Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Best description of the Vietnam War I've read yet.

Found this on Dr. Jerry Pournelle's website, Chaos Manor. He was commenting on a book review where he suggests the reviewer missed the point of the book. lol. I've had those days. I'm pasting his entire comment on this subject below.
Jerry is one of my favorite authors; take the time to check out his entire website.

Scientific War and History

Those interested in modern warfare might want to read
2009/01/how-tech-change.html which is a review of a book I haven't read and probably won't read, although it's possible that the reviewer simply didn't understand it, despite the reviewer's extensive and impressive credentials (and apparent access to the author). As an example, the reviewer says " identifies some important distinctions and helps explain things like the failure of Vietnam - Robert MacNamara’s pervasive quantification didn’t do much, in the end, to convince the Viet Cong that they were facing defeat."

This tells me that the reviewer hasn't a clue as to what happened in Viet Nam, or even why we were there. Viet Nam was a campaign of attrition in the Cold War. The United State decided early on that the proper strategy for the Cold War was containment: that if the USSR were left to stew in its own juices and not allowed to expand, so that war could not feed war, the corruption and mismanagement that inevitably accompanied a command economy would bring about collapse, while our free enterprise economy would bring about economic growth. The essence of containment was that the enemy had to be contained. The USSR already had North Viet Nam, obtained when the French withdrew from their protectorate and Viet Nam (an artificial entity in the first place) was partitioned. Kennedy and then Johnson decided that Containment was the proper strategy, and committed the US to the defense of the South. That wasn't done well, but it was done, and after the Viet Cong committed suicide in the Tet Offensive the war became one of attrition against the North.

By 1972 the war was won. In Spring of 1972 the North sent 150,000 men, all equipped with imported modern weapons including tanks and trucks, into the south in a straight up invasion without any pretense that this was any kind of "insurgency". Colonel Harry Summers put it this way:

"On 29 March 1972 North Vietnam launched what was to become known as the Eastertide Offensive. Leaving two divisions in Laos and one as a strategic reserve, North Vietnam committed some 12 divisions -- a total of about 150,000 men -- to the attack on South Vietnam. Supported by tanks, heavy artillery, and mobile antiaircraft units, they had some initial success. But they had severely miscalculated both the fighting ability of the South Vietnamese Army and the ability of the United States to react... By July 1972 the North Vietnamese had reverted to the tactical defensive."

North Viet Nam took about 100,000 casualties in 1972. The total number of US killed in that year was 641. The Second Viet Nam War had been won decisively.

In 1975 the Third Viet Nam War began, and this time the US did not provide support. The USSR had rebuilt the army destroyed in 1972 and presented the North with a brand new modern armored army, while the United States Congress voted to support the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam with 20 cartridges and two hand grenades per man. Viet Nam accordingly fell; but to characterize this as saying that MacNamara had not convinced the Viet Cong that they were facing defeat is at best absurd. By 1975 the Viet Cong no longer existed. The only insurgency in South Viet Nam was North Viet Nam regulars infiltrated into the South who were able to take advantage of the Sanctuary Areas of Laos, Cambodia, and the DMZ; and the only reason North Viet Nam won in 1975 was that the Congress of the United States, inspired by Watergate, would not support our ally; and the reasons North Viet Nam invaded were (1) they had a new army equipped by their allies, and (2) they had good reason to believe that the United States would not respond in 1975 as we responded in 1972.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Viet Nam experience, but in my judgment anyone who sums up that war with statements like " identifies some important distinctions and helps explain things like the failure of Vietnam - Robert MacNamara’s pervasive quantification didn’t do much, in the end, to convince the Viet Cong that they were facing defeat," probably doesn't have a lot to teach us.


No comments: