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Vietnam Theme: Problems with limited war

Vietnam Theme: Problems with limited war

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Vietnam Theme: Problems with limited war

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  1. VietnamTheme: Problems with limited war Lesson 25

  2. Road to War • 1941… Ho Chi Minh secretly returns to Vietnam after 30 years in exile and begins organizing Viet Minh. US works with Ho to harass Japanese and rescue downed US pilots • 1945… Allies divide Vietnam to aid in disarming Japanese (Chinese disarm north and British disarm south). Allies honor France’s request for restoration of its pre-war Indochina colonies (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) Ho Chi Minh

  3. Road to War • Sept 1945… Ho unsuccessfully seeks US recognition • Oct 1945… French troops return to Vietnam; guerrilla fighting begins almost immediately • Dec 1946… First large scale Viet Minh assault on French French Far East Expeditionary Corps

  4. Road to War • 1949… Mao defeats Chiang Kai-shek in China. US begins “containment” policy. • 1950… US authorizes aid and advisors to French • 1954… Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu. US does not intervene. French paratroopers run for cover during the 55 day siege of Dien Bien Phu

  5. Road to War • 21 July 1954… Geneva Accords divide Vietnam at 17th parallel. • 1955… Ngo Dinh Diem becomes president. Begins illegitimate and corrupt (but strongly anticommunist) rule. • 1956… Last French soldier leaves.

  6. Road to War • 1959… Ho declares “Peoples’ War” to unite Vietnam. • 1961… President Kennedy sends 400 Green Berets to Vietnam • Oct 1961… Maxwell Taylor visits Vietnam and reports “If Vietnam goes it will be exceedingly difficult to hold Southeast Asia.” (domino theory) Recommends sending combat troops.

  7. Road to War • 1963… Diem assassinated in US-backed coup. • 1964… North Vietnamese patrol boats attack US destroyer in Gulf of Tonkin. US begins bombing. • 2 Mar 1965… Operation Rolling Thunder begins. • 8 Mar 1965… First US combat troops arrive. By the end of the year, 184,300 troops are in Vietnam. The massive bombing campaign was plagued by restricted targeting and the non-industrialized nature of North Vietnam

  8. Topics • Guerilla War • Pacification • The “Big War” • Domestic Issues • Legacy and Lessons

  9. Guerilla War

  10. Definitions • Insurgency-- An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict • Guerrilla warfare-- Military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous forces.

  11. Vulnerable population Leadership available for direction Lack of government control Popular support Unity of effort Will to resist Discipline Intelligence Propaganda Favorable environment External support Prerequisites and Other Conditions Required for or Conducive to an Insurgency

  12. Conditions in South Vietnam • Diem illegitimate and corrupt • Catholic in an overwhelmingly Buddhist society • Ignored Geneva Accords call for elections in 1956 • Nepotism • Succession of military coups resulted in a revolving door government Several Buddhist monks burned themselves alive to protest Diem’s religious oppression

  13. Insurgent Leadership • Increasing North Vietnamese infiltration created a security threat in South Vietnam • In Dec 1960, the insurgents formed the National Liberation Front (typically called the Viet Cong or VC), a broad-based organization led by communists but designed to rally all those disaffected with Diem by promising sweeping reforms and genuine independence Flag of the National Liberation Front

  14. Insurgent Leadership • The NLF skillfully combined political and military organizations and efforts • Politically they created special organizations to give status to such groups as farmers, women, and youth • Used agitation and propaganda (“agitprop”) to arouse the people to the government’s oppressiveness and lack of responsibility Protesters in Saigon to express their dissatisfaction with the Diem government.

  15. Insurgent Leadership • Militarily they assembled a disciplined and potent force of an estimated 80,000 fighters by 1965 • Relied on speed, surprise, and deception to strike targets selected for the maximum psychological effect • Used violence to coerce or win over the population and undermine the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government Vietnamese battalion commander interrogating a captured Viet Cong suspect in a 1965 AP picture.

  16. External Support • North Vietnam began constructing a massive supply route through Laos and Cambodia that allowed it to infiltrate supplies and personnel south • The Ho Chi Minh Trail • The Soviet Union and China provided equipment, advisors, and diplomatic support

  17. Mao on Guerrilla Warfare • Mao wrote On Guerrilla Warfare in 1937 while in retreat after ten years of battling the Nationalist Chinese army of Chiang Kai-shek • In 1949, Mao defeated the Nationalist Chinese and validated his theories of revolutionary guerrilla warfare • Remember from Lesson 23 • The National Liberation Front would pattern much of its strategy and tactics after Mao

  18. Phases of Development • Phase I: Latent and incipient insurgency. • Activity in this phase ranges from subversive activity that is only a potential threat to situations in which frequent subversive incidents and activities occur in an organized pattern. It involves no major outbreak of violence or uncontrolled insurgent activity. The guerrilla force does not conduct continuous operations but rather selected acts of terrorism.

