I read an article from Foreign Policy magazine yesterday after it was mentioned at length on the Rush Limbaugh show and the text was later posted on his website.
It was a good article by a War College professor named David Stoker, pointing out that the so-called "Surge" of additional infantry and Marines to take back Baghdad and put a hurting on both the insurgents and sectarian fighters in Iraq has a great chance of succeeding.
In arriving at this conclusion the author refers to one of my pet peeves, an issue I have written and lectured about many times in the past, when he notes that America has learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam, specifically that the Viet Cong, who in reality were annihilated in that war, were invincible, and that we can't defeat similarly constituted insurgent organizations now. I agree with Prof. Stoker's conclusion, and would add that America has this impression both because of biased reporting from the media at that time and from constant reinforcement of that falsehood by the media and Hollywood in the decades since the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
But a comment in the article, concerning "America's collective misunderstanding of its defeat in South Vietnam," concerns me. My primary objection is that use of the words "America's defeat" is nearly universally seen as meaning a military defeat - due to the continuing media and entertainment industry bias and misinformation.
I believe this concept of America's "military defeat," is widely assumed to be true not only in the general public, but throughout the modern military at all levels of the officer and enlisted ranks. I have written about this many times in the past, but it bears repeating as often as necessary, especially if command decisions are being made today based on misunderstandings of events from a generation ago.
In fact, America was never defeated militarily in Vietnam. It isn't just rhetoric to say that we won every single battle. We did and for all practical purposes America eliminated the Viet Cong guerillas from the fighting by early 1969 after inflicting horrendous losses on them in the Tet Offensive of February 1968 when about 50 percent of the VC were killed in action in a matter of weeks.
In fighting during May of that year, dubbed Mini-Tet by those who were there, the VC continued to use disastrous tactics, and they continued to lose throughout the remainder of that year. The VC and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attempted to launch another Tet Offensive in February 1969, with the same disastrous results that they encountered a year earlier, and the VC disappeared from the battlefield.
Coincidentally, the Phoenix Program, which successfully sought to capture or kill the members the VC political infrastructure ran through this period, thus by 1969 the war on the communist side was being fought entirely by North Vietnamese regulars who also were killed in astounding numbers.
Nonetheless, US news organizations, including the vaunted CBS "60 Minutes" TV show still maintain that the VC were instrumental in the US "defeat."
When Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded all US forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, died in 2005, his obituary in the Washington Post claimed that he was outsmarted by his communist opponent Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Westmoreland was faulted for attempting to maneuver the North Vietnamese into a conventional winner-take-all battle, while simultaneously working to eliminate the VC guerillas.
During 1967 the validity of that strategy was questioned, but its soundness was proven in the Tet Offensive of 1968. That offensive was the stand-up battle that Westmoreland had wanted and we won it in such an overwhelming fashion that it should be taught as model of how to defeat an insurgency - guerilla war - with a conventional army.
There were mistakes from that time of course. War by its very nature includes both sides making mistakes. But the genius of the warrior is the ability to recover from mistakes on your side, while capitalizing on mistakes by the other side. Marine generals had long urged Westmoreland to institute a pacification program in the civilian populace, a tactic with which the Marine Corps has a long and successful history.
The Marines instituted civil action programs on a limited basis under Westmoreland, but expanded them with tremendous success under Gen. Creighton Abrams, Westmoreland's successor. The US also would have benefited from a massive troop buildup early in the war, instead of the piecemeal increases that went on year after year, which as much as anything else wore down the public's patience.
The NVA and VC never capitalized on the US mistakes, while in Tet we definitely capitalized on theirs. But the upshot of the US victory was trips to Vietnam by American newsmen, with CBS television anchor Walter Cronkite in the lead, to falsely report back that we were not only beaten in Tet, but that we could never win the war there.
