The War That Never Ends (for the U.S. Military High Command)

A preoccupation with the “win-ability” of the Vietnam War has persisted among U.S. military commanders who doggedly pursue the War on Terror, despite all indications of the disastrous reality of both conflicts, writes U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen for TomDispatch. 

By Danny Sjursen

Vietnam: it’s always there. Looming in the past, informing American futures.

A 50-year-old war, once labeled the longest in our history, is still alive and well and still being refought by one group of Americans: the military high command.  And almost half a century later, they’re still losing it and blaming others for doing so.

Coffins of dead U.S. soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in 2006. (U.S. government photo)

Of course, the U.S. military and Washington policymakers lost the war in Vietnam in the previous century and perhaps it’s well that they did.  The United States really had no business intervening in that anti-colonial civil war in the first place, supporting a South Vietnamese government of questionable legitimacy, and stifling promised nationwide elections on both sides of that country’s artificial border.  In doing so, Washington presented an easy villain for a North Vietnamese-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency, a group known to Americans in those years as the Vietcong.

More than two decades of involvement and, at the war’s peak, half a million American troops never altered the basic weakness of the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon.  Despite millions of Asian deaths and 58,000 American ones, South Vietnam’s military could not, in the end, hold the line without American support and finally collapsed under the weight of a conventional North Vietnamese invasion in April 1975.

There’s just one thing.  Though a majority of historians (known in academia as the “orthodox” school) subscribe to the basic contours of the above narrative, the vast majority of senior American military officers do not.  Instead, they’re still refighting the Vietnam War to a far cheerier outcome through the books they read, the scholarship they publish, and (most disturbingly) the policies they continue to pursue in the Greater Middle East.

The Big Re-Write

In 1986, future general, Iraq-Afghan War commander, and CIA director David Petraeus penned an article for the military journal Parameters that summarized his Princeton doctoral dissertation on the Vietnam War.  It was a piece commensurate with then-Major Petraeus’s impressive intellect, except for its disastrous conclusions on the lessons of that war.  Though he did observe that Vietnam had “cost the military dearly” and that “the frustrations of Vietnam are deeply etched in the minds of those who lead the services,” his real fear was that the war had left the military unprepared to wage what were then called “low-intensity conflicts” and are now known as counterinsurgencies.  His takeaway: what the country needed wasn’t less Vietnams but better-fought ones.  The next time, he concluded fatefully, the military should do a far better job of implementing counterinsurgency forces, equipment, tactics, and doctrine to win such wars.

Two decades later, when the next Vietnam-like quagmire did indeed present itself in Iraq, he and a whole generation of COINdinistas (like-minded officers devoted to his favored counterinsurgency approach to modern warfare) embraced those very conclusions to win the war on terror.  The names of some of them — H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, for instance — should ring a bell or two these days. In Iraq and later in Afghanistan, Petraeus and his acolytes would get their chance to translate theory into practice.  Americans — and much of the rest of the planet — still live with the results.

Like Petraeus, an entire generation of senior military leaders, commissioned in the years after the Vietnam War and now atop the defense behemoth, remain fixated on that ancient conflict.  After all these decades, such “thinking” generals and “soldier-scholars” continue to draw all the wrong lessons from what, thanks in part to them, has now become America’s second longest war.

Rival Schools

Historian Gary Hess identifies two main schools of revisionist thinking.  There are the “Clausewitzians” (named after the nineteenth century Prussian military theorist) who insist that Washington never sufficiently attacked the enemy’s true center of gravity in North Vietnam.  Beneath the academic language, they essentially agree on one key thing: the U.S. military should have bombed the North into a parking lot.

The second school, including Petraeus, Hess labeled the “hearts-and-minders.”  As COINdinistas, they felt the war effort never focused clearly enough on isolating the Vietcong, protecting local villages in the South, building schools, and handing out candy — everything, in short, that might have won (in the phrase of that era) Vietnamese hearts and minds.

Both schools, however, agreed on something basic: that the U.S. military should have won in Vietnam.

The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century.  Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington.  The result has been an ever-expanding war on terror campaign waged ceaselessly from South Asia to West Africa, which has essentially turned out to be perpetual war based on the can-do belief that counterinsurgency and advise-and-assist missions should have worked in Vietnam and can work now.

The Go-Big Option

The leading voice of the Clausewitzian school was U.S. Army Colonel and Korean War/Vietnam War vet Harry Summers, whose 1982 book, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, became an instant classic within the military.  It’s easy enough to understand why.  Summers argued that civilian policymakers — not the military rank-and-file — had lost the war by focusing hopelessly on the insurgency in South Vietnam rather than on the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.  More troops, more aggressiveness, even full-scale invasions of communist safe havens in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, would have led to victory.

Summers had a deep emotional investment in his topic. Later, he would argue that the source of post-war pessimistic analyses of the conflict lay in “draft dodgers and war evaders still [struggling] with their consciences.”  In his own work, Summers marginalized all Vietnamese actors (as would so many later military historians), failed to adequately deal with the potential consequences, nuclear or otherwise, of the sorts of escalation he advocated, and didn’t even bother to ask whether Vietnam was a core national security interest of the United States.

Perhaps he would have done well to reconsider a famous post-war encounter he had with a North Vietnamese officer, a Colonel Tu, whom he assured that “you know you never beat us on the battlefield.”

“That may be so,” replied his former enemy, “but it is also irrelevant.”

Whatever its limitations, his work remains influential in military circles to this day. (I was assigned the book as a West Point cadet!)

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

A more sophisticated Clausewitzian analysis came from current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in a highly acclaimed 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty.  He argued that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were derelict in failing to give President Lyndon Johnson an honest appraisal of what it would take to win, which meant that “the nation went to war without the benefit of effective military advice.”  He concluded that the war was lost not in the field or by the media or even on antiwar college campuses, but in Washington, D.C., through a failure of nerve by the Pentagon’s generals, which led civilian officials to opt for a deficient strategy.

McMaster is a genuine scholar and a gifted writer, but he still suggested that the Joint Chiefs should have advocated for a more aggressive offensive strategy — a full ground invasion of the North or unrelenting carpet-bombing of that country.  In this sense, he was just another “go-big” Clausewitzian who, as historian Ronald Spector pointed out recently, ignored Vietnamese views and failed to acknowledge — an observation of historian Edward Miller — that “the Vietnam War was a Vietnamese war.”