  19. Phases of Development • Phase II: Guerrilla warfare. • This phase is reached when the insurgent movement, having gained sufficient local or external support, initiates organized continuous guerrilla warfare or related forms of violence against the government. This is an attempt to force government forces into a defensive role. As the guerrilla becomes stronger, he begins to conduct larger operations.

  20. Phases of Development • Phase III: War of movement. • When the guerrilla attains the force structure and capability to directly engage government forces in decisive combat, then he will progressively begin to use more conventional tactics and may obtain combat forces from an external source. He may also begin to conduct more extensive defensive operations in this phase to protect the areas he controls.

  21. Pacification

  22. Pacification • Between 1961 and 1963, President Kennedy launched a full-scale counterinsurgency program in Vietnam, part of which would become the “pacification” program • Major goals • Strengthen the South Vietnamese government’s hold on the peasantry • Cut into the heart of the Viet Cong politico-military organization • Designed to “win the hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese In 1967, Robert Komer, shown here with President Johnson, was selected to head CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support)and coordinate all pacification programs

  23. Pacification • Strategic Hamlet Program… South Vietnamese peasants from scattered villages were brought together in defended and organized hamlets in order to protect them, isolate the Viet Cong, and show the superiority of what the SVN government could offer • Patterned after British experience in Malaya • Did not work in Vietnam because of traditional Vietnamese ties to the land

  24. Pacification • Combined Action Program… Placed selected Marine squads within the village militia to eliminate local guerrillas • Very successful at the local level but required a degree of American-Vietnamese cooperation unable to be replicated on a wider scale • Drew American troops away from the “big war” • Instead, American troops concentrated on the “big war”and left pacification to the South Vietnamese who did not show an abundance of commitment to the task

  25. Pacification • Revolutionary Development Program… Put armed social workers into Vietnamese villages to begin grass roots civic improvement and eliminate the VC shadow government • Didn’t reach full potential because South Vietnamese government feared the consequences of real rural politicalization 25th Infantry Division soldiers support the Revolutionary Development Program by clearing the village of Rach Kien during Operation Lanakai

  26. Pacification • Chieu hoi (opens arms) amnesty program… designed to persuade VC to change sides • When VC saw the program might bear fruit they unleashed a terrorist campaign that reduced defections from 5,000 to 500 a month • CORDS responded with Operation Phoenix, a direct action plan to kill, capture, or co-opt the “provincial reconnaissance units” These former VC who took advantage of the chieu hoi amnesty receive training in automotive repair to help them in their new lives

  27. Pacification: Overall Assessment • Commonly considered a missed strategic opportunity • Suffered from being “too little, too late” • CORDS not activated until 1967 • Perceived as competition with the “big war” and many military officers favored a “military solution” Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay reportedly said, “Grab ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.”

  28. The “Big War”

  29. Limited War • When the Soviet Union and the US nuclear programs reached the point of Mutually Assured Destruction, the US faced the dilemma of responding to communist challenges in peripheral areas by either risking starting a nuclear war or doing nothing • The alternative strategy of limited war was developed to harness the nation’s military power and employ only that force necessary to achieve the political aim • The objective was not to destroy an opponent but to persuade him to break of the conflict short of achieving his goals and without resorting to nuclear war

  30. Limited War • The limited war theory was more an academic than a military concept and its application resulted in tensions, frustrations, and misunderstanding between the military and civilian leadership Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is sharply criticized for his technocratic and statistical approach to the Vietnam War

  31. Strategy of Attrition • Traditionally, the “American way of war” had been a strategy of annihilation • Seeks the immediate destruction of the combat power of the enemy’s armed forces • In Vietnam, the US would instead follow a strategy of attrition • The reduction of the effectiveness of a force caused by loss of personnel and materiel • This proved to be a poor strategy against the North Vietnamese who used a strategy of exhaustion • The gradual erosion of a nation’s will or means to resist

  32. Problems with the Strategy of Attrition • Led the US to fight according to the theory of gradual escalation • A steady increase in the level of military pressure would coerce the enemy into compliance instead of employing overwhelming force all at once • US never had enough forces to control the countryside • US soldiers served one year tours in Vietnam • North Vietnamese soldiers were there till the end and recognized “Victory will come to us, not suddenly, but in a complicated and tortuous way.”

