Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Red Napoleon
October 4, 2013 4:35 PM   Subscribe

'Legendary Vietnam Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap dies.' 'Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant and ruthless self-taught general who drove the French out of Vietnam to free it from colonial rule and later forced the Americans to abandon their grueling effort to save the country from communism, has died. At age 102, he was the last of Vietnam's old-guard revolutionaries.' 'To military scholars around the world, he was one of the 20th century’s leading practitioners of modern revolutionary guerrilla warfare.'

'General Giap had studied the military teachings of Mao Zedong, who wrote that political indoctrination, terrorism and sustained guerrilla warfare were prerequisites for a successful revolution. Using this strategy, General Giap defeated the French Army’s elite and its vaunted Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, forcing France from Indochina and earning him the grudging admiration of the French.'

'General Giap understood something that his adversaries did not, however. Early on, he learned that the loyalty of Vietnam’s peasants was more crucial than controlling the land on which they lived. Like Ho Chi Minh, he believed devoutly that the Vietnamese would be willing to bear any burden to free their land from foreign armies.'

'The general's former nemesis, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, came to visit in 1995. He asked about a disputed chapter of the Vietnam War, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in which two U.S. Navy destroyers were purportedly fired upon by North Vietnamese boats. It's the event that gave the U.S. Congress justification for escalating the war.

Later, many questioned whether the attack actually occurred. During his visit, McNamara asked Giap what happened that night.

"Absolutely nothing," Giap said.'

'Late in life, Giap encouraged warmer relations between Vietnam and the United States, which re-established ties in 1995 and have become close trading partners. Vietnam has also recently looked to the U.S. military as a way to balance China's growing power in the disputed South China Sea.

"We can put the past behind," Giap said in 2000. "But we cannot completely forget it."'
posted by VikingSword (130 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
A school teacher who schooled both the French and the US.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:40 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


To historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States treasury and Washington’s political will to fight and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today.

This should be what the General remembered moments before he died. 'willingness' ugh.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:47 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


.

The Vietnamese only embraced Communism insofar that it helped them get the arms and aid that helped them evict foreign oppressors. I'm pretty sure that Vietnam is "communist" in name only, just like China.
posted by Renoroc at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2013


> This should be what the General remembered moments before he died. 'willingness' ugh.

Your point being that the Vietnamese should have rolled over and let themselves be conquered? They fought the Chinese for a thousand years before finally getting rid of them; they weren't about to let the French or Americans run their country. If you think all those people died because of Giap, that if he hadn't existed Vietnam would be a happy French or American colony today, you're sadly mistaken.

I hate war and was a conscientious objector during Vietnam, and I hold no brief for generals, but if you accept the existence of war and the need for generals, he was a hell of an impressive one.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2013 [83 favorites]


This should be what the General remembered moments before he died. 'willingness' ugh.

As opposed to the willingness of the French to maintain an anachronistic empire, which they were willing to maintain with torture, rape and slavery? The willingness of Eisenhower and Kennedy to ignore Ho's requests to help them remove their colonial masters just as the Malaysians and the Indonesian's were doing with the British and Dutch. The willingness of the American's to manufacture an incident to go to war. The willingness of the Americans to foist a brutal puppet regime on the Vietnamese. The willingness of the Americans to invade - Ugh indeed.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:08 PM on October 4, 2013 [51 favorites]


.
posted by chunking express at 5:09 PM on October 4, 2013


.
posted by cazoo at 5:09 PM on October 4, 2013


.
posted by SollosQ at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2013


I'm pretty sure that Vietnam is "communist" in name only, just like China.

Lot of people went to a lot of trouble to get out of there back in the seventies. America should never have been there, but he was still serving a bad regime.

Not so great now, either, name only or not.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to point out, for those of you who haven't read, Dien Bien Phu was an interesting battle. The French parked themselves in a big valley surrounded by mountains. They were going to rely on air resupply and hoped to force Giap's hand in a full on assault.

Giap spent a few months having his troops disassemble the Viet Minh artillery and carry it up the mountains piece by piece. They also built fake, wooden artillery to confuse French troops. They rotated the artillery every few volleys to prevent counter attacks. Obviously the artillery damaged the airfield, which prevented resupply. The monsoon came which prevented tank use, and the french were surrounded in a valley with artillery on all sides.

Pretty authoritative victory.
posted by Telf at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


102! Even without the rest of his life, that part would make it remarkable enough.

.
posted by ignignokt at 5:33 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


he was still serving a bad regime.

Well from what I understand the government of South Vietnam wasn't really the mickey mouse club either. Not to mention Johnson and Nixon.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:38 PM on October 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well from what I understand the government of South Vietnam wasn't really the mickey mouse club either. Not to mention Johnson and Nixon.

Well yeah, but it was capitalist, so human rights violations aren't that big of a deal.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:53 PM on October 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


To historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States treasury and Washington’s political will to fight and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today.

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." - George S. Patton

He proved ol' George P. to be dead wrong...
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:02 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the Soviets had already contemporaneously proved him wrong in the Great Patriotic War.
posted by XMLicious at 6:07 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"his troops disassemble the Viet Minh artillery"

The vast majority of these troops were so-called montagnards, or, in actual fact, local indigenous peoples, often called "hill tribes." Their sacrifice on both sides -- see the Hmong, who sided with the US-led forces in the Kingdom of Laos only to be largely abandoned when the Lao communist forces overran the capitol -- is an underappreciated part of both Indochinese wars.
posted by docgonzo at 6:09 PM on October 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


.
posted by Gnatcho at 6:24 PM on October 4, 2013


i have a few thoughts:

- logistically Dien Bien Phu was impressive, but I don't buy the line that all the peasants who hauled the anti-air artillery all the way there were patriotic volunteers. I'm sure there was a mix of "fuck the French" and "I guess they [North Vietnam Military] won't shoot me if I help them."

- As I understand it, the Tet offensive was more of a symbolic victory than an on-the-ground victory. It looked impressive at first, but the US eventually won those areas back and many fighters for the North died. They were over-exposed and suffered heavy losses. It was actually a net loss for the North because their people in the south died and they had to spend time rebuilding their network. Despite how shitty the South Vietnamese government was it must have been a harder sell for the North to say "we've just have some exciting positions open up!"

- he was deputy prime minister from 1976-82 until he got pushed out. During this time China briefly invaded Vietnam as a response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:29 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well yeah, but it was capitalist, so human rights violations aren't that big of a deal.

True, but South Korea and Taiwan weren't exactly paragons of human rights themselves until about the 80s/90s when both went through (and continue to go through) democratic reform and great economic growth.
posted by FJT at 6:32 PM on October 4, 2013


As I understand it, the Tet offensive was more of a symbolic victory than an on-the-ground victory. It looked impressive at first, but the US eventually won those areas back and many fighters for the North died.

True, but remember that war is politics by other means. The US military and government had been saying for years that victory was just around the corner, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, yadda yadda yadda. Then the Vietcong and NVA simultaneously attacked more than 100 towns and cities.

The French parked themselves in a big valley surrounded by mountains.

On purpose! They parachuted in and set up the base as a trap.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:51 PM on October 4, 2013


Tet, and especially Hue, demonstrated that even people in the cities weren't safe from communist reprisals. It was really costly though, because a large part of the party cadre, who usually kept their heads down, took part in the uprising and were killed. The end result was that the communist forces that had made the attacks were crushed, but the communists still controlled most of the countryside, even in their momentarily weakened state.

With the instability at the top of the South's regime and the inefficiency and corruption in the government, there wasn't really a way for the South Vietnamese government to take back the countryside where most people lived. Meanwhile, the Americans were playing with their toys, using B-52s to deliver duds in the jungle so they could be made into booby traps.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:58 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well yeah, but it was capitalist, so human rights violations aren't that big of a deal.

Things go better with Coca-Cola!
posted by frodisaur at 7:25 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


But his critics said that his victories had been rooted in a profligate disregard for the lives of his soldiers. Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who commanded American forces in Vietnam from 1964 until 1968, said, “Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would not have lasted three weeks.”

Is Westmoreland really in any position to be the "critic" of anyone on the subject of disregard for the lives of the Vietnamese? Like all Giap had to do was just stop fighting the foreign army, but no, he had to be stubborn.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:36 PM on October 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


Well yeah, but it was capitalist, so human rights violations aren't that big of a deal.

Just ask Bradley Manning - if you can.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 7:53 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know...somehow I think I should leave this here.
posted by HuronBob at 7:57 PM on October 4, 2013


Like anyone would criticize any American or British general on the cost of defeating Nazi Germamy.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:15 PM on October 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Has anyone else noticed that generals almost never live to such great ages?

Seriously, he did what worked for his side. Whoever holds on 10 minutes longer is who wins the war, regardless of all other losses and gains, regardless of mistakes and what is done correctly.
You have to have motivation to hold on that 10 minutes.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:17 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Vietnamese only embraced Communism insofar that it helped them get the arms and aid that helped them evict foreign oppressors. I'm pretty sure that Vietnam is "communist" in name only, just like China.

Well, not exactly. Many embraced it for the simple reason that they were very, very poor. It's not surprising that the allegiances often broke along religious and class lines.

