Saigon did not fall to barefoot black-pajama-clad guerrillas

Friday, March 26th, 2010

There are three reason why every sentient being in the universe should read On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War by Col. Harry Summers, NerveAgent says:

First, it is probably the most cogent analysis of the American defeat in Vietnam that has ever been written. That alone makes it required reading.

Second, it places such fad concepts as counterinsurgency and nation building in the proper context as tactical adjuncts to the larger strategic war effort. This point is especially important today, for obvious reasons.

Third, it is a very interesting application of Clausewitz. Summers doesn’t just decorate the book with quotes from the Prussian Master; the entire analysis is conducted from within the framework of On War. Some could argue with a few of his interpretations of Clausewitz, but the way he applies them to Vietnam is quite brilliant. Short of meeting him in the afterlife we will never know what Clausewitz would say about the Vietnam War. Thanks to Col. Summers, however, we at least have a pretty good idea.

One of Summers’ key points is that Saigon did not fall to barefoot black-pajama-clad guerrillas:

One of the anomalies of the Vietnam War is that until recently most of the literature and almost all the thinking about the war ended with the Tet Offensive of 1968. As a result, the common knowledge was that America had lost a guerrilla war in Asia, a loss caused by failure to appreciate the nuances of counterinsurgency war.

But the truth was that the war continued for seven years after the Tet Offensive, and that latter phase had almost nothing to do with counterinsurgency or guerrilla war. The threat came from the North Vietnamese regular forces in the hinterlands.

The final North Vietnamese blitzkrieg in April 1975 had more to do with the fall of France in 1940 than it did with guerrilla war. [...] It fell to a 130,000-man 18-division invasion force supported by tank and artillery.

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