Ken Burns’s Vietnam, Part 5

There’s a saying in the Pentagon: “No horse is too dead to beat.” Ken Burns proves himself eager to box the pony with the best of them. He entitled this episode “This Is What We Do.” A better title may be “Welcome to the Dead Marine Zone.” There are three points that Burns misses in his rush to beat a dead horse.

The first point concerns battlespace. Is land important when one’s enemy rejects owning it? Borders meant nothing to the communists. Villages, roads, rivers and railways served as fields of dreams: they would occupy only to watch the Americans charge in. Occupy, hit, melt, refit, move was the 5-step tactic used. The North Vietnamese were people-oriented.

In contrast, America committed to observing borders and providing safe places for the communists. America fought as land-oriented. North Vietnam fought one war, the Americans fought another war entirely.

The second point concerns learning. Burns talks about units – this battalion of marines, that 173rd Airborne. What isn’t being talked about is the system of personnel replacements used to fill the ranks. Along with this was the attrition among experienced small unit leaders – the NCO and company-grade officers who are invaluable to winning. The Americans fought each battle as an amateur unit, with Instant NCO and no formed, bonded teams. What of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

In our unCivil War, Union and Confederate regiments would be enter a rest-&-refit stage to recover from combat and prepare for the next fight. General Grant changed that dynamic in his drive from DC to Petersburg in 1864. His regiments fought, marched, fought, marched – with fresh units replacing combat-ineffective ones. The Confederates had gone through a different process in which small units were consolidated again and again so that some regiments had veterans, survivors of many other regiments.

Grant did not seek to gain land, or hold it much beyond the basics of security lines of communication. Lee had to focus on land with Richmond so close behind him. Grant sought to inflict casualties among the Army of Northern Virginia, and to force Lee to consume supplies beyond the Confederacy’s ability to replace.

Americans did the same in World War I, pursuing the enemy; and again in World War II with the Island-Hopping Campaign that made casualties of Japanese garrisons – cut off and as good as dead while they secured their islands. Land becomes important after total victory, not before. Destroying the enemy’s will to fight is the goal. We forgot that Vietnam.

The third point is one of culture. Burns shows us hippies, but not how a hippie is made. Hollywood was in the process of exchanging “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for “Hang ‘Em High” revisionism. The new films brought a seeming-new point of view to young audiences – Americans as bad guys. Winners as losers, You are not only NOT special – you’re probably a villain. Music, art, sports, and education underwent similar transformations. Like the South Vietnamese in the countryside, young Americans at home lost their sense of security as the changes destroyed their Ozzie & Harriet lives.

This is what we do? The American way of war is most-violent maneuver, Vietnam was an aberration. Thoroughly beaten, the horse is still dead. The only thing sadder is the tears of a clown.

Posted in History, Insurgency & Counterinsurgency, Strategy | 1 Comment

Ken Burns’s Vietnam, Part 4

This episode’s theme was ‘The Home Front.’ The experiences of North and South Vietnam and the US were presented as equivalent in their social violence, but these are false equivalents. Burns presents the North as undergoing the ravages of bombing. The South undergoes successive political coups, creating a ‘flavor of the month’ mentality that erases security. The US experiences a purely organic – and this is stupidly stressed – Antiwar movement, which opportunistically linked itself to racial and political movements. Purely. Organic. Like astroturf is organic. Burns missed an incredible opportunity to tell the story of the Vietnam War on the home fronts.

Home front is the informal term for the civilian populace of the nation at war as an active support system of their military. Military forces depend on “home front” civilian support services such as factories that build materiel to support the military front.

I call these false equivalents because each is unique in their primary stressors and actors and effects. Burns presents what was a massive logistics enterprise on the part of the USSR and Communist China to give North Vietnam the means to fight. What we don’t see is that the logistics is enough to survive to fight, but not sufficient to prosper and to absorb the South and eventually their Laotian and Cambodian puppets. This was an effective strategy on the USSR’s and China’s part to ensure Vietnam would willingly enslave themselves to foreign masters in exchange for the means to survive the post-war challenges of life.

North Vietnam’s way of life was abandoned after the French left. Le Duan put the country on the warpath so being bombed and being reliant on European and Chinese allies was not a new thing. Being in this mindset, and the subsequent organization of society allowed the North Vietnamese to absorb the abuse and keep on fighting.

The South’s experience was significantly different because the military junta ruling the South was filled with infighting, regular coups d’etat, and riots in the cities that distracted from the existential threat outside of Saigon. The people were preyed on by the communists, and then victimized by the South. These many changes created internal contradictions: who is in charge – today? In this location? At this moment? If I live my life as a Vietnamese commoner, who will kill me for harvesting my rice and raising my family?

