Tag Archives: vietnam

Myths about the Vietnam War laid the foundation for our Forever War

Summary: Today we have a reading that provides insights about our mad wars, written by someone who fought in the Cold War and later fought to prevent more wars. He explains how our leaders steered us into supporting these wars, such as by creating the myths about Vietnam that laid the foundations for our forever war. Essays like this are useful, since learning from our experiences can help cure our problems. We can do better.

POW-MIA Flag

 

America’s Memory of the Vietnam War
in the Epoch of the Forever War

H. Bruce Franklin (Professor of English, Rutgers)
Los Angeles Review of Books, 16 July 2014

Opening

WHILE WASHINGTON PONDERS the ifs and wheres of our next military adventures, the hawks are shrieking against America’s “war weariness” and croaking that Americans have no right to be weary.

  1. Robert Samuelson writes in The Washington Post that our unending wars have “posed no burdens, required no sacrifices, and involved no disruptions” for us civilians.
  2. William Kristol, who promised us in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq would be a “2 month war, not an 8 year war,” raves that the “war-weary public” must again be “awakened and rallied.”
  3. Sounding her familiar alarm, Condoleezza Rice urges us to “heed the wake-up call of Ukraine” before it’s too late.
  4. “Of what exactly are you weary,” demands an irate Wall Street Journal correspondent, arguing that those with an authentic right to weariness are just “those who have suffered severe physical and mental wounds or lost a loved one.”

War-weary citizens seem to be just a gaggle of selfish, spoiled brats, traitors to the heroes fighting our wars.

Maybe we have no right to be weary of our young service people getting maimed and killed, weary of the slaughter and devastation we have been inflicting on peoples in dozens of nations, or selfishly weary of having trillions of dollars sucked out of health care, education, infrastructure, and the environment to pay for these wars.


Perhaps we have grown weary of our endless post-9/11 wars. Just as after Vietnam we were weary of war. But after Vietnam we had not learned from our experience; so eventually we resumed our wars. If we have not learned from our Long War, eventually our wars will resume.

Learning from history

There is another explanation for our lack of enthusiasm about our forever war: perhaps we have learned the futility of these wars — and the folly of listening to hawks about our wars.

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Read these articles about our past to learn about today’s challanges

Summary:  One reason we have such difficulty charting  path to the future is that have lost so much of our past. It not only destabilizes us, but limits our ability to learn from our history. Here are three articles about our past that illuminate problems we face today.

History

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(1) Why weren’t they grateful?“, Pankaj Mishra reviews Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue, London Review of Books, 21 June 2010

Excerpt:

APOC, renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935, grossed profits of $3 billion between 1913 and 1951, but only $624 million of that remained in Iran. In 1947, the British government earned £15 million in tax on the company’s profits alone, while the Iranian government received only half that sum in royalties. The company also excluded Iranians from management and barred Tehran from inspecting its accounts.

Growing anti-British sentiment finally forced Muhammad Reza to appoint Mossadegh as prime minister early in 1951. The country’s nationalists by now included secularists as well as religious parties and the communist as well as non-communist left. Mossadegh, who, de Bellaigue writes, ‘was the first and only Iranian statesman to command all nationalist strains’, moved quickly to nationalise the oil industry. Tens of thousands lined the streets to cheer the officials sent from Tehran to take over the British oil facilities in Abadan, kissing the dust-caked cars – one of which belonged to Mehdi Bazargan, who would later become the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The American ambassador reported that Mossadegh was backed by 95% of the population, and the shah told the visiting diplomat Averell Harriman that he dared not say a word in public against the nationalisation. Mossadegh felt himself to be carried along on the wings of history. … He was supported by a broad coalition of new Asian countries.

{T}he British, desperately needing the revenues from what was Britain’s biggest single overseas investment, wouldn’t listen. …

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The military takes us back to the future. To Vietnam, again and again.

Summary: Now that our most recent wars are ending, we have an opportunity to learn. Will we? Making clear insights more difficult, our war machines has already started preparing us for new wars: threat inflation plus cheap/easy solutions. After 9-11 we bought such stories about Iraq and Afghanistan, with no questioning or skepticism. Will we do so again? Today we look at the “cheap/easy solution” part of the formula. Stand by for excitement.

