Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rethinking the Vietnam War

The inquiring blog Far Outliers is currently presenting a series of extracts from Michael Lind's Vietnam, the Necessary War, which throws new light on the close relation of the development of the Vietnam conflict to the phases of the Cold War and its dynamics. During the 1960s and 1970s that relation was not generally perceived by the global public at large - for different reasons, it was largely suppressed by both U.S. and Soviet governments. Lind also discovered evidence of another kind of blockage - an unwillingness among the U.S. military leadership when it came to the matter of counter-insurgency tactics, and he notes: "Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. military prepared to fight Field Marshal Rommel and Admiral Yamamato, when it should have been preparing itself in addition to fight opponents like Nicaragua's Sandino and Haiti's Charlemagne."
Unfortunately, the military's response to pressure from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to master the complexities of counterinsurgency was to dismiss it as a fad. General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1960-61, thought that the Kennedy administration was "oversold" on unconventional warfare. General George Decker, army chief of staff in 1960-62, claimed that "any good soldier can handle guerrillas." Even General Maxwell Taylor, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1961-64 championed flexible response, claimed that "Any well-trained organization can shift the tempo to that which might be required in this kind of situation." John A. Nagl, a U.S. Army captain and professor at West Point, suggests that "it was the organizational culture of the British army that allowed it to learn counterinsurgency principles effectively during the Malayan emergency, whereas the organizational culture of the U.S. Army blocked organizational learning during--and after--the Vietnam War." During the conflict in Indochina, one anonymous U.S. army officer was quoted as saying, "I'm not going to destroy the traditions and doctrine of the United States Army just to win this lousy war."...
After a look round at other U.S. military problems in the post-Vietnam era, Lind returns to the matter of the anti-communist response, and concludes:
In the final analysis, however, the American public's support for a sound grand strategy of global military containment of the communist bloc by means of flexible response collapsed for most of the 1970s because the U.S. military in Vietnam was too inflexible in its response to the enemy's tactics.

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