Best Defense

Some thoughts provoked by the publication of a new edition of Thomas Thayer’s wonderful Vietnam War study

For years, those who care about the Vietnam War have known that one of the best books on it is Thomas Thayer’s War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam.

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For years, those who care about the Vietnam War have known that one of the best books on it is Thomas Thayer’s War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam. But it was hard to find in libraries and almost impossible to buy at a reasonable price.

So I was pleased when the deck ape tossed the mailbag to the dock the other day and out popped this new edition. It is certainly one of the 10 best American books on the Vietnam War.

The final lines of the book are striking: “If the United States ever again gets involved in a war without front, our top leaders and commanders could do worse than to demand systematic analysis of the situation with a strong emphasis on the patterns that emerge. It won’t win the war by itself but it won’t hurt the effort either.” I think the Army actually began to do this well in Iraq during the Surge. But the larger institution didn’t seem interested, and I think remains that way.

Looking over Thayer again, I cooked up a new theorem: Anyone who has been fighting an insurgency war less than a year is a kind of combat tourist. I am not sure that is phrased right, but the thought is that most of our warfighting efforts over the last 15 years in Afghanistan and then Iraq were the military equivalent of tourism.

Image credit: Amazon.com

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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