George Bush's stoopid "lesson" of Vietnam

Dubya made a comment about Vietnam on Meet The Press back in early 2004 that still infuriates me and explains partly why Iraq is a mess.

He said that the “lesson of Vietnam is that you should let the Generals fight the war, not the politicians”

Huh?..ever try actually reading about Vietnam, George?

Vietnam had dozens of lessons, and that wasn’t one of them.

The hackneyed “we should have let the Generals fight it” line is the standard Pro-Vietnam war excuse from 30 years ago. Supposedly, thats the only reason we lost the war.

Once again, last week, Bush was asked why we haven’t sent more troops to Iraq. His answer…because the military hasn’t asked for more. Yeah, great George…let a couple of generals decide how the whole war goes. They cant possible be wrong about anything.

Actually, the generals’ plan for Iraq called for lots more troops, and they didn’t mention all that profit for Halliburton. The Bush team ignored all that.

Really? Why don’t you open a Pit thread about it?

It’s the main reason. Since when has the conventional wisdom been debunked? It is still the mainstream view that the Pentagon, via Johnson and McNamara, conducted the war ineptly. (Note that the Pentagon is a civilian, not a military, entity.) The only way that the Joint Chiefs contributed to the problem was by rolling over and playing dead, a sort of truth to power dereliction.

And it’s the wrong reason. I believe the reason was that political leaders were unwilling to commit to a total war. Were unwilling to mobilize all of the US resources on a full wartime footing to win. Had the US drafted 15 million into the armed services, assumed control of industry for the manufacture of war material, etc. the outcome would have been different.

Of course we couldn’t put that much military into a place bordering China without an extreme reaction, but the reason that the war was lost, I think, was that we didn’t apply enough resources.

However, militarity winning the war wouldn’t end things. Political leaders were perfectly correct in believing that the south Vietnamese had to do it themselves. They were wrong in believing that the south Vietnamese could do it or would do it.

Was it ineptitude, or trying to fight a war on behalf of an unwilling population? When the country is 2-1 against your policy, it’s hard to marshal the resources and troops needed to win.

Pentagon not military? Only in the sense that the ultimate decision-making power is not in the hands of uniformed officers. If you use that definition, police headquarters isn’t part of the police department, because it has to answer to the mayor.

But massive opposition didn’t come until after the war turned sour.

Regarding the Pentagon, it isn’t just that the Pentagon answers to the President; it is headed by the Secretary of Defense, whose department is based there. For your police department analogy to hold, you’d have to put the police in the DA’s office with the DA at the top of the chain of command.

Yep, sure seems to me that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz ran this war, not the generals. So is Dubya saying that we’ve repeated the same mistake?

But massive opposition didn’t come until after the war turned sour.

And one of the main reasons that the war turned sour is that Johnson & Co. were misleading the public about the process of the war (sound familiar?). Once the Tet offensive showed that the enemy had the power to strike hard against a massive US Army, the truth came out.

I also dont think the war would have turned out much different if we’d sent 1 million troops instead of 500,000. The enemy had the support of the local population, had the ability to pick its battles, could disappear and return at will, and most importantly, had time on its side.

No, I think the evidence shows that Bush has made new mistakes of his own in addition to the mistakes of the past.

[QUOTE=Soylent Gene]

I don’t disagree with any of that, and I’m not defending the tyrant Bush. I’m just saying that Johnson and Macnamara (the Pentagon) handled the war ineptly, while the generals (the Joint Chiefs of Staff) were merely derelict.

Dammit, rjung, I was gonna say that!

Nobody around this joint leaves a straight line unutilized for long.

[QUOTE=Soylent Gene]

Yes, double the number of troops in South Vietnam wouldn’t have done the job. As long as we could not wage total war and invade North Vietnam the best that could be hoped for was a statemate. It was not the micro management down to the platoon level that did us in. It was our inability to take over North Vietnam, which would have required national mobilization, that was the problem. Politically we simply could not invade the north because of the extreme danger of a war with China, as in Korea, which we cannot win without the use of nuclear weapons. And that is not winning in any reasonable interpretation of the word.

I don’t think that militarily defeating anyone actually “wins” a war. For example, Germany in WWI was militarily defeated but the country wasn’t occupied and the mindset of the people wasn’t changed. After WWII, both Japan and Germany were occupied for long enough to establish a change in mind of a sufficient fraction of the population that representative governments ensued. Our own Civil War was won by occupying the Confederacy, dismantling the Confederate Government and bringing the states back into the Union. It was badly done but it was done.

In order to “win” in Iraq we have to totally take over the country for long enough to change the mind-set of a large fraction of the population and I don’t see how that would have been politcally possible if that had been announced in advance as it was in WWII. Such a project would probably have to last for a couple of generations with us running the school systems, the churches and everything else in Iraq until the majority had been retrained. Could we do that, should we do that? I don’t think so because we probably would have to use the same repressive measures as Saddam in many instances.

