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Best Defense

‘Vietnam’ Ep. 8: Trouble at home

This episode is mostly about My Lai and Kent State. I abstain from commenting.


This episode is mostly about My Lai and Kent State. I abstain from commenting.

We know Vietnamization, Nixon’s plan to get us out of Vietnam, was concocted to disguise our unilateral withdrawal from a war few American leaders believed we could win. But it was the only feasible solution we could devise to keep America from exploding. Yes, vast amounts of military materiel were shipped to Saigon to cover our retreat and buy President Thieu’s acquiescence.

Vietnamization was widely hyped to quell domestic rancor, but wiser heads here harbored doubts it could work. Privately, they suspected General Creighton Abrams was given an impossible mission. It might have been doable had Westmoreland surrendered his command earlier, rather than make Abe cool his heels in Saigon for nearly a year. It was a strategy doomed to failure.

There was another side to the coin, however. South Vietnam did not immediately collapse. “Many ARVN units did fight well,” the narrator acknowledges, for perhaps the first time. My interpretation is that Americanization of the war in 1965 weakened the South’s military and political infrastructure to the point that Vietnamization in 1970 was impossible, absent the North’s agreeing to withdraw from the South.

Le Duan was no quitter and enjoyed the support of the population in the North, not to mention governments in Moscow and Beijing. America was on the run, and they celebrated our retreat. Letting us leave with honor was not their solution.

The disturbances at home were devastating and effective, in some parts of the country more than others. Whether they were good for the country in the long run is a matter of debate. General Merrill McPeak says “we are better for it.” I’m not so sure.

LTC Charles A. Krohn, U.S. Army (ret.), is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet, and a former deputy chief of public affairs both of the Army and the American Battle Monuments Commission. If you are in Panama City Beach, Florida, say hello, and hand him a beer.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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 Twitter: @tomricks1

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