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Old December 27th, 2009, 08:36 PM   #1

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GIAP: The Victor in Vietnam

‘GIAP: The Victor in Vietnam” by Peter Macdonald is written by a British brigadier general and an extremely thorough----as best as one can do with the little written records----in-depth study of the North Vietnamese military leader Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced Va Nwin Zap) and a very objective and well-researched examination of the failed French and US missions in Vietnam.

When one hears experts talk about “the lessons of Vietnam” it turns out these lessons were actually quite simple, yet remain ignored by the US military.

“The ultrasophistication of the American war machine was to prove one of the major obstacles to success in Vietnam: the availability of high-tech equipment made American servicemen and politicians alike too reliant on the supposed superiority of modern weaponry in all circumstances and regardless of the caliber of the opposition: just pour on the hot iron and the enemy will melt away. The decisive, battle-winning human factor was too often obscured behind a smokescreen of napalm and lasers and sensors and defoliants.” (p.218)

“An example of the way in which reliance on technology contributed to the lack of real American success in battle was the use of helicopters. In time nearly five thousand of them, each costing around a quarter million dollars, would be brought down by enemy ground fire. For years they would whir through the skies in operational and logistical support of the troops on the ground, their crews pumping lead into the paddy fields and jungles, delivering supplies and evacuating wounded men, but at the end of the day they made only one really big impact on the war: because they could descend like the cavalry of old in the nick of time and lift the infantry out of danger, they became an escape route to be used whenever the going got really tough. The withdrawal of soldiers under fire in this way allowed the U.S. army to claim that it never lost a battle: but then neither did it ever crushingly win one.” (p.221)

This over-reliance on technology and vehicles was exactly what got the US army in trouble in Korea until Matt Ridgeway forced them out of their vehicles and gave them back their dignity; yet it still continues to this very day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And it goes into how we not only lost the battle for hearts and minds, but threw it away with things like the Phoenix Program and Strategic Hamlet Program. Interesting the Strategic Hamlet Program was pursued because of its success in the Malaya Emergency, but not until it was already doomed did anyone notice during the Malay Emergency, the Chinese minority had been easy to tell apart from the dark-skinned Malays, where in Vietnam communists and non-communists look alike!

It gives plenty of examples of ridiculous use of US firepower. “Ha Tinh, a provincial capital on the 18th Parallel, was struck 25,529 times between 1965 and 1968: for twelve hundred days there was an air strike every ninety minutes.” (p. 235)

And what I found interesting after McNamara was forced out in 1968 and Clark Clifford took over as secretary of defense, he was to say, “It was startling to me to find out that we had no military plan to win the war.” (p. 219)

The book includes personal interviews with many of the major figures, McNamara and Westmorland, and even Giap himself by the author.

The most striking thing was how arrogant both the French and US efforts were and how criminally negligent they were in underestimating the NVA, Vietcong and PAVN. Both French and US military and political leadership----both equally culpable---put men in a situation they had zero possibility of winning.

To keep the war politically popular, Johnson insisted the war was originally an orthodox campaign against battalion-sized main forces---so he only needed 3-to-1 numerical superiority, instead of a guerrilla insurgency where 10-to-1 numerical superiority is needed.

Unlike today’s Taliban, the Vietnamese communists were extremely well organized and well-led. In fairness, yes, the Russians and Chinese picked up the tab for their weapons, but they were ferocious fighters and prepared to endure decades of hardship to defend their homeland and reunite Vietnam.

Why aren't books like this mandatory reading at US Army war college?
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Old December 29th, 2009, 02:15 AM   #2

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Re: GIAP: The Victor in Vietnam

Originally Posted by bigscreeninkster View Post

Why aren't books like this mandatory reading at US Army war college?
Why not, indeed?
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