. Later, he took on more prominent responsibilities as, for example, governor of a province. And then his life was turned upside down in 1978. After the departure of the king, the arrival of Khomeini and the mollah regime forced him into exile, like the majority of the westernized elite in the country. He took up residence with his family in France under very difficult conditions after having abandoned all of his property in Iran which was confiscated.
At around the same time the second member of our trio was living out a drama yet more terrible which we learned about several years later. A native of Hué, he was able, from the moment of his return to Vietnam, to put together a brilliant career in government service in Saigon. There, he held a high-level management position in public works and then headed the PTT. He was, naturally, taken out of his position in 1975 when the communists came to power and was sent to a re-education camp. Having received no news of him for several years, I assumed he was dead. It wasn’t until more than ten years later that I received word from him. At the time the Vietnamese and French governments were seeking to cooperate to try to reinitiate certain economic relations. A small exposition of French companies was organized in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) an Les Câbles de Lyon participated. At the exposition the employee who was running the stand was asked to deliver to the chairman of his company a brief message at the request of a dignified Vietnamese visitor who presented himself as a former schoolmate in Paris. It was, of course, with extreme pleasure that I learned in that way that he was still alive. We were able, afterwards, to exchange correspondence, a bit academic because of the risk of censure; and I only learned of the horror of his ordeal when I met him during my first trip to Vietnam in 1992. He had spent three years in a re-education camp, underfed, put to work farming the ground with his bare hands. He described the hallucinations that his hunger provoked. He survived nonetheless even though emancipated and having lost all of his teeth. Set free after three years of “re-education,” he was assigned to a position as a draftsman in the research consultancy of a regional hydraulics services agency, for which he became the chief engineer twenty years later just before taking his retirement. When I saw him, fifteen years after his release, he still bore the marks of his suffering. But I was pleased to see that he had maintained the same level of intelligence and the same vigour in the brilliance of his expression as when we chatted thirty years earlier at the Cité dormitories while walking the 100 steps between the neighboring houses of Cuba and Indochina, where he was housed.
For the Iranian, as for the Vietnamese, I was the one in the trio that destiny had spared. Each of them followed attentively, out of friendship and, I think, a bit of pride, the brilliant development of Alcatel Alsthom. They often spoke to me about it. Their attachment to France and to what appeared as French successes was sincere and reflected the depth of the mark left by the French teaching that they had received, despite the subsequent ordeals and passing of time.
But the same destiny fell upon me in 1995. As was the case with many of my friends, my abrupt removal from Alcatel Alsthom surprised them and seemed incomprehensible. They often questioned me concerning that infernal procedure.
Even after several years, I am still astonished by that series of uncontrollable rumors, calumny, pressure and constraints which led me to resign. The opportunistic manoeuvring of Ambroise Roux doesn’t explain everything. The most intriguing was the development of the Alcatel CIT affair and especially the exploitation of it to destabilise me, as well as the chairman of the subsidiary. My two friends gave me, each with his own level of sensibility, the same interpretation: Like them, I was the victim of a revolutionary process, certainly less drastic on the physical-personal level, but as arbitrary and implacable. That reminds me how my lawyer, in his brilliant argument before the court of appeals, didn’t hesitate to say that a Stalinist proceeding had been conducted against his client, with fabricated accusations.
I relate that argument to Maurice Druon’s recently published book, La France aux Ordres d’un Cadavre (France under orders of a corpse). For that academician, the corpse is that of the defunct USSR, the manoeuvres of which, open or secret, have continued for over five decades to act as a slow poison instilled in French society: All means and all allies are good. The propagation of false news (that is, dis-information), inciting interior rivalries, discredit thrust upon leaders by false accusations…" Further on: "Systematic attacks, insinuations, accusations, slanted or distorted presentation of events, bad faith—these were and remain usual Marxist practices."
So I could understand how my fate, in the end, met up with that of my friends. But I hadn’t thought that such would be possible in a country that professes to be the nation of Human Rights.