The U.S. involvement in Vietnam was born in near obscurity and seemed to grow unobtrusively, with few Americans--and for that matter, few of America's allies--able to foresee the nature and complexity of the involvement. 1Few of America's political and military leaders were able to grasp the essence of revolutionary war or the scope of national commitment that would eventually be required for prosecution of the Vietnam War. Moreover, few Americans anticipated the impact of the war on domestic politics. In the main, U.S. presidents beginning with Eisenhower confirmed and then reinforced the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam. Perhaps the most complicating, and at times debilitating, aspects of U.S. involvement were the disagreements within political and military circles regarding the nature of the conflict. 2 Many perceived the war as an extension of a conventional conflict, in a European context with Clausewitzian overtones. Others, in the minority initially, saw the war as a revolutionary conflict and felt the need to understand the writings of Sun Tzu. As the war progressed, debate about the conflict became more intense, and with it grew disagreements over strategy. Such disagreements remain today.
The debate over American strategy in Vietnam has a long history. During the early advisory years, American reporters in Vietnam, military advisors like the legendary John Paul Vann, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all criticized aspects of our policy and operations. As the United States assumed the major combat role in 1965, criticism of strategy grew. 3