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Theme: Problems with limited war

Lesson 25
Road to War
• 1941… Ho Chi Minh secretly returns
to Vietnam after 30 years in exile and
begins organizing Viet Minh. US
works with Ho to harass Japanese
and rescue downed US pilots
• 1945… Allies divide Vietnam to aid in
disarming Japanese (Chinese disarm
north and British disarm south).
Allies honor French request for
restoration of its pre-war Indochina
colonies (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia)

Ho Chi Minh
Road to War
• Sept 1945… Ho
unsuccessfully seeks
US recognition
• Oct 1945… French
troops return to
Vietnam; guerrilla
fighting begins almost
• Dec 1946… First large
scale Viet Minh assault
on French French Far East Expeditionary
Road to War
• 1949… Mao
defeats Chiang
Kai-shek in China.
US begins
• 1950… US
authorizes aid and
advisors to French
• 1954… Viet Minh
defeat French at
Dien Bien Phu. US
does not intervene.
French paratroopers run for
cover during the 55 day siege
of Dien Bien Phu
Road to War

• 21 July 1954… Geneva

Accords divide Vietnam at 17th
• 1955… Ngo Dinh Diem
becomes president. Begins
illegitimate and corrupt (but
strongly anticommunist) rule.
• 1956… Last French soldier
Road to War
• 1959… Ho declares “Peoples’ War” to unite Vietnam.
• 1961… President Kennedy sends 400 Green Berets to Vietnam
• Oct 1961… Maxwell Taylor visits Vietnam and reports “If Vietnam
goes it will be exceedingly difficult to hold Southeast Asia.” (domino
theory) Recommends sending combat troops.
Road to War

• 1963… Diem assassinated

in US-backed coup.
• 1964… North Vietnamese
patrol boats attack US
destroyer in Gulf of Tonkin.
US begins bombing.
• 2 Mar 1965… Operation
Rolling Thunder begins.
• 8 Mar 1965… First US
combat troops arrive. By
the end of the year, The massive bombing campaign
184,300 troops are in was plagued by restricted targeting
Vietnam. and the non-industrialized nature of
North Vietnam
• Guerilla War
• Pacification
• The “Big War”
• Domestic Issues
• Legacy and Lessons
Guerilla War
• Insurgency-- An organized movement aimed at
the overthrow of a constituted government
through the use of subversion and armed
– FM 101-5-1, p. 1-83
• Guerrilla warfare-- Military and paramilitary
operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile
territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous
– FM 101-5-1, p. 1-75
Prerequisites and Other Conditions
Required for or Conducive to an Insurgency
FM 90-8

• Vulnerable population • Will to resist

• Leadership available • Discipline
for direction • Intelligence
• Lack of government • Propaganda
• Favorable
• Popular support environment
• Unity of effort • External support
Conditions in South Vietnam
• Diem illegitimate and
– Catholic in an
Buddhist society
– Ignored Geneva
Accords call for
elections in 1956
– Nepotism
• Succession of military
coups resulted in a Several Buddhist monks burned
revolving door government themselves alive to protest
Diem’s religious oppression
Insurgent Leadership
• Increasing North
Vietnamese infiltration
creates security threat in
South Vietnam
• In Dec 1960, the
insurgents formed the
National Liberation Front
(typically called the Viet
Cong or VC), a broad-
based organization led by
communists but designed
to rally all those
disaffected with Diem by
promising sweeping Flag of the National Liberation
reforms and genuine Front
Insurgent Leadership
• The NLF skillfully
combined political and
military organizations and
• Politically they created
special organizations to
give status to such
groups as farmers,
women, and youth
– Used agitation and
propaganda (“agitprop”) to
arouse the people to the
oppressiveness and lack of Protesters in Saigon to
responsibility express their dissatisfaction
with the Diem government.
Insurgent Leadership
• Militarily they
assembled a
disciplined and potent
force of an estimated
80,000 fighters by 1965
• Relied on speed,
surprise, and deception
to strike targets
selected for the
psychological effect
– Used violence to coerce
or win over the Vietnamese battalion
population and commander interrogating a
undermine the
legitimacy of the South captured Viet Cong suspect in
Vietnamese government a 1965 AP picture.
External Support
• North Vietnam began
constructing a massive
supply route through
Laos and Cambodia that
allowed it to infiltrate
supplies and personnel
– The Ho Chi Minh Trail
• The Soviet Union and
China provided
equipment, advisors, and
diplomatic support
Mao on Guerrilla Warfare
• Mao wrote On Guerrilla Warfare
in 1937 while in retreat after ten
years of battling the Nationalist
Chinese army of Chiang Kai-
• In 1949, Mao would defeat the
Nationalist Chinese and validate
his theories of revolutionary
guerrilla warfare
– Remember from Lesson 23
• The National Liberation Front
would pattern much of its
strategy and tactics after Mao
Phases of Development