My paternal family came from what can only be described as warlords. They made deals with the French, and profited handsomely, enough to get out of Vietnam and become gentlemen scholars. When the war started, they were hated enough that my grandfather's home village was burned down, including the church where his family sought sanctuary. And the Communists waited at the door and slashed at them with machetes as they fled the burning building. My father's family was lucky to escape and make it to the south mostly intact; one uncle was separated and never seen again while another was permanently disfigured. He was three at the time.

This is not to say that the other side was blameless. When my maternal grandfather, a village leader of rising popularity, was suspected of collaborating with Communists, he was summarily assassinated. Ironically, he had earlier saved my father from Communists after the latter had escaped from being held prisoner (he felt that at 16, my father was too young to know better and didn't deserve to die). Five years later, my father heard of his death and returned to his village to see if his widow needed help. She wasn't home, but my mother was, and here I am.

When an eighth of a country's population dies in conflict, the reasons are always going to be complicated.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:57 PM on October 4, 2013 [65 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Vietnam is "communist" in name only, just like China.

The Northerners were Stalinists, baby. It took them more than a decade and a half after the war to figure out that their system was working out.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A remarkable man, and exemplar of the credo that generals die in bed.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:07 PM on October 4, 2013


If you want to read about the end of the war, The Fall of Saigon by David Butler is a very good book.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:08 PM on October 4, 2013


My personal favorite. Skip to 0:30 to get directly to the good stuff.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:08 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


To historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States treasury and Washington’s political will to fight and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today.

This should be what the General remembered moments before he died. 'willingness' ugh.


Vietnam was controlled by foreign powers. I find your comment pretty offensive.

War is not good, but don't you dare pretend that this man alone sent men under his command to die because he fucking felt like it. Shame on you.

Don't celebrate the guy, fine. Don't care that he died, but don't trivialize those wars.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:19 PM on October 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:30 PM on October 4, 2013


To historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did,

Nguyen Giap: "The Americans? A trifle! It was simply a matter of outsmarting them. You see, the Americans have a preset kill limit. Knowing their weakness, I sent wave after wave of my own men at them, until they reached their limit and shutdown. Kif, show them the medal I won."
posted by happyroach at 10:50 PM on October 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


So all you people think that to fight an oppressive regime, you need to accept the death of millions of people? Have you never heard of Gandhi?

And no, we don't have to accept the existence of war. The concepts of war is much younger than humankind, and I for one believe with Kant that one day humanity will abolish wars again.
posted by tecg at 11:01 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's an odd need here to conflate the justice of the nationalist cause for which Giap fought, and the justification for absorbing 1 to 500 kill ratios. When you think of what makes a great general, "willingness" to incur unspeakable losses doesn't tend to come up.
posted by fatbird at 11:12 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


.




Vietnam didn't just beat America; it bitch-slapped America. Not that it was concerned with such overt humiliation. It was just trying to do that thing that America was theoretically in favor of: self-determine
posted by philip-random at 11:12 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Have you never heard of Gandhi?

How'd that work out in Syria right before their civil war started? I heard they mutilated the children of activists and left them on the side of the road.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:14 PM on October 4, 2013


There's an odd need here to conflate the justice of the nationalist cause for which Giap fought, and the justification for absorbing 1 to 500 kill ratios. When you think of what makes a great general, "willingness" to incur unspeakable losses doesn't tend to come up.

I don't know where the various commenters in this thread are coming from, but I'll assume the majority are American. To all you Americans out there, let me just say, you guys made this war happen, you didn't NEED to come in after the French got their asses handed to them, you could have just let things play out. But you didn't. You got involved and you ultimately got your asses handed to you as well. Because your strategists overlooked a key detail. Short of atomizing North Vietnam back to the stone age, you couldn't win. Because their birth rate exceeded your kill-rate by a factor of 3-1.

How dare you now judge the extremes to which the North would go to beat you? I believe the Greeks had a word for that kind of arrogance.
posted by philip-random at 11:20 PM on October 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


Well yeah, but it was capitalist, so human rights violations aren't that big of a deal.

Stalinist human rights violations aren't a bid deal either, apparently. It doesn't seem like the North Vietnamese regime is worth celebrating (certainly not based on what I've heard from the Catholic Vietnamese I've talked to here) - Wikipedia:
Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various agrarian reforms, including "rent reduction" and "land reform". Large landowners and rich peasants were publicly denounced as landlords (địa chủ), and their land distributed to poor and middle peasants, particularly to those with ties to the Communist Party.[18] In some cases there were mass slaughters of landlords. People of the middle- and upper-class, intellectuals, anti-communists, affiliates to the French colonial government and dissidents were also persecuted, imprisoned or killed.[19] Declassified Politburo documents confirm that 1 in 1,000 North Vietnamese (i.e., about 14,000 people) were the minimum quota targeted for execution during the earlier "rent reduction" campaign; the number killed during the multiple stages of the considerably more radical "land reform" was probably many times greater.[20] Lam Thanh Liem, a major authority on land issues in Vietnam, conducted multiple interviews in which communist cadres gave estimates for land reform executions ranging from 120,000 to 200,000. Such figures match the "nearly 150,000 houses and huts which were allocated to new occupants".[21] Landlords were arbitrarily classified as 5.68% of the population, but the majority were subject to less severe punishment than execution. Official records from the time suggest that 172,008 "landlords" were executed during the "land reform", of whom 123,266 (71.66%) were later found to be wrongly classified.[22] Victims were reportedly shot, beheaded, and beaten to death; "some were tied up, thrown into open graves and covered with stones until they were crushed to death".[23] The full death toll was even greater because victims' families starved to death under the "policy of isolation."[24] As communist defector Le Xuan Giao explained: "There was nothing worse than the starvation of the children in a family whose parents were under the control of a land reform team. They isolated the house, and the people who lived there would starve. The children were all innocent. There was nothing worse than that. They wanted to see the whole family dead."[25] Former Viet Minh official Hoang Van Chi wrote that as many as 500,000 people may have died as a result of the policies of the North Vietnamese government...
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:23 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your point being that the Vietnamese should have rolled over and let themselves be conquered? They fought the Chinese for a thousand years before finally getting rid of them; they weren't about to let the French or Americans run their country. If you think all those people died because of Giap, that if he hadn't existed Vietnam would be a happy French or American colony today, you're sadly mistaken.

That's great and all, but under his command 58,000 Americans died....and it cost him almost 2.5 million of his men.

A Pyrrhic victory is a loss for everything except one's ego.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:23 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various agrarian reforms, including "rent reduction" and "land reform". Large landowners and rich peasants were publicly denounced as landlords (địa chủ), and their land distributed to poor and middle peasants, particularly to those with ties to the Communist Party.

Talking about human rights violations... Oh, how I wish TV cameras had been around in the 17th and 18th centuries to cover how rich and powerful landowners in England were making peasants landless, homeless, destitute. Or worse. I wonder how many pour souls died as a result of that Enclosure Movement policy?
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:52 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


To all you Americans out there, let me just say, you guys made this war happen, you didn't NEED to come in after the French got their asses handed to them, you could have just let things play out.

What do you mean "play out"? Between the containment policy and domino theory, where was there room to let things play out during the Cold War?

I'm not saying the Vietnam War was not a mistake, but hindsight is always 20/20. The only way I can think of it happening, is if the US just adopted non-interventionism after World War II and just let every other country fend for themselves.
posted by FJT at 12:34 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Red Kutuzov would be a more appropriate, though less catchy, title for this post.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:37 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


'm not saying the Vietnam War was not a mistake, but hindsight is always 20/20. The only way I can think of it happening, is if the US just adopted non-interventionism after World War II and just let every other country fend for themselves.

That would've been fucking excellent. And anyway, it's not only "hindsight" that the Vietnam war was a grotesque mistake. A hella lotta people knew at the time that Vietnam was a huge mistake. It's just unfortunate that they weren't the ones who made the actual decisions. The actual decisions then, as they are today, were made by an elite military-industrial cartel whose interests (economic domination, essentially) are served by government. America had become a war machine by the time of Vietnam, and it still is. More than ever.

And if you'll allow me to repeat one part of your comment...

just let every other country fend for themselves

That's precisely what America was NOT letting Vietnam do.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:52 AM on October 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


That would've been fucking excellent.

Well, I don't know if it would have been excellent. I mean, there would be a real chance that I would not have been born if the US did not enforce the containment policy, at least for the first few years.
posted by FJT at 12:58 AM on October 5, 2013


There's a lot of curious passive-aggressive judgement going on here.

By any objective standard Giap was one of the more brilliant military minds of the 20th century. Americans have money, industry, and technology on their side; they prefer minimal casualties. Other countries are not so lucky and have to use what they have. Even when you have advantages, sometimes it can be your side's willingness to absorb casualties that makes the difference; generations of Southern military analysts have denigrated Grant for throwing bodies at the problem of defeating the Confederacy. Certainly Americans, who simultaneously were placing effectively their entire population at risk in order to win a Cold War, have little room for sanctimony on this point.

