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Subject: A Failure in Generalship
Burke G Sheppard    6/30/2007 11:36:13 AM
A Failure in Generalship The military is beginning what may prove to be a wrenching internal debate over what has gone wrong in Iraq. This article in Armed Forces Journal, argues that America's Generals have been slow to adapt to the realities of guerrilla war.
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Jeff_F_F    And this guy is a Lt.Col.?   6/30/2007 4:46:33 PM
The most tragic error a general can make is to assume without much reflection that wars of the future will look much like wars of the past. Following World War I, French generals committed this error, assuming that the next war would involve static battles dominated by firepower and fixed fortifications. Throughout the interwar years, French generals raised, equipped, armed and trained the French military to fight the last war. In stark contrast, German generals spent the interwar years attempting to break the stalemate created by firepower and fortifications. They developed a new form of war — the blitzkrieg — that integrated mobility, firepower and decentralized tactics. The German Army did not get this new form of warfare precisely right. After the 1939 conquest of Poland, the German Army undertook a critical self-examination of its operations. However, German generals did not get it too far wrong either, and in less than a year had adapted their tactics for the invasion of France.
Germany didn't create a new form of warfare, and never called anything Blitzkreig. Germany simply built tanks that conformed to the style of mobile warfare-Bewegungskrieg-they had used during WWI and even before. True, after Poland they fine tuned their tactics though.
America's defeat in Vietnam is the most egregious failure in the history of American arms. America's general officer corps refused to prepare the Army to fight unconventional wars, despite ample indications that such preparations were in order. Having failed to prepare for such wars, America's generals sent our forces into battle without a coherent plan for victory. Unprepared for war and lacking a coherent strategy, America lost the war and the lives of more than 58,000 service members.
Vietnam was many things. A failure of arms was not one of them. Nor was it a failure to successfully counter insurgency. Our forces were overwhelmingly effective in the field, and tactics had already been established such as airmobility that served our forces very well. Our forces could have been better equipped--for example with more armor assets--and could have been better trained, but this was not a failure of generalship but of the will of our nation to provide our military with the tools they needed to fight.
In terms of combating an insurgency consider the actual history of the conflict. Up until the mid 1960s an active insurgency played an important role in the North Vietnamese strategy. However, US and South Vietnamese forces worked effectively to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese peasantry, and the brutal terrorist tactics of the Viet Cong leadership worked to undermine their support. As a result by 1965 the North realized that they were losing the insurgent war and escalated the amount of regular North Vietnamese Army troops that they sent to attack the South. It was in response to this escalation that we escalated our involvement in the war. The North Vietnamese were unable to effectively turn the situation to their advantage and so they made a last ditch effort to take over the country in Tet Offensive of 1968. This failed so miserably that the North was nearly forced to negotiate, until support from the international news media bolsterered theri cause. Regardless of the propaganda value, the Viet Cong insurgency was wiped out, and the North Vietnamese Army was crippled. It was not able to mount an attack of such magnitude again until 1972. Again they were repulsed.
However the new Presidential administration under Nixon was establishing a new strategy for dealing with Communism. Unlike the previous administrations since Eisenhower who had sought to repulse and contain Communism directly, Nixon sought to negotiate and subvert communist countries over time. The containment strategy had prompted Eisenhower to support the non-democratically elected governement of South Vietnam in violation of the terms America had agreed to abide by at the Geneva Conference that ended the Indochina War, since it was almost certain that Communists would have won if free elections were allowed. Nixon had already normalized relations with one of North Vietnam's main allies, Communist China. After the disasterous defeat in 1972 the Nixon administration pushed both the North and South to agree to the compromise Treaty of Paris then pulled out most forces. In 1975 the North attacked again and America refused to intervene pulling out their last advisors and diplomats.
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Jeff_F_F    And this guy is a Lt.Col.?   6/30/2007 5:49:15 PM
If anything, the American experience in Vietnam showed that the American military had under-emphasized the importance of conventional forces such as armor and fighter aircraft. The inadequate application of armor support in Vietnam was one of the main problems in technology that I've seen noted, another being the lack of guns on most viariants of the F-4 Phantom. Vietnam was partially responsible for the development of the A-10 which was intended for COIN as well as conventional CAS missions. American experience in Vietnam repeatedly proved the value of mobile and flexible field artillery, so the authors criticism of Artillery development as being out of step with the needs of COIN warfare is especially rediculous. True Artillery hasn't been used as much in Iraq as Vietnam, but that shows the difference between operations against terrorists in urbanized terrain as opposed to operations against light infantry in uninhabited jungle terrain.
Other technological developments such as imprved communications are extremely applicable to the rapidly changing tactical environment of counter insurgency warfare, and the development of UAVs before OIF while not as fast-paced as afterward was nevertheless movement in the correct direction. The main technological lacking of the US forces going into Iraq was not having all light vehicles equiped with a basic armor package protecting against small arms and mines. It wasn't a lacking that prevented the military from fighting and winning battles, though it did increase the casualties we took.
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