• Phase I: Latent and incipient insurgency.

– Activity in this phase ranges from subversive
activity that is only a potential threat to
situations in which frequent subversive
incidents and activities occur in an organized
pattern. It involves no major outbreak of
violence or uncontrolled insurgent activity.
The guerrilla force does not conduct
continuous operations but rather selected
acts of terrorism.
Phases of Development
• Phase II: Guerrilla warfare.
– This phase is reached when the insurgent
movement, having gained sufficient local or
external support, initiates organized
continuous guerrilla warfare or related forms
of violence against the government. This is an
attempt to force government forces into a
defensive role. As the guerrilla becomes
stronger, he begins to conduct larger
Phases of Development
• Phase III: War of movement.
– When the guerrilla attains the force structure
and capability to directly engage government
forces in decisive combat, then he will
progressively begin to use more conventional
tactics and may obtain combat forces from an
external source. He may also begin to
conduct more extensive defensive operations
in this phase to protect the areas he controls.
• Between 1961 and 1963,
President Kennedy
launched a full-scale
program in Vietnam, part
of which would become
the “pacification” program
• Major goals
– Strengthen the South
government’s hold on
the peasantry
– Cut into the heart of
the Viet Cong politico- In 1967, Robert Komer, shown here with
military organization
• Designed to “win the President Johnson, was selected to head
hearts and minds” of the CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural
South Vietnamese Development Support)
and coordinate all pacification programs
• Strategic Hamlet Program…
South Vietnamese peasants
from scattered villages were
brought together in defended
and organized hamlets in order
to protect them, isolate the Viet
Cong, and show the superiority
of what the SVN government
could offer
– Patterned after British experience
in Malaya
– Did not work in Vietnam because
of traditional Vietnamese ties to
the land
• Combined Action Program… Placed
selected Marine squads within the village
militia to eliminate local guerrillas
– Very successful at the local level but
required a degree of American-
Vietnamese cooperation unable to be
replicated on a wider scale
– Drew American troops away from the
“big war”
• Instead, American troops concentrated on
the “big war”and left pacification to the
South Vietnamese who did not show an
abundance of commitment to the task
• Revolutionary
Program… Put armed
social workers into
Vietnamese villages to
begin grass roots civic
improvement and
eliminate the VC
shadow government
– Didn’t reach full
potential because
South Vietnamese
25th Infantry Division soldiers support
government feared the
consequences of real the Revolutionary Development
rural politicalization Program by clearing the village of
Rach Kien during Operation Lanakai
• Chieu hoi (opens arms)
amnesty program…
designed to persuade VC
to change sides
– When VC saw the program
might bear fruit they
unleashed a terrorist
campaign that reduced
defections from 5,000 to 500
a month
– CORDS responded with
Operation Phoenix, a direct These former VC who took
action plan to kill, capture, or advantage of the chieu hoi
co-opt the “provincial amnesty receive training in
reconnaissance units” automotive repair to help them
in their new lives
Pacification: Overall Assessment