Giap was one of the first guerrilla generals to defeat the army of (what at least once was) a Great Power -- his countrymen's George Washington. He had motivation: family members were killed by the French authorities for their rebellious politics, and his first wife died in a French prison. Giap was never any sort of dictator, but acted as a public servant under the Politburo, clashing with them at times over strategy. He outsmarted the French expeditionary force at Dien Bien Phu by doing that which conventional military thinkers believed couldn't be done -- hauling artillery by hand to the tops of the jungle-encrusted ridges surrounding the French base. In short order he eliminated all the advantages held by the enemy, using equipment and tactics borne from the Allied victory in World War II, and apparently unable to adapt away from conventional ground warfare toward a counterinsurgency. It was one of the more crushing defeats of the era, even considering the multiplicity of wars on the century's books. The situation became so desperate that, historians report, John Foster Dulles offered the French two atomic weapons to defeat the Vietnamese. (They refused, perhaps having a glimmer of understanding that this was, after all, not that kind of war.) Even given all that the Americans chose to sink their considerable boots into what became the very genesis of the politico-military sense of the word quagmire.

costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American

It is necessary to understand that these are not equivalent losses. American civilian lives were never at risk; for us this was a war of choice. Civilians in Vietnam on both sides lost their lives. There were military casualties on both sides. If you put an army against an army, all of them Vietnamese, you will have deaths that are Vietnamese but it is nonsensical to say that the general of only one side put the other troops at risk to win the battle. The South Vietnamese were considered an illegitimate government by the Viet Cong and the ARVN alike, but had much greater strength and an equal willingness to kill in order to achieve their objective.

I mean, I hope that young readers of this thread are not under the impression that this was a war declared against Vietnam by the United States; it was in initial stages a conventionally-fought civil war between two armies both supplied by opposing superpowers (in the case of the North, by two). It was very much Vietnamese against Vietnamese. The US, at least publicly, had supported peaceful reunification of the country, but leaders of the North and South both rigged their elections, and the South then rejected reunification, leading to mutual declarations of war (years before the US sent advisers in large numbers, let alone troops).

This was a war given to Giap, then, not a choice that he took with callous disregard for life. There were many, many players, and his role was to carry out the war that was brought by a schism between what were once anti-Colonialist comrades.
posted by dhartung at 1:36 AM on October 5, 2013 [29 favorites]


2.5m Vietnamese, 58k Americans.

1FT.

Maybe not all things should be reduced that far.

Anyhow. 102! I guess Castro is next.
posted by notyou at 1:37 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's great and all, but under his command 58,000 Americans died....and it cost him almost 2.5 million of his men.

And it was largely America that killed those 2.5 million people.
posted by dng at 1:50 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's great and all, but under his command 58,000 Americans died....and it cost him almost 2.5 million of his men.

Googling around suggests 1.1 million North Vietnamese military personnel killed during the war. Also, the "exchange rate" between American and North Vietnamese soldiers should take into account the considerable numbers (somewhere between 300,000 to 1 million) South Vietnamese soldiers who died alongside their American allies. So Giap's tactics look less like throwing his men away and more like accepting a nasty but palatable ratio made necessary by technological and resource disadvantages.

And anyway, it's not as if the "drown them in blood" strategy wasn't pioneered by American generals and perfected by Soviet commanders. It had a hell of a (successful) history before Giap came along.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:19 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because their birth rate exceeded your kill-rate by a factor of 3-1.

Yeah, that and tactics and stuff
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 3:05 AM on October 5, 2013


philip-random: "Vietnam didn't just beat America; it bitch-slapped America. Not that it was concerned with such overt humiliation. It was just trying to do that thing that America was theoretically in favor of: self-determine"

The sheer amount of brutal horror casually packed into this simple dismissal of inexcusable destruction is intense. 'Vietnam' didn't 'bitch-slap' anything, Vietnam was subject to a nineteen and a half year civil war that murdered an eighth of everyone there. This image of "Vietnam" as some macho scrappy dude winning a bar fight with the bigger but now humbled "America" to do its own thing erases the million Vietnamese who fled North Vietnam for the South at the beginning of the war, the 1 to 2 hundred thousand Vietnamese who would be executed as soon as the war ended, and the 1 to 2.5 million more Vietnamese who would then be sent to 're-education' camps as well as the 3 million who fled. "Vietnam" includes them too. Focusing on some abstractly national 'humiliation' also erases both the brutal corrupt horror that was the South Vietnamese government, its religious persecution, its fundamentally kleptocratic nature, and its willingness to do whatever it thought would help it retain power and the fundamentally racist way in which the US conducted its portion of the war.

War is not some battle between elephants like Giap and Westmoreland or McNamara, war is the grass they trample with their egos. Shame on this bullshit.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:55 AM on October 5, 2013 [28 favorites]


As I understand it, the Tet offensive was more of a symbolic victory than an on-the-ground victory. It looked impressive at first, but the US eventually won those areas back and many fighters for the North died.

EVERY victory of a small force against a great power is a symbolic victory. In Vietnam, to goal was never to thoroughly defeat the French or Americans. It was to erode their morale and illustrate that the costs weren't commensurate with the goals. Any conventional gains that the North made were impermanent by nature of the force they were up against-- if your opponent has (effectively) infinite resources, you know that any territorial gains you make are likely temporary. The smaller force is demonstrating that it's simply not worth the fight, and part of that is setting back the enemy even when you know they'll regroup.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:59 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


For more (depressing) evidence of what exactly Giap was up against, check out Kill Everything That Moves.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:15 AM on October 5, 2013


Glap was like Rommel---the brilliant, skilled general who served an absolutely monstrous regime.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:27 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So all you people think that to fight an oppressive regime, you need to accept the death of millions of people? Have you never heard of Gandhi?

I love the wise Mahatma as much as the next pinko, but many folks don't acknowledge that he was of a specific time and place. Non-violent resistance simply doesn't work in every situation.

You need an enemy that can be shamed. British policy in India in the 20th century had softened-- the British had come to see themselves truly as civilizing caretakers of their colonies rather than ruthless exploiters. Every colonizer rationalizes their presence this way, but the Crown was actually unclenching its fist and feeling that the Empire was cool if it was based more on bureaucracy than guns. There was still abuse, and their presence was by no means just, but the British were aiming for "we're all a team!"

And they moved that way mostly because of vanity-- when you feel that you're the most refined, civilized people on Earth, it won't do to be seen as cruel vampires. So they were vulnerable to tactics that shamed them. Gandhi got people to band together and demonstrate that Britain and India were not in fact a team, that taxes were too high, exploitation was rife and it wasn't acceptable that India's resources were being siphoned off even if they were being thanked for it. The Crown, having positioned itself as these benevolent caretakers, had two options-- leave India or admit that they actually WERE ugly and crack down. We know what they did.

Non-violent resistance only works if your opponent can be shamed. The French couldn't have been shamed-- they were still treating their colonies like damp cloths that they needed to wring out every last bit out of, and desperate for foreign resources and the continued respect that came from being someone's master. The Americans couldn't have been shamed-- its role as Industrial Giant and hero of two world wars had given the US more hubris and entitlement than it knew what to do with.

A vietnamese Gandhi would have gotten napalmed for his troubles.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:31 AM on October 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yeah, "Kill Everything That Moves". Like snickerdoodle said.
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:34 AM on October 5, 2013


A vietnamese Gandhi would have gotten napalmed for his troubles.

Or end up being completely ineffective and exiled from his country for 40 years like Thich Nhat Hanh. Though of course he was in the South, not the North.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:44 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lot of people went to a lot of trouble to get out of there back in the seventies.

Sure. Here's a picture of one of them. He's the guy in the foreground on the left.


The South Vietnamese were considered an illegitimate government by the Viet Cong and the ARVN alike...

I assume your fingers slipped while writing that. The ARVN was the South's army.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:20 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


i should point out that giap can hardly be held solely responsible for the high casualties of the vietnam war - the simple truth is there were two camps of ideological fanatics fighting in that country who were willing to die and kill copiously for their beliefs - and they did

but the length of that war is on one man's shoulders - LBJ - what would have been a fairly brief, tragic and bloody civil war got extended by another decade, with much more tragedy than would have otherwise occurred

Between the containment policy and domino theory, where was there room to let things play out during the Cold War?

isn't if funny, though, that when we stopped fighting it so aggressively russia's system collapsed on itself and china's mutated into an odd mercantile capitalist state? - there was room to let things play out, we just weren't allowing them to
posted by pyramid termite at 5:29 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stalinist human rights violations aren't a bid deal either, apparently. It doesn't seem like the North Vietnamese regime is worth celebrating

Why are strawmen like this always the canned response to any criticism of American empire?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:36 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd also put a fair share of the blame on the joint chiefs, who should have known (and were told) fire power couldn't win the war, but went along anyway.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:37 AM on October 5, 2013


Like anyone would criticize any American or British general on the cost of defeating Nazi Germamy.

Interesting analogy. If North Vietnam had been defeated by the Americans and their allies, would the Americans have exterminated a large segment of the population in death camps? Would they have permanently occupied the country as "living space" for America's surplus population and enslaved the native Vietnamese as a permanently inferior underclass?

