Monday, May 02, 2005

30 Years On

Following up on my earlier post about the absence of commentary on the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the NYT yesterday published an op-ed by Stephen Morris. The title pretty much sums up Morris's argument--"The War We Could Have Won." Morris is right that the war fought after 1968 was a very different one from that fought before 1968, and that from 1968 to 1972 the U.S. did a much more effective job. Nonetheless, I'm skeptical that even with greater levels of U.S. support in the form of airstrikes and military aid, the South Vietnamese could have prevailed in 1975. First, U.S. public and elite opinion had so soured on the war that by 1975 there was little chance of greater aid and no chance of airstrikes. Second, in his excellent book, Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War, James Willbanks argues that the South Vietnamese suffered from serious weaknesses that limited its ability to resist the North Vietnamese invasion even had the U.S. provided more assistance. First and foremost was the poor leadership of the South Vietnamese military, from President Thieu on down to most senior commanders. And lest you think that Willbanks is some lefty who wants to rationalize away our defeat, he's a Vietnam vet with over two decades of service and currently on the staff of the U.S. Army Command College at Ft. Leavenworth. For anyone interested in understanding the latter stages of the Vietnam War, his book is essential reading.

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