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Old 09-12-2017   #11
Bill Moore
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Join Date: Oct 2005
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Default Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages

Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages
Stuart A. Herrington

This book is basically the author’s memoir of his experiences as an advisor to the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (after the Tet Offensive). In some respects his story supports my impressions of the war. More importantly though, his story is a narrative that those who have worked as advisor from the Cold War through the War on Terror will readily identify with. As a reluctant warrior, he gave it his all to win his war in the villages, and in the end provided his insights on why that would never be enough. In my view, his reflections apply equally to our conflicts today.

The book’s preface frames the general U.S. view going into Vietnam. Similar to Iraq, we initially entered with great confidence and self-assurance. JFK
s "bear any burden speech," set the national mood at the time. This was amplified by the Green Beret motto, De Oppresso Liber, which symbolized the challenge of the sixties and our involvement in Vietnam. This mood helps propel us to endeavor to protect the “freedom” of the South Vietnamese and disprove Mao’s maxim that all “political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” While the author focused his story on his experiences at the village level as an advisor to the Phoenix Program, it provided a unique optic to the larger picture in post Tet Vietnam.

The author’s description of the Phoenix program parallels our current operational concepts tied to: interagency and intelligence fusion, the find, fix, finish, analyze methodology; and village stability operations. Conceptually it all made sense, but due to cultural realities and the sand running out of the hour glass it was bound to fail when the locals started questioning the willingness of the U.S. to continue their support. This book provides a professional education on conducting effective intelligence operations to identify and neutralize adversary shadow government structures. It indirectly addresses effective practices to counter propaganda also.

The Vietnamese people in the villages for the most part were indifferent to the governments in the North and the South. They made decisions based on pragmatic realities and generally sided with whatever side they thought was winning at the time. Most villagers had no use for communism, but they also despised their own government due to its corruption. No one should buy into the myth that corruption doesn’t matter in COIN and FID, it can be the decisive factor. The government of South Vietnam did itself no favors.

In the last chapter, the author reflected on why he thought we couldn’t win. Ranging from the loss of political will to sustain the effort, corrupt local governance, etc. Yet, he notes that when we pulled out of Vietnam the South Vietnamese military had very high morale based on their recent heroic efforts that defeated 13 North Vietnam divisions that conducted the Easter Offensive. They were in fact a proven and highly effective fighting force. However, they still needed U.S. support (material and air support) to stave off a large conventional invasion from the North that was supported by the USSR. It is sad to think we could have perhaps won if we honored the commitment we made to the Vietnamese people. What a different world it would be today if we didn't go through 10 plus years staring at our belly buttons and reflecting after the war.

Cultural differences were significant, the Americans and Vietnamese lived in two very different worlds in so many ways it was remarkable they were able to do anything together. It was worse when the advisor couldn't speak Vietnamese and had to rely on interpreters. Very few of the terps could effectively translate what the advisor what said. This is no different than our current experience in the Middle East.

Also like today, the Phoenix advisors attempted to force different Vietnamese intelligence, military, and police units share information with one another to root out the VC infrastructure. The Vietnamese were not inclined to support this due to distrust, ego, etc. Finally, since the Americans anticipated the Vietnamese military would have its hands tied after the Paris Peace Accord was signed, they tried to transfer the Phoenix program from the military to the national police. As expected, this proved to be a major failure due to the high level of corruption in the national police. In the end, our forces and Vietnamese allies had numerous tactical successes, but victory is not measured by tactical successes alone. Everyone will draw their own conclusions after reading this book, and whether you agree with mine is secondary from what you will learn reading this book.

Last edited by Bill Moore; 09-13-2017 at 02:12 AM.
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