Eleven years after my freshman essay on the Vietnam War in 1982, I found myself at Oxford in a Strategic Studies Seminar. For that seminar, I wrote the following paper on People’s War and Vietnam. Based on deeper reading and more reflection than my freshman essay, I concluded that the Vietnam War had been unwinnable for the United States. Note that this paper was written soon after the apparently decisive victory of the U.S. military over Iraq in Desert Storm. This victory had supposedly cured the U.S. military of its Vietnam Syndrome, a claim which I doubted at that time. Again, I have decided not to edit what I wrote in early 1993 about Vietnam. This paper is what one young Air Force captain thought about the meaning and legacies of the Vietnam War in the early 1990s, with all the biases of a serving military officer intact.
Insurgencies and America’s Defeat in Vietnam (Written in January 1993)
A revolutionary war is a war within a state; the ultimate aim of the insurgents is political control of the state. Nowhere is Clausewitz’s dictum of war as a continuation of politics more true than in a revolutionary war. It typically takes the form of a protracted struggle, conducted patiently and inexorably, a variant of Chinese water torture. Educating or, more accurately, indoctrinating, the people – gaining their sympathy, cooperation, and assistance – is paramount. And all people have a role to play: men and women, young and old. After World War II, insurgencies have been guided by Mao Zedong’s concept of People’s War, and inspired by a complex combination of nationalism, anti-colonialism, and communism. They have bedeviled France, Great Britain, and the United States. This paper addresses the strategy of People’s War in terms of means, ends, and will, and details some of the reasons why the United States lost the Vietnam War.
The strategic end of People’s War is simple in its boldness: the overthrow of the existing government and its replacement with an insurgent-led government. The means are incredibly complex, encompassing social, economic, psychological, military, and political dimensions, but it must be remembered that all means are directed towards the political end. Strength of will usually favors the insurgents, partly because a major goal of People’s War is to mold the minds of its followers to convince them of the righteousness of their cause.
People’s War passes through three stages. At first the insurgents get to know the people as they spread propaganda and build a political infrastructure. Every insurgent is an ambassador for the cause. They create safe havens while intimidating opponents and neutrals, and they commit terrorist acts to undermine the legitimacy of the government. They build their safe havens on the periphery of the state, usually in rural or impoverished areas where they can feed on the misery of the people. The more difficult the terrain, the better, whether it be the mountains of Spain and Afghanistan or the jungles of Malaya and Vietnam. They extend their control over the countryside and into the urban areas during the second stage of People’s War. They use guerrilla tactics and terrorism to further undermine the political legitimacy of the government. The main target is not the government’s troops but the will of its leaders. As they extend their physical control over the countryside, they install their own political structure to control the people. With the government’s will fatally weakened, the insurgents move to the final stage: a conventional military offensive to overthrow the government.
The three stages are not rigidly sequential, however. For example, while conducting guerrilla operations against the government, the insurgents continue to build their infrastructure, conduct terrorist acts, and spread propaganda. Even during the last stage — the general offensive — the insurgents continue stages one and two. This aspect of People’s War was well expressed by John M. Gates in the Journal of Military History in July 1990:
American conventional war doctrine does not anticipate reliance upon population within the enemy’s territory for logistical and combat support. It does not rely upon guerrilla units to fix the enemy, establish clear lines of communication, and maintain security in the rear. And it certainly does not expect enemy morale to be undermined by political cadres within the very heart of the enemy’s territory, cadres who will assume positions of political power as the offensive progresses. Yet all of these things happened in South Vietnam in 1975….
Flexibility, judgement, and comprehensiveness of methods are the keys to success. If the insurgents overestimate the weakness of the government and lose large-scale battles, they slip back into the earlier two phases and continue to work towards weakening the government for the next general offensive.
