Military Strategy

After the nation's political leaders determined a need for military intervention in Vietnam, and set bounds to armed forces activity, it was up to the military leaders to determine the course to be followed in order to achieve the political goals. The search and destroy strategy called for large-scale battles in a war of attrition, while counterinsurgency advocates wanted to attack the covert infrastructure which kept South Vietnam's rural population under domination.

In pursuit of its policy of containment, the United States entered the war in Vietnam on the strategic defensive. Our failure to appreciate what this posture entailed contributed to our ultimate failure. On the other hand, the overall North Vietnamese posture throughout the course of the war was the strategic offensive, with the conquest of South Vietnam as their objective. On the tactical level they shifted between defensive and offensive campaigns as conditions demanded. Guerrilla warfare initiated in 1964 was a tactical offensive. Frustrated by the massive commitment of U.S. forces and their defeat at Ia Drang in November 1965, they reverted to the tactical defensive.

In pursuit of its policy of containment, the United States entered the war in Vietnam on the strategic defensive. Our failure to appreciate what this posture entailed contributed to our ultimate failure. On the other hand, the overall North Vietnamese posture throughout the course of the war was the strategic offensive, with the conquest of South Vietnam as their objective. On the tactical level they shifted between defensive and offensive campaigns as conditions demanded. Guerrilla warfare initiated in 1964 was a tactical offensive. Frustrated by the massive commitment of U.S. forces and their defeat at Ia Drang in November 1965, they reverted to the tactical defensive.

Whatever the mood of the country, for those in Vietnam the war still had to be fought, and the new leadership went about doing that with energy and insight. Shaped by General Creighton Abrams' understanding of the complex nature of the conflict, the approach underwent immediate and radical revision when he took command. Previously fragmented approaches to combat operations, pacification and mentoring the South Vietnamese armed forces now became "one war" with the single, clear-cut objective of security for the South Vietnamese villages and hamlets. Under "Vietnamization", responsibility for conduct of the war was progressively turned back to the South Vietnamese.

Whatever the mood of the country, for those in Vietnam the war still had to be fought, and the new leadership went about doing that with energy and insight. Shaped by General Creighton Abrams' understanding of the complex nature of the conflict, the approach underwent immediate and radical revision when he took command. Previously fragmented approaches to combat operations, pacification and mentoring the South Vietnamese armed forces now became "one war" with the single, clear-cut objective of security for the South Vietnamese villages and hamlets. Under "Vietnamization", responsibility for conduct of the war was progressively turned back to the South Vietnamese.

The Army and Vietnam

By Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.

An insurgency is a protracted struggle conducted methodically, step-by-step, to obtain specific intermediary objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order. As developed by Mao Zedong in China and adapted by Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam, contemporary insurgency is a Third World phenomenon comprising three phases. First comes insurgent agitation and proselytization among the masses; this is the phase of contention. The second phase introduces overt violence, guerrilla operations and the establishment of bases; this is the equilibrium phase. The third phase brings open warfare between insurgent and government forces designed to topple the existing regime; this is the counteroffensive phase.

An insurgency is a protracted struggle conducted methodically, step-by-step, to obtain specific intermediary objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order. As developed by Mao Zedong in China and adapted by Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam, contemporary insurgency is a Third World phenomenon comprising three phases. First comes insurgent agitation and proselytization among the masses; this is the phase of contention. The second phase introduces overt violence, guerrilla operations and the establishment of bases; this is the equilibrium phase. The third phase brings open warfare between insurgent and government forces designed to topple the existing regime; this is the counteroffensive phase.

No single factor more definitively illustrates Westmoreland's neglect of the South Vietnamese armed forces than the M-16 rifle, which was at the time a new, lightweight automatic weapon considered ideal for the Vietnam environment. When improved weaponry and materiel became available, U.S. forces got first call on the M-16 rifle, the M-60 machine gun, the M-79 grenade launcher, and better radios. For much of the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese were armed with castoff U.S. equipment from World War II, such as the M-1 rifle and the carbine. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were getting the most modern weaponry their communist patrons could provide, including the AK-47 assault rifle.

No single factor more definitively illustrates Westmoreland's neglect of the South Vietnamese armed forces than the M-16 rifle, which was at the time a new, lightweight automatic weapon considered ideal for the Vietnam environment. When improved weaponry and materiel became available, U.S. forces got first call on the M-16 rifle, the M-60 machine gun, the M-79 grenade launcher, and better radios. For much of the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese were armed with castoff U.S. equipment from World War II, such as the M-1 rifle and the carbine. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were getting the most modern weaponry their communist patrons could provide, including the AK-47 assault rifle.