• Commonly considered a
missed strategic
• Suffered from being “too
little, too late”
– CORDS not activated
until 1967
• Perceived as competition
with the “big war” and
many military officers Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis
favored a “military LeMay reportedly said, “Grab
solution” ‘em by the balls and their hearts
and minds will follow.”
The “Big War”
Limited War
• When the Soviet Union and the US nuclear programs
reached the point of Mutually Assured Destruction, the
US faced the dilemma of responding to communist
challenges in peripheral areas by either risking starting a
nuclear war or doing nothing
• The alternative strategy of limited war was developed to
harness the nation’s military power and employ only that
force necessary to achieve the political aim
• The objective was not to destroy an opponent but to
persuade him to break of the conflict short of achieving
his goals and without resorting to nuclear war
Limited War
• The limited war theory
was more an
academic than a
military concept and
its application
resulted in tensions,
frustrations, and
between the military
and civilian leadership Secretary of Defense Robert
McNamara is sharply criticized
for his technocratic and
statistical approach to the
Vietnam War
Strategy of Attrition
• Traditionally, the “American way of war” had been a
strategy of annihilation
– Seeks the immediate destruction of the combat power
of the enemy’s armed forces
• In Vietnam, the US would instead follow a strategy of
– The reduction of the effectiveness of a force caused
by loss of personnel and materiel
• This proved to be a poor strategy against the North
Vietnamese who used a strategy of exhaustion
– The gradual erosion of a nation’s will or means to
Problems with the Strategy of
• Led the US to fight according to the theory of
gradual escalation
– A steady increase in the level of military pressure
would coerce the enemy into compliance instead of
employing overwhelming force all at once
– US never had enough forces to control the
– US soldiers served one year tours in Vietnam
– North Vietnamese soldiers were there till the end and
recognized “Victory will come to us, not suddenly, but
in a complicated and tortuous way.”
US Troop Levels in Vietnam
• 1959 760 • 1967 485,600
• 1960 900 • 1968 536,100
• 1961 3,205 • 1969 475,200
• 1962 11,300 • 1970 334,600
• 1963 16,300 • 1971 156,800
• 1964 23,300 • 1972 24,200
• 1965 184,300 • 1973 50
• 1966 385,300
Problems with the Strategy of
• Led to a “body count” mentality
– Many reports were exaggerated or falsified
– North Vietnamese were always able to replace their
losses while Americans became disillusioned with the
mounting death toll
• Nightly news broadcasts reported US deaths
versus North Vietnamese deaths
– If ours were less, we were winning!
• North Vietnamese showed a remarkable
capability to cope, rebuild, and repair
– The enemy will was never broken
Problems with the Strategy of
• Low-tech nature of the enemy prevented the US from
bringing to bear the full effects of its combat power
– North Vietnamese infiltration routes were hard to
– North Vietnamese ground troops used the tactic of
“clinging to the G.I.’s belts” to minimize American
ability to use artillery and close air support
– The nature of guerrilla war allowed the North
Vietnamese to avoid contact when it was not to
their advantage to fight
Tet Offensive

• On January 30, 1968, the

North Vietnamese escalate
to Phase III, the War of
• Attack gains surprise by
coinciding with the
Vietnamese lunar new year
• Designed to foster
antigovernment uprisings
against the South
Tet Offensive

