Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife

By John A. Nagl | Go to book overview

7
The U.S. Army in Vietnam:
Organizational Culture and Learning
During the Fighting Years, 1965–1972

“ A STRONG TEMPTATION TO HIT SOMEONE”

During General Westmoreland's first year as MACV commander, the performance of the ARVN continued to decline while Viet Cong terrorism increased in both frequency and effectiveness. The Viet Cong occupied the village of Binh Gia on the night of 28 December 1964; the village was only forty miles southeast of Saigon. Five days later seven battalions of ARVN troops responding to a Viet Cong ambush of two ARVN ranger companies were soundly thrashed. After the defeat, in which over two hundred ARVN soldiers were killed in action (KIA) and five American advisers died, one U.S. officer in Saigon ventured the opinion “The Vietcong fought magnificently, as well as any infantry anywhere. But the big question for me is how its troops, a thousand or more of them, could wander around the countryside so close to Saigon without being discovered. That tells something about this war. You can only beat the other guy if you isolate him from the population.”1

The Viet Cong exploded a bomb in the Brinks Hotel, killing two Americans, injuring fifty-eight, and rousing fears that Saigon might fall to the Communists. General Westmoreland sent CINCPAC a message requesting the deployment of a U.S. Army division, stating, “I am convinced that U.S. troops with their energy, mobility and firepower can successfully take the fight to the VC. The main purpose of the additional deployments recommended below is to give us a substantial and hard hitting [offen]sive capability on the ground to convince the VC that they cannot win.”2

-151-

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