If the anti-communist side had won the Vietnam war, would the outcome for Vietnam have been significantly different from South Korea (the obvious analogy, not Nazi Germany), or Singapore, or Malaysia, or Taiwan, or any of the other Asian capitalist success stories, several of whom are now in the top 20 nations globally for living standards? Doesn't the experience of other American "vassal states" give the lie to the propaganda line that America was simply trying to subjugate and exploit Vietnam as a colony? What exactly is it that Giap was fighting against? Given those other examples, is it really even legitimate to say that his fight against America was "anti-colonialist"?

The honest answer is, he was fighting for his national pride. It was okay for Vietnam to adopt capitalist reforms in the 80s and 90s, as long as it was Vietnam choosing to and not being forced to by mean old bossy old America, even when there was a Cold War on and millions of people had been killed by the side the Giap and his cronies made common cause with. Hope that distinction was worth all those millions of deaths. Vietnam itself has one of the worst human rights records on the planet. In my book, nationalism means spit.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:54 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


How dare you now judge the extremes to which the North would go to beat you?

Because some of us don't think that butchering our own population and torture should be rewarded with a medal.

Tortured with razor-sharp bamboo and fed alive to ants:
They would hang him upside down by his ankles, with a nest of biting ants over his face, until he lost consciousness. At night, they suspended him in a freezing well so that if sleep came, he feared he would drown. Other times, he was dragged by water buffalo through villages, his guards laughing as they goaded the animal with a whip.

Bloodied and broken, he was asked by Pathet Lao officials to sign a document condemning America, but still he refused, so the torture intensified. Tiny wedges of bamboo were inserted under his fingernails and into incisions on his body to grow and fester.
John McCain's personal account of his torture
They cracked several of my ribs and broke a couple of teeth. Weakened by beatings and dysentery, with my right leg again almost useless, I found it impossible to stand.

On the third night I lay in my blood and waste, so tired and hurt that I could not move. Three guards lifted me to my feet and gave me the worst beating yet. They left me lying on the floor moaning from the stabbing pain in my re-fractured arm...One man, Dick Stratton, had huge infected scars on his arms from rope torture. His thumbnails had been torn off and he had been burned with cigarettes.
I don't care how "great" a general this guy was for killing his own people. Fuck this guy. The North Vietnamese routinely broke every single law of war, it was impossible to be unaware.
posted by corb at 6:57 AM on October 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like anyone would criticize any American or British general on the cost of defeating Nazi Germamy.

Curtis Lemay was criticized both during and after WW2 for his policy of bombing German civilian populations. "General Jack D. Ripper" is how Kubrik satirised him in Dr. Strangelove.
posted by three blind mice at 7:05 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Why are strawmen like this always the canned response to any criticism of American empire?"

Your jingoistic narcissism aside, this isn't an FPP about American Empire and it isn't about criticizing American Empire, this is however an FPP about a man who seized control of his country by murdering people by the hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to flee. He personally participated in Stalinist purges, filling quotas of ordinary people to kill and emptying the intellectual heart of Vietnam into his lust for power. Can we really not condemn him, or even just his brutal pointless pride and thirst for vengeance, as a global community because it is somehow more important for us all to parrot talking points specific to leftist America?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:10 AM on October 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


"One man, Dick Stratton, had huge infected scars on his arms from rope torture. His thumbnails had been torn off and he had been burned with cigarettes."

Some people can get unreasonable after being incessantly bombed and shot at by "courageous" pilots flying high in the sky.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


America butchers. America tortures. Does that excuse when other nations do it? No. But if Russia invaded Texas tomorrow to siphon our resources, I would ally with republicans to defend the country. Does that make me an ideological fanatic?

I look at America's actions post-1945 and see assassinations, coups, sanctions and war. Ideology helps explain some of those but United Fruit, British Petroleum - now we're getting closer. After seeing the callous disregard for human life and dignity that US corporations display at home, it became easier to understand global opposition to our "capitalist reforms." Now perhaps that makes me an ideological fanatic, but there's no pure and neutral position in these circumstances.
posted by gorbweaver at 7:32 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]



I would use the first Anglo-afghan war as a model here like Elphinstone.

.
posted by clavdivs at 8:04 AM on October 5, 2013


If North Vietnam had been defeated by the Americans and their allies, would the Americans have exterminated a large segment of the population in death camps?

a large segment of the population would have been exterminated in the course of that war for us to be able to declare victory - a large segment was exterminated in our defeat

If the anti-communist side had won the Vietnam war, would the outcome for Vietnam have been significantly different from South Korea (the obvious analogy, not Nazi Germany), or Singapore, or Malaysia, or Taiwan, or any of the other Asian capitalist success stories, several of whom are now in the top 20 nations globally for living standards?

i think a case could be made that the outcome may have been more like burma, or, at best, thailand - vietnam was nowhere as ready as s korea and taiwan were - and they would have had a 10 year head start

Doesn't the experience of other American "vassal states" give the lie to the propaganda line that America was simply trying to subjugate and exploit Vietnam as a colony?

like chile, panama, honduras, el salvador ...? - but no, i think our motives were even more misguided, as keeping vietnam as a "colony" wouldn't have been economically viable anyway

no, we were idealistically trying to save them from communism

the thing we didn't learn and still have yet to learn is that you CAN'T save people from communism (or the taliban or whatever)- they have to be willing to save themselves - they have to be willing to be as focused, uncorrupt and fanatical as their enemy

and the s vietnamese weren't - when we stopped doing the heavy lifting, they collapsed

---

The North Vietnamese routinely broke every single law of war

as did the south vietnamese - as did we - the phoenix program

the simple truth of the matter is there were no good guys in that war - there were people who had to be there and people who didn't have to be there

guess which catagory u s troops come under?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:06 AM on October 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Giap was a military genius. Also, he lived to be 102 years old.

He was a student of military history, albeit a self-taught one. Maybe that's why he was so effective. We were not so well-led as were the armies of Vietnam. In this analysis the government of the South, except for being a running dog for colonial powers, doesn't count. Among other things, however, the 1968 Tet offensive pretty much wiped out the NLF. The NLF contained the only elements that were critical of both the South Vietnamese and the Northern Communists. Some of them were in favor of reunification, while others wanted to establish a separate government in the south. Many of the Main Force officers and line troops were disaffected southerners, who had been persecuted by Saigon--that's to say, they were political refugees. They may not have ever successfully carried the revolution in the South, but then they never got that chance. The North was infiltrating the south with political cadre as well as line soldiers, but until Tet, it was the irregulars and Main Force VC that carried the battles. After Tet, the VC became ineffective as a political force, even though their several surviving Main Force units continued to fight.

The most important lesson imparted by Giap was patience: Never send General Westmoreland where you can send Colonel Sanders. Modern Vietnam illustrates this principle profusely.

We still have gotten it only half right.
posted by mule98J at 9:56 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Doesn't the experience of other American "vassal states" give the lie to the propaganda line that America was simply trying to subjugate and exploit Vietnam as a colony?

Let's ask the Hawaiians.


...a man who seized control of his country by murdering people by the hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to flee.

Who - Ho Chi Minh?
1954: Vietnam Temporarily Divided by Geneva Accords
The US opposes the unifying elections, fearing a likely victory by Ho Chi Minh, and refuses to sign the Geneva accords. “If the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win,L the CIA notes. [Kolko, 1985, pp. 84] And US President Dwight Eisenhower admits, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.”
Or are you speaking of Ngo Dinh Diem?
1955: Vietnamese Prime Minister Wins Referendum, More Votes Cast than There Are Voters
The US helps arrange a national referendum between Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. Diem “wins” 98.2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, a total of 605,000 votes are cast despite there being only 405,000 registered voters. [Herring, 1986, pp. 55]
Denying a people their right to self-determination may meet some definition of "idealism," but not mine.

The situation in Vietnam was much more complex than many people are are interested in learning, not least because of the religious divide. Diem and his ministers were mostly Catholics (as were most of the refugees from the North), in a country that was overwhelmingly Buddhist. There was also migration from the South to the North.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:03 AM on October 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


the simple truth of the matter is there were no good guys in that war - there were people who had to be there and people who didn't have to be there

guess which catagory u s troops come under?


I remember seeing that Mel Gibson movie (We Were Soldiers). It wasn't bad per say. Mel was playing a rather zealous commander (no stretch there). It was simply the story of one particularly nasty battle, and how the Americans didn't win it, so much as got out of it (by being heroic and all) without losing their entire force. Anyway, the thought hit me roughly halfway through, not served up by the movie's writers or anything (they were doing their all to keep politics out of it):

WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING THERE!?!?!?

That was the thought. And it remains my central thought concerning any discussion of America in Vietnam. It doesn't matter how bad the regime in the north were. It doesn't matter what Russia and China were or weren't up to? The fact is, America was there in force from around 1964-1972 and they shouldn't have been. And millions of people died because of it who wouldn't otherwise have died. It was a catastrophic blunder.

And the French shouldn't have been there either, and the Chinese before them, and so on all the way back to 111 BC. Which is how far back the foreign intrusions seem to go. The nation of Vietnam has been fighting for its right to determine itself for a very long time.

Now, history is history. You can't change what happened. But you can change what you draw from it. What I would hope that America draws from the Vietnam debacle (and Robert McNamara certainly did) is that you don't go messing around in another nation's business without doing your research first. And if you do go messing around and get yourself badly burned as a result, you don't get all vindictive with the fire, say things like, "Well, how dare that fire be so hot? How dare that fire be so destructive?"

