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Thread: Re-evaluating Roger Hilsman as a "counterinsurgency specialist"?

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    Default Re-evaluating Roger Hilsman as a "counterinsurgency specialist"?

    Hello, folks.

    I am in the middle of a dissertation studying how T. E. Lawrence gets evoked in contemporary COIN theory, doctrine, and pop culture. Right now, I am looking through similar scholarship including Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation, which examines how frontier mythology (taming the west, cowboys and indians, etc.) gets evoked in domestic and foreign policy throughout American history. In the course of reading it, I came across a quote attributed to Roger Hilsman:

    In 1962, counterinsurgency specialist Roger Hilsman gleefully reported that that helicopters were such a ‘terrifying sight to the superstitious Viet Cong peasants’ that they would flush from cover and be shot down as they fled. In fact, their panic was simply that of raw troops faced with a weapon for which they were unprepared. Within months of the beginning of the helicopter war the Viet Cong had developed a new set of tactics for dealing with helicopters, which they successfully applied in defeating a major South Vietnamese drive in the battle of Ap Bac (January 1963). The same misreading of the actual level of Vietnamese cultural and political development made American advisers impatient with the apparent illogic of local politics and created a pressure, which finally proved irresistible, for an American takeover of the war. (Slotkin 493)
    The context is that Slotkin is arguing that Hilsman was blinded by this contemporary notion that the Vietnamese "primitives," "natives," etc. were so backward that they couldn't grasp helicopters. This is my first exposure to Hilsman, and just from my cursory examination of his background I am intrigued.

    I see many of you are fans of his work, and I wanted to get opinions on Hilsman as a--at least according to Hilsman--as "counterinsurgency specialist." I see he has quite a bit of experience doing insurgency; what are people's thoughts on Hilsman as counterinsurgent?
    Last edited by Erich G. Simmers; 05-18-2011 at 08:16 PM.
    Erich G. Simmers
    www.weaponizedculture.org

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default This line says it all; "...superstitious Viet Cong peasantsí ."

    Would anyone with any sense really say that?

    Regarding Hilsman, just another legend in his own mind IMO. His bona fides as a "...Merrill's Marauder..." are beyond suspect, his insurgent and counterinsurgent experience is vastly over rated. There may be some fans here but I'm not one...

    He, like every other senior figure involved in the debacle that was Viet Nam (with the exceptions of Brute Krulak, Matthew Ridgeway and (much as I hate to admit it) Wayne Morse -- plus a very few others lower in the food chain...) has much to answer for...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Would anyone with any sense really say that?
    Thanks for your thoughts. That was my first impression, but Slotkin isn't exactly friendly to the idea of counterinsurgency so I didn't want to rush to judgment. I appreciate the insights on Hilsman's background, too. For what it is worth, it seems like this type of scholarship tends to focus on counterinsurgency "experts" who are not very expert at all.

    If there is anything else redeemable or interesting about Hilsman, I would love to hear it from fans or detractors alike.
    Erich G. Simmers
    www.weaponizedculture.org

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