The cities remained French in aspect, and were considered safe. They weren’t safe, and neither were the fortified villages scattered across the provinces. Civilization gave the illusion of security that the South Vietnamese could not reconcile among themselves.

Like the North, the South’s economy – it’s essential means of surviving as a society is not discussed by Burns. What is presented is the friction of four distinct groups: farmers, Buddhist monks and nuns, white collar professionals and students (who were from the white collar group). There is a fifth group, the soldiers, but they are a blend of the other four. We don’t see a middle class, we don’t see industry outside of farming and servicing the war. There was no ‘after the war’ thoughts.

Meanwhile, in America, there was a desperation to get to ‘after the war.’ The prime movers of that desperation were a highly organized “antiwar” movement and sheer, unadulterated fear of combat. Bill Zimmerman, a career antiwar activist who provided genuine material aid to North Vietnam is presented. He gives a very honest assessment: when the antiwar movement was billed as an ethical response to war, it failed. But, when America’s young men were faced with combat, they signed on with the antiwar movement. From principles to self interest. I find little to wonder where the idea that the protesters were less than men, beta males whose genes were passed on to children and grandchildren who fought against OIF and OEF, and today fight as Antifa. I can respect genuinely held beliefs, such as religious objections. But decadence-grown fear of doing man things? No.

My other objection is, once again, the concrete Leftism of Burns’s editorial view. The Antiwar movement was not organic. It was brilliant in linking itself to racial and political change movements, but it was still a KGB and GRU-run operation. Burns’s flippant dismissal of that fact relegates genuine history to a conspiracy theory. Burns is a story teller, not a historian, but the story dies with this 2-second burial of fact. Beyond that, Burns gives us nothing new. Everything presented isn’t worthy of second thought. It’s what Burns leaves out, what he just can’t explain that is interesting. Like Holmes’s dog that didn’t bark in the night, the absence is the key to unlocking the mystery.

What was absent? The economies and the societies were examined beyond the surface. There is a lot missing and it took 20 years before the effects of the war on Vietnam leaked out. Did anyone examine and learn from that?

Another discussion absent was the global strategic/operational activities going on in Europe, Africa, Central and South America as well as the civil war next door in Laos. What are the lessons in this?

What were the pro-communist operations going on in the US, as an extension of the operational arts in the major muscle movements on the continents and areas listed above. How can similar be applied today in order to produce victory in places like Lebanon and Afghanistan?

It’s a shame. So much to cover, but even in music Burns lets his audience down. Perhaps if he changed his editorial bent, we wouldn’t have had the same old song inflicted on us. The 4 Tops do it so much better.

Posted in Defending the Homeland, History, Leadership, Strategy | 3 Comments

The Sergeant Major of the Army Is At It Again

I won’t comment on all the ideas, I have not had time to digest them.  Off the top of my head I think Up or Out for NCOs is stupid, just like I think it is stupid for well performing officers.  The idea that really sticks in my craw, is his notion of bringing back “Pinks and Greens” for the Army.  Read it for yourself.

Three comments; 1.  You can’t be serious that you want to change our uniform again, 2. How much will this cost the Army? 3.  You do realize that “Pinks and Greens” was an officers uniform.  Enlisted wore OD Green Jacket and Trousers.  Officers had a cloth belt all the time and a Sam Browne belt for dress occasions, enlisted had no belt normally and NCO belt for dress occasions.

Posted in Army, Idiocy, Sergeant Majors being stupid | 2 Comments

Ken Burns’s Vietnam, Part 3

Ken Burns presents the US escalation of involvement in Vietnam as a couple living together: committed to remain uncommitted. As is the norm, whomever goes all in wins. Maybe VMI’s football team could learn a thing or two from that. Maybe? But I digress. Burns presents the theme of commitment in three acts: political empowerment, the operational arts, and mobilization.

Act 1 opens with Burns telling of Le Duan’s seizure of power away from Ho Chi Minh and the subsequent consolidation of that power the Moscow Playbook of Purges. The North Vietnamese Politburo met in November 1963 and voted in favor of Le Duan. This gives Burns a reason to excuse Uncle Ho from further responsibility for the war. Ho’s allies were purged and Le Duan committed North Vietnam to active if not formally declared warfare in the south.

Burns starts his contrasting illustration using LBJ as an almost-sympathetic figure, an inheritor to a meandering mess, and pushed by the provocation of Le Duan and Barry Goldwater (because aren’t Republicans responsible for everything?). Le Duan committed. Johnson would not.