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Wanted: Ph.D.s Who Can Win a Bar Fight. How to reform the Pentagon for ‘light footprint’ interventions.“, Fernando M. Lujan (Major, Special Forces), Foreign Policy, 8 March 2013 — Opening:

By Eric A. Hendrix.

 

Looming budget cuts, ground forces worn down by years of repeated deployments, and a range of ever evolving security challenges from Mali to Libya and Yemen are quickly making “light footprint” military interventions a central part of American strategy.

Instead of “nation building” with large, traditional military formations, civilian policymakers are increasingly opting for a discrete combination of air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups, and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles.

Despite the relative appeal of these less costly forms of military intervention, the light footprint is no panacea. Like any policy option, the strategy has risks, costs and benefits that make it ideally suited for certain security challenges and disastrous for others.

… The most critical resource requirement in smaller interventions is human capital: talented, adaptable professionals who are not only fluent in language, culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships, but also willing to deploy for long periods and operate with little guidance.

This is a brief of Major Lujan’s report for the Center for a New American Security (a powerful lobbying groups for foreign wars): “Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention“. It’s a wonderful example of America’s failure to learn, especially so after our COIN fiasco (another failure to learn from the post-WWII experiences of the US and other nations fighting insurgencies as foreigners).

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A lesson from history about wasted valor, for which a price might be asked of us (eventually)

Summary:  Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other small wars we have and are fought.  All fruitless in terms of our nation’s needs. All fought at great personal cost by our troops, up to and including the ultimate payment.  But no nation can continue to waste the valor of its troops in such a manner without eventually having a reckoning. These are men and women, among America’s best.  Eventually they will ask questions. Perhaps they’ll demand a change in the national equation.  Today we look at one moment from history described by historian Beth Crumley, a note about wasted valor.

Major General Ray Davis

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Fire Support Bases Neville and Russell, 25 February 1969“, Beth Crumley
Originally posted at the Marine Corps Association website on 15 February 2012. Reprinted here with their generous permission.

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Over the years I have often talked about Vietnam. How it’s looked at differently than the wars that preceded it. When I addressed the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines in October, I  began by asking a simple question:  “I am sure that most of you here today were at least aware of some of the history of this battalion before today. The history of this battalion is the stuff of legends…but how many of you sitting here today know anything about the history of this unit in Vietnam?” The only person to raise his hand was an older gentleman, a guest who had obviously served in Vietnam himself.

I was not surprised.  As I said to the assembled Marines, we tend to embrace the history of World War II, and to a lesser extent Korea — but not so much Vietnam. Why is that?  Probably because it isn’t easy. The war in Vietnam was not marked by set-point battles, or large-scale amphibious assaults against enemy held beaches. Instead it was one named operation after another, endless patrols, and search and destroy missions that blended together into “the War.”

So what was the situation faced by the Marine Corps in January 1969?

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Vietnam Has Left Town. Say Hello to our New Syndrome

Summary:  No nation, no matter how powerful, can long prosper (perhaps not even survive) with a broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop).  Like ours.  The primary symptom: an inability to learn.  We cannot learn from our peers’ to fix our health care system.  We cannot learn from our history to cope with 4GW (eg, foreign insurgencies).  Today Tom Engelhardt explains our attempts to forget lessons of the past, and so we repeat them.

The Afghan Syndrome:
Vietnam Has Left Town. Say Hello to the New Syndrome on the Block.

By Tom Engelhardt
Originally published at TomDispatch, 10 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.

Contents

  1. The Smog of War
  2. A Titleholder for Pure, Long-Term Futility
  3. A Vietnam Analogy Memorial
  4. About the author
  5. For more information

(1)  The Smog of War

Take off your hat. Taps is playing. Almost four decades late, the Vietnam War and its post-war spawn, the Vietnam Syndrome, are finally heading for their American grave. It may qualify as the longest attempted burial in history. Last words — both eulogies and curses — have been offered too many times to mention, and yet no American administration found the silver bullet that would put that war away for keeps.

