When will we win?

From some recent readings on the Vietnam War

A bitter little story made the rounds during the closing days of the Vietnam war:
When the Nixon Administration took over in 1969 all the data on North Vietnam and on the United States was fed into a Pentagon computer – population, gross national product, manufacturing capability, number of tanks, ships, and aircraft, size of the armed forces, and the like.
The computer was then asked When will we win?
It took only a moment to give the answer: ‘You won in 1964!’

14 thoughts on “When will we win?”

  1. True, and Summers makes the point that politicians, military commanders, and civilians all were variously under the beliefs that superior mass and technology and modern progress had made social cohesion and collective will obsolete.

    I thought of this book when I was reading Richard Fernandez’s column this morning. He opened with the line,

    Marine general James Mattis is credited with saying that “no war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”

    Denying reality and fighting terrorists with nice feelings like our leaders now do is just the flip side of the coin from the Kennedy/Johnson Administration ‘Best and Brightest’ quantifying Vietnam into a statistical box. Both were/are under the assumption that we can rely on a centralized political and military machine to do all the heavy lifting, run by a nice tidy operational models and blueprints. Just wind it up, let it run on the right side of history, and give some good talking points here and there. Both provide the illusion of control but only succeed in obscuring the reality of the situation.

  2. We need to amend our language. The United States won the Vietnam War.

    The Viet Cong were an irregular army run by the North Vietnamese. They were destroyed during the Tet offensive of 1968.

    Over the next 5 years, the US military ground down the North Vietnamese who agreed to peace in the Paris Peace Accords signed in January, 1973. The US military withdrew from South Vietnam. Once they were gone, the North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam.

    The Democrat Party members of Congress blocked any aid to the South Vietnamese Government and the government of South Vietnam collapsed. At the time that happened, there were fewer than 1000 US military personnel in South Vietnam.

    The result of this action was deaths of millions of South Vietnamese and other Asians in a blood bath that swept through South East Asia

    What the Democrats did was not technically treason, but it was deeply dishonorable and extraordinarily treacherous. They did because they were rooting for the other side. It is the same emotion that have animated the Obama administration in its foreign policy, on display in Havana this week.

  3. Michael H: we don’t need to develop anything. We need to destroy the elites who who hate America far more than they fear its other enemies.

  4. “Summers makes the point that politicians, military commanders, and civilians all were variously under the beliefs that superior mass and technology and modern progress had made social cohesion and collective will obsolete.”

    I think Summers got Vietnam very wrong. Bing West has the best summary, in my opinion. Abrams started to implement the “village” program but it was too late.

    DuPuy was wrong, and the only enemy to fight us on our terms was Saddam in Gulf War I.

    DePuy is perhaps best remembered for his efforts while commander of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, where he helped create a new, innovative fighting doctrine for the Army. His wide-ranging and sometimes controversial changes in combat development and the way the Army trains sparked a debate that resulted in the widely accepted AirLand Battle Doctrine.

    Learned nothing and forgot nothing.

  5. According to Colonel David Hackworth in About Face, the US army had a very difficult time getting the Army of Viet Nam (ARVN) to stand and fight. They tended to run away as soon as the shooting started. The attitude he described was, Why fight when these Americans are here and they’ll fight for us? Based on that, who is surprised they collapsed when attacked by the North Vietnamese Army? That is very similar to what we saw in Iraq. As soon as they Americans left, the Iraqi army collapsed, leadership fleeing first. Pathetic.

  6. “As soon as they Americans left, the Iraqi army collapsed, leadership fleeing first. Pathetic.”

    In both instances, the leadership was pathetic. What was needed was a residual American presence but the Democrats, emboldened by Watergate and the 1974 election, left them in the lurch. It’s interesting to see how well the South Vietnamese did when they got here. The cadet commander at West Point a few years ago was a Vietnamese girl.

    Nugyen Cao Key was running a liquor store in Orange County a few years ago. Great command presence.

    Thieu ended in Paris, I believe.

  7. Good points. The anti-war movement was indeed culpable in losing the war, and some Vietnamese did want to be free, notably the ones now living in the most capitalistic regions.

    But I have to agree with Michael. The Combined Action Program sounded good in theory and worked while we stayed, but it wasn’t sustainable unless we stayed in the villages for a very long time. In order to do that we needed a broad national consensus which we never had and never would. Summers got that part right.

    This dismaying image of the of the South Vietnamese defense of Saigon comes to mind. The ARVN didn’t just abandon the field but also abandoned their uniforms where they stood in order to hide from the enemy. That’s not the action of a proud, unified force.

