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Re: MASH physicians
My brother Kelly went to Korea as a medic PFC in the 224th Infantry in 1951.
He left in 1952 as a decorated S/Sgt (Soldiers Medal and Combat Medic Badge).
He is literate as the article pasted to this attests, and speaks very well.
He spend the rest of his professional life as a high school English teacher.
Let me know if he interests you as a speaker. His e-mail address is
What Is To Be Done
Because reliable military intelligence is critical in all stages of
preparation, it holds high priority with our nation's leaders. They have
underwritten vast international systems of data collection and analyses.
Unfortunately, size is not a guarantor of reliability. Reliability requires
that the intelligence be timely and correctly processed from accurate data.
If any of these three elements are compromised, reliability suffers. This
paper will point to several examples in recent national history when the lack
of accurate, timely, or misinterpreted intelligence has led directly to
national failures. Our seemingly endemic failure to acquire and process
relevant information into effective intelligence is one of the most damning
of our various recurring faults. It has sometimes caused horrific damage.
Ages ago, Sun Tzu insisted that knowing the enemy was essential. We did not
know our enemy in Vietnam and our situation was further abraded by our
military and political chiefs not knowing our own forces' capabilities, nor
the culture that shaped our allies and, even more embarrassing, not even our
allies' languages. The question: "Why do their Vietnamese fight and ours do
not?" was posed often during that conflict. We refused to confront the
correct answers to this because it would have made our inappropriate, even
bankrupt tactics and policies undeniable, invalidating our continued
presence. We preferred posting a half million soldiers there to do what we
knew how to do-fight a conventional war-rather than learn to fight the
unconventional people's war we had entrapped ourselves in.
Our proclivity to ignore or misunderstand advice from allies is well known.
Our blatant Vietnam displays of this talent were exposed in two recent books,
Prelude to Tragedy, by Harvey Neese and John O'Donnell, and Backfire, by
Loren Baritz. In Prelude to Tragedy, three driving, long-lived American
faults are discussed: 1) supporting the coup that eliminated President Diem,
2) constant bureaucratic in-fighting, and 3) our near total misconception of
the "people's war" in which we had intervened. Clearly, we had no practical
understanding of how to fight it. The decision to commit U.S. forces to
fight the GVN's war was made with ignorance of an unusually gross dimension.
In Backfire the author also contends, in powerful language and with
undeniable logic, that our near total unfamiliarity with the culture of
Vietnam was matched by an equally disabling lack of knowledge about ourselves
and the war we were fighting.
In 1962, the French provided three detailed volumes of their "lessons
learned" from Vietnam to the Army's Special Warfare School with an admonition
to avoid the errors described. A much-abridged translation was published
several years later by the Rand Corporation, but read by very few of our
policy makers and evidently understood by none. The French Colonel Roger
Trinquier's, La Guerre Moderne (translated as Modern Warfare) is a careful
definition and examination of "Peoples' War," learned well by him from the
Vietnamese. It was, and remains, the type of warfare against which our
tanks, B-52's and aircraft carriers could not prevail. Our failure to learn
from this available information led to our appalling casualties and eventual
collapse in Vietnam. Prelude's clearly stated central theme is that our
willful disdain of an enemy we did not understand, hence knew not how to
fight, prevented us from winning the war. Its authors unveil behavior of
several U.S. central bureaucracies that made our defeat inevitable. Our
senior officials' ignorance of the phenomenon of People's War was complete.
Had they assimilated the French data, their altered perceptions might have
reduced the deplorable list
of casualties on the Memorial Wall. The combat tactics and structure of our
forces, readied to defend against an armored attack of Warsaw Pact forces
through Germany's Fulda Gap, were altogether inappropriate when transferred
to Vietnam. The effect was as absurd as if we
attempted to seize an enemy warship at sea using paratroops. We were not
fighting the war that engulfed us.