Sound familiar? Have we been hearing something very similar about the war in Iraq? Yet every returning troop I have spoken with, including Marines and Army infantry who have been right in the middle of the fighting, say we are making great progress there and killing terrorists by the thousands. But all we ever hear about is the deaths of American troops and Iraqi civilians.
The truth of Vietnam is that military successes there were either squandered or sabotaged by US politicians and bureaucrats. I realize there are some in Washington now who were there then, and feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for what happened to our allies in South Vietnam and millions of others throughout Southeast Asia who were slaughtered by the communists after we pulled out in 1975.
I share that burden, and not a day has gone by since 1975 when I have not thought about friends I made in that country and what happened to them. But much of what I write now, and what many others write now, is based on the wisdom gained from 20/20 hindsight. Whatever anger I feel about those events is directed at people like Cronkite and Sen. John Kerry, both of whom it was later revealed were communist sympathizers and supporters, and who worked to achieve that disastrous outcome.
I did not walk in the shoes of those who wanted the best results for Southeast Asia and the US, but were working in an environment of misinformation from the media and duplicity from their counterparts in our own government, so I hold no animosity toward them, nor do my friends in the veterans' community. However, we have definite hard feelings toward those who knew exactly what they were doing in the 60s and 70s, and deliberately sabotaged our successes in Vietnam, and then blamed the military for the resultant disaster.
I knew when I left Vietnam in 1969 that we were winning. I had seen it on the battlefield and I saw it in the villages and cities. But I didn't know the extent to which we were winning. The overall commander of I Corps, Marine Gen. Raymond Davis, had a very good handle on the big picture and tried to communicate this to the media at the time, but they weren't listening.
Westmoreland's detractors say that his "War of Attrition" was unsuccessful, but they never mention that an estimated 1.4 million communist North Vietnamese troops were killed and that the communist military leadership was talking surrender until political missteps in the US worked in the communists' favor.
The "Vietnamization" program launched in Pres. Richard Nixon's administration is derided in the same media that ignores the overwhelming success of the South Vietnamese Army when it stopped an all-out northern invasion launched at Easter in 1972. Estimates of communist troops killed by a combination of South Vietnamese ground forces and US air power range from 75,000 to 150,000 out of a total invasion force of 250,000.
When the wounded are included in that equation, even using a very low ratio of three wounded to one killed, it means the entire invasion force was eliminated. Try finding mention in the Main Stream Media that communist "genius" Gen. Giap was fired by his political bosses in Hanoi after that disaster.
To this day the media derides the body counts of enemy soldiers killed in battle with us, claiming that the numbers provided by the military were inaccurate. Yet they never mention the total numbers of communists killed.
Which is why we need to give the American public a more specific view of what our troops are accomplishing in Iraq, and Afghanistan. When US and Iraqi forces engaged a regiment-sized force of insurgents, foreign terrorists and sectarian fighters north of Baghdad this past weekend, and killed up to 300 of them while capturing more than 100 more and stopping a terrorist attack that would have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, the positive energy that ran through America was palpable.
The foes of US policy in Iraq and elsewhere don't want the public to know these figures because they tend to solidify support for our efforts there. So we need them, and we need them every time we win a battle.
It is beyond hypocritical for the media to do a daily story saying how many American troops have been killed in action, which not only provides battlefield intelligence to the enemy, but also gives aid and comfort because of its intended aim of wearing down the support of the American public, while purposely ignoring enemy losses.
A running tally of terrorists killed would have the exact same results with the Islamo-fascists. How long do you think their recruiting efforts would be successful if the potential recruits know that alliance with the terrorists is a one-way ticket to death?
If there were any inaccuracies in the Vietnam body counts, we erred on the low side, not by over-reporting. If the world had known what the American military, the communists and the American media knew back then, there is more than sufficient historic evidence to strongly suggest that the outcome would have been much different.
That is the truth of Vietnam, those are the lessons that should have been learned and they are the factors that should shape our strategy and tactics in Iraq today.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007