It bears repeating the primary goal of insurgents is political control. Military actions are only one tool for obtaining this control. As Mao cautions, guerrilla operations are just “one aspect of the revolutionary struggle.” The insurgent appeals to the hearts and minds of the people. He is, after all, one of them. Too much can be made of Mao’s “fish and sea” analogy. The insurgent is not just a fish that swims in the sea of the people: his purpose is to convert the sea to his purpose. He employs any method to command the sea to his will. He would prefer ideological converts, true believers, but converts through terror are acceptable. Those who can’t be converted he ruthlessly kills. That his methods produce squeamishness among some in the West only accentuates their value to him.
As a strategy, People’s War is difficult but not impossible to counter. The United States defeated the Philippine insurrection in the first two decades of this century, and after World War II Great Britain put down a communist insurgency in Malaya. More famous, however, have been the stunning successes of People’s War: Mao’s victory over Japan and the Nationalists in the 1930s and ’40s, and Ho Chi Minh’s victories over France and the United States in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Perhaps most unsettling was America’s defeat in Vietnam. How could the world’s foremost superpower lose to, in the words of General Richard G. Stilwell in 1980, a “fourth-rate half-country?”
There are no simple answers to America’s defeat, although Hollywood tells us otherwise. A theory still believed by some in the US military is a variation of the German “stab-in-the-back” legend of the Great War. Our hands were tied by meddling civilians who didn’t let the military fight and win the war. One American soldier is the equal of hundreds of pajama-clad midgets, or so it appears in the Rambo flicks. A wretched, dishonorable government also abandoned our POWs to the godless communists, now rescued several times over by Stallone, Chuck Norris, and other martial arts experts. That such films make money is an affront to the genuine sacrifices of Americans represented so tragically by the Vietnam War memorial in Washington.
Perhaps such sentiments seem out of place in a paper devoted to a dispassionate strategic analysis of America’s role in Vietnam. Yet my feelings are perhaps typical of the emotionalism that still surrounds this topic among Americans. A dispassionate critique from an American, let alone an American service member, may still be impossible; nevertheless, I’ll give it a shot.
The United States lost the war for several related reasons. First, we fought the wrong kind of war. As the Navy and especially the Air Force built up their nuclear forces, the army chaffed against its “New Look” and diminished role in the 1950s. Under Kennedy and Johnson, the Army had a new doctrine – Flexible Response – and an opportunity – the Vietnam War – to prove its worth. Vietnam was to be the proving ground for a revitalized Army.
The opposite proved to be the case because the Army pursued the wrong strategy. From 1965-68, when we sent more than half a million troops to Vietnam, the US Army tried to fight a conventional war against the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). As LTG Harry Kinnard, commander of the Army’s elite 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), put it, “I wanted to make them fight our kind of war. I wanted to turn it into a conventional war – boundaries – and here we go, and what are you going to do to stop us?” Obeying Mao’s teachings, the VC and NVA wisely avoided stand up fights. The Army responded with search-and-destroy operations to find, fix and kill the enemy. The goal was attrition through decisive battles, reflected by high body counts. Nothing illustrates the bankruptcy of American strategy better than the idea of body counts. In theory, a high body count means you’re killing the fish in the sea, without hurting the sea. In practice, a high body count is a measure of the success of the insurgents: they’re recruiting many fish to their cause. And in killing the fish, Americans poisoned the sea with defoliants, bomb craters, unexploded artillery shells, the list goes on. Americans were stuck in Catch-22 dilemmas: they had to destroy villages to save them, they had to destroy villagers’ crops while pursuing guerrilla bands. Such an approach flies in the face of Mao’s “Three Rules and Eight Remarks,” which exhibit a profound respect for the people and their property.
After killing, or perhaps more often not killing, the guerrillas, the Army left, and the guerrillas regained control of the area. This did not disturb LTG Stanley Larson, who observed that if guerrillas returned, “we’ll go back in and kill more of the sons of bitches.” But the VC and NVA retained the initiative, had plenty of manpower, and time was on their side.
