Stefan Jovanovich on Viet-Nam

January 26, 2007 |

The most persistent fiction about the war in Viet-Nam is that "our military leaders had their hands tied behind their backs." The reality is quite different. Our military leaders wanted to have their options limited in Viet-Nam. They chose the tactics, the weapons and the objectives and were happy to allow the political leaders to take the heat for the subsequent failures. The Air Force generals wanted to spend their money on missiles, the Navy on submarines and the Army on anything technical that would get it a larger share of the military-industrial pie. The actual soldiers did the best they could, but the draftees were not trained and the sergeants and career officers pulled every string possible to get their tickets punched and rotated home. I suspect that Senator Hagel's nearly incoherent rage against the present war in Iraq and the military in general is based on his understandable resentment at the way the U.S. treated his brother and him and so many other draftees. My own training as a volunteer in the Navy was much better but terribly spotty. The damage control training at the Philadelphia naval base was first-rate; to this day I can talk to civilian and military firefighters and understand what they are doing based solely on what the Navy taught me. On the other hand, the lessons in amphibious tactics consisted of watching films from WW II, including lessons on how not to catch a venereal disease. Apart from his good character and extraordinary personal courage, Creighton Abrams deserves to be honored for putting an end to all this crap and beginning the restoration of the U.S. combat forces. What is going on in Iraq has a great deal to do with Abrams' legacy but it has almost nothing to do with what happened in Viet-Nam before 1970.

I disagree about keeping out the press. Let the press spend as much time as they want with the troops in the field and at the bases, but shut down the luxury accommodations in the Green Zone. I have only one continuing resentment from my time in Viet-Nam and that is watching all the "experts" from the press holding down mahogany ridge at the Hotel Caravelle and talking absolute nonsense about places they had never been to. It is the reason I cannot take Thomas Ricks seriously; he is the current generation's REMF know-it-all.

As for the cost of the "war," it is less than the increased revenues to the treasury from the capital gains tax cut. Nearly half of what is treated in the Pentagon's accounts as "war" cost is upgrading of the equipment based on the battlefield and tactical lessons of the war. The war in Iraq is no more expensive as a part of the national budget than the Marines' excursions in China and Central America and the Caribbean in the 1920s.

I urge Roger Arnold to spend some time with the current Marines. I think he would be disabused of the notion that the Corps has gone soft. What it has done is learn that its soldiers have to be tough and smart. That is the reason they have embraced Colonel Boyd as their hero, even though he was an Air Force pilot. For the same reason, they are not embarrassed to have women in their ranks and they no longer tolerate physical abuse from their DIs. Sledge's memoirs make this point very well. The "Old Breed" never tolerated frat boy bullying; and there is no reason for the Corps to expect anything less from its current Marines.





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