Friday, December 04, 2009

Measures of Defeat

Gary Larson belatedly (better late than never) reviews Mark Moyar's excellent book on the Vietnam War--Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965--and shares some of his own experiences in a piece at Intellectual Conservative :

We laugh, yet again, at joke #10 in our repertoire of what passes for barracks humor. In a few precious hours we will count the Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs (a.k.a. "thuds" to us), as one by one they return to base, touching down with empty bomb racks, another sortie over North Vietnam, unreported by news media anywhere.

Today their return is 100%, but it is not always so. When the unthinkable happens, a pall settles over our jungle air base. Long faces everywhere, mess hall to chapel. Friends of the downed crews are glum, quiet over the tragic loss(es). Survivors, yet to be informed.

My smart-alecky remark about not bombing Hanoi, ironically, reflects the typical, cynical, young GIs' exasperation with LBJ's "limited" warfare. The reaction of most of us then twenty-somethings, young Turks all, is summed up by one seething sentence: "We're asked to win this f'in war with one arm strapped behind our backs."

"Limited war" puzzles us. So, too, are its fuzzy, dippy cousins, "appropriate response," "measured" and "graduated pressure." What the hell is THAT all about? Who does the measuring? What's appropriate? Do we really want to win this g_d— awful bloody war, or not? Defecate or get off the pot, dammit.

Fundamentally, "limited war" violates longtime U.S. military precepts. That is, when faced by an intractable foe, apply overwhelming power at the point of attack, to overwhelm the enemy, drive it to ground.

LBJ inherited JFK's batch of "the brightest," also called "Whiz Kids," led by a know-it-all former car-maker, the later regretful Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. Opting for "limited war," not all-out, they squirrelly contradicted advice of wiser, seasoned heads, mainly military, often called "warmongers." Fighting a limited war became a politically correct, politically expedient Rx on how to lose slowly, painfully, with devastating loses, in a protracted conflict in a faraway place.

What WAS Washington thinking? Such decisions, far above our junior pay grades, were incomprehensible to us jungle lackeys. Pull our punches? Not give the struggle our all? But then, what did we young, dumb "boots on the ground" know? We had not studied von Clausewitz's treatises on war, or War & Politics 101. Our lives were merely on the line. Ours was not, in the old soldiers' phrase, to question why.

We had the opportunity to interview Mark Moyar on his book back in December of 2006 on the NARN. You can listen to that interview here. If you want to understand the real history of the Vietnam War, "Triumph Forsaken" is a good place to start. The guys like Gary who served there deserved better from their leaders at the time and today deserve for more people to appreciate what really happened.

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