Backfire, Loren Baritz's indictment of our mismanagement of the People's War
that we were fighting but did not understand, is focused on our cultural
capability that enables us to ignore reality. "Why do their Vietnamese fight
and ours don't?" A central, applicable lesson from Vietnam is the potency of
what we have mislabeled "brain-washing." Its most important use was the
indoctrination and dedication imposed on the Viet Cong to execute their
missions. The French documents thoroughly discuss the "auto-critique" and
"speak bitterness" tools, and the dedication this training method gave their
adversaries. We also were exposed to its results, but never did understand
its efficacy for those we were fighting. We still have not understood that
its techniques were a major reason we were out-fought by them. Those
techniques made the difference between the indifferent soldiers of our South
Vietnamese ally and the first rate soldiers of the North Vietnamese enemy,
and their Viet Cong allies in the south. Why did we not listen to our French
allies when they tried to inform us? Perhaps our cultural arrogance that
keeps us from knowing our allies-or even their language!
Ignorance-in all three military services, and in USAID, the State Department
and the CIA as well-virtually assured that our decision-makers would not have
unbiased, disinterested information. Advice given by functionaries in these
entrenched bureaucracies was not simply a patent concoction of some liars
attempting to mislead for personal advantage. These were honest but ignorant
and arrogant authorities who knew little, but had no idea that much of what
they thought they knew was not so.
The recent mea culpa of Robert MacNamara, the SECDEF of this era, in his book
Argument Without End, validates these multiple, severe descriptions of the
securely ensconced chiefs in uniformed as well as civil bureaucracies. Each
described the wonders his own service would accomplish, and then, when they
failed, perfunctorily requested another increase in its committed force.
In Viet-Nam, communications from the field to headquarters were seldom
permitted to include setbacks or program failures. Rather, success had to be
reported. At times, reportage of Intelligence employees was implausible,
even laughable, to colleagues from other agencies and services. Intelligence
employees even hampered relations with our Vietnamese allies in that they
would describe themselves as being "from the Embassy." When officers from
the Embassy had to deal with Vietnamese who had been in contact with U.S.
intelligence employees, the Vietnamese quickly assumed that the Embassy
officers were simply more CIA agents roaming the country.
It probably is fair to speculate that useful, accurate intelligence might
have averted two wars. Had Dean Acheson better intelligence about the Far
East and Korea in particular, he might not have made the speech in which he
said that Korea and other areas were outside the sphere of U.S. interest.
That virtually handed North Korea a license to invade South Korea. Had our
Ambassador to Iraq in 1990 better intelligence, her audience with Saddam
Hussein might well have avoided conveying to him that he could invade Kuwait
Several recent books reveal how our cold war with the Soviet Union nearly
heated up to fissionable temperature, precipitated by insufficient
intelligence on both sides. (In the new dark ages that we narrowly avoided,
these accounts might still have been written, but with pieces of charcoal on
flattened walls of buildings in both countries.) Sergei Khruschev's story of
the career of his father, Nikita Khruschev, and the Creation of a Super
Power, relates the Soviet side of the fury that caused his father to dispatch
their missiles to Cuba.
The British historian, Robert Surface, supplies in his recent work, Lenin, an
enlightening stage setter and introduction for Josef Stalin's control of the
Soviet Union. Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin's dictatorial rule three
years after his death made him a respected figure to some communist
officials, but anathema to many others. It was a driving factor in his
abrupt removal from office in 1964.
Mikhail Gorbachev's Memoirs provides his reaction to Khruschev's removal and
a studied, credible account of its effects on the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's
sponsorship of Glasnost and Perestroika, based on his conviction that the
structure and mission of the Politburo had to be reformed, lights a
political/historical path all thinking Americans should survey.
These books strongly reinforce my long-standing contention that improving the
qualifications of our intelligence officers is critical for national
security. Our world has undergone enormous changes with entirely new kinds
of terrorist threats. Civil and holy wars require new approaches by
intelligence services. Our defense establishment must accommodate today's
environment and give up the outmoded tactics and practices of yesteryears.
We then had negligible information on what really was motivating the Russians
and how they perceived our various actions toward them. And today, will our
National Missile Defense initiative provoke them similarly? Adequate,
reliable intelligence might inform us.
