Monday, July 25, 2005

National Will

100 Decisive Battles, copyright 1999, Paul K. Davis. I just finished the book. Good read if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The book was one of the sources for the piece below on Megiddo.

The next to last decisive battle discussed in the book is the Tet Offensive in January 1968. It made me think a little about the recently departed William Westmoreland. It is fairly easy to dissect events nearly 40 years after the fact. Everyone knows what happened – massive attacks in the south by both the NVA and the Viet Cong, the guerilla arm of the armed forces. Nearly 100 targets were attacked including five of the six major cities, 36 out of 44 provincial capitals, and most, if not all, of the major military bases in the south. Tet was preceded by a massive effort to relocate supplies to the south and at least part of this was detected by US intelligence. General Westmoreland reported to Washington that a major offensive was imminent but was ignored, even when the diversionary attack on Khe Sanh began on January 21. The results, as they say, are history. Hue fell. The US embassy was attacked but never fell.

One hates to sound merely glib. However, as noted in the book, and despite some anti-war efforts in the US, at the beginning of 1968 most thought the war was being won. This was in part due to the weekly news reports of enemy casualties. That changed radically after Tet.

Within a few weeks all the gains of the NVA and Viet Cong had been regained, including recapture of the ancient imperial capital, Hue. To quote from the book, “Everything the Communists had hoped for failed to materialize. The peasant population did not rise up and welcome them as liberators. Indeed, when the U.S. and ARVN troops reentered Communist-held towns, the Viet Cong were usually turned over to them. The government … remained as strong as ever. The dream of establishing strongholds in southern cities never happened. It was the greatest tactical defeat that the Communists ever suffered in this war, and afterward the Communist leadership could do little more than wonder how their plans could have gone so far awry.”

The Viet Cong were nearly decimated in the literal and classical sense. Exact casualty counts are unknown but, according to the book, it is generally accepted that the Communists lost 40,000 dead. One would expect the count of wounded to be much higher. Because of these losses, there was a very real opportunity to inflict a fatal blow against the North.

There are two points to be made. Rather than use my own poor words, I’ll use Mr. Davis’:

“Worst of all, it was all on the evening news, watched by the entire country. Even the presence of General Westmoreland standing in the embassy compound failed to assure the public. Could it be all lies? The public came to believe the early reports that the Communists had, temporarily, occupied the embassy. Untrue, but later denials were viewed skeptically.

What the U.S. public saw was Viet Cong in the embassy compound. What they did not see, because the news cameras did not follow, was the massive U.S. and ARVN counteroffensive that smashed the Communists forces. The perception of stalemate, if not defeat, entered the American psyche.”

Many of us remember what was reported in the days following. The media did NOT cause the fall of Saigon nor did it cause the failure of U.S. policy. However, and in my opinion, the media did contribute to both through their failure to accurately depict the events of the time. Can you say unbiased?

“After the Tet Offensive, the American people seemed to want not victory, just an end to the war. Although it took five more years for final arrangements to be concluded, the war had long been lost. The struggle in Vietnam, the only serious U.S. setback in the entire Cold War era, was in the end not a struggle of military might, but of national will.”

National will. Do we have that?


At 8:29 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Folks in our society have an expectation of immediate results in general. The first Gulf War fit very well in that regard -- over in 100 hours (if you don't count the months of logistics build up and the air prep). The problem is that lots of people, including our President, thought invading Iraq was the same kind of engagement as driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

We watched it on the news with live feeds, and thought it was over when the statues of Saddam Hussein were toppled.

Wrong. That was just the beginning.

Our military is not designed for engagements like Vietnam and Iraq. We train and equip our armed forces to engage uniformed forces who are holding territory. We believe victory occurs when the enemy government surrenders and ceases hostilies. Then we come in and help rebuild the country as a democracy. At least that's the WWII model.

This is a revolutionary war, where the good guys and the bad guys are both citizens of the same country. If one takes a close look at our own War of Independence through the eyes of the British, we never really defeated the British, we just fought on until the British nobility lost its will to continue. They went home (returning for the War of 1812), but we did not pursue them in an attempt to conquer the British homeland. We didn't even try to take Canada. Our victory was their loss of will. The Vietnamese communists had to feel very much the same way when we pulled out.

In Iraq, like Vietnam, we're letting the fighting drag on because we're letting the enemy keep their supply lines open. The fighting will never be open until we put a stop to that.

Here's the real shame: We are once again putting our young people in a position of deciding whether the person in their gunsight is a friendly or an enemy, knowing that a wrong decision will cause his buddies, or an innocent person, to die. How we can scar another generation this way?

I don't know -- are we not fighting hard enough? Are we not bringing enough force to bear on the situation? We pretty much bombed Germany and Japan to rubble in WWII. Is that what we have to do to Iraq? I don't think the shooting will stop even if that happens.

Do we have to put a fence around Iraq so that the enemy can no longer be supplied? I think we must, or we have to get out before we sacrifice another wall full of our children.

We went into Iraq for trumped-up reasons, a half-assed plan and an ill-defined mission objective. How did we let that happen again?


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