Learning to Forget: US Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Practice from Vietnam to Iraq

By David Fitzgerald | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

SUCH WAS THE IMPACT of the Vietnam War on the Army’s culture that the lessons of the war reverberated all the way through to the war in Iraq and then on to Afghanistan. Nowhere were these echoes more clear than in the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Vietnam had a profound and continuing effect on Army attitudes toward counterinsurgency, and the Army’s lessons of Vietnam were fluid, contested, and changeable. The fortunes of counterinsurgency within the US Army and the Army’s lessons of Vietnam were inextricably linked throughout the post-Vietnam era; the relationship was not one way but rather symbiotic. Just as the Army’s post-Vietnam distrust of counterinsurgency closely related to its lessons of Vietnam, similarly, the post-2005 revisiting of the lessons of Vietnam was tied to the reemergence of counterinsurgency within the Army. The nature of this relationship says much about the Army’s organizational culture, its identity, its collective memory, the manner in which it learns lessons, and the way it adapts and innovates in response to crises.


THE FALL AND RESURRECTION OF COUNTERINSURGENCY

Although the Army has a long history of engaging in counterinsurgency campaigns, counterinsurgency has rarely been a core part of the Army’s identity. Even during the Vietnam War, at the height of the Kennedy administration’s enthusiasm for the concept, the Army’s attitude toward counterinsurgency was lukewarm at best. This ambivalence contributed to the poor quality of both the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and its strategy in Vietnam. Counterinsurgency was never at the heart of the campaigns prosecuted by

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