COIN: A Small (Forever) War

Another Vietnam veteran, retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Krepinevich, fired the opening salvo for the hearts-and-minders.  In The Army and Vietnam, published in 1986, he argued that the NLF, not the North Vietnamese Army, was the enemy’s chief center of gravity and that the American military’s failure to emphasize counterinsurgency principles over conventional concepts of war sealed its fate.  While such arguments were, in reality, no more impressive than those of the Clausewitzians, they have remained popular with military audiences, as historian Dale Andrade points out, because they offer a “simple explanation for the defeat in Vietnam.”

Krepinevich would write an influential 2005 Foreign Affairs piece, “How to Win in Iraq,” in which he applied his Vietnam conclusions to a new strategy of prolonged counterinsurgency in the Middle East, quickly winning over the New York Times’s resident conservative columnist, David Brooks, and generating “discussion in the Pentagon, CIA, American Embassy in Baghdad, and the office of the vice president.”

In 1999, retired army officer and Vietnam veteran Lewis Sorley penned the definitive hearts-and-minds tract, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam.  Sorley boldly asserted that, by the spring of 1970, “the fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won.”  According to his comforting tale, the real explanation for failure lay with the “big-war” strategy of U.S. commander General William Westmoreland. The counterinsurgency strategy of his successor, General Creighton Abrams — Sorley’s knight in shining armor — was (or at least should have been) a war winner.

Critics noted that Sorley overemphasized the marginal differences between the two generals’ strategies and produced a remarkably counterfactual work.  It didn’t matter, however.  By 2005, just as the situation in Iraq, a country then locked in a sectarian civil war amid an American occupation, went from bad to worse, Sorley’s book found its way into the hands of the head of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, and State Department counselor Philip Zelikow.

By then, according to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, it could also “be found on the bookshelves of senior military officers in Baghdad.”

Another influential hearts-and-minds devotee was Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl.  (He even made it onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.) His Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam followed Krepinevich in claiming that “if [Creighton] Abrams had gotten the call to lead the American effort at the start of the war, America might very well have won it.”  In 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported that Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker “so liked [Nagl’s] book that he made it required reading for all four-star generals,” while the Iraq War commander of that moment, General George Casey, gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a copy during a visit to Baghdad.

David Petraeus and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, co-authors in 2006 of FM 3-24, the first (New York Times-reviewed) military field manual for counterinsurgency since Vietnam, must also be considered among the pantheon of hearts-and-minders.  Nagl wrote a foreword for their manual, while Krepinevich provided a glowing back-cover endorsement.

Such revisionist interpretations would prove tragic in Iraq and Afghanistan, once they had filtered down to the entire officer corps.

Reading All the Wrong Books

In 2009, when former West Point history professor Colonel Gregory Daddis was deployed to Iraq as the command historian for the Multinational Corps — the military’s primary tactical headquarters — he noted that corps commander Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby had assigned a professional reading list to his principal subordinates.  To his disappointment, Daddis also discovered that the only Vietnam War book included was Sorley’s A Better War.  This should have surprised no one, since his argument — that American soldiers in Vietnam were denied an impending victory by civilian policymakers, a liberal media, and antiwar protestors — was still resonant among the officer corps in year six of the Iraq quagmire.  It wasn’t the military’s fault!

Officers have long distributed professional reading lists for subordinates, intellectual guideposts to the complex challenges ahead.  Indeed, there’s much to be admired in the concept, but also potential dangers in such lists as they inevitably influence the thinking of an entire generation of future leaders.  In the case of Vietnam, the perils are obvious.  The generals have been assigning and reading problematic books for years, works that were essentially meant to reinforce professional pride in the midst of a series of unsuccessful and unending wars.

Just after 9/11, for instance, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers — who spoke at my West Point graduation — included Summers’s On Strategy on his list.  A few years later, then-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker added McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty.  The trend continues today.  Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller has kept McMaster and added Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger (he of the illegal bombing of both Laos and Cambodia and war criminal fame).  Current Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley kept Kissinger and added good old Lewis Sorley.  To top it all off, Secretary of Defense Mattis has included yet another Kissinger book and, in a different list, Krepinevich’s The Army and Vietnam.

Just as important as which books made the lists is what’s missing from them: none of these senior commanders include newer scholarship, novels, or journalistic accounts which might raise thorny, uncomfortable questions about whether the Vietnam War was winnable, necessary, or advisable, or incorporate local voices that might highlight the limits of American influence and power.

Serving in the Shadow of Vietnam

Most of the generals leading the war on terror just missed service in the Vietnam War.  They graduated from various colleges or West Point in the years immediately following the withdrawal of most U.S. ground troops or thereafter: Petraeus in 1974, future Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal in 1976, and present National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in 1984.  Secretary of Defense Mattis finished ROTC and graduated from Central Washington University in 1971, while Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly enlisted at the tail end of the Vietnam War, receiving his commission in 1976.

In other words, the generation of officers now overseeing the still-spreading war on terror entered military service at the end of or after the tragic war in Southeast Asia.  That meant they narrowly escaped combat duty in the bloodiest American conflict since World War II and so the professional credibility that went with it.  They were mentored and taught by academy tactical officers, ROTC instructors, and commanders who had cut their teeth on that conflict.  Vietnam literally dominated the discourse of their era — and it’s never ended.

Petraeus, Mattis, McMaster, and the others entered service when military prestige had reached a nadir or was just rebounding.  And those reading lists taught the young officers where to lay the blame for that — on civilians in Washington (or in the nation’s streets) or on a military high command too weak to assert its authority effectively. They would serve in Vietnam’s shadow, the shadow of defeat, and the conclusions they would draw from it would only lead to twenty-first-century disasters.   

From Vietnam to the War on Terror to Generational War

All of this misremembering, all of those Vietnam “lessons” inform the U.S. military’s ongoing “surges” and “advise-and-assist” approaches to its wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Representatives of both Vietnam revisionist schools now guide the development of the Trump administration’s version of global strategy. President Trump’s in-house Clausewitzians clamor for — and receive — ever more delegated authority to do their damnedest and what retired General (and Vietnam vet) Edward Meyer called for back in 1983: “a freer hand in waging war than they had in Vietnam.” In other words, more bombs, more troops, and carte blanche to escalate such conflicts to their hearts’ content.

