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Old 12-02-2005   #1
Tom Odom
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Default Vietnam War Collection: books plus

Folks,

You can download the report at http://www.nsa.gov/vietnam/releases/relea00012.pdf

Good read

Best
Tom
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Old 04-16-2007   #2
Maximus
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Default Feedback on William Colby's Lost Victory

Looking for some feedback on former CIA Director William Colby's Lost Victory. I finished the book about 3 weeks ago and found it to be among the most informative and optimistic books on the Vietnam War with respect to understanding the U.S. role in the war, our many mistakes, and probably most important, how we eventually learned from these mistakes in developing a joint-pacification effort that some say led to the war being all but won by 1971-1972.

I'm not a Vietnam expert by any stretch, but did find this book, as well as Lewis Sorley's A Better War convincing in describing what could have been had we not completely pulled out militarily and cut off funding. Both books paint a very different picture of the war than others that generally focus on all things during and before the Tet Offensive.

Colby made an interesting point about how the Easter Offensive validated our success (and that of the South Vietnamese Government) because the North Vietnamese were left with little choice but to attack conventionally because the communist infrastracture in South Vietnam had been mostly destroyed by 1972. He argues this was even more the case after all three NVA conventional thrusts were defeated or fought to a stalemate during the Easter Offensive. He goes on to say that things in South Vietnam would have turned out very differently had the U.S., in 1972-1973, guaranteed the country's security from conventional external threats, much like we did when signing security alliances with South Korea and Japan.


Anybody out there with experience on the ground in Vietnam or Vietnam history experts in general that can shed some light on Colby's book?

I'm particularly interested because I see many parallels between how he describes Vietnam in 1968-1969 and where we're at in Iraq today (i.e., just now seriously embracing a pacification effort, making progress on inter-agency cooperation, really trying counterinsurgency, etc. all with decreasing political support on the homefront).

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Old 04-16-2007   #3
Mike in Hilo
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Default Colby's Lost Victory

I would also recommend what seems to be the closest thing to a definitive after action report on CORDS, Pacification by Richard A. Hunt, Westview Press, 1995. The jacket, incidentally, has Colby's endorsement of this work. The author was a CORDS captain, apparently assigned to MACV HQ. As for Lost Victory, definitely a worthwhile read, and I concur in the conclusion, basically as you have put it. Concur as well in Sorely, which puts the Colby/CORDS story in context. I worked in a number of MR III provinces as a civilian in CORDS and its successor outfit, the Embassy's SAA/FO (Special Asst. to the Amb. for Field Operations) Program 1971 to April 1975. All my former colleagues who were there when I was and, to whom I have spoken since, consider, as do I, that by mid-1970 the turning point had been reached in our favor. To all of us, every stage of the pulling of the plug was an outrage. My quick and (very) dirty take on CORDS is that our advisory effort was laudably successful in ensuring the needed US and GVN focus on recruiting, training and equiping the Territorial Forces (RF/PF) and recognizing their key role in pacification--(falls under the rubric of organizing the population in its own self defense). I'll not dwell on recurring problems such as enemy penetration, but overall, to me the vindication of the program came in the 1972 PAVN offensive when US observers were able to comment in a number of situations that RF units had performed measurably better than ARVN. To me, progress with RF/PF alone more than justified the CORDS enterprise.

On another important initiative, Colby is overly sanguin, however, viz., Phoenix. After all, this was his baby. And this is why to me the CORDS advisory effort was the house half finished. Sorely quotes Abrams putting it better: there was "still a lot of work to do." Most VCI were killed not through Phoenix but by RF during the course of their normal operations. This is because many VCI (including the senior ones) resided and travelled with the enemy combatant units in the bush, not within the population. And PRU, an effective anti-VCI strike force, diminished very significantly in effectiveness once it was Vietnamized. Despite undeniably serious attrition in their ranks, the VCI were still around when CORDS ended in Feb 1973, and despite smaller numbers, able to keep their fellow villagers in a state of terror in certain areas. Communist enforcers continued to assasinate, the guides were still there to lead PAVN conbatants, and in the waning year of 1974, political agitators were unabashedly vocal. (The GVN in MR III did not demonstrate seriousness of intent in neutralizing the legal cadre--the ones living within the population. Keep in mind that CORDS was strictly advisory--if the GVN didn't do it, it wasn't done.) Conspicuously absent from Colby's account was any discussion of the thriving Shadow Supply System of local procurement for the enemy forces--an important VCI undertaking. The whole question of accommodation with the enemy was a perennial problem with which the advisers struggled, but unfortunately, as our force drawdown accellerated, the Vietnamese, no longer convinced of US commitment (the key!) were driven to increasing collaboration with the enemy.