Why did the Army pursue such a faulty strategy? In part due to the legacy of World War II, particularly American experience in the Pacific. In island-hopping to Japan, Americans gained faith in massive firepower and lost interest in controlling land. The islands were a means to an end, not the end itself, and success could be measured in some sense by the number of Japanese casualties. Such was not the case in Vietnam, where control of the land was essential to winning the support of the people. Part of the Army’s problem was its lack of experience in counterinsurgency (or COIN) operations. Ronald Spector reports that in the 1950s, COIN operations were limited to four hours in most infantry training courses. What little was taught focused on preventing a conventional enemy from holding raids or infiltrating rear areas. But in the end, the Army fought the war it was trained to fight: a conventional war of maneuver and massive firepower. This worked well in Desert Storm, but failed in Vietnam.
In contrast to the Army, the Marines were far more aware of the nature of the war they were fighting, reports Andrew Krepinevich. They combined 15 marines and 34 Popular Force territorial troops (who lived in and provided security for a village or hamlet) into combat action platoons (CAPs). These CAPs sought to destroy insurgent infrastructure, protect the people and the government infrastructure, organize local intelligence networks, and train local paramilitary troops. In other words, they adopted traditional COIN tactics. But the Army ran the show in Vietnam, and its leaders rejected the Marines’ approach.
The Marines were not alone in their appreciation of the multidimensional aspects of COIN. Robert Komer’s Phoenix program also targeted the Viet Cong infrastructure, but the efforts of the CIA were not well coordinated with those of the military or the State Department, let alone the South Vietnamese. In fact Westmoreland refused to create a combined command to coordinate American actions with those of the South Vietnamese. The latter were an especially neglected resource.
Admittedly, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was corrupt and at times incompetent, but part of the problem was caused by American mistraining and the Army’s contempt. In the 1950s, American military advisors trained ARVN to repel a conventional invasion from the north, using North Korea as a model. From 1965-68, the US Army gave ARVN the static security mission, judged to be of low importance by the Army. US advisors assigned to help ARVN recognized their careers were endangered: they would advance far quicker if they had “true” combat assignments. After years of neglect, ARVN was built up with billions of US dollars during Nixon’s Vietnamization policy (and that’s exactly what it was – a policy, not a strategy), but by 1969 the rot had gone too far. ARVN lacked a unifying national spirit, VC agents had penetrated the ranks, and the officers were thoroughly politicized. Our ally always thought we’d be there if they ran into trouble, but they didn’t understand how American government worked. As Ambassador Bui Diem explained in 1990, “Our faith in America was total, and our ignorance was equally total.” South Vietnam paid the price in 1975.
Could the United States have won the Vietnam War if we had followed a proper strategy? This question may be unanswerable and ultimately moot, but it’s worth discussing. First, one must admit the war may not have been worth winning. Hannah Arendt has stated the Vietnam War was a case of excess means applied for minor aims in a region of marginal interest. In retrospect this seems irrefutable, but in the climate of the Cold War and Containment Vietnam seemed a critical theater in which communist aggression had to be stopped. Second, one must admit the United States was not protecting a viable government in South Vietnam: we were trying to create one. But we were creating one in our image. We ignored the Vietnamese culture and destroyed their economy with our hard currency. Rear area troops with money to spend spread prostitution and drugs in the streets of Saigon. In short, we alienated the people instead of winning them over to our cause. The few people we did win over were terrorized and often killed by the Viet Cong. Even following a proper COIN strategy, victory would have taken 5-10 more years at least. With weak support from the American people, (the “Silent Majority” was silent due to its ignorance and ambivalence), which waned dramatically after Tet, we never had a chance in Vietnam.
The one strategy that would have succeeded for the United States, I believe, is Mao’s People’s War. We must not deceive ourselves: if free elections had been held as promised in 1956, Ho Chi Minh would have won and unified the country. His was the legitimate government; we were trying to overthrow that government and replace it with almost any non-communist regime. In that effort, we should have formed an alliance of military, state department, intelligence, and academic resources to educate Americans in Vietnamese language and culture. These experts, with a suitable, politically-indoctrinated military force to protect them, would win the hearts of the people. Our main weapons would be our ideas and the ideological fervor of our troops, whether civilian or military. Diplomacy and military strikes would be used to cut-off the flow of arms to the VC and NVA from the Soviet Union. The political infrastructure of the enemy would be targeted, including Ho Chi Minh himself.