  8. “it wasn’t sustainable unless we stayed in the villages for a very long time.”

    Had we begun that way, and the British tried to tell us early from their experience in Malaya but Westmoreland knew better, we could have pulled it off. Once we had gotten so far down the road of Johnson running the war from the White House, it was lost.

    The British had the advantage in Malaya that the communists were mostly ethnic Chinese but, even so, the tactics they used would have worked in Vietnam. Maybe.

    I know many Vietnamese Americans. I used to work with a guy who was Vietnamese and who had come here early and went to medical school. I’m not sure if it was here or in Vietnam.
    I met many Vietnamese physicians who had gone to medical school in Vietnam. Whole villages reassembled themselves after getting here and many settled in Garden Grove, an Orange County city. It is now called “Little Saigon.” Very conservative Republican.

    The medical schools in South Vietnam were gone and the North Vietnamese would not provide any records of students or graduation. What happened was that the whole faculties of South Vietnam medical schools just reconvened here and voted on those who were graduates. We could do much the same thing with Christian refugees and use the church records and church elders to identify those who are real Christian refugees. It is a scandal that the administration won’t allow that. Instead we get Syrian ISIS recruits.

    The guy I know just retired from the DoD program that examines applicants to the military. He told me his father had a pharmacy in Vietnam and he can remember even the prices of the drugs in his father’s drug store. I have interviewed applicants to medical school who are Vietnam refugees. One girl told me how her father carried her as a child from her bed to a canoe where the entire family paddled out to sea where they were picked up by a fishing boat. They ended up in a refugee camp in The Philippines but thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands drowned or were murdered by pirates. She and her family made it here and I hope she got into medical school. I recommended her.

    I just don’t know about Iraqis. I know some who came here years ago. They were probably Christian but I never asked. The recent ones are probably a bit like the Irish who came here later as immigrants. The earlier people left, and this included German Jews, probably the smarter they were, although the German Jews had better reason to think they were fully “Germanized” until Hitler.

    Syrians need to be in Syria. I see no reason to import that hellhole here.

  9. >>Syrians need to be in Syria. I see no reason to import that hellhole here.

    Amen to that. Keep the Arabs and islam the hell out of here.

  10. I don’t think it is accurate to say that the South Vietnam collapsed because their army refused to fight. The first North Vietnamese attempt to overrun the South after the American withdrawal was in 1972. To the surprise of many, the ARVN, with massive American air support, stood and fought. For example, see


    The ARVN and US air power inflicted enough damage that the North did not try again until 1975. At that time, deprived of US air support and even funds to purchase gasoline by the Democratic congress elected after Watergate, the South fell to a massive conventional assault by the North Vietnamese Army. America’s failure to support the South Vietnamese is one of the most shameful chapters in our history.

  11. The North was bad at fighting conventionally but good at doing just enough to outlast us.

    A big problem was the next year’s Paris Peace Accords banned any further military action in Laos and Cambodia. We followed through with that but the NVA didn’t which allowed them to greatly expand their supply lines. There were also no provisions for NVA to withdraw any troops from the south, so they were able to maintain their forward positions.

    Had Nixon been able to hold on, maybe we would have been able to continue air support for the South, but the next year and half was a catastrophe for the United States with a stock market crash, Arab oil embargo, and Watergate. It just wasn’t going to happen.

  12. This might help. Summers quotes Clausewitz quite a bit in the book. I’m not a big ‘On War’ person, but I am often impressed how it still applies to contemporary situations

    If it is all a calculation of probabilities based on given individuals and conditions, the political object which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation. The smaller the penalty you demand from your opponent, the less you can expect him to try and deny it to you; the smaller the effort he makes, the less you need make yourself. Moreover, the more modest your own political aim, the less importance you attach to it and the less reluctantly you will abandon it if you must.

    Sometimes the political and military objective is the same-for example, the conquest of a province. In other cases the political object will not provide a suitable military objective. In that event, another military objective must be adopted that will serve the political purpose and symbolize it in the peace negotiations. But here, too, attention must be paid to the character of each state involved. There are times when, if the political object is to be achieved, the substitute must be a good deal more important. The less involved the population and the less serious the strains within states and between them, the more political requirements in themselves will dominate and tend to be decisive. Situations can thus exist in which the political object will almost be the sole determinant.

  13. Clauswitz was no dummy. He changed sides when Napoleon was losing his army in Russia. He was a French officer and switched. Actually he was Prussian but they had lost to Napoleon and he was attached to the French army.

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