My latest read on the Vietnam War was The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War (The Politically Incorrect Guides) by Phillip Jennings. After reading this book, I had to evaluate many of the points made by Jennings. After much thought, I find myself agreeing with many of his points, but not all.
Before getting into the book, I need to explain something first. With regard to Vietnam War historians and readers, there are two main groups. One group argues that the War was never winnable no matter what the United States did and the other group argues that the War was lost by the politicians in Washington, D.C. This latter group argues that if the military was allowed to prosecute the war without the constraints put on by the politicians, the U.S. would have easily defeated North Vietnam.
Jennings falls into the second group. He brings forth many of the well-used explanations for how the war ended the way it did – U.S. Air Force bombers were not allowed unrestricted bombing of North Vietnamese cities and installations and U.S. ground forces were not allowed to attack into Laos or Cambodia in order to destroy the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong supply and rest areas.
Jennings does bring forth one that I have not heard before – we won the war. His reasoning (and I think it is rather weak) is that when the Paris Peace Accords were agreed to, we were winning the war and the South Vietnamese military was fully capable of defeating any threats. My question is – how could we think we won when enemy troops were still in the country (as part of the Accord, 150,000 NVA soldiers were allowed to stay in South Vietnam)? These troops weren’t going to pack up and go home. Jennings argues that the U.S. could have sent forces back in to help the South Vietnamese defeat these troops. However, he is ignoring the reality of the situation – the American public was tired of the war and did not want to lose any more of our men in this war.
With that said, I do agree that the war could have been prosecuted better – more bombings of strategic targets in Hanoi, Haiphong, and along the China/North Vietnam border. In addition, American and South Vietnamese troops should have been allowed to attack the NVA and VC concentrations in Cambodia and Laos (these countries were already fighting communist forces tied to the North Vietnamese – thus the argument that these were neutral countries is bunk). I also think that the search and destroy operations advocated by General William Westmoreland were more harmful than good – we should have embraced the tactics espoused by General Creighton Abrams. Abrams advocated a more “ink blotch” approach where troops would occupy areas and slowly expand control beyond those areas. On this latter point, Jennings does not spend much time on the differences in strategy.
Jennings takes special exception to the media bias against the war. He especially calls out Neil Sheehan who worked for UPI and David Halberstam who worked for the New York Times. According to Jennings, these men and others used their position in the media to project their views to the American public. They purposely reported on the defects of the South Vietnamese government and military while ignoring the defects of the communists.
One last piece – some of Jennings’ statements are a bit over-the-top. For example, he states that when the Kennedy administration allowed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem – it had “just overseen the biggest American foreign policy blunder of the twentieth century.” That statement is a bit overdone. I think the Roosevelt and Truman administration’s decision to allow the Soviet Union to control Eastern Europe was far worse and had larger ramifications.
Although Jennings makes some valid points, I am a little wary of other points.