BOOK EDITOR'S NOTE. The top political issue in the country currently is the Iraq War, which has been compared--and contrasted--with the Vietnam War. In this issue we present reviews of two books by Phi Kappa Phi members who write from personal experience in these conflicts.--NRL
Charles Henderson. Goodnight Saigon: The True Story of the U.S. Marines' Last Days in Vietnam. New York: Berkley, 2005.448 pages. $24.95 (hardbound).
Alexis de Tocqueville believed that democratic armies often perform badly and are weaker than aristocratic armies at the beginning of campaigns, but in time, they develop their assets and fighting spirit to prevail against their adversaries (Democracy in America). Most certainly, after the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, many Americans in government, the military services, and veterans believed that the Army of South Vietnam (ARVN) could stand on its own against any invasion by the North Vietnamese. After all, the ARVN and South Vietnamese Marine Corps were both mirror images of their mentors, the U.S. Army and USMC. As Charles Henderson points out, perhaps they were capable of doing that on paper, but the Clausewitzian concepts of luck and political leadership played deadly roles in the tragic destiny of the Republic of Vietnam from March to April 1975.
In war as in life, if one does nothing to stop decay, a situation will collapse into chaos. In the face of the second huge invasion of the Republic of Vietnam in January 1975the first being the Easter Offensive in 1972instead of holding defensive positions and counterattacking, President Nguyen Van Thieu, himself a former ARVN general officer, ordered his northern armies into a full retreat toward Saigon. Under the weight of mass movement under fire, South Vietnamese field forces collapsed, and the northern provinces gave way quickly to the North Vietnamese Army's (NVA) powerful onslaught. An enigma? Hardly.
In Goodnight Saigon, Charles Henderson shows through interviews with former Viet Cong soldiers how the NVA worked closely with the indigenous Viet Cong who operated often a Fifth Column that infiltrated and attacked target cities before the main attacks. By showing how this tactic, called the "Lotus Blossom," worked, Henderson makes the point that it was used consistently during the entire campaign with pointed effectiveness. Henderson, always the Marine, believes that battles are always won or lost by the foot soldiers on the ground. Yet victory cannot be accomplished without good tactics.
The battle for South Vietnam opened on March 10, 1975, when the NVA attacked the city of Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands. …