Richard Nixon tried to get rid of it while it was still going on by “Vietnamizing” it. Seven years after it ended, Ronald Reagan tried to praise it into the dustbin of history, hailing it as “a noble cause.” Instead, it morphed from a defeat in the imperium into a “syndrome,” an unhealthy aversion to war-making believed to afflict the American people to their core.

A decade later, after the U.S. military smashed Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait in the First Gulf War, George H.W. Bush exulted that the country had finally “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” As it turned out, despite the organization of massive “victory parades” at home to prove that this hadn’t been Vietnam redux, that war kicked back. Another decade passed and there were H.W.’s son W. and his advisors planning the invasion of Iraq through a haze of Vietnam-constrained obsessions.

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History helps us learn from the past and overcome the ghosts of the Vietnam War

Summary:  One cause of our dysfunctional foreign policy is that we’ve lost our past, and substituted myth.  About the great American expansion (stealing land has a high return on investment).  About the Civil War.  And about the Vietnam War, whose grim tale has become lost in myths told about the past to support policies for today.  History can act as an antidote.  Today we look at one good place to begin, a book looking at the starting point of our adventure in Vietnam — and incident that foreshadows so much that followed.  Martin Windrow alternates his account of French planning and execution with the best of the limited information available on the Viet Minh, and provides a very evenhanded narrative.  Superior force and good plans can result in bad outcomes.

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The Last Valley – Dien Bien Phu, the battle the doomed the French Empire and led American into Vietnam  (2004)

By Martin Windrow. Reviewed by Christopher S. Owens (Brigadier General, USMC). Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette of November 2005. Republished here with their generous permission.

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Several books have appeared over the past 40 years covering the battle at Dien Bien Phu, and at first glance, Martin Windrow’s The Last Valley would seem redundant given the status accorded to those by Bernard Fall and Jules Roy. Windrow admits his book leans heavily on those works and others for reference. What sets The Last Valley apart is its comprehensive analysis of the battle, its operational and strategic context, and its avoidance of the fatalistic, retrospective criticism of the French that pervades most of its predecessors.

Windrow alternates his account of French planning and execution with the best of the limited information available on the Viet Minh, and provides a very evenhanded narrative. While the author accurately points out flawed French assumptions, he avoids the tendency of some authors to adulate Vo Nguyen Giap, and instead analyzes the strengths and shortcomings of plans and decisions on both sides. For instance, many authors dwell on Giap’s genius in digging in his 105mm howitzers on the forward slope of the hills surrounding Dien Bien Phu. Windrow notes that despite their near invulnerability to French air and counterbattery fire and the damage they caused, the Viet Minh could not adjust fires during the fight; each tube could only target a very limited area of the complex.

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Another echo in Afghanistan of the Vietnam War. Will we hear it, and learn?

Summary:  The Afghanistan War vividly demonstrates one of America’s greatest weaknesses.  We don’t learn from experience.  Change the names and so much history of Vietnam War reads like today’s news.  All that’s old is new again.  The actions of Lt Colonel Davis (see yesterday’s post) should remind us of similar events so long ago.

From David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest (1969), chapter 11

The conflict between Harkins ({Commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam}and his senior advisers in the Mekong Delta, his colonels and lieutenant colonels, was very real.  These officers were the fulcrum between the Saigon command, with its illusions about the war and its sense of responsibility to its superiors in the Pentagon, and the reality in the field where the junior officers, the captains and lieutenants, were discovering their ally did not want to fight and that the enemy was winning.

At considerable risk to their own careers, the four key officers began to complain, in varying ways and in varying degrees. … They were all combat veterans of other wars, men who had been specially selected for these slots. … They thought it was a serious business to send young men out to die, and if you were willing to do it, you had to be willing to fight for their doubts and put your career on the line.

To the Saigon command, then and later, Vietnam and the Vietnamese were never really a part of American thinking and plans; Vietnam was only an extension of America, of their own careers, their own institutional drives, their own self-image.  To the men in the field it was a real war, not just a brief interruption in their careers, something to prevent damaging your career.

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