Strategic Mistake No.1
In case you are wondering, no, I don't claim to be an expert on Vietnam strategy, I've just read books by men who are.
Also, in case you are wondering how the story ends, it is not how we've been told. They say we lost the war. No, that's not quite accurate. We actually won the war in '73. There was a peace conference remember. Ho promised not the attack the South again. America promised – under the terms of the agreement - to re-supply the South one-for-one ammunition and equipment if the North did attack. The Russians and Chinese promised not to do more than one-for-one.
In '75 Ho's army invaded the South – about 130,000 combat troops backed by hundreds of tanks, artillery pieces and aircraft. In the US a new Democrat dominated Congress reneged on their agreement, and despite President Ford's pleas refused to re-arm the South, while Russia and China poured armaments into The North. Hence the pictures we saw on TV of people desperately trying to escape Saigon before it fell to these overwhelming invasion forces.
But I want to draw lessons from strategy failures so I shall leave that discussion till later.
The first, and perhaps most basic mistake was was about the nature of the war.
President Kennedy had decided that warfare of the future would be guerilla warfare. Partly because the nuclear stand-off between Communist and Free worlds made conventional warfare too dangerous, partly because Mao, Castro, and Guevara had produced handbooks on insurgency or “people's war” and there were guerilla armies rising in central and south America.
Kennedy had ordered army chiefs to concentrate on counter insurgency techniques. Indeed he had made in known that opposition to this shift in focus would be a career stopper.
Also the first US involvement consisted of advisors to the South Vietnamese army, who were indeed mopping up Viet Minh guerillas. However what was being faced was actually mostly a conventional war with the North invading the South.
It was really only when President Nixon carpet bombed the supply lines through the empty jungles of Cambodia – the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, and bombed industrial and military targets in North Vietnam itself that that the war was fought appropriately for what it mostly was. And when this was done the war was brought to an end. True, Ho should not have been trusted to keep the peace agreement – but my point is that when the real nature of the war was recognised, more effective tactics were employed.
So what could we be missing about our “battles” in the West?
I am going to suggest that we are fighting on two separate fronts. Internal and external.
Internally our moral strength is being eroded. I have written already on this topic.
Externally we are facing possible threats from Russia, China, and Muslim extremists. Like everyone I pray for “peace in our time” I am just identifying possibilities. With only one of these I think we have misjudged the type and reality of conflict. That is China.
China is a bully. China is militarising its artificial islands in the South China Sea. This we see. What we do not see yet is that China is weaponising its trade links.
For China trade is to be used just like Clauzewitz's description of war as: “Politics by additional means”. Trade is a modern variation on “gun-boat diplomacy”. If you doubt this consider the trade repercussions on South Korea when it defied Beijing and allowed US THAAD missile launchers on its soil.
We are thinking of military clash. China is at present being more cunning and planning for the long term with defensive and offensive emplacements: they are using trade, and particularly to ability of a dictatorship to cut off imports, steal intellectual property, buy up infrastructure in other countries, and buy influence with “aid” gifts or loans, and corruption to enable them to force nations to do their will just as effectively as with guns.
If need to wake up to this fact we: are in a cold war but fighting it the wrong way.