But this is ridiculous. Our very arrogance blinded us to the war’s complexities. We attacked the symptoms of the disease – the guerrillas and NVA -without examining what caused the disease in the body politic. Our can-do attitude was reinforced by our military traditions and our pride in our nation as being more moral than the rest of the world. We became our own worst enemy as we tried to manage the war. The commitment was there (at least among the soldiers), the energy was there, the money was there, the technology was there -the strategy, intelligence, and leadership wasn’t. People’s War proved superior to search-and-destroy, the VC and NVA intelligence proved superior to ARVN and ignorant Americans, the brilliant Giap out-thought the dedicated but shortsighted Westmoreland. The Vietnam War was ultimately unwinnable.
In the aftermath of the American-led victory over Iraq in Desert Storm, many Americans predicted the stigma of our defeat in Vietnam had finally been exorcised from our minds. Such was not the case, nor is such a result even desirable. The “dreaded V-word,” as the London Times recently described it, is being whispered again in the endless corridors of the Pentagon. If this breeds an aversion to the use of military force, harm may result; but if it leads to more thought and a more subtle study of the efficacy of military force as applied under different conditions, the dreaded V-word will have served a useful purpose, and those names engraved on the Wall in Washington will not have died in vain.
16 thoughts on “Was the Vietnam War Unwinnable? (1993)”
A most interesting post, Col. Astore. Your presence as “a Yank at Oxford,” of course, was sponsored by USAF. Did this essay follow you back into that organization? If so I am very curious as to how it was received by your “superiors.” You were correct in the essay to state that the notion of Americans successfully “going native” to lead a pro-US “People’s War” is ridiculous. As I’ve stated previously, the history of the Vietnamese people is resistance to foreign invasion/occupation. People’s War indeed defeated the US behemoth and a thousand Sylvester Stallone movies will not change that reality. Mainstream media would have us believe that the American people HAVE developed an aversion to war in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately this will be disproved the moment bombs start falling on the next victim of US aggression, at which time flags will be waved and chants of “We’re Number One!” will again fill the land. I argue that NO lessons have been learned from Vietnam and every American killed in that conflict certainly DID die for nothing.
No, this essay didn’t follow me, Greg. But by that point it was OK to argue we had bungled the Vietnam war. After all, by 1993 we had “won” the Cold War and “won” in Iraq, two “victories” that had taken the sting out of defeat in Vietnam.
Defeat? What am I saying? As one of my students joked the other day: “We didn’t lose in Vietnam. We came in second place!”
Precisely. Defeat is Victory — or at least the sliver medal.
A much more informed and analytical essay than the one ten years previous, Professor. That said, I still find that the American manufactured “Viet Cong” pejorative still grates on my nerves. Even among the troops in Vietnam, that silly misnomer quickly went from “Victor Charlie” to just plain “Charlie.”
At any rate, on October 25, 2009, Daniel Ellsberg — the definitive “Defense Intellectual” — granted an interview to The Real News Network entitled From Vietnam to Afghanistan.
In brief, he said:
“My experience in Vietnam, two years, going through 38 of the 43 provinces in Vietnam over a period of two years, looking at pacification, writing doctrine for pacificationactually, for what’s now called “counterinsurgency” taught me that we were not going to succeed in Vietnam, not by what we were doing and really, eventually I realized, not by anything that anyone had proposed. There was no prospect for victory in Vietnam, only endless, bloody stalemate that was likely to escalate as it did not only under Johnson but under Nixon as well [in the air].”
The United States never had a serious prospect of militarily defeating an indigenous revolution in Vietnam. Furthermore, the U.S. government had no end of “intelligence,” academic, and “think tank” studies available to it which predicted nothing but futility, frustration, and failure. So the U.S. government had all the information it needed to make a sound decision and stay out of a conflict it had no means of determining, one way or another.