In conclusion, I'd assess CORDS as a real success in regard to the RF/PF. But recent accounts of the successes of Phoenix (at best spotty, but overall, wanting) leave me incredulous. Some months ago, Council Member Slapout (if memory serves) suggested that I do an evaluation of CORDS, which I refrained from attempting since I am not qualified. The foregoing will confirm that judgement.

Cheers,
Mike.

Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-16-2007 at 07:54 AM. Reason: Add examples of VCI activity.
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Old 04-16-2007   #4
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Let's not forget that the Easter Offensive in 1972, while an utter failure and disaster for the North Vietnamese in their attempt to take urban centers and destroy South Vietnam, did manage to successfully overrun and keep the Central Highlands. While not a major population center, it provided an excellent safe zone within the South for resupply and rebuilding. Note as well that without American advisors, FACs, and pilots, ARVN would have utterly collapsed in 1972.

Also focusing exclusively on successes in the counterinsurgency battle ignores a critical aspect of Maoist revolutionary warfare, which prescribes transitioning to conventional forces as soon as possible. The Communists in China didn't win due to guerrilla uprisings in Nanking --- they crushed the Nationalists in the major force-on-force battles, where guerrillas acted primarily as guides, supply, and political mobilization rather than playing a significant military role. The same thing happened in Vietnam, except when the major conventional campaign occurred South Vietnam fell far faster than the KMT in China.
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Old 04-16-2007   #5
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Hi Mike, thanks for the post on CORDS, yes that was me with a request for an evaluation of CORDS. I disagree with you on your qualifications, seems like you are exactly the right person as your post proves. I am at my day job but will post more later.
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Old 04-16-2007   #6
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Default CORDS and Phoenix

After the war the communist said that the Phoenix program was very successful.

The communist insurgency in Vietnam was beaten many times. In Mark Moyars' Triumph Forsaken he notes that in 1959 the Diem regime had reduced the communist forces down to just 6,000 men.

After the north started sending more troops down, they were defeated again in the early '60's. What helped them in 1963 was their infiltration of the Buddhist movement creating what appeared to be a sectarian strife.

The US fell for the ruse and started putting pressure on Diem to make concessions to the Buddhist leaders who kept moving the goal post. State Department people began back a coup against Diem and were assisted in that effort by Ambassador Lodge and some reporters in Vietnam who later received Pulitzer Prizes for their efforts. The coup caused the South Vietnamese to lose momentum in their war against the communist, and President Johnson's weak response to provocations encouraged them to send more troops south.

If you are interested in counterinsurgency warfare, you will want to read Moyar's book. It only goes through 1965, so you will probably have to wait for the next volume to read about the CORDS program from his perspective.
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Old 04-16-2007   #7
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For a dissenting opinion on CORDs and pacification, I'd strongly recommend reading Eric Bergerud's The Dynamics of Defeat; the Vietnam War in Hau Nghia Province (Westview Press, 1991). Bergerud looks clsely at once province in Vietnam and assess that the pacification efforts could only, at best, achieve a mediocre tie with the VC and that the population, was never in a position to accept the GVN, even when the VC fighters were swept from the battlefield in the "better war" of the Abrams era.
For me Bergerud's book proves the point made by David Galula that the counterinsurgent must be armed with a better idea than the insurgent, and be able to sell that idea.
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Old 04-16-2007   #8
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Thanks for all the feedback thus far. Will be sure to pick up the recommended books.

A few questions and observations that came to mind as I was reading the responses:

Colby described how he sent John Paul Vann down to the Delta region to lead the pacification efforts because the VC had a dominant presence in the region, at least initially. He talked about visiting this region multiple times throughout the book and for a long time it definitely wasn't a nice place. But about a year or so after Vann moved down that way (1970-1971 timeframe), Abrams in charge, pacification/CORDS really the main effort, local elections took place, fairly legitimate central government in place, etc. the Delta had significantly changed, to the point where Colby and Vann would ride around on a motorcycle, stopping in villages for days at a time, while not once being attacked or threatened. He mentioned that they would have certainly been killed had they done this in the mid-to late 1960s.