What can be done? One improvement would be to change the practice of
assigning less competent personnel to Intelligence positions. Over my long
army career, the way we located the least competent captain in an infantry
battalion was by calling for the S-2. The least competent major was the
regimental S-2. Has this changed? I hope so, but if not, it is a practice
that must be stopped. These faults persisted in my day because troop units
always needed the best officers available, and the operational, logistic, and
personnel officers were also needed every day. The intelligence officer's
role was esoteric, hence his post would be filled by whoever was available.
We certainly should make better use than in the past of employees of
non-intelligence agencies. During the Viet-Nam war, some of the political
officers furnished by the State Department to Corps and Province teams were
far more effective than those of our own meager military resources. The
Vietnamese of both factions accepted one of these people working for John
Paul Vann as readily as if he were one of the French planters they knew well.
He was given information both opposing elements wanted passed back to Vann
We should listen to officers who have thought deeply about these matters.
One of the finest Army officers I've ever known, then Colonel Eugene Lynch
whom I met in Vietnam, has thought through the world in which we operate.
The matrices Mike has used to illustrate his findings are the most serious of
all extensions of Clausewitz that his devotees have seen to date. Mike views
the Principles of War from strategic, tactical, and operational levels in
charts that could be understood by a C&GSC student within a week's exposure.
Mike's focus on Force versus Power; Form versus Function, and Measures versus
Ends would make young officers/operators of the Navy's SEALs and our Army's
Special Force far more valuable than their Vietnam era processing could do.
Exposure to his structure combined with a stringent examination of their own
past experience would provide a much fuller comprehension of the world they
will now serve.
Our most abject failing stems from our poor capacity to understand other
trained in anthropology and several other social sciences would be useful.
Our pacification programs in Vietnam would have benefited from such officers.
I was exposed to the ability of anthropologists to cross cultures by
watching Tom Dooley's team work in their field hospital in 1961 in western
Laos (Ban Hue Sai). Colonel Yarborough, then commanding the Special Warfare
Center, was very sensitive to any tactic likely to make our White Star Mobile
Training Teams more effective. He shared his "Black Bag" with the graduate
students of Weston Labarre, author of The Human Animal, then teaching at Duke
University. Our Special Forces teams became far more effective in a matter
of months. It is a pity none of us realized our successors would
betray/abandon the Hmong mountain people that our new skills enabled us to
An obvious task of the new Bush Administration is to resolve these continuing
failures. What can be done other than the self-evident "close down and start
over" response, which itself is not a credible solution? The just completed
Hart-Rudman Commission has illuminated some
organizational steps that can improve operational capabilities in forces that
circumstances may again require us to commit. The first of these other
remedies should be to require agreement on "lessons learned" from our Vietnam
The simplistic "never again" motto is attractive, but it has had no real
impact on the structure or orientation of the involved bureaucracies that
misled Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon about Vietnam. What
do we know now about indigenous cultures in areas where we may commit forces?
Has our new focus on "peacekeeping" missions stimulated beneficial
evolutions in the forces we may have to consign about the world? Would
present technologies have resolved the situation our commitment to Somalia
imposed on the forces sent there? What will be the eventual "blowback"* from
our decision to protect the people of Kosovo with our aircraft? Will our
on-going actions become more effective, and still be acceptable to our nation
and the rest of the world?
Both Prelude's and Backfire's candid denunciations of the errors we made in
Vietnam focus on our near total ignorance of that culture as well as our
driving obsession with the "domino" theory. Lenin wrote of "sloganizing the
revolution." It is evident that stultifying intellectual concepts, when
rendered to simple sounding phrases, can become an enemy's most effective
weapon-as with the domino theory we revered. Adopting this one certainly
disabled us and forced us to pay an enormous price in lives, equipment and
* "Blowback" is the CIA's term for "unintended consequences" of a policy or
action. The book of this title by Professor Chalmers Johnson is another "must
read" work. He makes it very evident that inertia is the most powerful force
generated by bureaucracies. The six years I spent alongside Johnson and
Professor Bob Scalapino of the Political Science Department of the University
of California at Berkeley (1972-78) took me down intellectual paths that
could have saved us enormous toll in treasure and lives had these been seen
and appreciated by our decision-makers.