But the real issue for Americans did not, of course, involve the Vietnamese at all but, rather, what H. L. Menken called “the strife of the parties at Washington.” Contrary to received conventional mythology, domestic American politics do not “stop at the water’s edge.” They often begin there as they do today and as they do in all “blowback” empires. Domestic political power struggles in the United States — especially the McCarthy-Nixon Republicans red-baiting the allegedly “soft on communism” Democrats into proving their “toughness” — drove the entire debacle in Southeast Asia from start to finish. For its part, the U.S. military establishment fervently desired a “hot” war so as to justify its employment and enormous budgets. As Stanley Karnow observes in Vietnam: a History:
“[President Lyndon] Johnson subscribed to the adage that ‘wars are too serious to be entrusted to generals.’ He knew, as he once put it, that armed forces ‘need battles and bombs and bullets in order to be heroic,’ and that they would drag him into a military conflict if they could. But he also knew that Pentagon lobbyists, among the best in the business, could persuade conservatives in Congress to sabotage his social legislation unless he satisfied their demands. As he girded himself for the 1964 presidential campaign, he was especially sensitive to the jingoists who might brand him “soft on communism” were he to back away from the challenge in Vietnam. So, politician that he was, he assuaged the brass and the braid with promises he may never have intended to keep. At a White House reception on Christmas Eve 1963, for example, he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff: ‘Just let me get elected, and you can have your war.>/i>'”
Fast forward to October of 2009 and we find President Obama facing the same domestic political pressures for escalation in Afghanistan that President Johnson succumbed to in 1965. As Daniel Ellsberg noted in his interview:
“The Pentagon Papers showed basically what Johnson’s reasons were, and I think the reasons for Obama would be the same: to keep the military, the top military, from resigning and going public with complaints that he has abandoned a winnable war, a war that the president doesn’t himself believe can be won, and yet he goes into what he foresees will be a bloody, long, escalating stalemate in order to prevent his military from making a political case to his public and to the Congress that he has been weak, unmanly, indecisive, weak on terrorism, and has endangered American troops and Americans [etc., etc.].”
And President Obama predictably caved in to the political blackmail from the military establishment he ostensibly commands — just as President Johnson did before him.
As a matter of fact, the U.S. military establishment did not care if it “won” or “lost” a war in Southeast Asia five decades ago because neither winning or losing would have had any effect on the real security of the United States. But domestic political and economic power? Those did matter, just as they do today. Hence the U.S. military establishment — or Department of War — does not care if it “wins” or “loses” wars in the Middle East or Africa today, just so long as the Pentagon, a self-styled “super power,” gets to fight battles. And the longer the battles, the better from an institutional viewpoint. As Sheldon Wolin writes in Democracy Incorporated:
“During [the so-called “Cold War”], which lasted until the fall of of the Berlin Wall in 1987, the United States fought two very hot wars, first in Korea, then in Vietnam. It suffered a stalemate in one and defeat in the other, both by Soviet proxies. If we add the defeat in Iraq [and soon, Afghanistan], we might be tempted to redefine superpower as an imaginary of power that emerges from defeat unchastened, more imperious than ever.”
George Orwell described this permanent war mentality in 984, most notably the fact that military defeat does not matter in the least to an invulnerable “super power.” Only fighting and preparing to fight matter in that “the permanent war atmosphere” conduces to an intimidated public who will submit to any economic and social privation as a “patriotic” duty. So in addition to the three Orwellian doublethink slogans of the Party: namely, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and WAR IS PEACE, I submit that the United States requires a fourth Party Slogan, just for the Department of War:
DEFEAT IS VICTORY.