Did anyone spend time in the Delta region? If yes, please share thoughts on why things changed so dramatically.

This brings to mind all the talk of late over Senator McCain's recent trip to Baghdad. While I haven't been in Baghdad for a few years now, and don't think there are any places where an American would be wise to walk around alone in the city, I do know of significant changes on the ground in this direction in other areas.

For example, a few weeks back I spoke to a Lt that had recently returned from the once "Wild, Wild West" in Anbar. Tomorrow marks the 3-year anniversary of a battlion-sized fight in Husaybah that has proven to be one of the most intense the Marines have had in Anbar since 2004. I'm very close with many of the Marines that fought in Husaybah. One of the guys led a heavy machine gun platoon in the AO in Spring/Fall 2004 and commented that he rarely went anywhere unless he had 6 vehicles and at least 30 Marines with him. Friends from the two battalions that replaced this battalion had similar experiences.

Back to the Lt that I recently spoke to... following the clear/secure, hold, build strategy employed in this AO in late 2005/early 2006, platoons were married up with Iraqi Army and police units (many of the Iraqis were from the area) and moved in with the people. The Lt assumed control of one of these positions for 5 months. Unlike the 30-Marine/lots of machine guns patrols from years past, he routinely sent out fire team (+) to squad (-) dismounted patrols that operated alongside Iraqi security forces. While there was still an occassional threat, ultimately the people were very happy to work with the Marines/ISF, the insurgency lost most of its appeal, the economy took many steps in a positive direction, and politics at the local level began having a significant influence in the AO.

Two major things struck me about his comments:

1) He said the AO was so peaceful that the deployment was boring in many ways, and if sent back to Iraq, part of him wants to go somewhere where he can participate in a "clearing" operation (he understands that it's not a good thing if we continue to have to do "clearing" ops, but part of him feels like this is what infantry Marines are trained/supposed to do).

2) Many of his Marines had previously served in this AO. Initially they didn't believe "higher" when told how much things had changed on the ground. In fact, many thought he was insane when saying that they'd be conducting indepenent squad-sized patrols on their first day in the AO. His squad leaders warned him about how dangerous certain areas were and recommended bringing a larger force. Much to their surprise, the environment had fundamentally changed after clear/secure, hold, build was executed and committed to, now going on almost 16 months.

Thanks in advance for any more thoughts on the subject or feedback on Colby's book.

Last edited by Maximus; 04-16-2007 at 10:17 PM.
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Old 04-17-2007   #9
Mike in Hilo
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Default Responses Re Colby

1) For Tequila: Absolutely--not quite "the highlands" but a slice of territory along the border from the DMZ all the way to the Dellta essentially fell to the enemy in 1972. Stretching it though, to say this (or 1975) was Maoist third stage--After all, the enemy conventional forces were PAVN--a foreign army. This force didn't evolve out of the village guerillas because we had killed those off. Yes, there were still VCI around to provide that army with local support--and we could, based on historical experience, predict pretty well which areas that linkage would resurface--i.e., the surprisingly precise location of the "leopard spots" was no secret. Concur 100 percent that to meet a conventional threat US advisers and tactical air support remained essential. (GVN could have duked it out with local forces forever.) When Song Be was besieged Christmas 1974, I was instructed to tell my counterparts that "the Ambassador says he is very hopeful that Congress will provide the expected assistance funds." Replied the VN Lt. Col. Deputy Sector Commander, "We don't need the aid--we need tactical air support." The ultimate outrage was not congress cutting off funds in 1975--It was the mid-1973 Congressional prohibition on any US military activity anywhere in (or over) Indochina, thus giving the enemy a green light to grossly violate the cease fire.

2) For Merv: Concur completely in Moyar's thesis. Former advisers to the ARVN 7th Division who were in the Delta in 62-63 told me they were convinced Strategic Hamlets had turned the tide in the Delta--unfortunately it all fell apart when Diem was killed. But a far better write up is provided by Dennis Duncanson in Government and Revolution in Viet Nam, Oxford Univ. Press, 1968. This history of VN ends in '67 but if you had to read just one book about VN, this would unquestionably be the one. (Then you might use Sorely to fill in 1968-75.) Duncanson was Bob Thompson's No.2 in BRIAM (UK Adv Mission to VN) throughout the Diem years and knew Diem and Nhu very well--as did then COS Colby. Re Phoenix--The Communist statements I have seen about Phoenix, in their full context, plainly use the term generically to refer to all penetration ops. According to Sorely, the friendlies had even penetrated COSVN. But that had nothing to do with Phoenix, which was a very specific intel coordination effort centered at province and district level.