President Donald Trump describing his policy toward the Afghan War, at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, on Aug. 21, 2017. (Screenshot from

Meanwhile, President Trump’s hearts-and-minds faction consists of officers who have spent three administrations expanding COIN-influenced missions to approximately 70% of the world’s nations.  Furthermore, they’ve recently fought for and been granted a new “mini-surge” in Afghanistan intended to — in disturbingly Vietnam-esque language — “break the deadlock,” “reverse the decline,” and “end the stalemate” there.  Never mind that neither 100,000 U.S. troops (when I was there in 2011) nor 16 full years of combat could, in the term of the trade, “stabilize” Afghanistan.  The can-do, revisionist believers atop the national security state have convinced Trump that — despite his original instincts — 4,000 or 5,000 (or 6,000 or 7,000) more troops (and yet more drones, planes, and other equipment) will do the trick.  This represents tragedy bordering on farce.

The hearts and minders and Clausewitzians atop the military establishment since 9/11 are never likely to stop citing their versions of the Vietnam War as the key to victory today; that is, they will never stop focusing on a war that was always unwinnable and never worth fighting.  None of today’s acclaimed military personalities seems willing to consider that Washington couldn’t have won in Vietnam because, as former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak (who flew 269 combat missions over that country) noted in the recent Ken Burns documentary series, “we were fighting on the wrong side.”

Today’s leaders don’t even pretend that the post-9/11 wars will ever end.  In an interview last June, Petraeus — still considered a sagacious guru of the Defense establishment — disturbingly described the Afghan conflict as “generational.”  Eerily enough, to cite a Vietnam-era precedent, General Creighton Abrams predicted something similar. speaking to the White House as the war in Southeast Asia was winding down.  Even as President Richard Nixon slowly withdrew U.S. forces, handing over their duties to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) — a process known then as “Vietnamization” — the general warned that, despite ARVN improvements, continued U.S. support “would be required indefinitely to maintain an effective force.”  Vietnam, too, had its “generational” side (until, of course, it didn’t).

That war and its ill-fated lessons will undoubtedly continue to influence U.S. commanders until a new set of myths, explaining away a new set of failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, take over, possibly thanks to books by veterans of these conflicts about how Washington could have won the war on terror.

It’s not that our generals don’t read. They do. They just doggedly continue to read the wrong books.

In 1986, General Petraeus ended his influential Parameters article with a quote from historian George Herring: “Each historical situation is unique and the use of analogy is at best misleading, at worst, dangerous.”  When it comes to Vietnam and a cohort of officers shaped in its shadow (and even now convinced it could have been won), “dangerous” hardly describes the results. They’ve helped bring us generational war and, for today’s young soldiers, ceaseless tragedy.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kansas.  Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast Fortress on a Hill. [Article originally published at TomDispatch.]

48 comments for “The War That Never Ends (for the U.S. Military High Command)

  1. Jim
    February 1, 2018 at 15:14

    The “stupidity” of the military mind is because it concentrates upon war and how to fight it. This is why politicians need to direct the military people on which war to fight. When politicians abdicate this responsibility we are left with those whose business is war. To them everything is solved by war. This is the reason for Clausewitz doctrine that war is merely a means of diplomacy.

  2. godenich
    January 31, 2018 at 07:22

    Petraeus[1] cut his teeth in Hait[2]i, Kuwait and the Balkans [3-6]. before Iraq[7]. Until he became an embarassment, few[8] were critical of him, yet he was still rewarded[9,10]

    [1] David Petraeus | Encyclopaedia Britannica
    [2] Noam Chomsky: US role in Haiti destruction | Youtube
    [3] Bosnia?’s bitter, flawed peace deal?,? 20 years on | Guardian | 2015
    [4] The Death of Yugoslavia 1990’s! BBC Complete Documentary | Youtube
    [5] Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War
    [6] Balkan Cancer (The name sometimes does lie: NATO’s “Merciful Angel” intervention against Yugoslavia) | Youtube
    [7] Iraq’s sectarian war | James Steele: America’s mystery man | Guardian Investigations | Youtube
    [8] Michael Hastings Tears Petraeus to Shreds on CNN | Youtube | 2012
    [9] Henry Kravis Talks to General David Petraeus, Newly Appointed Chairman of KKR Global Institute | Youtube | 2013
    [10] The Real Reason Why KKR Wants Petraeus On Call | Forbes | 2013

  3. January 31, 2018 at 01:59

    Energy devices require energy to overcome Entropy intertwined inside their matter. That allows them to keep operational or they cease.

    The assumption is thought applicable to ICEs, gas turbines, solar, wind turbines and others. The question is, is it applicable to human organisations? Civilisation as a whole, say, too?

    If so, War mustn’t ever end. It is, then, a standard law of physics that just hasn’t been published, yet – with a bit of social Darwinism to mask.

    The UN should be embracing a successor of itself, Tribes & Nations, that acknowledges Social Darwinism in its doctrine – so we may continue our claim – we became civilised.

  4. geeyp
    January 30, 2018 at 23:40

    You lost me at “Petraeus’s impressive intellect”.

  5. Zhu Bajie
    January 30, 2018 at 23:22

    So why constant warfare throughout my 60+ years? Why do they resemble our Indian Wars, with atrocities against non-white people? It’s not just for profit, although some certainly profit.

  6. Richard T.
    January 30, 2018 at 18:53

    This is the first time I have seen in print something that I have thought for a long time.
    “We were fighting on the wrong side”
    Something we have done pretty much since WWII

  7. Bernia
    January 30, 2018 at 16:35

    The conflict or clash of civilizations is real and can not be denied yet the archaic colonial policies, abandoned by European countries, still linger and drive US foreign policy. We learned little from Vietnam. Subduing the “natives” with force of arms obviously doesn’t work for many reasons, mainly because the “natives” have become formidable adversaries. In fact the Vietnamese have been formidable adversaries to almost every foreign invader throughout history. This is also true of the Afghans. These countries will come into the modern world on their own terms. They don’t need “conquering” as Vietnam is showing us. In many respects their approaching is superior. They have universal healthcare, free education,… and other benefits… Yes, it is communist one party rule and freedoms we may considered essential they might not place so high on the list of goals, but it is not for the US to dictate and let’s be honest, the US is more about maintaining markets, not insuring human freedoms and rights. If that were the case, the US would not consider Saudi Arabia and close ally, nor repressive dictatorships like Pinochet, Franco, Papa Doc, Sukarno, etc etc etc

  8. Nancy
    January 30, 2018 at 15:34

    War is good business, a racket, as Smedley Butler pointed out. The U.S. continues to create new enemies out of whole cloth and murderous policies.

  9. Steve Naidamast
    January 30, 2018 at 15:20

    Major Sjursen does an excellent job in recounting all the reasons for the failures during the Vietnam War that the senior commanders at the time and somewhat later gave to each other to sooth this terrible US military disaster.

