Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gregory Daddis's "Westmoreland's War"

Gregory A. Daddis is an Academy Professor of History at West Point. He is author of No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam, and reported the following:
The popular narrative of the Vietnam War goes something like this: as American combat forces landed in South Vietnam in mid-1965, they relied on search-and-destroy tactics to rack up body counts in hopes of fulfilling a misguided strategy of attrition. Their commander, General William C. Westmoreland, narrowly defined the war in military terms, failing to comprehend the political threat posed by the National Liberation Front (derisively known as the Viet Cong or VC) or to recognize the importance of stabilizing the Government of South Vietnam (GVN). An excerpt from page 99 offers insights into my larger reevaluation of this reductive accounting. Was it possible that Americans understood that victory or defeat in Southeast Asia turned on more than just military factors? Was it possible that US strategy in Vietnam was more than just one of attrition? These are the questions, ultimately, that Westmoreland’s War asks.
The 1st Infantry Division’s arrival into country exemplified the difficulties in extending US and GVN influence into areas considered “VC dominated territory.” The unit set up base camps at Di An, Phuoc Vinh, and Lai Khe with the intent of guarding the approaches to Saigon and disrupting enemy movement north and northwest of the capital. Newly arrived US troops quickly found their movements canalized along roads and trails thanks to the area’s dense vegetation. As with their cavalry brethren, the Big Red One’s infantrymen confronted an enemy employing “bear hug” tactics aimed at reducing the effectiveness of US artillery and air power. Worse, the very nature of combat appeared to upset the sensibilities of young American soldiers. One “lessons learned” report warned that “Females actively support VC activities and have been encountered in battle. Also young children have been used to hurl grenades into vehicles or commit other acts of sabotage. These tactics present problems for Americans who are not usually wary or alert for encounters of this nature.” The division aimed to incorporate ARVN [Army of South Vietnam] units into their pacification operations with the hopes of tackling this new threat, but commanders soon realized that success depended on the too often uneven quality of the South Vietnamese army.
Learn more about Westmoreland's War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue