Vietnam: Looking Back – At The Facts
1 Jun 01 © By: K. G. Sears, Ph.D. – with permission
One reason America’s agonizing perception of “Vietnam” will not go away, is because that perception is wrong. It’s out of place in the American psyche, and it continues to fester in much the same way battle wounds fester when shrapnel or other foreign matter is left in the body. It is not normal behavior for Americans to idolize mass murdering despots, to champion the cause of slavery, to abandon friends and allies, or to cut and run in the face of adversity. Why then did so many Americans engage in these types of activities during the country’s “Vietnam” experience?
That the American experience in Vietnam was painful and ended in long lasting (albeit self-inflicted) grief and misery cannot be disputed. However, the reasons behind that grief and misery are not even remotely understood, by either the American people or their government. Contradictory to popular belief, and a whole lot of wishful thinking by a solid corps of some 16,000,000+ American draft dodgers and their families and supporters, it was not a military defeat that brought misfortune to the American effort in Vietnam.
The United States military in Vietnam was the best educated, best trained, best disciplined and most successful force ever fielded in the history of American arms. Why then, did it get such bad press, and, why is the public’s opinion of them so twisted? The answer is simple. But first, a few relevant comparisons.
During the Civil War, at the Battle of Bull Run, the entire Union Army panicked and fled the battlefield. Nothing even remotely resembling that debacle ever occurred in Vietnam.
In WWII at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, elements of the US Army were overrun by the Germans. In the course of that battle, Hitler’s General Rommel (The Desert Fox) inflicted 3,100 US casualties, took 3,700 US prisoners and captured or destroyed 198 American tanks. In Vietnam no US Military units were overrun and no US Military infantry units or tank outfits were captured. In the Philippines (WWII), US Army Generals Jonathan Wainwright and Edward King surrendered themselves and their troops to the Japanese. In Vietnam no US generals, or US military units ever surrendered.
Before the Normandy invasion (“D” Day, 1944) the US Army (included is Army Air Corps) in England filled its own jails with American soldiers who refused to fight and then had to rent jail space from the British to handle the overflow. The US Army in Vietnam never had to rent jail space from the Vietnamese to incarcerate American soldiers who refused to fight.
Desertion. Only about 5,000 men assigned to Vietnam deserted and just 249 of those deserted while in Vietnam. During WWII, in the European Theater alone, over 20,000 US Military men were convicted of desertion and, on a comparable percentage basis, the overall WWII desertion rate was 55 percent higher than in Vietnam.
During the WWII Battle of the Bulge in Europe two regiments of the US Army’s 106th Division surrendered to the Germans. Again: In Vietnam no US Army unit ever surrendered.
The highest ranking American soldier killed in WWII was Lt. General Leslie J. McNair, killed when American warplanes accidentally bombed his position during the invasion of Europe. In Vietnam there were no American generals killed by American bombers.
As for brutality: During WWII the US Army executed nearly 300 of its own. In the European Theater alone, the US Army sentenced 443 American soldiers to death. Most of these sentences were for the rape and or murder of civilians.
In the Korean War, Major General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was taken prisoner of war (POW). In Vietnam no US generals, much less division commanders, were ever taken prisoner.
During the Korean War the US Army was forced into the longest retreat in its history. A catastrophic 275 mile withdrawal from the Yalu River all the way to Pyontaek, and in the process they lost the capital city of Seoul. The US Military in Vietnam was never compelled into a major retreat nor did it ever abandon Saigon to the enemy.
The 1st US Marine Division was driven from the Chosin Reservoir and forced into an emergency evacuation from the Korean port of Hungnam. There they were joined by other US Army and South Korean soldiers and the US Navy eventually evacuated 105,000 Allied troops from that port. In Vietnam there was never any mass evacuation of US Marine, South Vietnamese, or Allied troop units.
Other items: Only 25 percent of the US Military who served in Vietnam were draftees. During WWII, 66 percent of the troops were draftees. The Vietnam force contained three times as many college graduates as did the WWII force. The average education level of the enlisted man in Vietnam was 13 years, equivalent to one year of college. Of those who enlisted, 79 percent had high school diplomas. This at a time when only 65% of the military age males in the general American population were high school graduates.
The average age of the military men who died in Vietnam was 22.8 years old. Of the one hundred and one (101) 18 year old draftees who died in Vietnam; seven of them were black. Blacks accounted for 11.2 percent the combat deaths in Vietnam. At that time black males of military age constituted 13.5 percent of the American population. It should also be clearly noted that volunteers suffered 77% of the casualties, and accounted for 73% of the Vietnam deaths.
The charge that the “poor” died in disproportionate numbers is also a myth. An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) study of Vietnam death rates, conducted by Professor Arnold Barnett, revealed that servicemen from the richest 10 percent of the nations communities had the same distribution of deaths as the rest of the nation. In fact his study showed that the death rate in the upper income communities of Beverly Hills, Belmont, Chevy Chase, and Great Neck exceeded the national average in three of the four, and, when the four were added together and averaged, that number also exceeded the national average.