• 84,000 Viet
Cong and North
attack 36 of 43
capitals, 5 of 6
cities, 34 of 242
district capitals,
and at least 50
Reasons for North Vietnam’s Lack of
Tactical Success in Tet
• By attacking everywhere, the
North Vietnamese had superior
strength nowhere (violation of
• Inflexible Viet Cong command
and control system could not
respond to late announcements
of timings and objectives from
the North Vietnamese Army
(unity of command)
• North Vietnamese wrongly Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of
assumed South Vietnamese the director of the South
were on the verge of a general Vietnamese national police
uprising (objective) executing a VC prisoner in Saigon
during Tet
Reasons for the U.S. Tactical Success
in Tet
• Technology gave the US a
strategic mobility that
allowed it to respond to
multiple threats (maneuver)
• When the North
Vietnamese came out and
fought en masse in a
traditional war of movement, Helicopters gave the US the ability
the US could bring to bear to cover all types of terrain,
maneuver over large areas, react
its overwhelming firepower
quickly to enemy attacks, reinforce
in a strategy of annihilation embattled units, and conduct raids
(mass) into enemy territory
Back to Insurgency Phase II
• Previously complacent South Vietnamese population
was for the first time made to feel involved in the war effort
• Local insurgency movement suffered a devastating loss
when it surfaced to assume leadership of a general
uprising that never materialized
• Clandestine shadow government, years in the building,
was largely destroyed
• Tactical military defeat for North Vietnam
• By coming into the open, the enemy had exposed
itself to massive American firepower and lost 137,000
killed in the first nine months of 1968
• Allows US to practice “the American way of war”
Overall Results of Tet
• Tactical defeat for North
• North Vietnamese
32,000 killed and 6,000
• US and South
Vietnamese 4,000 killed
• But a strategic victory
• “I thought we were Returning from Vietnam after Tet,
winning this war!” Walter Cronkite reported, “It seems
(Walter Cronkite) now more certain than ever that the
• Dramatic shift in public bloody experience of Vietnam is a
opinion in US stalemate” and then urged the
government to open negotiations with
the North Vietnamese.
Domestic Issues
Societal Changes

Martin Luther King

delivers his “I have a Country Joe Gloria Steinem
dream” speech in 1963 McDonald at helped found Ms
Woodstock, 1969 magazine in 1971
War Protests
President Johnson

Democratic delegates protest the

President Lyndon B. Johnson
Johnson administration's policies
listens to tape sent by Captain
in Vietnam at the 1968
Charles Robb from Vietnam,
Democratic National Convention
July 31, 1968.
in Chicago.
President Nixon
• Richard Nixon was elected
president in 1968 campaigning
for “peace with honor”
• Under Nixon the process of
“Vietnamization”– the gradual
transfer of primary
responsibility of the war to the
South Vietnamese that
Johnson had begun on a small
scale after Tet– was
• Nixon’s involvement in
Watergate, his impeachment,
and resignation hamstring his Nixon was succeeded by Gerald
ability to influence peace Ford. By this point the US was
negotiations through sustained traumatized by war-weariness and
offensive operations economic recession. Ford had
almost no maneuver room to help
the South Vietnamese.
My Lai
• On March 16, 1968, an
infantry company entered
the village of My Lai
• They found no insurgents
but, being psychologically
prepared for battle and
poorly disciplined, they
proceeded to kill between
347 and 504 mostly old
men, women, and children
• Word of the massacre did
not reach the American
public until November 1969
when it then fueled national
outrage and further
undermined support for the
Kent State and Jackson State

Four students were killed and nine wounded at Kent State

and two students were killed at Jackson State during
protests against a number of issues to include US
operations in Cambodia
• The US concluded a
peace agreement
with the North
Vietnamese in 1973,
but the South
continued fighting
until April 30, 1975
when the North
Vietnamese captured
Americans and South Vietnamese
who had worked for the US are
evacuated from Saigon
Legacy and Lessons
Legacy and Lessons
• Sophisticated weaponry and conventional
forces have limits in “low intensity conflict”
• The restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs)
and political considerations of limited war
hamper military operations
• Domestic support is critical
• You can win the battles and lose the war
• “Vietnam syndrome” effects military and
diplomatic operations until finally exorcised by
Desert Storm.
– We’ll take about that in the next lesson.
Vietnam Today
• Vietnam remains communist
• However, since 2001, it has committed to
economic liberalization and is trying to
modernize the economy and to produce more
competitive, export-driven industries
• An April 28, 2005 article in the Economist was
aptly titled “America Lost, Capitalism Won”
• If you’re interested, USM has a nationally-
acclaimed Vietnam Study Abroad Program

• The End of the

Cold War, Desert
Storm, and the
New World Order
• Islamic
Resurgence and
Global Terrorism