Academic journal article Parameters

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Parameters

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

By Ira A. Hunt, Jr.

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013

416 pages


Over forty years after the signing of the Paris peace accords, the "postwar war" in Vietnam continues to be relatively neglected, at least by the standards of the literature of that exhaustively documented conflict. With Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia, Ira Hunt adds to the literature by offering an analysis of the collapse of South Vietnam and the Khmer Republic and strives to correct misperceptions about the denouement of the war; instead, he accidentally offers a window into the mindset that contributed to America's defeat in Indochina.

Part of the Association of the US Army's "Battles and Campaigns" series, the book uneasily straddles the line between analysis and memoir. Hunt (who also served as Chief of Staff in the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969) certainly had a unique vantage point on this period of the war. As Deputy Commander of the United States Support Activities Group (USSAG) in Thailand during this period, Hunt met frequently with senior military leaders of South Vietnam and Cambodia and had access to all Southeast Asia operational reports. He uses that perspective to produce an account of the efforts of various US military advisors and diplomats to keep American financial aid flowing into Indochina. The title of the book is something of a misnomer, as only half the book covers the final years of the Republic of South Vietnam, while the rest focuses on the war in Cambodia, with some brief codas on the Mayaguez incident, the insurgency in Thailand, and the war in Laos.

Throughout, Hunt argues the lack of US funding for the South Vietnamese and Cambodian war efforts doomed both governments to defeat. Hunt produces table after table highlighting the curtailment of ammunition expenditure and the drop in flying hours that meant the South Vietnamese and Cambodians were unable to hold off the final communist onslaughts in the spring of 1975. He argues ammunition shortages and rampant inflation created deep-seated morale problems in South Vietnamese and Cambodian forces. Somewhat tendentiously, he claims, despite all of this, "in early March 1975 South Vietnam was holding its own," making a similar claim with respect to the Cambodians. Hunt is more willing to blame the institutional culture of the Cambodian Army than he is to seriously question the decisionmaking of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) leadership.

Hunt's argument is thoroughly informed by his Thailand-based perspective. In many ways, this book is a distillation of various reports that crossed Hunt's desk in Nakhon Phanom airbase. While he produces statistics for things as diverse as ammunition expenditures, precipitation in Indochina, enemy-initiated incidents, and a "won-lost" ledger for major engagements in South Vietnam in 1973 and 1974, there is something missing here. …

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