    However, I didn’t see one reason provided by anyone in Major Sjursen’s analysis as to t he actual reason for the American loss in Vietnam; that no one truly understood the enemy they were fighting.

    First and foremost, as a military historian myself, my own studies have shown that historically there never has been a way for conventional forces to deter a “determined” insurgency. This is what the US faced in Vietnam and what the US is facing in its various military adventures in the Mid East today. In addition, the counter-insurgency tenets in modern US military application have never been successful leaving one to wonder why senior commanders would ever continue to rely on such nonsense.

    Though some will cite the success of the Syrians, Russians, and their ancillary support from Iran and Hezbollah, against ISIS, ISIS is not a real insurgency since it does not provide much motivation in terms of a national consciousness for the populace at large to support them. Instead, those that do support them from the general population are often terrorized into doing so, though there are those that simply want to fight what ISIS is opposing. Yet, there is no real general acceptance of ISIS.

    With Vietnam there was distinct national consciesness involved with many of the fighters in the North (both regulars and irregulars) who acted as an insurgency against US Forces with assistance from people in the South.

    In a cache of military documents that were found about two years ago regarding the military strategies of the North Vietnamese one document in particular highlighted the fact that the North’s military commanders followed Sun Tzu’s tenets in his “Art of War” to a “T” and as a result were simply able to outlast the US incursion while taking casualties.

    • mike k
      January 30, 2018 at 22:08

      The whole system. training, hierarchy, authoritarianism, corruption, and criminality in the military makes them stupid and ineffective, and prone to the most obvious blunders. A standing army is simply a huge, horrible mistake. These monstrosities are one of the things that will guarantee our eventual self extinction.

  10. January 30, 2018 at 09:08

    It’s instructive as part of this discussion to research the roots of American involvement in Vietnam. Korea, certainly, was a prelude but quite a bit changed dramatically in just ten years. In the late 1940s when France was recalcitrantly reasserting its Colonial aspirations in Vietnam, America was very much against involvement for ALL THE OBVIOUS REASONS. Ten years later, America entirely usurped France’s position as Colonial occupier in Vietnam presumably under the auspices of checking the expansion of Communism in Indochina.

    Here’s some enlightenment from the Pentagon Papers. Reading it now, it’s positively Orwellian. The irony of course is that State Capitalism, Capitalism controlled by the State, is effectively Vietnam’s strategy today. Look at Hanoi today — Capitalist Billboards everywhere you look. All of that blood spilled and the result was still the same. Blood shed in vain.

    Here’s a salient excerpt:

    Because the early phase (1946-1949) of the Indochina war was an overt attempt by the French to reassert authority and control over their Indochinese colonies, the United States, although aware that European Recovery Program (ERP) funds were indirectly used to finance the war, refused to support that war directly. However, American actions taken to assure a neutral position-refusal to sell armaments to the French for use in Indochina; refusal to transport troops, arms, or ammunition “to or from Netherlands East Indies or French Indochina”–accompanied by public and private statements of anti-colonialist sentiments, did constitute, at least in French eyes, a policy hostile to the French interest in Indochina. Therefore, early in 1947, the Department of State attempted to reassure the French Government, and to make U.S. policies and actions more palatable to them.

    Neither direct nor indirect assistance to the French effort in Indochina was deemed “appropriate,” however, until the French took concrete steps to grant autonomy to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The U.S. was prepared to support the “Bao Dai solution” for Vietnam when and if Bao Dai acquired genuine independence. The U.S. warned France against settling for a “native government [headed by Bao Dai] which by failing to develop appeal among Vietnamese might become virtually [a] puppet government, separated from [the] people and existing only by [the] presence [of] French military forces.”

    The same “About Face” occurred with Iraq. Ten years prior to America’s invasion & occupation in 2003, Dick Cheney, per the video below of a 1994 interview, intelligently justifies the reasons why it would have been futile to march into Baghdad and take out Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Cheney was correct. He knew more than the Generals. And yet just ten short years later Cheney agreed to march into Baghdad and entangle America in what he knew would be a cluster*ck and a quagmire, made worse by Petraeus’s ludicrous idea of paying off counterinsurgents not to counterinsurge and thus helping to nucleate what would later become The Islamic State by providing the Seed Money.

  11. Babyl-on
    January 30, 2018 at 07:22

    As a positive aspect of our current circumstances the US is loosing around the world. Vietnam, Iraq Syria et al the more the US uses its military, the more it bombs the more it looses. The US is now a weakened Empire with only one option left – kill them all. If current trends continue soon nuclear weapons will be seen as the only hope for US “Global full spectrum domination.”

    I just don’t see the US Empire fading away as England and other Empires have – clearly they don’t even recognize their losses.

    Given the fact that the US Empire has been killing every single day for over 73 years escalation to the use of nuclear weapons as the continue to loose seems almost inevitable.

    • mike k
      January 30, 2018 at 09:09

      Yes. The “realism” of the would be Rulers of the World is actually senseless madness, and I too worry that their final action in the face of worldwide defeat will be the Samson gesture of bringing down all their enemies and even themselves and everyone in one final act of madness and insane hubris – launching all their hate in a final nuclear holocaust.

    • Steve
      January 30, 2018 at 10:55

      Exactly. It is the logic of death. The death spiral. As a couple of other comments have pointed out, there is no thought for humanity in any of their calculations. It doesn’t even seem to merit a footnote. They can talk about laying waste to North Vietnam — turning it into a “parking lot” — as if this would be a desirable outcome, provided it resulted in a “victory”, whatever that would mean… when if you were to step back for even a moment’s reflection, if you were supposedly fighting this war for some “greater good”, like democracy, or against oppression, or as some preemptive measure to avoid, ironically enough. future loss of life (or whatever quaint notion being utilized as the pretext du jour) — you would easily see how your “victory” scenario would defeat the purpose of everything you thought you were trying to do. In terms of the people you were supposedly trying to help, it would fall under the category of “do me a favor and don’t do me any favors.” And in any big picture analysis, it would be seen as an all around cluster fuck, inflicting pain and suffering on all participants on whichever side. In short, it should be readily apparent how absurd and insane the whole goddamn thing is. Of course, I think most of us here on Consortiumnews are sophisticated enough to realize how, generally speaking, the “pretext du jour” is just so much window dressing designed for public consumption and public acquiescence (the real reasons lurking stealthily in the background — thank you Smedley Butler) — but it does have its true believers — and sadly, it seems to be what drives policy and debate on these matters. So, what you end up with is a bunch of ignorant ideologues, wearing their ideological blinders, safely ensconced in their smug little echo chambers, sacrificing humanity on the altar of their half-baked ideology. It is reminiscent of nothing so much as your typical, garden-variety, middle ages Grand Inquisitor smugly and self righteously willing to “kill you in order to save you.” (Notice that it’s YOU they’re willing to sacrifice. If THEY were to become errant for some reason, in the lights of their beliefs, hoist to their own petard, as it were (which happens from time to time with ideologues) I’m sure there’d be some convenient loophole lying around they could appeal to to demonstrate why it wouldn’t be practical or reasonable for the same remedies to be applied to them.) But this, as Albert Camus will tell you, is the fatal flaw of humanity. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. There is no obligation on the world “out there” to cooperate with any of our schemes. You inevitably run into resistance. Your ideology becomes supreme to the point where even life itself has become expendable. You have lost all touch with humanity. You combine this with the logic of empire, put expensive and destructive toys in the hands of modern day “inquisitors”, and you have the perfect storm made-to-order for ultimate destruction. It’s life-hating. The Cult of Death. Thanatos.

