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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

7.23.2005

The Trouble With Westy

General Westmoreland was no Scipio Africanus in Vietnam:

General William Westmoreland, who died earlier this week, was an honorable man and a noble soldier. But unfortunately for the United States and the late Republic of Vietnam, he was not a great soldier. Students of the Vietnam War, including many who served in the conflict, have blamed America's defeat primarily on Lyndon Johnson and his secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. While they do bear much of the responsibility for the defeat, Gen. Westmoreland is also culpable. During his time as Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV), he implemented an operational approach to the war that was destined to fail.


The Vietnamese communists followed a strategy they called dau tranh (struggle) consisting of two operational elements: dau tranh vu trang (armed struggle) and dau tranh chinh tri (political struggle). These operational elements were envisioned as a hammer and anvil or pincers designed to crush the enemy. Armed dau tranh had a strategy "for regular forces" and another for "protracted conflict." Regular-force strategy included both high tech and limited offensive warfare; protracted conflict included both Maoist and neo-revolutionary guerrilla warfare. Political dau tranh included dich van (action among the enemy), binh van (action among the military), and dan van (action among the people).

During his tenure as COMUSMACV, Westmorland focused U.S. attention on armed dau tranh, especially the part of the strategy that relied on regular forces. But he ignored political dau tranh and the "protracted conflict" element of armed dau tranh. Accordingly, he did little to train the Vietnamese army. McNamara concurred, claiming that by the time the Vietnamese were trained, the Americans would have won the war.


Thanks to the LWM's intentional ignorance of strategy in the Vietnam War, it is widely-known among military history buffs and almost completely unknown amongst the general public that the war was still quite winnable post-Tet, as successful counterinsurgency actions and Ho Chi Minh's own distaste for the Vietcong led to Giap and the NVA waging a largely conventional war from 1968 on. Nixon's bold action in Cambodia and the successful Linebacker bombing raids, combined with his China diplomacy, completely changed the shape of the war. Unfortunately, the antiwar crowd in America, whipped up by the LWM, simply made it impossible for America to press their advantage.

How well were we doing at the point Vietnamization went into effect?

Well, it took the "invincible" armies of Ho Chi Minh years after our drawdown to take Saigon. Looks like the ARVN troops Westy didn't want to train acquitted themselves quite well in the latter phase of the war, despite fighting without promised American support.

Given this track record, perhaps it is clearer why American troops in Baghdad get nervous when Dick Durbin spouts off or John Kerry claims they're in a quagmire. They don't worry that they'll destroy the terrorists they confront; they worry that they'll be stabbed in the back by their own countrymen, just as they were in Vietnam.

(One other note regarding the LWM's assertion that "the domino theory" was somehow invalid in Vietnam. After the NVA rolled into Saigon, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia on behalf of the Soviet Union and fought a sharp border war with China. One wonders why such a peacable person as Ho Chi Minh didn't simply lay down arms after achieving the reunification of his people. Well, one doesn't really wonder if one has any notion at all of the fundamental nature of communism.)

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