GW’s mistake was that he hasn’t a clue but he thinks he knows what he is doing.

If I can do this without just echoing what David Simmons had to say, there was no way that a separate and secure Republic of Vietnam in the south could be secured without an invasion and occupation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and its occupation on a long term basis. That course was feasible only with a full national mobilization of both reserve components, the National Guard and the Reserve Forces, and would put the US in a position with China that could well result in open conflict, possibly nuclear, if not in Vietnam then in Korea. China would not tolerate an American military presence on its boarder. It would have been an American presence because the RVN simply did not have the resources to do it. The decision not to take the thing to the edge of nuclear war with China (which might well have drawn in the USSR) was properly a decision to be made by politicians – just as the decision in 1951 was properly Truman’s not MacArthur’s.

If our President was serious in saying that the generals should have been given free reign in SE Asia, and he was not just taking a gratuitous cheap shot at LBJ and MacNamara, then he is guilty of the worst sort of simplistic thinking. The war in Vietnam was fought with stalemate as the objective because the cost and consequences of fighting for a unification of the two Vietnams as a single US friendly state were just too high for the nation to accept. What we forgot was that the people who were running the North had been fighting the French, and the Japanese and the French again and were not about to give up until there was a unified Vietnam under Vietnamese control.

This is written as a person who sat with a gang of junior infantry officers in a company day room at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, in the summer of 1965, to hear what our President had in store for us. As it turned out what he had in store was a premature death for some, maiming for others and serious disillusionment for the rest. The lesson of Vietnam is not “turn the generals lose.” The lesson of Vietnam is that you must define your objective and figure out whether or not the objective is reasonably possible at acceptable cost before you commit . Sometimes that idea is hard for people who have not wrapped the corpses of their friends in their own ponchos to grasp.

After two brilliant analyses, I’m reluctant to jump in, but I’ll offer this footnote.

If the goal of the U.S. was stalement, so was stalement the objective of the PRC and USSR. Both countries were engaged in a war of attrition against the United States, fought by proxy against proxy. Had we ratcheted up our military offensive by a factor of ten, the PRC/USSR would have matched us blow for blow, knowing the would eventually grind us down.

One hawkish argument advanced in recent years postulates that the US could have won the war by running nonstop B-52 sorties against the North Vietnamese. By that, I’m talking unrelenting waves of carpet bombing leading to wholesale destruction and/or obliteration of North Vietnam. The truth, of course, is that such an offensive would only have galvanized the will of the North Vietnamese, PRC and USSR and further alienated the international community. Ultimately, the prevailing sociopolitical and economic realities made the Vietnam War unwinnable, period.

That Bush was purportedly AWOL from the National Guard pales next to his being AWOL from common sense and the lessons of history. Unfortunately, millions of disconnected, ill-informed, unenlightened, intellectually lazy and jingoistic Americans got precisely the president they deserved. A pity that the rest of us, especially those serving as cannon fodder in Iraq, must suffer their sins.

Let me omit my “they deserved” remark. Disconnected or not, the American people deserve a hell of a lot better than George Bush.

I agree. If a rabbit runs across an interstate through ignorance I don’t think it deserves to be run over. But that’s the way to bet.

Don’t the Joint Chiefs and a large number of senior generals and admirals also work at the Pentagon?

Well stated, Spavined Gelding. My hat is off to you, sir.

The fact is that war is, at its core, a political struggle of wills. Generals may be expert in the techniques and strategies of applying force, but in virtually every country, the question of whether the force that may be used is in the best interests of the nation belongs to the head of government, not the highest ranking military officer. If the People don’t think a war is going well, they have no opportunity to choose a new general. Fortunately, the American people have a chance to choose a new President. As Clemenceau stated, war is too important to be left to the generals.

I wish Bush would ignore his pseudo-lesson of Vietnam in favor of ten seconds of study of the Civil War. If it were not for Lincoln berating and firing generals until he found some that would get the job done, who knows what the result would have been.

In the end, I think Bush’s “lesson” of Vietnam is basically more political buck-passing than it is a core conviction. Pointing the finger at the generals lets the White House off the hook for the lousy job that’s been done in Bush’s constitutional responsibility as commander in chief.

David Simmons and
Spavined Gelding…

I could not agree you you more. Your responses perfectly distill my understanding of the Vietnam problem. It’s unfortunate that we have leaders that havent a clue about this. It’s like the old saying, those that do not learn from history are bound to re-live it.

Our country is now run by the anti-hippies of the 1960s generation. They hated the counter-culture movement and loved Pax-Americana, Dick Nixon, and Country Club living (but they sure as hell weren’t gonna fight in 'Nam). Anything to undo the 1960s is thier mission. Bush, Cheney, Rove, Lott, Limbaugh, Quayle…its revenge of the nerds.