Back to Indochina

But First Listen to Moshe Dayan

By John Stanton

Lost: "having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction; not used to good purpose, as opportunities, time, or labor; wasted..."

According to Fabius Maximus (FM), "The history of counter-insurgency [COIN] warfare is the repeated re-discovery and use of tactics that failed before." FM quotes from David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest to make his point.

"My favorite example: President Kennedy attended a demonstration exercise of the Green Berets. These multi-lingual PhDs swung through the trees to stage ambushes, ate snakes, and for the big finale one strapped a rocket to his back and flew through the air. Everyone was ecstatic except the French Ambassador: 'Interesting. We tried all this in Indochina, and still lost.'"

Somewhere in the secure compartmentalized information facilities of the land, classified conversations taking place between America's political, economic and military leadership likely echo the same sentiments made by the French Ambassador during the early 1960's.

Still, the lumbering and bewildered United States appears intent on heading back to the waterways and jungles of Indochina (used in the widest sense to include China, Indian Ocean, South China Sea) and, if that were not enough, further into the geographic terrain of the African Continent. Not satisfied with flushing America's instruments of national power down the drain in Iraq and Afghanistan, American public and private leadership seeks to do the same in Indochina, yet again. The thinking at the top must be that "we'll do it right this time."

If it is to Indochina that Johnny Goes Marching to, then the doctrines that enable massive firepower, massed and mechanized armies, carpet-bombing cities and defoliating jungle terrain will have to surge back to the forefront of US political and military thinking.  Doing it the American way will mean the use of tactical nuclear weapons and the institution of a draft that includes both men and women. COIN elements will return, as they should, to being shadowy mobile intel-kill-capture units not hyped-up or publicized for the politicians benefit, or forced to carry social science baggage. 

The United States would need the oil and gas fields of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia for such an Indochina-Wide operation. Maybe the attack on Iran is "all part of the plan," as the Joker said. Millions of American soldiers, mercenaries, spies and vigilant and fearful citizens would be required and dissent would have to be punishable by indefinite detention. Wait! Isn't that already in the works with sections 1031 and 1032 of the US National Defense Authorization bill that passed the US Senate?

What's next? The President of the United States speaks to the nation: "As Commander in Chief responsible for the defense of our great nation from enemies foreign and domestic, I have no greater responsibility than the protection of the people of the United States from dangers that threaten to destabilize our country and our way of life. Clearly the US Congress has become such a danger. It is unwilling to take up my programs for remedying the sickly state of our economy and infrastructure. It refuses to allocate the funding necessary for me to secure our interests in countries vital to our prosperity. It refuses to fully fund the men and women of our national security forces. Therefore, using the powers granted to me by the US Constitution as Commander and Chief, I suspend the operations and funding of the US Congress and nullify the terms of the current representatives and senators and all support staff. Our national security forces have place all members of the US Congress under house arrest and held incommunicado."

Well, perhaps that's a bit much, of course, although many in the United States would probably applaud such action.

Listen to Moshe Dayan

Americans would do well to heed the advice contained in Martin Van Creveld's article,  Moshe Dayan, Vietnam, & Iraq before heading back into Indochina.  

"If Dayan was being ironic after all, the enemy consisted of little men wearing straw hats he did not say so. The product of this floating factory was firepower. Every ninety minutes, amidst a numbing outburst of fire and noise, flights of combat aircraft took off to strike at targets in Vietnam; but when it came to specifying the precise nature of those targets his hosts refused to answer his questions. As always, Dayan was impressed by the Americans pride in themselves, their nation, and their mission. He ended the day by noting that they were "not fighting against infiltration to South [Vietnam], or against guerrillas, or against North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, but against the entire world. Their real aim was to show everybody including Britain, France, and the USSR their power and determination so as to pass this message: wherever Americans go, they are irresistible...

Back in Paris Niceault had told him the "battle for hearts and minds" would not work, given that that the Vietnamese had their own cultural traditions as well as "immensely beautiful women" and that "Californization" was the last thing they wanted. This, moreover, was a field where he had some experience. With US financial backing, during his term as minister of agriculture (1959-63) he had sent Israeli experts to carry out agrarian reforms in various Asian and African countries. Some of those countries he had visited in person, only to find out how hard it was to make a long-established culture change its ways. Clearly doing so in the midst of a war, when every achievement was under constant threat from Viet Cong terrorists, was much harder still...

It must have been during his stay with 1st Cavalry that the following incident took place. As was his custom Dayan wanted to visit the front, which in the case of Vietnam meant going on patrol. His hosts reluctantly agreed, but fearing lest something might happen to the celebrity for whom they were responsible selected a route that was supposedly free of the Viet Cong. As often happened, their information proved wrong. They came under fire and were "pinned down", as the phrase went. Looking around from where he was lying, the American captain in charge discovered that Dayan had disappeared. In the end he located him; the middle-aged visitor from Israel was sitting comfortably on top of a grassy knoll. With great effort, the captain crawled to him and asked what he was doing. "What are you doing?" was the answer he got: "get your --- up here, and see what this battle is all about".

"As Dayan saw clearly enough, the campaign for hearts and minds did not work. Many of the figures being published about the progress it was making turned out to be bogus, designed to set the minds of the folks at home at rest. In other cases any progress laboriously made over a period of months was undone in a matter of minutes as the Viet Cong attacked, destroying property and killing "collaborators". Above all, the idea that the Vietnamese people wanted to become Americanized was an illusion.  All the vast majority really wanted was to be left alone and get on with their lives."

John Stanton

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Author`s name John Stanton