On the issue of psychological health: Mental problems attributed to service in Vietnam are referred to as PTSD. Civil War veterans suffered “Soldiers Heart”; in WWI the term was “Shell shock”; during WWII and in Korea it was “Battle fatigue.” Military records indicate that Civil War psychological casualties averaged twenty six per thousand men. In WW II some units experienced over 100 psychiatric casualties per 1,000 troops; in Korea nearly one quarter of all battlefield medical evacuations were due to mental stress. That works out to about 50 per 1,000 troops. In Vietnam the comparable average was 5 per 1,000 troops.
To put Vietnam in its proper perspective it is necessary to understand that the US Military was not defeated in Vietnam and that the South Vietnamese government did not collapse due to mismanagement or corruption, nor was it overthrown by revolutionary guerrillas running around in rubber tire sandals, wearing black pajamas and carrying home made weapons. There was no “general uprising” or “revolt” by the southern population. Saigon was overrun by a conventional army made up of seventeen conventional divisions, organized into four army corps. This totally conventional force (armed, equipped, trained and supplied by the Soviet Union) launched a cross border, frontal attack on South Vietnam and conquered it, in the same manner as Hitler conquered most of Europe in WWII. A quick synopsis of America’s Vietnam experience” will help summarize and clarify the Vietnam scenario:
Prior to 1965 – US Advisors and AID only
1965 to 1967 – Buildup of US Forces and logistical supply bases, plus heavy fighting to counter Communist North Vietnamese invasion.
1968 to 1970 – Communist “insurgency” destroyed to the point where over 90% of the towns and villages in South Vietnam were free from Communist domination. As an example: By 1971 throughout the entire populous Mekong Delta, the monthly rate of Communist insurgency action dropped to an average of 3 incidents per 100,000 population (many a US city would envy a crime rate that low). In 1969 Nixon started troop withdrawals that were essentially complete by late 1971.
Dec 1972 – Paris Peace Agreements negotiated and agreed by North Vietnam, South Vietnam, the Southern Vietnamese Communists (VC, NLF / PRG) and the United States.
Jan 1973 – All four parties formally sign Paris Peace Agreements.
Mar 1973 – Last US POW released from Hanoi Hilton, and in accordance with Paris Agreements, last American GI leaves Vietnam.
Aug 1973 – US Congress passes the Case – Church law which forbids, US naval forces from sailing on the seas surrounding, US ground forces from operating on the land of, and US air forces from flying in the air over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This at a time when America had drawn its Cold War battle lines and as a result had the US Navy protecting Taiwan, 50,000 troops in South Korea and over 300,000 troops in Western Europe (which has a land area, economy and population comparable to that of the United States), along with ironclad guarantees that if Communist forces should cross any of those Cold War lines or Soviet Armor should role across either the DMZ in Korea or the Iron Curtain in Europe, then there would be an unlimited response by the Armed Forces of the United States, to include if necessary, the use of nuclear weapons. In addition, these defense commitments required the annual expenditure of hundreds of billions of
US dollars. Conversely, in 1975 when Soviet armor rolled across the international borders of South Vietnam, the US military response was nothing. In addition, Congress cut off all AID to the South Vietnamese and would not provide them with as much as a single bullet. In spite of the Case – Church Congressional guarantee, the North Vietnamese were very leery of US President Nixon. They viewed him as one unpredictable, incredibly tough nut. He had, in 1972, for the first time in the War, mined Hai Phong Harbor and sent the B-52 bombers against the North to force them into signing the Paris Peace Agreements. Previously the B-52s had been used only against Communist troop concentrations in remote regions of South Vietnam and occasionally against carefully selected sanctuaries in Cambodia, plus against both sanctuaries and supply lines in Laos.
Aug 1974 – Nixon resigns.
Sept 1974 – North Vietnamese hold special meeting to evaluate Nixon’s resignation and decide to test implications.
Dec 1974 – North Vietnamese invade South Vietnamese Province of Phouc Long located north of Saigon on Cambodian border.
Jan 1975 – North Vietnamese capture Phuoc Long provincial capitol of Phuoc Binh. Sit and wait for US reaction. No reaction.
Mar 1975 – North Vietnam mounts full-scale invasion. Seventeen North Vietnamese conventional divisions (more divisions than the US Army has had on duty at any time since WWII!) were formed into four conventional army corps (this was the entire North Vietnamese army. Because the US Congress had unconditionally guaranteed no military action against North Vietnam, there was no need for them to keep forces in reserve to protect their home bases, flanks or supply lines), and launched a wholly conventional cross-border, frontal-attack. Then using the age-old tactics of mass and maneuver, they defeated the South Vietnamese Army in detail.
The complete description of this North Vietnamese Army (NVA) classical military victory is best expressed in the words of the NVA general who commanded it (recommended reading: Great Spring Victory by General Tien Van Dung, NVA Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Volume I, 7 Jun 76 and Volume II, 7 Jul 76). General Dung’s account of the final battle for South Vietnam reads like it was taken right out of a US Army manual on offensive military operations. His description of the mass and maneuver were exquisite. His selection of South Vietnam’s army as the “Center of gravity” could have been written by General Carl von Clausewitz himself. General Dung’s account goes into graphic detail on his battle moves aimed at destroying South Vietnam’s armed forces and their war materials. He never once, not even once, ever mentions a single word about revolutionary warfare or guerilla tactics contributing in any way to his Great Spring Victory.