      • Babyl-on
        January 30, 2018 at 12:11


      • Gregory Herr
        January 30, 2018 at 21:46

        The utter devastation of Mosul to “save” it from “the terrorists” comes to mind–war is an affront to our common humanity.

      • Steve
        January 31, 2018 at 11:34

        I meant to say “what drives policy debate” not “what drives policy and debate” … but this is what happens when you attempt to wax poetic after a long sleepless night… you tend to get a little blurry-eyed.

  12. godenich
    January 30, 2018 at 06:54

    That’s a good COIN review with Petraeus & crew along the lines of Sean Naylo’sr and Michael Hasting’s research. For a moment, I thought the author was going to do a Treasury review with Larry Summers & crew, along the lines of Genie Energy, the Center for Global Development, Mosbacher Power, Enron and Iraqi Security Forces leading back to Petraeus & crew and on through to 1998.

    Maybe the Treasury and the Federal Reserve can help shed a light on the $21 trillion accounting discrepancies in the 1998-2015 DOD[1] finances and why it is necessary for the defense of the nation for taxpayers to spend $1.1++ trillion dollars, in our annual national security budget[2], for regime change and missions like [3].

    Quote: “To a nation, security is the greatest of advantages. If, in order to obtain it, it is necessary to have an army of a hundred thousand men, I have nothing to say against it. It is an enjoyment bought by a sacrifice. Let me not be misunderstood upon the extent of my position. A member of the assembly proposes to disband a hundred thousand men, for the sake of relieving the tax-payers of a hundred millions.

    If we confine ourselves to this answer — “The hundred millions of men, and these hundred millions of money, are indispensable to the national security: it is a sacrifice; but without this sacrifice, France would be torn by factions, or invaded by some foreign power,” — I have nothing to object to this argument, which may be true or false in fact, but which theoretically contains nothing which militates against economy. The error begins when the sacrifice itself is said to be an advantage because it profits somebody.” Frederic Bastiat

    [1] Dark Money At the Pentagon | Branko Marcetic | 2017
    [2] America’s $1.1 Trillion National Security Budget | POGO | 2017
    [3] Former US General ‘Wesley Clark’ says AMERICA already planned for a MINI-WORLD WAR in 2001 | Youtube

  13. Dr. Ip
    January 30, 2018 at 05:53

    There was a time when the invading army would sack a city, kill all the males, take all the women, and either wipe the city off the face of the earth or occupy it with people from their own side who needed a place to live. That’s how the Americans waged war against the native populations of the continent they conquered and that is how Turkey and Saudi Arabia would like to be free to fight today. But “rules” (which are constantly broken) were introduced and now genocidal tactics are restricted (until they’re not: e.g. Yemen). So, basically, the American generals now preparing us for WW3 against the Russians and Chinese are unmitigated fans of genocide, because in the end that is the only way to make sure the enemy never comes back. After Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal, he sowed salt into the ground of Carthage and the Carthaginians never returned to bother Rome. But at home, Scipio was humiliated by accusations of bribery and he ended his life in retired ignominy. And it was all the fault of those nasty civilians who held political power in Rome. Poor military men! They just don’t get the recognition they deserve. No wonder they want to fight just one more battle. The one that will put them in the center of the historical stage for ever, like Julius Caesar. He crossed the Rubicon and took Rome. He was a hero! Until he wasn’t.

    • Deniz
      January 30, 2018 at 11:33

      Vs. The American rules of fire bombing, atomic bombing. Carpet bombing and Napalm?

  14. Roberto
    January 30, 2018 at 03:47

    Interesting write even though quite confused and leaving out some huge points. By now, any american can go to VietNam and nobody will bother them there. Vietnamese worry about China, not the USA. The Good Old USA had lost (and will not try again).
    The main reasons behind the major mess in Middle East today, other than the actual or attempted “regime changes” in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria as well as some other joints is that the politicians (Bush 41 in this case) interfered with the military leaders and their “assigned goals”. Just try to remember, Bush 41 speech: ‘we have won the war (with Saddam H) in one hundred hours’, or ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ Bush 43: “Mission Accomplished” pile of verbal diarrhea after landing on USS Abraham Lincoln (aircraft carrier) in 2003. So here is: fifteen more years of Mission NOT Accomplished and still counting.
    Bush 41 had all the support of United Nations (and the rest of the world? perhaps) to “liberate” Kuwait. He could have and should have finished the Iraq conflict then and there and do the regime change for Kuwaiti folks. Obama started pulling out of Iraq and thereby donated hundreds of millions of $$ as well as enormous quantities of weapons and ammo to ISIS. All water under the bridge.! Just don’t pretend it did not happen please.!
    You want to win the war, any war, let the generals go for it, keep the politicians out. For dog sake, don’t let the likes of Bush 43 or BHO run the show. And then, when you win, make sure to prevent the military from taking over your own country.

    • Annie
      January 30, 2018 at 04:43

      Better yet, keep the generals out as well, and no more wars. It’s not like WWII, now it’s all about power and conquest. After WWII, we were about 6% of the world’s population and had 50% of it’s wealth. Well, how do you keep it that way? Create an enemy, a boogeyman, and our boogeyman was the Soviet Union, and recently we needed to resurrect another, which is Russia.

