Excerpts From: Hau Nghia Part 2

Excerpts From
Hau Nghia
Part 2

by John P. Vann

These concerns, continually voiced by Lansdale in Saigon and Hilsman in Washington, were shared by Hau Nghia veteran Daniel Ellsberg, who was filing increasingly pessimistic reports with Robert McNamara and National Security Advisor Walt Rostow. They ultimately were also expressed by the third highest-ranking general in the Marine Corps, Victor "Brute" Krulak, formerly a bitter critic of the "other war." After the Ia Drang campaign, Krulak accurately diagnosed that the enemy would henceforth "seek to attrit U. S. forces through the process of violent close-quarters combat which tends to diminish the effectiveness of our supporting arms." He also accurately assessed Giap's thinking: that the cost of protracted war that had led the French to gamble and lose at Dien Binh Phu and into surrender at Geneva would also produce an American withdrawal. Only by winning the war in the villages by its own small unit operations in support of aggressive pacification program did America stand any chance of success. (Emphasis added)

With the help of Marine Commandant Lewis Walt, Krulak managed to present his views to President Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The command position in Washington and at Westmoreland's headquarters, however, was unshakable. The war was merely the result of an extension of the Asian tentacle of the Soviet communist octopus. The so-called "social revolution" seemingly sought by the guerrillas, like their publicly touted goals of anti-imperialism, unification and independence, were mere figments of communist propaganda. The only value associated in mastering the communist tactics of the so-called Vietnamese "people's war of national liberation" was to detect and exploit weaknesses in what were assumed to be typically communist and thus rigid modus operandi, such as the seeming shift toward third stage warfare in 1965. In their view, the moment regular forces of the People's Army of North Vietnam began to shoulder more combat responsibilities than the guerrillas, the war ceased to be a revolutionary struggle and became a conventional war in which guerrillas were irrelevant. This confusion of the enemy's ends with its means led Westmoreland, President Johnson and Robert McNamara to believe that bombing the North and the Ho Chi Minh Trail could bring the war to a halt, for it was erroneously assumed that the enemy in the south, like any conventional American force, could not long survive with its supply lines thus severed. It also locked Westmoreland into a search and destroy campaign against a force that used guerrilla tactics to avoid his searches and employed conventional forces when the terms of engagement enabled it, not the Americans, to be the destroyer.

Westmoreland announced his war of attrition by declaring that "We'll just go on bleeding them until Hanoi wakes up to the fact that they have bled their country to the point of national disaster for generations." Yet, it was his command, as Krulak predicted, that was first forced to scramble for resources. (Emphasis added) The costs of the war of attrition put an end to all alternative strategies. MACV had little choice but to relegate the ostensibly parallel nation- building campaign to oblivion. Westmoreland needed the men and he did not need an alternative policy distracting his subordinates or his superiors from the increasingly arduous task at hand. Under Westmoreland's authority, the counterinsurgency-pacification campaign was largely handed over to Saigon's forces, where they no doubt properly belonged, but ARVN's past poor performance in the "other war" had only worsened with exposure to recent American operations in the villages. Over Krulak and Walt's vigorous objections, the major legatee of America's classical counterinsurgency tradition, the relatively successful Marine Combined Action Platoon (CAP) program, was radically curtailed....

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