  33. 1959 760 1960 900 1961 3,205 1962 11,300 1963 16,300 1964 23,300 1965 184,300 1966 385,300 1967 485,600 1968 536,100 1969 475,200 1970 334,600 1971 156,800 1972 24,200 1973 50 US Troop Levels in Vietnam

  34. Problems with the Strategy of Attrition • Led to a “body count” mentality • Many reports were exaggerated or falsified • North Vietnamese were always able to replace their losses while Americans became disillusioned with the mounting death toll • Nightly news broadcasts reported US deaths versus North Vietnamese deaths • If ours were less, we were winning! • North Vietnamese showed a remarkable capability to cope, rebuild, and repair • The enemy will was never broken

  35. Problems with the Strategy of Attrition • Low-tech nature of the enemy prevented the US from bringing to bear the full effects of its combat power • North Vietnamese infiltration routes were hard to bomb • North Vietnamese ground troops used the tactic of “clinging to the G.I.’s belts” to minimize American ability to use artillery and close air support • The nature of guerrilla war allowed the North Vietnamese to avoid contact when it was not to their advantage to fight

  36. Tet Offensive • On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese escalated to Phase III, the War of Movement • Attack gained surprise by coinciding with the Vietnamese lunar new year holiday • Designed to foster antigovernment uprisings against the South Vietnamese

  37. Tet Offensive • 84,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacked 36 of 43 provincial capitals, 5 of 6 autonomous cities, 34 of 242 district capitals, and at least 50 hamlets

  38. Reasons for North Vietnam’s Lack of Tactical Success in Tet • By attacking everywhere, the North Vietnamese had superior strength nowhere • Inflexible Viet Cong command and control system could not respond to late announcements of timings and objectives from the North Vietnamese Army • North Vietnamese wrongly assumed South Vietnamese were on the verge of a general uprising Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the director of the South Vietnamese national police executing a VC prisoner in Saigon during Tet

  39. Reasons for the U.S. Tactical Success in Tet • Technology gave the US a strategic mobility that allowed it to respond to multiple threats • When the North Vietnamese came out and fought en masse in a traditional war of movement, the US could bring to bear its overwhelming firepower in a strategy of annihilation Helicopters gave the US the ability to cover all types of terrain, maneuver over large areas, react quickly to enemy attacks, reinforce embattled units, and conduct raids into enemy territory

  40. Back to Insurgency Phase II • Previously complacent South Vietnamese population was for the first time made to feel involved in the war effort • Local insurgency movement suffered a devastating loss when it surfaced to assume leadership of a general uprising that never materialized • Clandestine shadow government, years in the building, was largely destroyed • Tactical military defeat for North Vietnam • By coming into the open, the enemy had exposed itself to massive American firepower and lost 137,000 killed in the first nine months of 1968 • Allowed US to practice “the American way of war”

  41. Overall Results of Tet • Tactical defeat for North Vietnam • North Vietnamese 32,000 killed and 6,000 captured • US and South Vietnamese 4,000 killed • But a strategic victory • “I thought we were winning this war!” (Walter Cronkite) • Dramatic shift in public opinion in US Returning from Vietnam after Tet, Walter Cronkite reported, “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate” and then urged the government to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

  42. Domestic Issues

  43. Societal Changes Martin Luther King delivers his “I have a dream” speech in 1963 Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock, 1969 Gloria Steinem helped found Ms magazine in 1971

  44. War Protests

  45. President Johnson President Lyndon B. Johnson listens to tape sent by Captain Charles Robb from Vietnam, July 31, 1968. Democratic delegates protest the Johnson administration's policies in Vietnam at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

  46. President Nixon • Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 campaigning for “peace with honor” • Under Nixon the process of “Vietnamization”– the gradual transfer of primary responsibility of the war to the South Vietnamese that Johnson had begun on a small scale after Tet– was accelerated • Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, his impeachment, and resignation hamstrung America’s ability to influence peace negotiations through sustained offensive operations Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford. By this point the US was traumatized by war-weariness and economic recession. Ford had almost no maneuver room to help the South Vietnamese.

  47. My Lai • On March 16, 1968, an infantry company entered the village of My Lai • They found no insurgents but, being psychologically prepared for battle and poorly disciplined, they proceeded to kill between 347 and 504 mostly old men, women, and children • Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November 1969 when it then fueled national outrage and further undermined support for the war

  48. Kent State and Jackson State Four students were killed and nine wounded at Kent State and two students were killed at Jackson State during protests against a number of issues to include US operations in Cambodia

  49. Defeat • The US concluded a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese in 1973, but the South Vietnamese continued fighting until April 30, 1975 when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon Americans and South Vietnamese who had worked for the US are evacuated from Saigon