    • Sam F
      January 30, 2018 at 10:27

      You are right that US wars against large insurgencies cannot be won, but some corrections are needed:

      1. Kuwait was a breakaway province of Iraq; it is not obvious where the US should have stood.
      2. Attacking Iraq then would have made no more sense than Iraq War II. Iraq was one of the few secular governments in the Mideast; the ruling Baathists were plurality Sunni and in conflict with the national plurality Shias. Diplomacy was needed, not war.
      3. US pull-out from Iraq did not give weapons to ISIS; the insurgent weapons came from KSA and UAE, were sent deliberately from Libya via other insurgent groups, or were abandoned by fleeing Iraq troops.
      4. While the conduct of war should be largely left to generals, the decision to make war must never be left to them, because it is seldom the wisest course.

      You are right that “when you win, make sure to prevent the military from taking over your own country” which the US did not do after WWII (referring to the MIC and its oligarchy supporters), the reason that we have been fighting wars ever since.

  15. CitizenOne
    January 30, 2018 at 00:11

    The concept of limited war where non lethal methods such as culture cultivation and winning hearts and minds is antithetical to war. Wars can only be won where one side is committed to total war. That strategy is always adopted by the host nation of the war and the hearts and minds strategists try to limit the damage by following a limited war strategy. The hope is always that strategic missions with limited objectives will somehow cut the spinal cord of the enemy and free the imaginary forces of liberation and revolution from their lockers to fight along side us and win the war.

    This thinking is madness. War is violence and death perpetrated by an invading nation. There can never be a hearts and minds campaign delivered at the tip of an incoming incendiary bomb. We never were going to win the Vietnam war with a limited war strategy.

    But what if the purpose of the Vietnam war was not to win the conflict because it would have then faced off the USA with China and Russia in a potential nuclear war but to just prolong it. What if the real mission was to drop as many bombs as possible and to spend as much money as possible and to prolong the conflict as long as possible for a multitude of military objectives. One objective would be a proving ground in a live fire exercise to test new weapons platforms. Another objective would be to expand the military budget with new military contracts for new weapons platforms. Another objective would be to test the nations willingness to go along with an abstract war where we were fighting an ideal not a real threat to the United States.

    Looking at the Vietnam war that way means the military won all of those objectives. What if those were the real objectives in the first place? What if the current obsession by our military leaders in trying to win the next Vietnam were not about winning a war in the Middle East of elsewhere but in recreating the permawar strategy of limited engagement to create unending chaos and destabilization which would give rise to terrorism and conflicts which we could then further respond to with more military spending on military operations which would drive the endless cycle of bigger military budgets and ever more advanced weapons platforms.

    It seems like we are too close to the current events and steeped in the propaganda to see if this is a possible reality yet when we look back at other fake wars like the Spanish American War it seems very clear that the intentions of the government to expand our military might through the use of a contrived war which was very successful and gained much for the military might of the US as well as world domination. There are few scholars today who believe all the propaganda for the Spanish American War was founded on facts Many historians have reached the conclusion that it was a war created on purpose to make military contractors and our government rich in possessions and weapons.

    I think the recipe for war is an old one and is founded on greed especially when it is a war which is contrived based on nebulous and often false claims and evidence. The Tonkin Gulf Incident which precipitated our escalation of the Vietnam war is largely regarded by historians as a false flag which was escalated to a crisis just as the sinking of the USS Maine was a false flag which was escalated to a crisis precipitating the Spanish American War.

    Daddy Warbucks is behind all of it. We are continuously stoked with fear and then acquiesce to the demands we go to war.

    The Iraq II War was another example of a great scheme to stoke the war and create the crisis to launch the war. None of the basic reasons for that war were ever validated. There were no WMD. The Chemical weapons were not there. The nuclear weapons development sites were not there. The supposed link to 9/11 was not there. Saddam never had a thing to do with 9/11 yet our propaganda media managed to convince everyone he was responsible and in bed with Al Qaeda.

    If you look over the long span of American Wars one finds that there was little justification for many of them. They were fictionalized crises like the Domino Theory which the Government and the military used to convince us to go to war based on some imminent threat they just made up.

    If we are forgiving we might forgive these military masterminds as being merely over aggressive and a bit paranoid but such apologies are not enough to excuse the making of a war which kills many people.

    To find the real reasons for our military’s incessant beating of the war drums and invention of elaborate theories for why we need to be “prepared” to defeat the enemy, we can use one simple theory. Follow the money. When we follow the money and see how at every step our military has managed to create crises and profit mightily from them an industry is revealed. The Military Industrial Complex. An alliance of Pentagon strategists, political war hawks, right wing think tanks, military contractors, big banks, investors, a propaganda press and the ever gullible American People all engaged in the art of war without a real purpose except to make everyone in the machine rich.

    So now they are poking the Bear. What a better strategy than to create a new cold war with Russia. We can marginalize a foreign competitor, create the need to build up military forces, leverage our power to gain evermore territory and continue the cycle of expansion which has fueled our economic growth and military power and control over world affairs. It seems like a no brainer that the folks who control all of these levers would not want to create ever new and more advanced enemies to serve there economic and political goals.

    They have been doing it for a long time. They have become very rich and powerful. But there is one part of their business plan that is disturbing. In order to continue their rise in wealth there will have to be another war. They have picked Russia as their next target. That is a very dangerous situation. Napoleon and Hitler might advise against such a strategy from their graves.

    On the lighter side perhaps it will really be just another cold war filled with military buildups and lots of sabre rattling and not really any war. Let’s hope so. Perhaps Russia and the USA can even conspire to fake enmity and hostility solely for the purpose of creating a justification for the creation of the next generation of military technology funded by trillions of dollars while we all quake in our beds. It might not be so bad after all,

  16. Lois Gagnon
    January 29, 2018 at 23:17

    Perhaps it would be useful to make the top brass read the Pentagon Papers. They would be reminded that every president knew the war was unwinnable but pursued it anyway.

    What’s chilling about war analysis is the cavalier fashion in which innocent people’s lives are discounted. Millions upon millions are snuffed out without a single care. Total madness.

    • Annie
      January 29, 2018 at 23:34

      In reading this article that is also something that struck me. Human life never enters the equation, just winning, as if they were playing a game of chess.

      • Roberto
        January 30, 2018 at 03:49

        that’s how they think.!

      • Mercutio
        January 30, 2018 at 08:16

        You can’t see people on a tactical map.

      • Gregory Herr
        January 30, 2018 at 21:28

        Roger Waters called it “the bravery of being out of range”.