For fucks sake, you stoked it.
posted by philip-random at 10:04 AM on October 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Denying a people their right to self-determination may meet some definition of "idealism," but not mine.

To be clear (which is damned difficult with Vietnam), the fundamental misread by America (maybe intentional, maybe just ignorant, likely a combination of the two) was that the Vietnam War was first and foremost a front in the worldwide battle to stave off Communism. There were indeed Stalinist elements in the North, but mostly what was going on, was a weary yet resilient nation was fighting a nationalist struggle using any means which came to hand.
posted by philip-random at 10:13 AM on October 5, 2013


Giap was a military genius.

Not at all. He just had more disregard for his own people than he had for the enemy.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


He just had more disregard for his own people than he had for the enemy.

were it as simple that, I doubt we'd be having this discussion now. World's biggest army takes on disparate forces of Asian backwater ... and loses simply because those darned Asians had leaders who didn't give a shit about how many people they lost in the process. I look forward to your essay where you hash all this out, particularly the part where you reconcile the Vietnamese strategy being a direct response to Westmoreland's war of attrition strategy (ie: we'll just keep killing magnitudes more of them than they'll kill of us and eventually we'll have them attrited all out).

As I've already suggested, the simple flaw in Westmoreland's attrition strategy (other than being inherently evil) was that the Vietnamese birthrate was triple the American kill rate, so short of going nuclear, the American military never had a chance under Westmoreland.
posted by philip-random at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


so short of going nuclear

Nixon White House Considered Nuclear Options Against North Vietnam, Declassified Documents Reveal
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: Not at all. He just had more disregard for his own people than he had for the enemy.

Your ideological blinders make you look quite stupid here; you can hate the North Vietnamese without trying to deny reality. Giap was strategically and tactically brilliant.
posted by tavella at 11:38 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by xqwzts at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2013


Giap was strategically and tactically brilliant.

If by "brilliant" you mean willing to let his own soldiers die in droves to achieve victory, I think there are a lot more "brilliant" generals out there that need honoring. The only difference is that most of these generals have civilian leaders that don't condone it.

And if you do go messing around and get yourself badly burned as a result, you don't get all vindictive with the fire, say things like, "Well, how dare that fire be so hot? How dare that fire be so destructive?"

You realize this thinking is what lets the world get burned in the first place, right? Man, how dare people have international humanitarian standards! Those other guys were asking for it, dont'cha know?
posted by corb at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2013


You realize this thinking is what lets the world get burned in the first place, right?

the world's always been burning - nowadays, we know more about it when it's happening - sometimes, we even manage to stop it from getting worse

that's a significant advance from the rest of history - including the last century

Man, how dare people have international humanitarian standards!

it's not having them that's the problem - it's enforcing them
posted by pyramid termite at 12:44 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


the world's always been burning

We didn't light it, tried to fight it, JFK Blown Away, what else do I have to say, etc etc
posted by MoonOrb at 12:45 PM on October 5, 2013


>Well from what I understand the government of South Vietnam wasn't really the mickey mouse club either. Not to mention Johnson and Nixon

I don't see how South Vietnamese corruption wipes out North Vietnamese sins. As to Johnson and Nixon, I did just say that America should not have been there.

Giap was strategically and tactically brilliant.

Another vote for "I disagree". A great general achieves his ends with an economy of means. To be impervious to the loss of your own men is foolish for a lot of reasons, and the only reason he could make it work is because he knew that America had a different take on that matter. (He would not have stood out, by the way, among the WWI generals on either side, and a sadder crew of military minds is hard to imagine.) A better general would have used the advantages he had far more efficiently, far more economically.

I take off big marks for U.S. Grant and Zhukov for the same reason. Neither they, nor Giap, "had" to fight that way.

it's not having them that's the problem - it's enforcing them

But! - Unintended consequences.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The citizenry of the United States had a significant say in how much longer that war was going to continue. I'm not sure the Vietnamese citizenry had that same level of influence with their national leadership. I guess you could say that was part of Giap's grand strategy, but the high cost of that strategy makes me question his actual level of "brilliance". He "brilliantly" participated in the death of millions? I sure hope that if the US had "won" that war, we would not refer to Westmoreland or McNamara as "brilliant".
posted by Brocktoon at 1:30 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there any example in the 20th century of a foreign invader successfully defeating a force of nationalist guerillas? If not, Giap's acheivement looks less impressive.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


IndigoJones, please weigh in as to how exactly Giap and the North Vietnamese could have beaten the strongest, best equipped army on the planet who were consciously fighting a war of attrition (ie: not identifying strategic geographic goals, just killing as many of the enemy as possible thus wearing them out) with other means.
posted by philip-random at 1:35 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


>I don't see how South Vietnamese corruption wipes out North Vietnamese sins.

Never said it did. Like most "military men" Giap was a monster.

>Your jingoistic narcissism aside, this isn't an FPP about American Empire and it isn't about criticizing American Empire

You are not a mod. You don't get to control what people can and can't comment about. Either way to claim that an fpp about a general who fought against two successive impositions of colonial/imperial power is not about or in any way related to said impositions is pretty rich...not to mention that it demonstrates some pretty massive ideological blinders.

this is however an FPP about a man who seized control of his country by murdering people by the hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to flee. He personally participated in Stalinist purges, filling quotas of ordinary people to kill and emptying the intellectual heart of Vietnam into his lust for power. Can we really not condemn him, or even just his brutal pointless pride and thirst for vengeance, as a global community because it is somehow more important for us all to parrot talking points specific to leftist America?

You're not very quick on the uptake, are you? If you reread the comment you were responding to you will notice that I used the term strawman implying that I am not making the argument that Giap is some type of saint beyond reproach. But instead of correctly parsing what I said you decided it would be a better use of your time to respond in a manner which makes you look foolish.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:05 PM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is there any example in the 20th century of a foreign invader successfully defeating a force of nationalist guerillas? If not, Giap's acheivement looks less impressive.

Except in cases where the nationalist guerrillas (if I'm understanding what you mean by that correctly) receive aid from other foreign powers like the American arms sent to the mujaheddin in Soviet Afghanistan and Chinese and Soviet aid sent to North Vietnam and North Korea, I think the invader nearly always won during the 20th century; I'm thinking of the American conquests post-Spanish-American-War like the Philippines, Russian Imperial expansion into Central Asia and the creation of the Soviet satellite states, or the German and Japanese conquests during and leading up to WWII, not to mention that European colonialism was still rolling along quite successfully a ways into the 20th century. One counterexample that occurs to me is the Bolshevik defeat of the Allied invasion of Russia following WWI, which was repelled without foreign assistance IIRC; although the invasion seems to me to have been a bit half-hearted.

(So, I'm not sure it speaks either way to Giap's impressiveness.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on October 5, 2013


>I don't see how South Vietnamese corruption wipes out North Vietnamese sins.

Wait are you claiming that the government of South Vietnam did not commit any war crimes?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


...a general who fought against two successive impositions of colonial/imperial power...

Three. He also organized the resistance against the Japanese in WW2.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:48 PM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't care how "great" a general this guy was for killing his own people. Fuck this guy. The North Vietnamese routinely broke every single law of war, it was impossible to be unaware.

"Law of war" is a conceit that nations indulge when they can afford to do so, and always gets thrown out the window then desperation is high enough. And all too often when situations are not all that desperate at all. It might have meaning for lawyers and survivors. It means nothing to someone unwilling to lose a war.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


He lived it, and wrote the best book of the last century on insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

You don't have play cheerleader for either side to recognize his contribution.
posted by graftole at 4:20 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love the smell of the laws of war being adhered to in the morning.
posted by XMLicious at 4:38 PM on October 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


The concepts of war is much younger than humankind, and I for one believe with Kant that one day humanity will abolish wars again.

Good for you and Kant. But 10,000 years on and there is still little to lead me to believe that wars will be abolished.
posted by notreally at 4:45 PM on October 5, 2013


.
posted by wrapper at 5:03 PM on October 5, 2013


IndigoJones, please weigh in as to how exactly Giap and the North Vietnamese could have beaten the strongest, best equipped army on the planet who were consciously fighting a war of attrition (ie: not identifying strategic geographic goals, just killing as many of the enemy as possible thus wearing them out) with other means.

If you can't achieve your goals without adhering to the laws of war and of humanity, you don't deserve to win.
posted by corb at 7:03 PM on October 5, 2013


If by "brilliant" you mean willing to let his own soldiers die in droves to achieve victory, I think there are a lot more "brilliant" generals out there that need honoring.

Um, when you are fighting a war of liberation, nobody says "oh, it would cost too many lives, let's just submit to slavery/genocide/subjugation". Hey, if you don't fight at all, you'll save even more lives - except those which would be lost through murder by the invader/occupier as freebies. That of course is not a serious position. You do what you need, to achieve victory. Sometimes - almost always - it takes a staggering toll in human lives. See Soviet Union in WWII.

If you can't achieve your goals without adhering to the laws of war and of humanity, you don't deserve to win.