3) For Phil: I also highly recommend Bergerud. Considering the base line, though, progress in Hau Nghia was impressive. To me the lesson here is that US military withdrawals (in this case 25th ID) were pemature. Two problems with Hau Nghia Province, which I covered intermitently. First, this is a place where the insurgency was entrenched because it was indivisible from family. Membership had been inherited for a couple of generations. This was unusual in the proper South Vietnam--but common in the Central Coast (eg: Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai). Trang Bang District was rubber plantation land since the French days. Among the earliest "cannonfodder" recruits to the Viet Minh in the South (c.1946) were the rubber workers--the true underclass--an impoverished rural proletariate the French had brought down from the North where there was a labor surplus. I'd like to see a study (but haven't found one) looking at whether the hard core VC of Hau Nghia came from those families, as this would explain a lot. Second problem with Hau Nghia was its location on the border and on an infiltration route (Plain of Reeds) pointed toward Saigon. So, close proximity to a PAVN base area was a problem. (Problem with oil spots is that the enemy worked their own.)

4) For Maximus: No question, throughout populated MRIII (but not the jungle areas) I could drive alone and unarmed where it would have been suicide to do so mid 60's. (To be honest, if I wanted to drive over a landmine or get myself captured, I also knew where I could still do that--but lots fewer places than in the 60's.) Laying on security for the Colby trip must have been a hell of an effort. The highlight was a stretch they drove at night! But security had improved greatly. Three points. First, the enemy initiated offensives of 1968-69 caused them great casualties. The locally recruited (i.e., insurgent) forces were decimated and never recovered. And filling the vacuum rapidly with recruitment and deployment of RF/PF (i.e., pacification) allowed the cleared areas to be held. Second, MR IV (the Delta) was not exposed to pressure from long standing enemy base areas (an exception: U Minh Forest) where PAVN resided in division strength. Third, the Delta people (true South Vietnamese as opposed to the Central Vietnamese of MR I and II) did not have the cultural baggage that made their compatriates from farther north such intractable foes. The Deltaic feudal society was essentially pre-nationalist. Anti-colonial chauvinism (likewise anti-Chinese chauvinism) were largely absent. (Personal experience--you're not likely to read this anywhere.) Places like Kien Hoa (Ben Tre) were very exceptional in having a generationally entrenched insurgency. Interestingly, among the more secure provinces in the Delta were those in which a history of land tenure inequity happened to have been the greatest (huge landholdings owned by the oligarchy and farmed by sharecroppers.) Land reform made a difference, but that was after the Colby Vann trip....But such cultural minutiae escaped many Americans...Recognizing that the resonating VC message was not nationalism after all, we might well have charted our course differently.
Finally, Your description of Anbar is reminiscent of the USMC CAP ops in MR I--the most direct US COIN effort in VN (as opposed to advisory activities).

5) For Slapout: Thanks

Cheers,
Mike.
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Old 04-17-2007   #10
Maximus
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Default "Bing" West's The Village

Mike,

Thanks so much for the quick and detailed response. You've helped tremendously in my understanding of events on the ground in Vietnam.

I instruct USMC infantry Lts headed to Iraq, most within 3-6 months after graduation. They're required to read The Village, focusing on answering the questions provided in the attached document. We then have a discussion group based on the questions. If you have a few minutes, I'd greatly appreciate it if you would look over the questions and responses that I use to steer the discussion group. Please provide comments/suggestions.

Thanks again.

Semper Fi,
Scott
Attached Files
File Type: doc The Village DG.doc (45.0 KB, 381 views)

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Old 04-17-2007   #11
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Maximus, you may want to check out the unit history of the 3rd Brigade 82nd Airborne. It was 68 or 69 that they worked on heavy clearing operations in the Delta area. I have been to the KIA monument at the division museum at Bragg many times. For only being over there a year it was a pretty tough operation.