Act 2 continues the Little Lost LBJ meme through the absence of the operational level of war on the part of the RVN and US. There was a strategy – stopping communism and creating an environment that allowed for the Far East to stabilize and restore itself after WWII and the Korean War. There were tactics emphasizing mobility and firepower. There was nothing in between – no invasion of North Vietnam, no indirect approach to stretch the North’s resources to breaking. Perhaps the presence of 320,000 Chinese PLA soldiers performing support duties in the North caused Johnson and the JCS to blink.

The North had an operational-level plan and carried it out, with allies in the US, USSR and China. The Anti-war Movement was a cheap investment that paid huge dividends, and having spawned today’s Antifa, continues to return on the investment. For the American people and their military, the absence of a larger vision meant Vietnam was about patrols, in combat, with casualties broadcast during the evening’s supper – young men resembling meatloaf to watch with leftovers.

Other evidence of commitment was the mobilization of civilians to maintain and act as porters on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The USSR and Communist China committed men and materiel to prop up North Vietnam so more men and women could be sent into combat with the single tactic of attrition – and the North refused to count the cost. The US responded with first 3 battalions of Marines. Then 2 more. Then Army units. Then a request for 200,000 troops while still maintaining a presence in West Germany, Korea, and across the globe.

Some questions that Burns doesn’t ask:

Had LBJ not had to focus on Vietnam, could he have effectively ended Jim Crow without the pain and creation of abiding anger? Could his Great Society actually have achieved at least 1 positive thing?

Where did the Anti-war (now Anti-fa) come from? Why did they only protest wars and incidents in which the USSR had a vested interest?

Marshall, Ike, Nimitz and MacArthur were gone, so whom among their lieutenants – the Vietnam-era generals and admirals gave a thought to the operational arts?

Communist China would have had to react just like it did in Korea had the US decided to reunify Vietnam as a one, pro-democracy country. Could China and the USSR afford to react, or would they have folded from the increasing internal contradictions that make up communism?

Would a similar anti-war movement in the USSR and China have caused them to restrict support?

Does a new, pet theory of war – in this case JFK’s belief in limited, guerilla warfare obligate the officers of our armed Services, and the diplomats and spies, to forget how to prosecute warfare at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of war? To integrate, synchronize, and to go all in?

Has Anti-fa and the Progressives ever actually studied the Moscow Playbook? I know that means being exposed to real history, not Zinn’s horsesh*t. It never ends well for those committed to the ideals of the resistance/revolution.

Posted in Elements of National Power, History, Insurgency & Counterinsurgency, Leadership | 1 Comment

Ken Burns’s Vietnam, Part 2

Part 2 could well be titled “A Tale of 5 Leaders” as Burns compares the effects of the different styles of leadership on the combatants. Uncle Ho and John Paul Vann as usual get a pass, while Kennedy and General Paul D. Harkins get the post-revisionism treatment. Burns’s telling of South Vietnamese president Diem and the command climate he created reminded me of Hamid Karzai and his American advisors – absolutely determined to lose a sure thing, and loot the American treasury along the way.

The best way to describe Diem was he was Uncle Ho’s less able philosophical twin. Like Uncle Ho, Diem never married, and marked his interpersonal relationships with a toxic combination of suspicion, gaslighting, and contempt for the Vietnamese. The effects of this created a command climate that destroyed the integrity and competence of the South Vietnamese government and army.

While Uncle Ho carefully crafted his public persona to be a kindly, very wise patriarch, Diem was in charge by Divine Right and went out of his way to make war on his own people. If Kennedy wanted to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, Diem wanted their balls on his mantle.

Kennedy got the Camelot treatment much like Uncle Ho, but after the appropriation of Camelot by the Clintons, Kennedy received a vicious revision of his legacy. Honesty is the best policy, but Burns overlooked some larger questions to protect Kennedy.

What was Kennedy’s goal, or goals, and why did he change the American way of war in such as way as to disconnect command from control from combat?

Kennedy, like Giap, shifted the American way of war from what we consider “conventional” Desert Storm-like warfare to guerilla war coupled with sound societal measures. The Marine Corps AND the Peace Corps. Kennedy promoted the Special Forces, a practice revived by Donald Rumsfeld. The Peace Corps went in to assist the civilian population. The theory was sound and effective given the amount of resources expended by the communists to destroy the artifacts and effects of the Peace Corps in the countryside. Like Afghanistan, there wasn’t much coordination between the military and civilians fighting both Diem and Uncle Ho.

That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of General Paul D. Harkins, CG of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). Harkins distinguished himself as Patton’s Ops genius, keeping Third Army moving, and as Commandant of Cadets during a major cheating scandal (90 cadets were dismissed). As CG of MACV, Harkins is presented as an ostrich dressed in a target thoroughly detached from reality and deceptive. What isn’t asked is ‘what is the mission of MACV?’ Was it to keep the South Vietnamese fighting the communists in such a way as to pull resources from Communist China and the USSR, or to develop a westernized conventional military? In both cases Harkins succeeded. If MACV’s mission was to win the war, Harkins failed.

