Vietnam revisited

There are, if I count aright, three types or classes of military strategists: 1. The students of Sun Tzu. 2. The students of Carl von Clausewitz. And, 3. Total idiots. Never having been offered a general command, I’m still not sure which type I would be. But I do know which I’d prefer. Alas, almost all of our generals, since the “Enlightenment,” have been members of that third class, whose legacy is incredible heaps of bodies, usually for mixed or transient results.

As Sun Tzu said, and Archimedes of Syracuse would have understood, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Next best is to subdue the enemy with the unavoidable minimum of bloodshed, on both sides. Suicidal heroism is all very well, to the partisans of fame, but victory is sweeter.

It has been years since I re-fought the War in Vietnam with my buddies. I am delighted to see that the views I held forty years ago might now possibly pass for mainstream. This I gather from an article in the New York Times, by Mark Moyar, which plugs his own works (especially, Triumph Forsaken), and those of other revisionist scholars, such as Lewis Sorley and H. R. McMaster.

Let me present my original view. The Americans made three catastrophic mistakes: 1. They sent ten times as many troops as were needed. 2. They sent them to the wrong country. And, 3. They forgot to keep what they were doing secret. Instead, they actually encouraged a media extravaganza, which their enemy joyfully exploited.

In war, no news is better than good news. Don’t let the enemy know what you are doing.

Some things can’t be kept secret, of course, but when that happens, Mr President’s job is to justify the war with tremendous enthusiasm. Dubya Bush was like Lyndon Johnson in this respect. He was above correcting the lies and disinformation spread by anti-war liberals and progressives. But there are three things which must always be defended: 1. Mom. 2. Apple pie. And, 3. Western Civ. And never with the slightest hesitation, lest the devils get their wind.

The war could have been won, before Nixon even came to office, had the Americans sent their best-trained soldiers into Laos, to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail; while making frequent irritating incursions into North Vietnam itself, underground as well as over. Bombing should have been restricted to unambiguously military targets, avoiding pain to non-combatants. (Food drops to them would have made more sense.) The chief immediate task was, however, to prevent the Communists from inserting and supplying a guerrilla army in the South.

We had many natural allies in this task, including: 1. The Hmong and all other tribal interests throughout this mountainous terrain. 2. The Vietnamese in the South, more than a million of whom were already refugees from the North. And, 3. The Vietnamese in the North, suffering under a totalitarian dictatorship.

Now, the endgame should have been Vietnamese reunification after regime collapse in Hanoi. For in war, you never play for a draw. Unless, of course, you are a commander of that third sort.