Mike inHilo I also asked if you new a friend of mine who was part of Phoenix and I don't think I ever told you but his opinions were very close to yours. The first time I met him and we talked about Vietnam I was just shocked when he flaty said "We could have won if we had wanted to, we just gave up." Thats why I like first hand accounts of situations usually much more accurate.
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Old 04-17-2007   #12
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I would check out the book, Slowburn, concerning the author's viewpoint on Phoenix and the Pacification efforts. Not sure if it's in print anymore but the author is a stud and the intro is written by Stuart Herrington. I believe his first name is Stuart. Last year I ran into one of his guys who is now retired while I was at Quantico. The guy was waiting to take a job as an Intel Analyst for some FAST teams in Afghanistan. He had great things to say about Herrington which in turn reflects well on the author.
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Old 04-17-2007   #13
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Default Works in deserts, mountains and jungles too?

Very interesting thread and the current discussion paper. Being a Brit my knowledge of Vietnam is limited to reading, however there are other places where working with and FOR the locals led to victory.

I refer not to Malaya, but the campaingn in Borneo and the Oman. The two books readily to hand are:

'SAS The Jungle Frontier' (SAS Regmt in Borneo 1963-1966) by Peter Dickens (pub. 1983).

'SAS Operation Oman' (1971-1974) by Col. Tony Jeapes (pub. 1980) - which should be read alongside 'We Won a War: The Campaign in Oman 1965-1975' by John Akehurst (pub.1983).

I am sure there are accounts by non-special forces in both campaigns, just they are not on my bookshelves.

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Old 04-17-2007   #14
Mike in Hilo
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Default Slow Burn

De Forrest's Slow Burn is definitely worth reading. I note that the author is also quite critical of Phoenix (but not of the Phoenix advisers, for whom he has well deserved high regard); laudatory of the RF; and dismissive of the "useless" RD Cadre. As I've pointed out elswhere on this site, De Forrest was able to be as successful as he was because his job with CIA enabled him to conduct a unilteral op. Phoenix/Phuong-Huang was a US-advised indig op, and therein lay the problem. (CIA, by the way, was not within CORDS). Stu Herrington was the Phoenix Adviser on the Hau Nghia Province CORDS team--same province which is the subject of Bergerud's Dynamics of Defeat.

Cheers,
Mike

Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-18-2007 at 04:09 AM. Reason: Amplify; comment on "useless" RD Cadre.
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Old 04-17-2007   #15
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Default Vuja De

I been here before -- and last time it really hurt.

I haven't read Colby's book, and don't know how he handles the issue of GVN competence. In my fading recollection is concern expressed by U.S. advisors that the Thieu government "didn't get it." Success in the field could not make up for lack of legitimacy in the central government. The same is true in every COIN fight. Ouch.

As I recall, the military had advisors in GVN civilian departments because more civilian experts were not available. Ouch.

Baghdad. Ouch.
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Old 04-18-2007   #16
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Old Eagle: Colby generally had good things to say about the Thieu government. I recall him crediting Thieu for understanding the importance of pacification, dedicating the appropriate assets to the CORDS effort (as best he could), coordinating the actions of military and regional and local forces, and continuously supervising regional and local leaders to make sure they were performing. I probably wrote "supervision works... inspect what you expect" 15-20 times throughout the book when Colby discussed Thieu's leadership style.

All things being equal, I think Colby would gladly take the Thieu government over Maliki's in Iraq today.

And as you suggest, this is definitely not a good thing 4 years into this war.
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Old 04-18-2007   #17
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Default Re: Slapout: "We could have won if we had wanted to."

Just how badly we didn't want to win is the subject of Col. McMasters's (3rd Armored Cav at Tal Afar) book, Dereliction of Duty, which shows how an a priori aversion toward winning informed the Cmdr in Chief"s decisonmaking as early as 1964. The book is unfortunately tedious, but the documented info Col. McMasters makes available is seriously shocking.

Cheers,
Mike.
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Old 04-18-2007   #18
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Default Old Eagle/Maximus

My two cents. This was, after all, the third world--and as far as third world governments and armies are concerned, Thieu's was almost certainly above average--just not good enough to beat the odds without some ongoing US help. Both army and gov't had been around for decades, unlike the Iraqi army. The ministries and their provincial branches were competent (well educated engineers, agronomists, public health officials, etc., etc...). And Thieu could not have made territorial forces and land reform the priorities that he did without "getting it." The problem was far less one of incompetence than lack of political will (as it relates to acommodation with the enemy) and the related issue of corruption. And this last failing was CORDS's greatest fault, as most of the "old timers" will agree--That is, we never tackled corruption to the extent we could have (yes, we did get some province chiefs tranferred). But no doubt US relief at finding militarily competent officers to deal with constrained us from using our leverage to the fullest extent to combat this systemic problem.