So what should have the Soviets done? They didn't deserve to win against the Nazis? They should have submitted? To the Nazis who didn't "adhere to the laws of war and humanity"? Putting up a principle is all fine and dandy, but if it doesn't stand the test of reality, it's empty of meaning. We'd all love it if everyone adhered to "laws of war and humanity", but I can do you one better "wouldn't it be a great world if we abolished war"? That's even better, and just as realistic. Sometimes there are no heroes, only lesser (arguably) and greater monsters. Stalin vs Hitler. Who were allied at one point in attacking other countries (Baltic states, Poland). How lovely. But reality. Unbending reality. It's a poor principle that cannot accommodate exceptions. And this one has enough of them to drive a truck through. Including in the case of Vietnam.

Giap was a military genius.

Not at all. He just had more disregard for his own people than he had for the enemy.


Let's take morality out of it, for the sake of the argument. Let's stick strictly to strategy. You are dealt a hand. Those are your cards. You have strengths and weaknesses, as does your opponent. Giap faced - repeatedly - some of the greatest military powers of the era, and defeated them all. Japan in WWII, the French - including their vaunted and tested all over the world Foreign Legion - and the greatest military and economic power the world had ever known - the U.S.A.

What did he start with? From TFA:

"From a ragtag band of 34 men assembled in a forest in northern Vietnam in December 1944, Gen. Giap built the fighting unit that became the Vietnam People’s Army. At the beginning, its entire supply of weapons consisted of two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles and 14 flintlocks, some of them dating to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, said Cecil B. Currey, Gen. Giap’s biographer.

But the original 34 men took a solemn oath to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule, and they promised not to help or cooperate with colonial or any other foreign authorities.
"

I don't know in what world this is not a supremely impressive achievement, I don't know which world, but surely not this one, and in fact not any one in any galaxy where basic logic applies.

Giap had no hope of ever matching any of these opponents in conventional battles. It seems rather ludicrous to insist that your ragtag opponent attack only your strengths when they are at a severe disadvantage in those areas. "Don't have an air force? Sucks for you, I guess, you lose - but honorably! We'll tip our military hats over your grave, if we remember!" - it's all the same talk about "cowardly terrorists" we heard from GWB, just because, you know, Iraqi peasants didn't present themselves honorably with tanks and F18s on the battlefield so the Knights could salute each other before the battle, all honorably. Never mind that the "cowards" were willing to sacrifice their lives, versus the brave guys flying above - or maybe sitting thousands of miles away in a bunker controlling drones.

Asymmetrical warfare is not a "lesser" strategy, or a sign of impaired mental faculties or feeble mindedness or low IQ. It is as fundamental as any law in game theory. Whether chess or a battlefield, you attack your opponents weak points, you don't charge at his strength. Assaulting tanks with cavalry is not a sign of high strategic IQ.

Let's go to the granddaddy of this, Mao. It's an amazing story, in this context, precisely because it conclusively arbitrates between these strategies. Back when Mao was fighting the Nationalists, initially he was not in control of the military operations - instead, the Communist forces were advised by Soviet military advisors, who insisted on conventional battles against the Nationalists, massed formations etc., all conventional stuff. The Communists were losing - very, very badly. Mao watched, and learned, and thought. And when he took over, he devised a strategy that was the quintessential asymmetrical guerilla campaign. He beat the Nationalists, and he beat the Japanese. He wrote the book - from which Giap learned, and learned well. Both strategies were tried, in nature, and one was a brilliant success and the other a dismal failure. This is not even controversial - this is studied in military academies all over the world. Nobody that I ever heard of who knows the first thing about this, ever called it anything but brilliant - because it was so good at correctly assessing strengths and weaknesses, and then devising a winning strategy.

That's what Mao did, and that's what Giap did. And that's what Zhukov did before either of them... and for that matter, writ larger, that's what every victorious military leader ever, did - correctly assessed the situation and devised a strategy that worked.

So he used a lot of people and a lot of lives. As did Mao, and Zhukov. Ruthless? Yes. But if you wanted victory, it was also necessary. From a purely strategic point of view, there can be no doubt, that it was the correct strategy. If the enemy has superior weaponry, you don't try to match weapon for weapon, you hit his supply lines (Zhukov against the Nazis) which are overstretched (a weakness), and you compensate with numbers... because it is the only path to your victory.

It would be a bad strategist who would arbitrarily say "I could overwhelm with numbers and achieve victory, but I don't want to pay the high price of extremely high casualties of my soldiers, so I won't". And when the Nazis win, don't worry, they'll murder your soldiers anyway and your population in concentration camps and prisoners of war camps (which were the most brutal the world had ever known in the case of Nazis holding Soviet prisoners of war - basically designed to exterminate, all also against "laws of war and humanity"). So congrats, not only did you manage not to win, you managed to get all your men - and more - murdered anyway.

A great general achieves his ends with an economy of means. To be impervious to the loss of your own men is foolish for a lot of reasons [...]

These were economic means - economic in weaponry (which he had little of) and economic in manpower (which he had a lot of) - it was the most economic way of getting to victory. It would not have been economic to spare his men and lose the war. It would have been bad strategically. He was not "impervious" - he used what he had. If you have a ton of pawns on the chessboard, and no bishops, you are going to use the pawns and spare your bishops - it's basic logic.

the only reason he could make it work is because he knew that America had a different take on that matter.

That's all he needed. And he was correct in his assessment, right? A good general is correct in his assessments of his opponent and plays to strengths and weaknesses accordingly. That makes Giap smart, not stupid. Unless he wanted to lose, in which case you got a point.

He would not have stood out, by the way, among the WWI generals on either side, and a sadder crew of military minds is hard to imagine.

This is silly. You are taking his actions in this war and applying it in an entirely different war. Giap's strategic ability was not down to his ability to throw men at the situation. That's at the basis of your misunderstanding. His strategic ability was in being able to correctly assess the situation and apply forces to the opponent's weaknesses. Therefore, the exact opposite is true of this: he would in fact stand out - MASSIVELY - among the generals of WWI. How do we know this? Because we had that exact situation tested by real life - Mao, who UNLIKE his Soviet advisors (trained in WWI conventional warfare doctrine) stood away from WWI general's dogma and found a winning strategy. You know, Mao - the guy whose doctrines Giap studied. This is a perfect encapsulation of how someone can get things spectacularly 180 degrees wrong-way-Corrigan wrong.

A better general would have used the advantages he had far more efficiently, far more economically.

This is a completely unfounded, unsupported and empty claim. How do we know this? What magic was this magical general going to use, which would not have involved playing to his strength - willingness to take massive casualties to offset the enemy's advantages?

I take off big marks for U.S. Grant and Zhukov for the same reason. Neither they, nor Giap, "had" to fight that way.

I have not studied the Civil War in any detail, so I won't speak to Grant's abilities (and I suppose Sherman's - which also involved massively painful and at the time unconventional attacks against unorthodox targets). I have read a ton about Zhukov, and I can tell you, you are pretty much alone in your assessment of Zhukov's genius, and any - even cursory - examination of the record would show Zhukov to have been one of the most gifted and accomplished generals in history. There are no grounds - none - for claiming that there were somehow massive efficiencies which he overlooked in his simplistic strategies. He - and Giap - had to deal with realities such as they were, with supply lines such as they were, with industrial capacity such as it was, with transportation such as it was, with an enemy who had a very specific profile. I am unaware of anyone who has uncovered such inefficiency in these generals conduct of their wars. So unless you mean some kind of hindsight-driven minor efficiencies at the margin, I'm afraid your assertion is devoid of any support anywhere that I'm aware of.

I am not expressing any opinion about Giap's morality, the morality of the system he served, or alternative histories of what may have been - that's too big a discussion for me at the moment. I do however want to register the commonsensical assessment, about which there is not much dispute among serious students of war - Giap was quite a brilliant strategist and military leader.
posted by VikingSword at 8:33 PM on October 5, 2013 [19 favorites]


If you can't achieve your goals without adhering to the laws of war and of humanity, you don't deserve to win.

What VikingSword just said, plus maybe nobody deserves to win a war, deserve being an awfully loaded word, suggesting some kind of moral certitude, war generally being an abject failure of morality ... maybe not by both sides going in, but usually by both sides before the thing is done.
posted by philip-random at 9:08 PM on October 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you can't achieve your goals without adhering to the laws of war and of humanity, you don't deserve to win.

Well, gosh, in that case, if the US *had* won the war, it wouldn't have *deserved* to, either.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:47 PM on October 5, 2013


If you can't achieve your goals without adhering to the laws of war and of humanity, you don't deserve to win.

Whoops, there goes "shock & awe".
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:02 PM on October 5, 2013


I tell ya, some Americans are seriously deluded about how nice and fair-playing their boys are when they go off to war. Infantile nationalistic thinking. Shockingly naive.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:50 AM on October 6, 2013


corb is a former member of the U.S. military herself, IIRC.
posted by XMLicious at 1:49 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson, thanks for the correction. Of course I meant PAVN. I shouldn't post tired.

