Recently, perusing a printed version of a speech by Lewis Sorley, author, scholar and retired soldier, that reassesses the ARVN (the Army of the Republic of Vietnam), I was reminded of several things that mirrored my experience and my convictions about the years 1968 to 1972. The ARVN became an effective fighting force. President Nguyen Van Thieu became a wise, competent and determined leader. The Territorial Forces became a reliable local security complement of the military establishment. Finally, between 1969 and 1972 that war was actually won by the South.
Proof of that winning was the failure of the North's 1972 Easter Offensive in which the North was defeated on all fronts by the ARVN with the help of the U.S. Air Force and the logistical sustainment provided by other U.S. elements. It was the help promised by the Nixon administration that justified the withdrawal of American forces during that same period.
The ultimate loss of South Vietnam, caused by the terms of the Paris peace accords of 1973 and the congressional denial of subsequent air and logistical support, does not change the observation that the war was won at the end of 1972. There are many lessons from that period that are germane to our current situation in the war on terrorism and in Iraq.
The most important of these lessons might be reflected in the sentence: "The Territorial Forces became a reliable local security complement."
In 1968 Gen. Creighton Abrams became commander of the U.S. Forces in Vietnam, and in 1969 the newly elected Nixon administration came to power advocating the Viernamization of the war.
Gen. Abrams, who had the previous year been the deputy commander in Vietnam, recognized that the do-it-ourselves "search and destroy" strategy would have to evolve into a clear-and-hold campaign that would require improved capabilities of not only the ARVN but, most important, the Territorial Forces as well. The RF (Regional Forces controlled by province chiefs) and PF (Popular Forces responding to district and village chiefs) were commonly referred to by American troops as the ruff-puffs. They were the local militia-men too old or too young for the ARVN, soldiers retired or medically discharged from the ARVN, and yes, deserters who had become worn out by years of service in the ARVN and who just went home but were still willing to carry a gun to protect the local populace. …