Who never fails is Sam Cooke. Enjoy!

Posted in History, Leadership, Strategy | 4 Comments

Vietnam by Ken Burns: a Review of Part 1

There’s a saying: “[w]henever text taken out of context there is a pretext.” In Part I of Ken Burns’s documentary on Vietnam, the text – what was presented to you – left out context. So, what is the pretext? I’m still considering the presentation, the facts, and the editorial view of Burns and how these came together to form the story.

Ken Burns and his company made a technically excellent film. You won’t get any argument from me on that score. Speaking of scores, the music was perhaps the most honest aspect of Part I. A hard, hard rain coming down indeed! The use of parallels – to compare the combat between the Vietnamese and the French, then the Vietnamese and the Americans provide a text of brutality, hatred, and trauma. This comparison sets the pretext of tying Americans, and the larger questions of ‘what is good,’ ‘what is honor,’ and integrity in matching deed to words to intrinsic evils illustrated in 19th Century colonialism: racism, ethnocentrism, and the savagery of enforcing rule.

Burns does present the view that the Vietnamese were no angels when it came to savagery, but this doesn’t balance the scales. There is context missing. Uncle Ho carried out the early stages of the revolution straight out of Moscow’s textbook. He kept his public image above the fray, leaving his two lieutenants, General Giap and Le Duan, to ruthlessly purge the revolution of everyone less than 110% committed, and enact brutal strategies modeled on Russia, the Warsaw Pact countries and Russia’s client states, China, and North Korea.

Burns continues the old trope of “Uncle Ho is as American as Apple Pie” through repeated associations with Progressive idols Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK. Uncle Ho’s inclusion of Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence were hailed by Burns as proof of Ho Chi Minh’s benevolence. The absence of context is noted in questions:

1. If General Giap and Le Duan were as ruthless as claimed, how did Ho Chi Minh escape purging since he was 1) Americanized; 2) western (meaning European in philosophy); and, 3) not violent in and of himself?

2. If the Russians believed Ho Chi Minh was more nationalist than communist, why did they let him live?

Burns doesn’t ask that question in Part I. There are more questions left unasked. With that, I leave you with this review by Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Sang who asks:

To me, in order to determine who won and who lost the war, one needs to answer three fundamental questions: (1) what was the goals of the involved parties. (2) What price did they have to pay? (3) The overall assessment of the war.

Finally, some context. But not from Ken Burns.

Posted in History, Strategy | 1 Comment

Friday Techday: a Game of Clouds

Most of you have heard about the latest outrageous computer hack – this time of Equifax. There is no database system that can’t be hacked, either from the inside or the outside. Information Security is a misnomer since no data can be secure once it is joined to a network. This, and the increasing trend of “Cloud” which is paying someone you don’t know to hold onto your data in some place that may or may not be in the US of A, creates a velvet revolution against your liberty.

One aspect is the increase in access by implacable actors. If your data and information is stored on a system with an antenna, it can be hacked. How? Using the fairly benign capabilities that you use to update your system, receive and send messages and phone calls – you can do it, and the vendors do it without your knowing.

Under the cloak of being good, evil occurs. Tesla responded to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma by remotely extending the life of the battery, and therefore driving range so folk could escape the zones of destruction.

If they can do that, what else can they do?

If they can do it, who else can?

But remote updates are Good, therefore DoD is going forward with remote updates to the F-35. If DoD can send an update, what’s to stop a malevolent force?

Then there’s the capture of 66% of America’s defenses. First the Intelligence Community, now DoD. Only State escaped, but not to worry, since Hillary’s felonious efforts to escape American scrutiny delivered State into Putin’s hands. Given Manning, now a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Snowden of Moscow we are the most transparent government in history. That your data was exposed and then sold is of no matter to them since you lack their virtue and superior ethics.

Jeff Bezos now possesses capabilities far beyond Trump. He owns the shooting part of our defenses, if not the nukes yet. He’s got the spies. And a world class logistics operation that reaches to all levels of our own and the globe’s economies. And his own communications medium (the WaPo is one giant advert for Amazon), and his own NASA. His personal wealth is greater than most states, and most countries. We’ve reached a stage last seen before America existed – individuals who are nations unto themselves. Can they be trusted to be Stark or Lannister? Is it worth your liberty?

Posted in Air Force, Aviation, Cyberwar, Marine Corps, Navy | 2 Comments