How many of you have seen the new-ish “Vietnam in HD” series about the Vietnam war? If you have not, I would strongly recommend you do so- partly because it is has lots of unsanitized footage about what war is really like. I will however concentrate on less obvious, but far more important, messages in that series which are obvious after watching a few episodes.
So let us begin..
1. American soldiers who fought in that war were, at least in the first 2-3 years of extensive ground involvement, unaware of what they were fighting for and the nature of that war. They actually believed that they were fighting a reasonably conventional war against a poorly equipped and racially inferior enemy rather than an incredibly large and nasty insurgency.
They saw themselves as the liberators in post D-day France, when in reality they were surrounded by people who deeply detested them while acting polite. A large number of american soldiers also believed that they were fighting communism rather than acting as the goons for an imperialist power.
2. They routinely underestimated the intelligence, tenacity and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese. They did not understand that the Vietnamese fought the war with an intention to bleed the american armed forces rather than win against them. The Americans might have fought to win, but the Vietnamese fought with the aim of increasing the cost of US occupation to levels where they were not sustainable.
The USA was spending then-astronomical sums of money on newer and ever more expensive weapons against targets that were inexpensive, redundant or often not even worth hitting. Furthermore, while most Vietnamese casualties were deaths the majority of US casualties were severe and often permanent injuries- which were far more economically damaging.
3. The Americans underestimated the efficacy of weapons like AK-47, RPG-7, small-caliber mortars, improvised explosive devices and booby traps. While these weapons did not win the war for Vietnam, they increased the cost of maintaining US ground presence in Vietnam to then unprecedented levels. To put it another way, no American soldier could ever feel safe in Vietnam whether he was in his camp or on patrol.
Between this constant vulnerability and the inability to separate combatants from civilians- the USA simply could not pursue any viable strategy to win the war. Every ambush made the US armed forces kill more civilians thereby creating even more Vietcong recruits and supporters.
4. The various leaders, regimes and armed forces propped up the USA in Vietnam were supremely corrupt, greedy and unmotivated. They were in it for money, power and other payoffs. They had little interest in actually fighting or killing other Vietnamese on any significant scale. Did I mention that they were also seen as greedy traitors by their own people..
Furthermore many of the soldiers in the US-backed Vietnamese armed forces had strong pro-Vietnamese nationalistic beliefs. They saw their jobs as a means to earn a living by doing the absolute minimum required to keep it. The USA had no real Vietnamese allies- just “friends” of convenience.
To make a long story short, USA made pretty much the same mistakes in 1960-era Vietnam as they made (and are still making) in post-2001 Iraq and Afghanistan.
What do you think? Comments?