Yes, Mike. Vietnam became a testbed for our military, with each service trying out various theories and weapons, ostensibly aimed at winning the war, but also aimed at winning the Pentagon budget battle. The AF certainly believed it could bomb its way to victory; the Army wanted both to show its mastery of conventional ops and its facility with COIN; the Marines thought they could win the war on their own; and so on. We threw nearly everything we had against the enemy (short of nukes), and we still lost. Defoliants, napalm, cluster munitions, bulldozers, tanks, artillery, B-52s. We raged with white hot anger against an enemy that would not submit to our bigger toys.
To escape our defeat, we created new myths after the war: myths of Rambo and the noble cause. Myths that the war was winnable if only the military hadn’t been micromanaged from the White House. Myths that the anti-war movement lost the war, when it was a lost war that generated that movement.
And so it goes.
Just last night I finished viewing Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” series. In depicting the disappointing reality of Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” rhetoric he included clips of his jingoistic speeches before audiences like West Point Cadets. The tough-guy no-nonsense Commander-in-Chief. The same old message to the world: WE are THE Super Power and will project military power anywhere on the planet, at any time we choose. Proof that the Dems and GOP are entirely interchangeable. We long ago reached the point in this nation where a genuine peace candidate CANNOT be elected. The atmosphere being built around tomorrow’s Boston Marathon is nothing less than ultra-nationalist and jingoistic. Way out of proportion to the crime committed at the Finish Line last year. This is not to belittle the deaths and severe injuries; I ran that event myself, though many years ago, and would not have appreciated being sprayed with shrapnel or worse. But the constant drumbeat of “Boston Strong” in the media is way over the top. VP Biden made a speech about a week ago that resembled that of Mayor Giuliani when he and Dubya held their prelude-to-war rally near Ground Zero in Manhattan post-9/11. Anti-Russian propaganda is approaching the level of hysteria vis-a-vis that beloved US ally, Ukraine. But wait a doggone minute here, folks. The alleged perps of the Marathon crime of 2013 are supposedly ANTI-RUSSIAN “Muslim extremists.” Shall the US go to war against both Russia AND its internal enemies? Can someone please explain how ANY of this makes sense???
It doesn’t have to make sense, Greg, as long as it plays well in Peoria
When I commented on Biden late Sunday night I had no idea he would pop up in Kiev, Ukraine today (4/21/14)!!! Clearly an all-out effort is now underway to return us to the “good old ‘Cold War’ days” of painting Russia as the world’s number one Bad Guy. This is ominous in and of itself, but also serves as a convenient diversion from 1.) the fact the US economy stinks to high heaven right now (only billionaires have “recovered”); and 2.) the ever-deteriorating state of planet Earth’s environment. On the latter front, since very large corporations would be deeply offended by any significant change in policies, the easiest prediction we can make right now is that NONE WILL BE ENACTED. Your children, your children’s children, your children’s children’s children, etc. will suffer dearly for this. That I will stake my life on. A truly joyless wager.
You ask, Greg: “Shall the US go to war against both Russia AND its internal enemies?”
In a word: “Yes,” but only in the sense of a proxy war employing surrogates who will do the actual fighting and dying. If “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” then that makes my two enemies — enemies of each other — both my friends. So, let’s you and him fight, friends. Or, as Henry Kissinger said of U.S. policy during the Iraq/Iran war (to both sides of which the U.S. sold weapons and other war assets): “Let them kill each other off.”
Incidentally, I read yesterday where Benjamin Nuts-and-Yahoo, Prime Minister of the Apartheid Zionist Entity (hereafter, the A.Z.E., for convenience) has decided to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the current U.S. fostered instability in Ukraine. Apparently, Mr Yahoo can recognize a needless loser of a conflict when he sees one. This has elicited howls of outrage in the U.S. government at such a “betrayal” of U.S. belligerency by the A.Z.E., a pariah parasite that normally encourages and exploits American venality and stupidity for its own acquisitive purposes. Looks like a rat deserting a sinking ship, to me. But even rats can see where their true self-interest lies. If only one could say the same for the government of the United States which, as currently staffed and administered, looks like a pack of amateur fools.
I’m entering this a bit late but ready to go.