Again, I'm astonished at the open wound that is Vietnam. I can only assume those who wish to deny Giap his due as a strategist have not looked at any of his battles in detail, and still wish to find a moral reason to deny the Vietnamese self-determination, fifty years on. For God's sake, it's done. Let it go. Even this lambasting of his ideological participation in the Viet Minh tyranny finds time to praise his capabilities as a general. There's no question the revolutionary government dispensed with most of the niceties enjoyed by citizens of great and settled powers. It's no excuse, either, but I don't think history is done in Vietnam. The generation of the wars is now passing, and Vietnam is a very demographically young country.
posted by dhartung at 3:24 AM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


corb is a former member of the U.S. military herself, IIRC.

You are correct, and it would absolutely be an error to think that I don't hold the US to the same standard. I have no illusions about what we do. There are wars we did not deserve to win either. But this idea that the US is so evil that anything anyone else does against them is righteous and deserved is seriously, seriously flawed, and leads to some awful, awful things.

The other thing that might be interesting to note is that the US, up until very very recently, did not themselves torture. What they would do is allow their allies to torture, and either turn a blind eye or pat them on the back and say "You're our boy" and advise them about efficacy. This was certainly initially the case in Iraq - where prisoners turned over to the IPs would be tortured, but the US soldiers themselves would not do so. It was also the case in South Vietnam, as cited above.

There's an interesting fine line on sovereignty and paternalism and torture that I think really needs exploring - where do you hold that line as an ally? And how often is the distance given on torture where it isn't given on sovereignty of laws or alliances?

I know those questions may not be as fun as "har har US military har" but I think they're certainly more interesting.
posted by corb at 5:43 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


What they would do is allow their allies to torture, and either turn a blind eye or pat them on the back and say "You're our boy" and advise them about efficacy.

True, true.

Until 2000, the US Army School of the Americas, Fort Benning, Ga, specialised in, among other stuff, teaching members of the military from Central and South America how to torture. SOA then transitioned to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Apparently, WHINSEC took out some of the most egregious stuff in its training manuals....
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:01 AM on October 6, 2013


I just want to say to VikingSword, that's one of the best point-by-point rebuttals I've ever seen on this site. Wow!
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:26 AM on October 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


The reason I bring up whether other nationalist guerillas did equally well is because I think that seriously affects evaluation of Giap. If every other guerilla force in his position (fighting a foreign invader, well-supplied by other powers) did equally well, then Giap just did what everyone else did with a lot more loss of life and torture.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Giap's willingness to sacrifice his own people? I can't figure out how our willingness to kill them gets repackaged as his willingness to sacrifice them. Our initial thrust was to kill them until they quit. (I bet I could write a thousand words off the top of my head why this juvenile idea is not a good theory on which to base a war.)

Anyhow, about Giap: Let me try a simple inversion: We Live Here. Okay, now say that in Vietnamese.

Tactically, the war was fought under general guidelines offered by a central commitee. I offer Le Duan's "Letters to the South" as an example of the Vietnamese overview of the war. You may notice a chilling forecast of the estimated cost to America ([we] will have to kill about 38,000 [Americans], and [ it will take us] about ten years.) LeDuan also notice in his missive that the Vietnamese will sacrifice many people in order to prevail. You may not share their fervor for independence from colonial occupation by white people, but if you remember that they lived there, then their perspective may be easier to understand.

All tactics and strategies in most conflicts (when the shooting starts) are a combination of scholarship and inspiration. Individual commanders were given quite a bit of leeway within their areas of responsibility, but their units were shifted from one place to another according to orders from the North. If you compare the plotbones in that war: our shifting strategic visions with their overall plans, you can see that they (our strategy and theirs) didn't dovetail. As the war progressed, they shifted their emphasis along lines that were thought out in advance, and we made it up as we went along. Their underpinning was survival, ours was domination. Put simply, we weren't fighting the same war that North Vietnam was fighting.

Also, the notion of South Vietnam as a separate nation is the thinnest of fictions that had barely been suggested during the mid-fifties, when the national objective (if there is one to be seen) was simply to remove the French, a tenet that turned out to be the carrot offered by the West. The stick, of course, was our commitment elsewhere, especially in Europe, and France's reluctance to withdraw from both Vietnam and Algeria.

Le Duan's missive gives a clear picture of the Vietnamese strategy. The cold equations in Le Duan's analysis make it clear that the Vietnamese, from the top down, understood that they would sacrifice in order to win. It also made it clear what they believed they needed to do to the Americans if they were to prevail.

I beg you to try to find a similar response from the Americans. Or from Vietnamese leaders in the south. You won't find one because none of the Vietnamese visionaries survived the various, US-approved, Saigon regimes. They were either assassinated or driven into the countryside. You won't find one from the Americans because our policy there had little to do with Vietnam, except as a Cold War tool. "Kill them until they quit" doesn't quite cover the ground. The South was a morass of conflicts. The Saigon Vietnamese were a mere faction, and ruled only with US support. Indeed, most of their policies concerning the war were dictated by US needs. They fought a desperate holding action, under siege from a population that was mostly indifferent or actively hostile. The now forgotten NLF was the only organ in the South that could be said to resist the North's aim for unification, and even they were divided about this particular issue. They were heavily subsidized by the North, but until about 1968, they still held to their own agenda, which wasn't necessarily coordinated with Communist rule from the North.

Tactically, the plotbones of the conflict were fairly simple, but they were a logistical nightmare. Fire and maneuver, and distraction are the basics of any war. Feeding your troops, and moving them around are the issues that bring out the genius in any commander. The shooting part is generally straightforward. The communists did both parts quite well, especially the parts regarding troop movement and resupply. We did it with Liberty ships and aircraft, and trucks in endless convoys. They did it with backpacks and bicycles. The active ingredient in any asymmetrical war is the political one. In order to prosecute a war you need a civilian population that supports it. In this they excelled, and we were clueless. We failed, not only to motivate the populations in the south, but to convinced our own people, that winning this war was worth the price.

It's easy enough to rise above the din of the battlefield and make generalizations about who has the right to kill whom, and how, and where. I claim that the bones of warfare transcend morality, because someone is always taking the low-ground in that respect. Maybe both parties in a conflict are just being assholes. Anyhow, genius can be evil. Fine. But choosing which side of the line on which you stand mostly depends on which dog you have in the fight.

Anyhow, I say Giap was brilliant. If I concede the point that he wasn't a genius on his on merit, I would have to insist that he was a genius compared to us.

Either way.
posted by mule98J at 9:53 AM on October 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


I beg you to try to find a similar response from the Americans. Or from Vietnamese leaders in the south. You won't find one because none of the Vietnamese visionaries survived the various, US-approved, Saigon regimes. They were either assassinated or driven into the countryside. You won't find one from the Americans because our policy there had little to do with Vietnam, except as a Cold War tool.

The one American exception that comes to mind is John Paul Vann who spent a solid ten years in Vietnam (both in the military and out of it). If I could recommend only one book to Americans wanting to know more about what went so horribly wrong in Vietnam, it's Neil Sheehan's biography of Vann, A Bright Shining Lie.

From the back cover:

When he came to Vietnam in 1962, Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann was the one clear-sighted participant in an enterprise riddled with arrogance and self-deception, a charismatic soldier who put his life and career on the line in an attempt to convince his superiors that the war should be fought another way. By the time he died in 1972, Vann had embraced the follies he once decried. He died believing the war had been won.

Brilliant stuff.
posted by philip-random at 10:52 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Giap was one of the first guerrilla generals to defeat the army of (what at least once was) a Great Power -- his countrymen's George Washington.

Perhaps someone caught this but the George Washington thing is attributed to Ho not Giap. And this was encouraged by the U.S. State department, those Dulles'.

I would have to say brilliant like Pontiac was brilliant. But he made mistakes, usually small some big. Interesting was the 77' border clashes with Cambodia. When Vietnam invaded, Giap made the mistake of not sending enough men into Cambodia. Giap had to send an additional 58,000 troops in before withdrawing in Dec. 78' but he learned and sent in 120K, with armor and took Phenom Pehn in 17 days, that is brilliant.

The other thing that might be interesting to note is that the US, up until very very recently, did not themselves torture.

Ever hear of the phoenix program? (and no they did not use all ARVN and SV spooks to "interrogate" people)
posted by clavdivs at 11:59 AM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Concerning Giap's education:
He attended Whampoa Military Academy in China. Along with Ho Chi Minh and a number of other Vietnamese Communists.
link


Whampoa was a weird institution. Started by Sun Zhongshan to be the Republic of China military academy, it had Soviet instructors, and featured Chiang Kai Shek as the commandant.
posted by wuwei at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2013


That's great and all, but under his command 58,000 Americans died....and it cost him almost 2.5 million of his men.

A Pyrrhic victory is a loss for everything except one's ego.