Legitimacy was in VN a function of the people's confidence in the ability of the government to prevail. In 1970 VN, the government that had legitimacy in the eyes of the people was the USG! Not the NLF or Communist Party for sure...And they believed, correctly in the event, that the GVN would fold under PAVN pressure after we left. (As the Vietnamese peasants were wont to tell me in their GI English, "[When] GI go home, VC come in."

Unquestionably, the pre-WW II French regime had legitimacy. When the communists started subversion in the North Vietnamese countryside in the1930's, they knew that no villager would dare take up arms against a Frenchman. So they began by getting villagers to sully their hands first, by having them participate in "peoples' executions" of Vietnamese village elders.

Re US civilians in VN--They were in fact all over the place. And why not? Other than Tet, Saigon was quite safe. I'm reminded of the USAID woman assigned to Saigon who did a TDY in Jamaica--She was so relieved to get back to Saigon because she found crime-ridden Kingston so dangerous. US military advisers in civilan GVN ministries?--Not during my tenure, and, I believe, not ever.

Cheers,
Mike.

Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-18-2007 at 08:57 AM. Reason: Add comment about US military advisers in civilian ministries.
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Old 04-18-2007   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike in Hilo View Post
My two cents. This was, after all, the third world--and as far as third world governments and armies are concerned, Thieu's was almost certainly above average--just not good enough to beat the odds without some ongoing US help. Both army and gov't had been around for decades, unlike the Iraqi army. The ministries and their provincial branches were competent (well educated engineers, agronomists, public health officials, etc., etc...). And Thieu could not have made territorial forces and land reform the priorities that he did without "getting it." The problem was far less one of incompetence than lack of political will (as it relates to acommodation with the enemy) and the related issue of corruption.
But how truly competent was it really compared to the NLF and DRV? An example would be Thieu's land-reform program. While better executed than the travesty that occurred under Diem, which ended up disenfranchising farmers, how was it anything but a pale imitation of what the Front had already done in its "liberated" zones?

Quote:
Legitimacy was in VN a function of the people's confidence in the ability of the government to prevail. In 1970 VN, the government that had legitimacy in the eyes of the people was the USG! Not the NLF or Communist Party for sure...And they believed, correctly in the event, that the GVN would fold under PAVN pressure after we left. (As the Vietnamese peasants were wont to tell me in their GI English, "[When] GI go home, VC come in."
So would you assess GVN as never having real legitimacy in the eyes of the South Vietnamese population?

Quote:
Unquestionably, the pre-WW II French regime had legitimacy. When the communists started subversion in the North Vietnamese countryside in the1930's, they knew that no villager would dare take up arms against a Frenchman. So they began by getting villagers to sully their hands first, by having them participate in "peoples' executions" of Vietnamese village elders.
How true is this? The De Tham resistance went on for almost 30 years before being finally suppressed in 1913. French "legitimacy" must have been rather thin on the ground given their utter failure to defeat the Viet Minh or regain control of the countryside after 1950.

Also, how successful were Diem's programs once the NLF was formed and started hitting back rather than accomodating, that is by 1962, when VC main forces had acheived the ability to mass for battalion-sized attacks on ARVN bases? How truly successful were the Strategic Hamlets, given the incompetence of the Diem administration in the countryside and the inability of the Civil Guard to face down the rural guerrillas, as well as the fact that the man running them and the previously disastrous "agroville" program was a VC agent?
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Old 04-19-2007   #20
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Default Tequila

Good questions.

1) French: Even after the 30's insurrection, pre-war French strength in all of Indochina was only 70K, acording to Fall, Street without Joy. As you know, the deux-ex-machina of Japanese occupation knocked the hell out of French rule in VN. At war's end, the Japanese commander disobeyed orders and, instead of awaiting the coming allied forces, surrendered men--and all their weapons--to the Viet Minh. Three months later the temporary Nationalist Chinese occupation force for the North arrived and liberally sold weponry to the VM. The Party had been organizing in the populated areas with discreet assistance from the Kempeitai even as Ho's forces were guiding downed US air crews to safety through the northern mountains. Meanwhile, France was on the ropes. The "real" France had just lost the war, 685K military and civilian KIA, including 66K civilian victims of allied bombing! (Fall again). Communists were the largest political party in France, with almost daily rioting, and because of Red political pressure instead of relying on French conscripts, the expeditionary force to VN was heavily North and West African. (But lots of Vietnamese did step up.) True, a multi-province chunk of Central VN coast (where most US casualties would later be incurred) was never reoccupied by the French....But these weaknesses considered, it may be remarkable that the French did, after all, manage to fight the VM to a sustainable (for France) stalemate....until 1950 when the Chinese Communist victory resulted in French loss of the border forts and ensured Viet Minh access to a friendly neighbor.