I think we all can agree that the U.S. Foreign Policy and Military Policy is a consequence of the policies being hammered out at a the regular “White House Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” ( with no insult to the Koch bros. TP). They launch a “war on terror” , bomb the hell out of Yemen while Saudi Arabia installs the new government and at the same time finances all of the madrassas in Pakistan that train the Taliban (and other terrorists) for Jihad against the West. Then, to seal the deal , our great compromiser, visits Saudi Arabia to assure the twelfth century ruler of that country of our fealty to their oil.
Then the W.H. Mad Hatters cut a deal with the Saudis and Qatar to arm the Jihadists in Syria to overthrow the Shia Alawaite Assad because he ain’t a Sunni Moslem and he’s allied with their Shia enemy Iran. And just by chance Syria has a Russian naval station at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast. We then get upset when Russia keeps arming Assad. But oil is thicker than blood so Putin gets no kudos from us for saving Obama from bombing Syria
We then we encourage and support an anti Russian coup in Ukraine that overthrows the existing government and we get very, very upset when Russia immediately rushes to secure their Black Sea fleet’s base in the Crimea*. So the trail goes from Saudi Arabia to Yemen to Syria and then leaps overland to Ukraine while we kiss Saudi Arabia’s hind quarters as they build more anti Western Jihadist madrassas.
From: Alice in Wonderland
* for those slow to follow the dots: if Russia loses both their naval stations in the Crimea and Tartus in Syria to our interventions they will lose direct naval access to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque has some summary thoughts on the U.S. and U.K. governments’ perennial role in fomenting world-wide “terrorism” while simultaneously denouncing it as the evil that “The West” must war upon forever:
“Every step taken in the blind, brutal “war on terror” has been counterproductive. Every step has increased terrorism, exacerbated hatred for America and the West, destabilized vast regions of the earth, destroyed all vestiges of constitutional government in the United States, militarized and corrupted Western democracies and visited unspeakable horror and suffering on millions of innocent people.
Yet it never stops. It just goes on and on, plunging the world deeper into darkness day by day, year by year. It’s done by icky conservatives like George Bush and Margaret Thatcher; it’s done by cool progressives like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. No one, none of our leaders and would-be leaders, will call it off. They don’t know how. And they don’t want to. So they will go on bombing and killing — thus making even more “militants” to bomb and kill. They will pursue this literally insane course while the world burns up around them and their own nations fall to pieces. It is an astounding situation.”
Other than Social Security and Medicare — about the only things it does halfway right — the United States government has no real reason to exist any longer. It has become a plague upon the world.
From a book review by David Barber at Michigan War Studies Review: http://www.miwsr.com/2014-036.aspx
It is nearly forty years since the victorious Vietnamese watched helicopters ferrying the last American embassy personnel to navy vessels lying off the coast in April 1975. Although the military phase of what the Vietnamese called the “American War” had ended, the United States continued, and in some respects still continues, to wage war on Vietnam through both military and non-military means. Only twenty years after the war did the United States resume normal economic and diplomatic relations with Vietnam; it did not, however, make good on the reparations promised in a secret protocol of the 1973 treaty ending the war. It has contributed but a tiny fraction of the costs of cleaning up the still toxic Agent Orange with which it defoliated one-third of South Vietnam, nor has it helped the estimated one million Vietnamese sickened by the highly carcinogenic herbicide. Accidental detonations of unexploded cluster bombs and other ordinance kill hundreds of Vietnamese each year, while the United States does nothing to help eliminate this lethal war legacy. The war persists on an ideological level, too. POW/MIA flags still fly in the United States, even though congressional investigations dating from 1976 have found that the Vietnamese no longer hold any prisoners of war and that soldiers missing in action at the war’s close likely died on the battlefield, their bodies never recovered…