You're falling into the trap that so many fell into while this war was going on - judging victory by the number of people (soldiers, in the case of the 60s and 70s media) who died on each side. We do the same thing now; but the victory was the expulsion of foreign powers from Vietnam. To a certain degree and to certain people (GEN Giap obviously being one of them), that outcome was worth the death of all but enough people to remake the country. Speaking as an American, I'll ask this hypothetical: if another country invaded the United States, how many deaths would be too many to try to kick them out? I'd argue we'd fight to the last man, woman and child, and while we'd mourn those deaths, if there were enough of us left over to rebuild, we'd consider it - well, not worth it, exactly, but worthwhile. Necessary. Military victory is a much bigger thing than how many people died; victory is counted by the achievement of the stated goal. By that definition, Vietnam "won" the war regardless of the 2.5 million estimated deaths. It is up to each of us individually to determine whether or not we are comfortable with that definition, and what it is we'd be willing to die for.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


a large segment of the population would have been exterminated in the course of that war for us to be able to declare victory

I disagree. Any strategy that would have led to "victory" (even if that victory just meant that South Vietnam did not fall to communism) would likely have entailed far fewer deaths than the strategy that was pursued. Killing lots of people was more likely to deliver victory to the communists and in fact it did.

- a large segment was exterminated in our defeat

Bugging out and throwing South Vietnam to the wolves was certainly a shitty thing to do, but it still doesn't make America in any way equivalent to Nazi Germany, which was the original point.

i think a case could be made that the outcome may have been more like burma, or, at best, thailand - vietnam was nowhere as ready as s korea and taiwan were - and they would have had a 10 year head start

I think you underestimate just how poor South Korea was in the early 1960s. They were roughly at the level of the poorest Sub-Saharan African nations. If South Vietnam had been permitted to survive it could have been another Singapore, or Taiwan, or South Korea. Instead it became just another one-party-state communist state with next to no basic human rights. Too bad really.

like chile, panama, honduras, el salvador ...? - but no, i think our motives were even more misguided, as keeping vietnam as a "colony" wouldn't have been economically viable anyway

no, we were idealistically trying to save them from communism


The more similar case is South Korea, not any of those South American examples from further afield, where the Monroe Doctrine comes into play. But I agree, the war was about opposing Communism and not feeding the military industrial complex or neo-colonial exploitation or whatever. I don't see how this is more "misguided" than naked economic interest or imperial conquest, it's a much more laudable motive.

the thing we didn't learn and still have yet to learn is that you CAN'T save people from communism (or the taliban or whatever)- they have to be willing to save themselves - they have to be willing to be as focused, uncorrupt and fanatical as their enemy

and the s vietnamese weren't - when we stopped doing the heavy lifting, they collapsed


The ARVN fielded several times as many soldiers and took about 5 times as many KIA as the US military, so it's hard to say they weren't committed to the fight or were just a made-up army created by the American occupiers. They were certainly doing the "heavy lifting" in terms of fighting and dying. They were soon overrun once US assistance was removed, but so what? If it wasn't for US/UN intervention in South Korea the North would have been victorious there too. And Kim Il Sung was a veteran anti-colonialist fighting foreign invaders in his own country too, so he must have been in the right... right?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 5:23 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


But I agree, the war was about opposing Communism and not feeding the military industrial complex or neo-colonial exploitation or whatever.

I'll take you one further. It was about opposing Communism and feeding the military industrial complex and neo-colonial exploitation and a whole complex pile of cynical and incompetent and virtuous whatever, including a pile of corruption in the South. Which isn't to say the the South were horrible people, but it does say that throwing money at a complex socio-political situation tends to draw the worst kind of flies.

The worst conclusion we can draw from America's involvement in Vietnam is that it was above all laudable. It wasn't. Again, I can't recommend Bright Shining Lie enough in this regard. Because that guy was pushing for the laudable and virtuous stuff and the powers that be just wanted him to go away.
posted by philip-random at 9:03 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


John McCain has written a very touching eulogy
posted by Blasdelb at 11:16 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


from that eulogy:

The U.S. never lost a battle against North Vietnam, but it lost the war. Countries, not just their armies, win wars. Giap understood that. We didn't. Americans tired of the dying and the killing before the Vietnamese did. It's hard to defend the morality of the strategy. But you can't deny its success.
posted by philip-random at 11:36 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any strategy that would have led to "victory" (even if that victory just meant that South Vietnam did not fall to communism) would likely have entailed far fewer deaths than the strategy that was pursued.

given the actual casualties of the actual battles, i don't see how you can say that - and the only victory possible was the utter defeat of the communist forces - otherwise, the fighting would have continued

But I agree, the war was about opposing Communism and not feeding the military industrial complex or neo-colonial exploitation or whatever. I don't see how this is more "misguided" than naked economic interest or imperial conquest, it's a much more laudable motive.

it's misguided if you lose - we lost

The ARVN fielded several times as many soldiers and took about 5 times as many KIA as the US military, so it's hard to say they weren't committed to the fight or were just a made-up army created by the American occupiers. They were certainly doing the "heavy lifting" in terms of fighting and dying.

the "body count" mentality, again - where did that get us in vietnam? - nowhere - and in any case at the end of the war, the AVRN disintegrated and lost - why? - they were no longer committed to the fight, in spite of still possessing enough material to fight it with

they weren't willing to do it without us

and countrerfactuals aren't history
posted by pyramid termite at 4:57 PM on October 8, 2013


it's misguided if you lose - we lost

So if the Allies had lost to the Nazi's, fighting the Nazi's would have been misguided?
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:24 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if the Allies had lost to the Nazi's, fighting the Nazi's would have been misguided?

Tough question. The fight against the grocer's apostrophe, however, is a well-advised effort, always. ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:34 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The ARVN fielded several times as many soldiers and took about 5 times as many KIA as the US military, so it's hard to say they weren't committed to the fight or were just a made-up army created by the American occupiers.

No, it's actually easy to say those things, because they are largely true.
Both North and South Vietnam also conscripted troops. Revolutionary nationalist ideology was quite strong in the north, and the DRV was able to create an army with well-disciplined, highly motivated troops. It became the fourth-largest army in the world and one of the most experienced. South Vietnam also drafted soldiers, beginning in 1955 when the ARVN was created. Most ARVN conscripts, however, had little personal motivation to fight other than a paycheck. In 1965, 113,000 deserted from the ARVN; by 1972, 20,000 per month were slipping away from the war.
When I was there, it was common knowledge that ARVN would shrink from combat when they could. This was a rational outlook for them to take; why would mostly-poor and mostly-Buddhist conscripts feel committed to risking their lives to support a mostly-rich and mostly-Catholic regime created out of American ideological fears?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:08 AM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


So if the Allies had lost to the Nazi's, fighting the Nazi's would have been misguided?

The difference is that the Nazis were the aggressor. In the case of Vietnam we were the aggressor. Context matters. When discussing the history of American military interventions context is usually the first casualty. Not to mention basic humanity and reason. How can people still believe that we were there for noble reasons? Noble folk don't destroy villages in order to save them. They also don't use chemical weapons in an effort to destroy crops and food supply. Last time I checked that violated the Geneva conventions. So we were the aggressor nation who was not above using war crimes to try and win. Not so noble as were were led to believe.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:05 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


A Pyrrhic victory is a loss for everything except one's ego.

In what way was it Pyrrhic? Just because many lives were lost doesn't mean it wasn't worth it. For many people, it was a choice between dying in poverty and oppression or dying for a chance at something better. There are houses all over Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh's picture hanging in them.

The stories my dad tells about his childhood are ones of leisure and privilege. The ones my mom tells are of heartbreaking poverty and struggle. Of siblings crippled or dead for want of money. Of her mother forced to become a rich man's mistress in order to eat. Of being sent to work on a farm at 12 and never being able to finish school. You endure that for a few generations and decide what you'd be willing to do to break free.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:46 AM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


it's misguided if you lose - we lost

So if the Allies had lost to the Nazis, fighting the Nazis would have been misguided?

The difference is that the Nazis were the aggressor.


It seemed like an absolute statement. I didn't realize it only applied to USians. My bad. Is the opposite true as well? If the US wins a war, can we say it was certainly not misguided?
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:10 AM on October 9, 2013


A critical point is whether the war is waged in defense of his country from foreign colonizers/invaders/occupiers (whatever you want to call them). When you're on your own soil defending your nation from foreigners, it's virtually presumed that a sort of win-whatever-the-cost type of war is acceptable, given the alternative. When you're the foreign power, it's less clear: maybe it's worth it (WWII, right?), maybe it's not. So it may or may not be true to say that "if the US wins a war [we can] say it was certainly not misguided."
posted by MoonOrb at 10:50 AM on October 9, 2013


So if the Allies had lost to the Nazis, fighting the Nazis would have been misguided?

it's a good Godwin though. It gets you thinking through your premises. For me, it's as simple as A. who is the aggressor? and B. what happens when you turn it around? If the Nazis had won WW2, they'd be able to argue that there was nothing misguided in their aggressions. Because that's what victors always do. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure the average Englishman (or woman) would still argue that they were worthy victors at the Battle of Agincourt, without really bothering to get into what the hell an English army was doing in France in the first place.
posted by philip-random at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2013


So if the Allies had lost to the Nazis, fighting the Nazis would have been misguided?


Maybe not ALL wars, but when it comes to World Wars, history is always written by the victors.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:05 PM on October 9, 2013


I didn't realize it only applied to USians.

Reading fail.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:15 AM on October 10, 2013


For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vo Nguyen Giap is great hero
posted by Alexsandra at 7:58 AM on October 18, 2013


« Older Pass the Garum is a cooking blog focused on the re...   |   Pentatonix does an a capella c... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments