The Ghosts of Vietnam
Some reading for today. "Burying the Ghosts of Vietnam" at the Small Wars Journal. Did the US 'fail to learn' the lessons of Vietnam? And is it the case that the US military has a propensity to forget everything it learns about counterinsurgency warfare and atavistically return to the "big battalion" mindset?
Only thrice in its history did the US Armed Forces fight big conventional wars. World War 1, 2 and possibly Desert Storm. Even Desert Storm wasn't really in the mold of the Second World War. For much of its military history, as the Combat Studies Institute Page should illustrate, America has fought small wars. The Indian Wars, the Philippine Insurgency, the Huks, Vietnam. What does the Marine Corps celebrate? "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli". There's a case to be made that the US Armed Forces did mostly small wars before World War 2. And that was 60 years ago. Since then there have been nothing but small wars.
It seems to me that any discussion about the Ghosts of Vietnam has to discuss why Vietnam seemed so strange when in reality, it should been so familiar. And I think the answer, in part, lies in the Cold War. The idea of limited warfare created by the shadow of the Bomb was the real reason that Vietnam was "different". In bald terms, the situation in Indochina was a largely conventional conflict between the NVA and the US and Allies, albeit with a large irregular component. Why was it so "different"? Vietnam was different because of a conscious decision to forget everything that was known about fighting wars of this type and to prosecute it according to a novel strategic conception that by some strange alchemy became time-honored when brand-new.
If the Ghosts of Vietnam haunts US politics today we may look for their spectral homes not in the battlefield, but in objects closer to home.
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