Pentagon officer slams US strategy in Vietnam

A Pentagon colonel, writing anonymously, has savagely attacked US military leadership during the Vietnam war and in particular the role of the US commander in chief, Gen. William Westmoreland.

"The old, old refrain that the Army failed because of political softness and social unrest at home is still the theme song of the upper ranks," writes the author of a new book entitled "Self-Destruction: the Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era." "The fact is that the military disaster in Vietnam grew out of ineptitude at the top."

Writing under the pseudonymn "Cincinnatus" to preserve his anonymity, the colonel, a graduate of the Command and General Staff College who holds a PhD degree and who served as a captain during the 1968 Tet offensive, roundly criticizes the measures employed to combat insurgency in South Vietnam. "The fault for instituting such military tactics and doctrines as 'search and destroy ,' 'reconnaissance in force,' 'body counts,' 'harassing and interdicting fires' -- and other such woefully inadequate approaches to combat -- must be borne by Westmoreland alone," he declares in the book to be published later this month by W. W. Norton & Co.

General Westmoreland, who has claimed that the United States was defeated in Vietnam because it simply "didn't have the will" to win, could not be reached for comment. According to Norton publicity director FRan Rosencrantz, he received a copy of the book some weeks ago.

To ensure total anonymity, "Cincinnatus" has not met any of the Norton staff. "I certainly haven't met him," said Ms. Rosencrantz. "His editor, Eric Swenson, has not met him personally either," she adds. "I don't think anyone questions the validity of his research because he was in the service."

"Cincinnatus" the author (named after the Roman dictator and military leader who scorned power for himself) explained in a telephone conversation that "I did not choose a pen name out of fear or anything like that. I simply choose it so people would concentrate on what was said."

In essence, "Self-Destruction," which is dedicated to the 57,002 American dead of the Vietnam war, maintains that the US should have adopted guerrilla tactics against the enemy. Rather than adapt, writes the author, the US Army "continued to function as if it was pursuing enemy units of the Warsaw Pact nations across the plains of Central Europe. It seemed not to understand the need for pacification, and when it belatedly tried out that approach, it combined pacification with combat operations, thus negating both." The author adds, moreover, that the Army relied too heavily on technology and "the lavish use of firepower."

Could the US fight a guerilla war today? "We're probably less capable than we were during 'nam," replied Cincinnatus. "And even then we weren't terribly capable." He said that the Army believes -- quite erroneously -- that jungle warfare and guerrilla warfare are synonymous. "But just training someone at Fort Sherman [in what used to be the Canal zone] does not make guerrilla fighters out of them," he adds. "Guerrilla was is an attitude. It is an ability to see what the basic issues are," he said. "Good heavens! Fort Sherman wouldn't be very helpful, would it now, if the next guerrilla warfare we're faced with is in Norway."

Cincinnatus notes that "when you're facing guerrilla warriors, the very fact that the person is a guerrilla does not ipso facto to make them evil. It doesn't even make them wrong. It may well be that they have an element of right in their platform and in their view.

"The first thing that you need to do is to remove the causes that create guerrillas. And if it's a ruthless, repressive Saigon, regime, then you insist that if you're going to help that regime they change some of their ways of doing things; and if they are intractable, unwilling to change, then you don't help, you don't go in." This approach was never adopted in Vietnam, he said, except "to a limited extent" in the I Corps area.

Cincinnatus writes that the Vietnam war revealed "a shockingly low caliber" of military leadership. "Despite a nearly unlimited supply of airplanes and artillery, M-16s and mortars, napalm and night scopes, draft-levies and deficit- swollen defense budgets, the richest nation on Earth was unable to impose a military solution upon one of the poorest countries of Asia," he declares.

Cincinnatus is scathing about the air war in Vietnam. "Unfortunately for air-power advocates, North Vietnam was insufficiently advanced technologically to provide rewarding and worthwhile targets." Tactically and strategically, he said, bombing was "indefensible" and politically "a catastrophe."

"Much of what we did in 'Nam we did on the spur of the moment," observes the anonymous author. "Our tactics in 'Nam often tended to be ad hoc." He suggests that the Iran rescue mission had "much the same kind of characteristics. I'm certain some 80-year-old lady in the Bronx could have mounted a better operation."

Cincinnatus is profoundly worried by the state of the US Army. "Our soldiers are not well trained. We need to instill more pride in unit; more pride in self; more internally motivated discipline." He adds that most officers "as they are commissioned begin talking not about how they can serve their men but about how they can get the next promotion."

The Army is expected to scrutinize "Self-Destruction" closely. Will Cincinnatus suffer any penalties for his candor? "Intentionally, I would think none whatsoever," he said. But he then talked darkly about "letters pla ced in personnel files and looked at a time of promotion."

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