    • Curious
      January 31, 2018 at 00:41

      What struck me and has always irritated me is some generals feel the same way about their own troops, not just the millions of innocents killed. As an example, I remember well when the US death count in Iraq hit 2,000 KIA. A General on TV said “2,000 is only a number” while many outside were counting the human costs. This aspect of “only a number” I have seen many times, Vietnam included. One could say it’s callous, stupid and arrogant to feel this way about fellow humans, but it must be some process a person goes through in our war colleges and whatever ethics they espouse, way beyond a ‘super secret handshake’. These Generals are death machines and you are right, it’s total madness.
      So baby Bush hid the coffins returning to the US as propaganda 101, and what is also hidden are the number of contractors we will hardly ever hear about, also KIA. The death count just multiplies as the ignorant play their war video games, and everyone is a hero. More madness. And as a rejoinder, not only should they read the Pentagon Papers, but also Doomsday Machine to get a proper wake up call.

  17. Herve de Maigret
    January 29, 2018 at 19:43

    Major Sjursen,

    The two military philosophies described in your excellent article do not include a major element: local nationalism. In the Middle East as in Viet-Nam US armed forces are regarded by local poulations as forces of occupation. I had plenty of time to reflect on this point during my two years in Algeria with the French Army (1957-1959), though under very peaceful conditions compared to Viet-Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

    • Annie
      January 29, 2018 at 20:34

      The French in Algeria weren’t considered an occupying force? The Algerians wanted to oust the French from their land for decades, since they exploited the indigenous Muslim population, and treated them like dirt. France after WWII wasn’t willing to give up on colonial rule, and most nations didn’t support the French in maintaining their Algerian colony. You were an occupying power, and a nasty one at that. The Algerians define their loss of life as a genocide. Peaceful in 1957-1959? Where were you?

    • Sam F
      January 30, 2018 at 10:11

      Yes, these are occupation or colonial forces. It was tragic that France held on to its colonies after WWII unlike Britain. Do you think that the US was induced to Vietnam by a desire to cultivate France as an ally in Europe?
      Or was it swayed by militarists as in Korea, to see communist threats instead of anti-colonial rebellions?

      • Annie
        January 30, 2018 at 12:52

        Sam, I am no expert here, but I do know that Vietnam was under colonial rule by the French, and Truman did pitch in financially to ward off the communist threat in the North, but after their military losses the French did come to accept the split in the country, a communist North and whatever South. It was the US that didn’t accept this arrangement, and we alone are responsible for that war. From what I remember Eisenhower really is the one who initiated more US control in in the South, and it took off from their. I always saw it as a continuation of our anti-Communist position since WWII. China becoming a communist country in the late 40’s probably added fuel to the fire. Then came Kennedy, but Johnson really escalated it into a full blown war.

        • Sam F
          January 31, 2018 at 08:55

          Yes, although I am curious as to the French influences on the US takeover of its colonial wars.

          Vietnam seemed analogous to Korea and China, never US colonies, but the notion that there were US interests was always absurd. Even India was not concerned about being the last “domino” in the chain, and was closer to the USSR. In every case the US set up dictatorships instead of democracy.

          Eisenhower summarized Vietnam to Kennedy as “a mess.” JFK sent VP Johnson to SE Asia to ask heads of state about their regional concerns (!) and LBJ reported that their view was that the problem was not communism, it was poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, and disease. JFK intended to get out and was assassinated. The DOD prepared for war and sent a carrier task force and provocateur forces to Vietnam six months before the faked-up Gulf of Tonkin Incident during the 1964 election season. LBJ said (approx) “You can have your war if I can have the presidency.”

          When Diem and his brother were suspected of negotiating for peace, the US had them assassinated. When DefSec McNamara decided that the war was unwinnable and that negotiations would be sensible, he was removed. When LBJ began negotiations for peace he was attacked by the Repubs’ secret “October Surprise” negotiations offering more, and then renegging after the elections. So clearly the militarism served US tyrants of oligarchy, who must have an external enemy to demand domestic power and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty. And all along they knew that it made no sense, that millions would die, that nothing could be won, that the US would ultimately be discredited.

          They started all of the US wars since WWII for personal gain at the expense of the people of the United States, and their theories were nothing but the classical propaganda of tyrants. The militarist propaganda taught at West Point is essentially education toward treason, to prop up the tyrants of oligarchy with excuses for endless war for no one but themselves.

  18. Annie
    January 29, 2018 at 19:19

    I have never watched a war movie, except “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and think of those employed to carry out war, whether they’re generals, or those that employ their services, as people who are basically aberrant, but I will recognize and honor people like Smedley Butler who proclaimed war is a racket. In reading this article it seemed those involved in our failed US strategy in Vietnam were struck a narcissistic blow more then anything else.

    I don’t stand up and applaud people in the military when demanded to do so, and thank them for their service, which has happened even when attending a play. As a child whether one went to school down Central or Wilson Avenue in Brooklyn one could run into a coffin being carried out for burial draped in a flag. As a child I would think I can’t hit my brothers even if they break my toys, but grown up people kill each other in wars, how stupid. As a child, a young man who went AWOL from Vietnam was pursued by federal agents. He crossed roofs and entered our home through a skylight. The agents were in hot pursuit and rapped at our front door and wanted to enter the premises, but my mother asked if they had a warrant to do so, and they said no, so she told them to go get one and slammed the door in their face. Good for her! I was afraid for her, but she told me they don’t put people as old as her in jail, and I believed her.

    • Sam F
      January 30, 2018 at 10:03

      Thank you for that wonderful story; your mother had real courage!

      • Annie
        January 30, 2018 at 12:53

        She certainly was, and in many ways.

  19. Bart Hansen
    January 29, 2018 at 18:15

    You have to love the contradiction of “hearts and minds” and carpet bombing.

    Let’s go with a 10% war surtax and bringing back the military draft. Is Kushner still young enough to get sucked up in it?

    • Zachary Smith
      January 29, 2018 at 22:35

      Given the way the US budget is so out of whack, I’m not sure any level of “surtax” would mean anything. Even if such a thing somehow happened, I’m sure it would be established as some kind of sales tax so poor people would pay most of it.

      The Powers That Be have a situation which they like. The US public shows every indication of not caring about the overseas wars. Those Powers essentially have a free hand so long as they can keep certain key congressmen and senators in office.

      Even as President Richard Nixon slowly withdrew U.S. forces, handing over their duties to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) — a process known then as “Vietnamization” — the general warned that, despite ARVN improvements, continued U.S. support “would be required indefinitely to maintain an effective force.” Vietnam, too, had its “generational” side (until, of course, it didn’t).