The National Liberation Front (NLF) and the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), for example, believed they were fighting not a civil war but a protracted war for national liberation against successively the Japanese, French, and Americans. They believed an imperialist United States was pursuing global hegemony by crushing the surge of anti-colonial revolutions that erupted at the close of World War II. As early as 1946, Vietnamese leader Truong Chinh argued that Vietnam’s revolution alarmed the imperial powers because it “had breached the colonial system … at one of its weakest links, starting a process of irretrievable disintegration of colonialism throughout the world.… The Vietnamese Revolution, like the Chinese and Indonesian Revolutions, is a strong impulse to the liberation movements of the Lao and Cambodian peoples and other colonial countries in South-East Asia…”
By any measure, Vietnam faced one of the most ferocious military machines in world history. That machine, possessing complete air superiority, rained down fiery napalm and white phosphorous death on Vietnamese villages, designating whole areas of the countryside free fire zones. It sprayed millions of gallons of carcinogenic chemicals across large portions of southern Vietnam, dropped tens of thousands of body-shredding cluster bombs, let loose football field clearing “daisy-cutter” bombs, saturated urban and rural areas with literally megatons of carpet bombings, and unleashed on defenseless villages millions of artillery rounds. It sent half a million troops to “search and destroy” in Vietnam’s hamlets and villages, and it measured its success with body counts, the operative rule being that any dead body—man, woman, child, or baby—was the enemy. Vietnam’s resistance to this onslaught must rank as one of the world’s greatest struggles for national liberation, a tribute to the spirit and resilience of human beings.
Written on the occasion of President George W. Bush finally making the trip to Vietnam on November 17, 2006, decades after a better American woman, Jane Fonda, made the trip in his place. Three-and-a-half years into his own Vietnam-style debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan — disasters that he would bequeath to his successor two years later — Dubya the Dimwit proved to the world that what he didn’t learn about America in Vietnam he wouldn’t learn about America in the Middle East, either. Hence. this Vietnam veteran’s take in verse:
In Hanoi at last
Red-carpet in return for
The words no one heard,
Due so many years after:
Sheriff Cheney’s Barney Fife
Lost in Mayberry
The boy who cried Wolfowitz
Far too many times
Naked ruler’s brand new clothes
Viewed through glasses green
A cakewalk in its last throes
Now a glacier race
Four Years an “instant”
Nothing happens right away
What did you expect?
George Orwell’s Catastrophic
Shop till the troops drop
Buy a plane ticket or two
Your part in the “war”
Rob the future now
They will never break our will
Those grandkids of ours
Lecture the victors
About their First and Second
Where did we get him?
How come we can’t do better?
We look so stupid
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
Eight years later, and it feels like Vietnam in its final “Vietnamization” phase, which the French called “Yellowing the Corpses,” only in Afghanistan we could call it “Browning the Bodies,” the insane idea that U.S. soldiers can fail at killing the locals for obscure American interests but can somehow train and pay some locals to kill and maim their own countrymen so that Americans won’t get killed trying to do that themselves. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results: the very definition of insanity. We still look so stupid.
“Browning the bodies”: Now there’s a harrowing catchphrase. And what’s sad is how much U.S. domestic politics is driving our strategy/policy in Afghanistan. We won’t leave until the Democrats believe they can do so without being charged by the Republicans for “losing” Afghanistan. In other words, not until 2015 at the earliest, and perhaps not until 2017, i.e. after the next presidential election cycle.
In my opinion, Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972), by Frances FitzGerald, still ranks as the the finest account ever written by a non-Vietnamese about Vietnam’s Second War of Independence — or the “American” War, as they called it — told largely from the Vietnamese point of view. Not just a authoritative study of the sociology and cultural environment of the Vietnamese during their revolutionary struggle, but an elegant work of literature, as well. It fully deserved the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bancroft Prize for History that it won three years before the U.S. Congress got fed up with all the lying generals, their endless excuses, and incessant demands for more time, more troops, more money, etc., and simply cut off the funding for any further American military meddling in Southeast Asia. As the jaded bar girls of Tu Do Street in Saigon used to jeer at the broke and hard-up G.I.s: “No money, no honey!” As fitting an epitaph for America’s War on Southeast Asia as any ever enunciated.
Reblogged this on The Surf Report.