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Published by wwturnbow9902
Article written when asked to tell High School students about Vietnam conflict.
Article written when asked to tell High School students about Vietnam conflict.

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Published by: wwturnbow9902 on Dec 23, 2008
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W.W. Turnbow
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana.The historian must, however, seek out an accurate past. Few, if any, times in history havespawned a more confusing, more bias-driven plethora of literature than the Vietnam War.The discerning historian will soon learn to avoid some writers.Books by reporters are almost always based on ignorance and are rarely without bias.Reporting of the Vietnam War became so biased that when accompanying units that cameunder fire the reporters would yell “
 Bao Chi! Bao Chi!”
…”Journalist! Journalist!” in thehopes that the communists would not shoot someone so valuable to their cause.Books by high-level leaders, both political and military, are normally so filled withapologia and self-justification that they are of little value. Even those with the character to try to portray accuracy are often surprisingly poorly informed.Academia is steeped in bias. It is common for one of the learned ones to assemble or invent “facts” to support his pet theory. Even those striving for truth are handicapped bythe mere “closeness” of events lacking the time to sort themselves out.The “and there I was” war stories offer potential entertainment, and often fantastic flightsof fancy, but rarely any historical value. One particular branch of service seemsexceptionally gifted in this area.The historian seeking accuracy about Vietnam will most often find it in the writings of lower level Army officers whose work was done for the purpose of making the Army better and avoiding repetition of mistakes. These are normally well thought out and areoften quite caustic. ON STRATEGY by Harry G. Summers, DERELECTION OF DUTY by H. R. McMaster, and SUMMONS OF THE TRUMPET by Dave Richard Palmer arerecommended.
THE ADVISORY DECADE 1954-1964The Eisenhower legacy---
Dwight Eisenhower was elected on the promise that hewould bring an end to the Korean War. He did so. He did not want to attempt to match thecommunist forces man-for-man so he
adopted a policy of containment by massiveretaliation. As this meant primarily nuclear weapons delivered by air, Army plannerswere somewhat at loss for a purpose
The Army consequently developed, equipped, andtrained for a doctrine of canalizing enemy forces into a killzone and destroying them with
tactical nuclear weapons.
This policy might have worked well enough while we enjoyeda nuclear monopoly, but left few options short of a World War. Officers expecting onlynuclear warfare tend to neglect other aspects of their professional education.
Eisenhower sent some advisors to South Vietnam to organize and train an army to resistan external invasion.
Communist forces (
Viet Cong 
), either left in place after the war against France, or infiltrated from the North began the first phases of an insurgencyagainst the South.
Kennedy takes over---
John Kennedy tried to bring the magic of Camelot toWashington. He chose a young, dynamic, brain trust of intelligentsia and Ivy Leaguers ashis advisors. The Media quickly dubbed them “the Whiz Kids.” The concept of guerrillawarfare seemed new and heady. Kennedy became enamored with it and let it be knownthat there would be little advancement for military officers lacking expertise in this newand exciting concept. The Whiz Kids rapidly read every academic work about the subjectand equally rapidly formed opinions which were given much more credence than those of military men who, while admittedly not giving guerrilla warfare a very high priority, hadserved in both WWII and Korea and had spent most of their adult lives in the study and practice of the art of war. The number of Army advisors to Vietnam was greatlyincreased. The mission given to the Americans in Vietnam was increased. They were nowto train Vietnamese to resist external invasion, to conduct counterinsurgency operations,and to conduct nation building.The Army had enjoyed great success in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WWII.They did not anticipate the difficulties of RVN politics. The Republic of Vietnam provedto be a quagmire of corruption, familial and political loyalties inherited from mandarinand warlord feudalism. Subordinate leaders strived to be competent enough to beretained, yet not so competent as to be considered competition. Those who neededreforming most were in charge of reform. Almost all power was in the hands of aCatholic minority who looked down on the Buddhist majority. All ethnic and religiousgroups disliked and distrusted the other ethnic and religious groups. They had absolutelyno desire to work together. It rapidly became apparent that it was infinitely easier for anation to build a defeated and controlled nation than to do so while impeded andencumbered with locals who had to be given a say in what was to be done.The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) well reflected the problems of the societyfrom which it came. Promotions were based not on competence, but rather on clique or clan. With the exception of a few elite units…Ranger, Airborne, Marine, and Armoredunits, the ARVN divisions were almost militia-like and were of little use when deployedaway from their families and home areas. In the few units that were well led, theindividual Vietnamese soldier proved to be brave and capable of bearing incrediblehardship.Despite these problems, progress was made. The Viet Cong had been held in check. Mostof their leaders had been killed or captured. Replacement leaders had been sent downfrom the North, but they lacked the ability to relate to the Southerners as well as the
locals had. Defections rose. Pacification projects of the (President) Diem regime began tosee success.This success was squandered when the Buddhists faced Diem with a revolt of sorts. Diemhandled it poorly and succeeded in alienating almost everyone… including his Americanadvisors. Diem was overthrown with the blessings of Washington. Diem was assassinatedshortly before Kennedy. Then there began an almost comical series of coups and counter coups in the Saigon government.
Lyndon Johnson inherited Robert S. McNamara and the rest of the Whiz Kids from Kennedy. He was much more interested in forming the “GreatSociety” and readily accepted their proposals for running the Vietnam war “on the cheap"and making as few waves as possible. The North Vietnamese had lost faith in the“People’s War” insurgency and had deployed units of the North Vietnamese Army(NVA). Johnson had to counter with some US units, but had bought into McNamara’sconcept of “graduated response.” “ The US was obviously so much stronger that agradual increase of force should reach the point wherein the communists would realizethat continuation of the conflict was futile.” This concept was theorized to be morehumane, more economical, and would, of course, interfere less with the founding of the“Great Society.” Johnson was not told, or did not hear the argument advanced in a quotefrom Sir John Fisher, “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.”Those who thought that they had a better idea and were competent to rewrite history alsohappily ignored other lessons from the history of warfare.
 THE NEW FACE OF THE CONFLICT 1965American combat units deployed---
The North Vietnamese leadership ordered aconventional invasion of the South. This invasion was launched from sanctuaries inCambodia and had the mission of cutting the country in two. The invasion was thwarted by the insertion of the US First Cavalry division into the
 Ia Drang 
valley and the bringingabout the first direct combat between US and NVA troops. The effectiveness of ARVNwas greatly enhanced by the assignment of US advisory teams down to battalion level.Perhaps of greater value than the advice they gave, the advisors gave ARVN access to powerful US artillery and air support.Horrendous NVA losses resulted in their conventional units being pulled back intoCambodia to rebuild and by the war being continued by very scaled down guerrillaactions. Encouraged, the US continued their troop build up. The concept became for USunits to sweep the open areas for major NVA units and for ARVN to concentrate on pacification. This concept sowed the seeds for a policy that was to haunt US personnelfor the remainder of the war. Very restrictive, politically based, rules of engagement weredecreed. Troops who are being shot at tend to resent rules effecting their success andsurvival being written in the comfort of a desk in Washington.Perhaps even more detrimental was the allowing of privileged sanctuaries in Laos,Cambodia, and, indeed, North Vietnam itself.

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