      I wonder if this is why the US is still in Afghanistan. Simply deny that we’re losing, and use the “lesson” from Vietnam to remain there until the tide turns in our favor. It’s sure to do that, you know. After all, can geniuses like Petraeus be wrong about anything?

      • Sam F
        January 31, 2018 at 08:23

        Yes, a sales tax would fall disproportionately on the poor, but would discourage war support for that reason, and therefore would not be used by the oligarchy, who can tax future generations by selling bonds, etc.
        Perhaps an amendment to the Constitution would prohibit this.

        If we had amendments to restrict funding of mass media and elections to limited individual contributions, this would have much the same effect. But we cannot make any of the necessary changes because the tools of democracy, elections and mass media, are already controlled by oligarchy tyrants.

        Unfortunately, tyrants do not surrender power without violence.

  20. Joe Tedesky
    January 29, 2018 at 17:53

    So on a nice autumn day back in 1968, my cousin and I skipped school to spend sometime with our friend Walt, who had joined the Marines at 17. Walt was home on leave after a tour of duty in Vietnam. The day for the most part was enjoyable, we three were teenagers enjoying the day from skipping school, and playing pinball machines and drinking cokes was just the thing. Then after a few hours Walt, who looked like a young Ward Bond, broke down and had tears in his eyes. When my cousin and I asked Walt what was wrong, Walt told us a story where the Viet Cong invaded his Marine camp. Walt told this story in such a way that you felt like you were there. Then Walt said, how he had turned and there was a Viet Cong standing right there in front of him. Walt did, what he was trained to do, and shot the Viet Cong dead. Later Walt would go over to inspect the dead Viet Cong fighter, only to find out he had shot a woman. Here was a strong Irish kid who could easily kick 3 guys butts, and never think twice about it, but now he had to face the fact he had just killed a woman.

    Walt for some reason volunteered to serve another tour of duty in Vietnam, and never returned. My cousin and I have often thought to if Walt had stiffened up when approached by another Viet Cong, and his thinking twice before pulling the trigger may have been the last thing he did, and this was his fateful error.

    Here we are 50 years later, and I wonder what my friend Walt would think, if he were to have read this article. I’m sure my dear friend Walt would say of how the top never learns, because the top never suffers and consequence.

    Note: I have read some of Major Danny Sjursen other articles, and will appeal that ‘the Consortium’ print more.

    • Mercutio
      January 30, 2018 at 08:13

      My apologies for a sappy comment, but I really hope your friend survived. I once met two brothers on a Vietnamese Culture fest, who claimed that their uncle was a USA officer that went AWOL and stayed in Vietnam after he was captured. So who knows… things happen.

      Sorry, I am a sucker for happy endings, even if I know that this world is hardly a place for them.

      • Joe Tedesky
        January 30, 2018 at 09:55

        Let’s pretend that Walt did, if it makes you feel better. After all in some ways Walt’s with us now. Joe

  21. mike k
    January 29, 2018 at 16:23

    Military culture is designed to produce stupidity. And it works.

    • Sam F
      January 30, 2018 at 09:24

      The warmonger thesis that more aggression solves problems, rationalizing larger wars and ruthless countersinsurgency wars, is just the “military culture” West Point does not need to hear. Insurgencies are seldom military problems, they are political developments. These militarist “feel good about Vietnam” theories, like their counter-“terrorism” theories, show the civilian failure to control militarism as an ideology, which is due to the destruction of democracy in the US by economic power.

      The Vietnam warmongers argued that the insurgency was a “communist takeover” when in fact it was anti-colonial revolution like our own, but using the communist methods of insurgency necessitated by a gangster-policed dictatorship, which the US colonies never had to confront. Ho Chi Minh had asked the Versailles convention for independence, had read the US Declaration of Independence to his followers, had written to Truman asking for assistance, and later stated that “I was a nationalist first, and a communist second.” It was western imperialism and its corrupt colonial governments alone that drove anti-colonial nationalists to communism, as a military method and appeal for assistance, and that posed no threat at all to the west.

      Clearly the US revolution would have would have been forced to use communist-like insurgency methods had Britain had modern weapons and police-state tactics. So the problem with US civilian leadership in the Vietnam war was that it no longer stood by the founding principles of the US, once JFK and RFK and McNamara were got out of the way by the military. The US became an oligarchy with secret police, worse than the colonial power it had thrown off. The first nation to rebel against colonialism had become the last nation to defend it.

      It was educated civilian leadership that the US needed, and it forgot that because money power had already stolen from the people their elections and mass media, the essential tools of democracy. The oligarchy enemy of the people had taken over the US government, and has consolidated its power since then.

      • j. D. D.
        January 30, 2018 at 10:56

        We were told that we had to stop “godless communism” in Vietnam or that all of Asia would fall like dominoes. Of course that never happened and now Vietnam is being wooed as a source of cheap labor and an ally against China. No explanation given.
        As for the theories of Petraeus, McMaster and Mattis. I don’t know how anyone is impressed by any of them. Hardly the brilliant theorists the author implies. Because of the acceptance of MAD, in which total war between nuclear powers would mean mutual annihilation, the theory of limited wars became part of US military. While Clausewitz is to have said that the “war is an extension of policy by additional means,” it was meant that a hostile government could be repalced by one capaable of xwithout conflict, and is thus in the interests of the adversary polulation. “Turning Hanoi into a parking lot,” is as despicable as it is foolish, for it would ensure the hatred of the of the Vietnamese people. That is a misunderstanding of Clausewitz, not and of the aim of any just war. The Vietnam War has now been surpassed by that of Afghanistan as the longest in American history. Despite the near total destruction of that country, the lack of any clear war aim that could benefit the Afgahan people, has resulted in continual bloodletting and plaicing the US military,despite its overwhelming military superiority, no closer to defeat of the Taliban than it when it quickly announced victory back in 2001. So what has actually been learned by the ‘gifted” trio of new Cold Warriors?

        • TS
          January 30, 2018 at 16:35

          What Clausewitz actually wrote in On War was that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” — and this was leading up to his point that the purpose of waging a war was to gain some political objective, such as winning some territory or gaining some economic benefit. So if the damage done by the war is greater than the hoped-for gain, a hard-nosed cost-benefit analysis tells you not to do that.

          This is all part of an argument that warfare simply does not make sense unless it is waged in a very limited way.

          So Clausewitz should be required reading in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, and to call one faction of the Vietnam-War revisionist “Clausewitzian” is an unjustified insult to him.

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