Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 14. 1967.
How is the war going for the allies?
How is the war going for the allies?
I Believe it is imperative for the US to rethink and reshape its present policies in Vietnam. Exactly a year ago. I wrote that there could be no progress in the Vietnamese war until the US overcame the indifference and cynicism of the South Vietnamese and got them to pull their weight in the military and political struggle. Let's take stock of developments since then.
At a touch of a button, the US military can spin out heartening statistics of roads opened. enemy killed, Viet Cong defections, weapons captured. Yet all this is misleading. A US Army colonel. who recently returned to a position of command in Vietnam after a lapse of three years. summed up the current situation. I believe, most fairly.
"Everyone must admit that militarily we are better off than we were three years ago," he said. "With 500.000 US troops. more planes and more artillery, we should be. Wherever US troops occupy the ground, security is better. But otherwise. I don't see any change. All the old problems are still with us."
Many military men and some civilian observers. in fact. believe that the main factor contributing to military Progress has not been US strategy. but rather a critical error in judgment on the part of Hanoi. As they see it. North Vietnamese strategists blundered seriously following the US buildup by deciding to meet the US head-on with force instead of concentrating on political and guerrilla warfare.
We see the results of this fundamental miscalculation when North Vietnamese officers lead their forces against strong military targets such as the US air base at Da Nang or a well-fortified outpost, only to be thrown back with dozens of casualties and little to show for their losses.
The North Vietnamese seem to have reasoned that by taking a heavy toll of American lives they would weaken the US resolve to stick out the war—just as Washington reasoned that the bombing of North Vietnam would erode the will of the leaders in Hanoi. Apparently. both sides are in error.
General William C. Westmoreland believes that. although problems remain. the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) is well on its way to becoming an effective fighting force. Moreover. many US military men. convinced that the poor press the ARVN receives is primarily responsible for its bad reputation, seize on every action in which the ARVN so much as performs its duty as evidence of improvement.
But other US officials, not committed to parading the ARVN in its best light and not averse to criticising the ineffective US military advisory system, are far from sanguine. True, these officials say, the South Vietnamese forces are capable of an occasional big victory. But more important is the fact that the South Vietnamese record for engaging the enemy in small unit actions has dropped in the past two years from an average of one contact in every 200 operations to one contact in every 400 operations. In one critical corps area, in fact. the record is even worse: one contact in every 1000 operations.
By contrast. the US average is one contact in every 38 operations. A senior US official gives a rather cynical explanation for the showing of the South Vietnamese. "Their military intelligence is better than it was." he says. "so they can avoid contact more efficiently."
Nor have the South Vietnamese armed forces made a real attempt to weed out the bad officers in their ranks. Repeatedly, the Vietnamese military have given the US assurances that they will begin such a reform, but it should be observed that the Vietnamese have never demonstrated any ability to perform what the US Army calls "Command supervision"—that is, seeing to it that orders are carried out.
Nepotism and trading on the ties of friendship are the chief reasons why South Vietnamese military leadership is so bad. yet nepotism and trading on the ties of friendship are ways of life in Vietnam. It may be expecting too much to ask the Vietnamese to change their ways just because their government leaders make the proper utterances—mostly for US consumption.
There is, however, one set of circumstances under which the ARVN performance has shown marked and gratifying improvement. This has occurred in the isolated instances when South Vietnamese troops have been fully integrated with US troops. And in the view of many Americans, these examples offer an important guide for the future.
This is one area in which nearly everyone agrees that progress is not nearly fast enough. Right now, less than one in every six hamlets is officially considered secure. The goal established for this year is to make it one in four but at the present rate of progress there is little likeifhood of attaining that goal.
Of course, basic security can be best supplied by the South Vietnamese armed forces rather than by occupying foreign troops. But the simple fact is that the Vietnamese are not providing the protection necessary and— worse yet—are not organised to do so.
A proposed reorganisation of the Vietnamese Army and militia that would stress the role of regional forces is a step in the right direction. but it neglects a most important element—that of building a police force to provide roundthe-clock protection and to ferret out the guerrilla infrastructure.
And efforts to build up the police establishment run afoul of the fears of politically minded soldiers that the police will become too powerful a source.