2) GVN land reform a pale imitation: No. In fact, this was a robust land reform that blanketed the rice lands and was well received. Exception: those few villages where residual VCI influence was such that cadre were able to organize sharecroppers to refuse the land titles. The program was competently and fairly administered. Importantly, most sharecropper rice land was in the Delta and, pre-land reform, the Delta was already the most secure region in the country. Absent security, the necessary surveys could not have been undertaken. The problem with land reform was not that it was too little. Rather, it was too late. By 1971, the nature of the war and of the VC message had changed. The message was now peace at any cost to end the suffering., no longer land. The reform may have been largely irrelevant.

3) Strategic Hamlets: Captured Communist docs. were clear in complaining that the program kept them from their population base, seemingly contradicting US sources saying that ill treatment of participating villagers generated many new insurgents. Large swaths of Delta were in fact cordoned off, thereby draining the swamp....The problems with the program were (a) excessive rate at which new hamlets were added, and (b) decidedly non-strategic-based decisions on where to locate the hamlets.

4) Legitimacy: In 1968, shortly after hard core Ben Tre, in Kien Hoa Province, was cleared, interviewed villagers said that "the government" (=chanh-phu in Viet.) had suffered a great defeat. They referred to the VC as the government! From my arrival in VN in 1971 to the end, no way could you have found Vietnamese who would have referred to VC/NLF as the government. But most Vietnamese plainly believed that we ran the country. Given a colonial history, an abundance of white faces in GVN offices, and VC propaganda as well, ths was an easy thought pattern to fall into. CORDS was supposed to foster a transferrence of such confidence--however misplaced--from the US to the GVN. We never succeeded! Now, once our forces left (Feb73), it became clear to all and sundry that we were not their government. And the GVN did control (to varying degrees) over 90% of the people. (The liberated zone from near Muc Hoa (Delta) to Khe Sanh near the DMZ was largely unpopulated.) And they did govern, and people were reasonably obedient. So, can you have legitimacy by default? Or else my definition of legitimacy was too high a bar and I should have settled for a more modest "a government that is seen to govern." The people knew this was just a hiatus before communism, but most clearly feared and loathed the "night riders" and the conscripts did fight--not for Thieu but to stave off the feared, violent hordes (backlash effect of terrorism).

5) Diem. I wasn't there then, but strongly suspect that he gradually acquired legitimacy. But perhaps in some rural areas, never. Take a look at Fall's papers about '50s VN available on line (look first in the SWJ Library). On a map, he plots a ring around Saigon of wholesale village chief asasinations beginning in 1956 and accellerating dramatically each year. The VC preparing for the upcoming war. Kitson's "subversion" stage. No dip at all during the alleged hiatus when the GVN oppressive apparatus was allegedly working and the enemy quiescent. Suspect the quiescence and "successful supression" was largely VC propaganda, echoed by Karnow et al. ("The North finally responded to distress calls from the southern cadre"--fosters the impression that the insurgency was not a preplanned northern driven enterprise.) The patient enemy campaign bore fruit when the villages were sufficiently controlled and organized to receive and support the main force units (Yes, took them till 1962.) Also see Duncanson, and Ellen Hammer, who contends that stay-at-home cadre called the shots in rural hamlets right from the end of the war in 1954. Clearly, there were some villages where Diem never attained legitimacy.

6) Counterintel issues/penetration and enemy agent recruitment/cryptocommunists in high places: When you mentioned the Agroville guy, you hit upon a grave and debilitating problem. Anecdotes are legion, from the French 40's to the end, and in instances reached strategic import. The issue is obviously linked to the accommodation/political will problems.

7) GVN vs DRV: For securing their base, controlling their people and marshalling them to fight you can't beat a totalitarian regime. And certain classical COIN population and food control/rationing measures seem openly immitative of communist TTPs. Now, economically, the South Vietnamese living standard would have been unbelievably extravagant by DRV standards, even after the bubble burst when the US military departed.

Cheers,
Mike

Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-19-2007 at 08:07 AM. Reason: Add para (7).
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