The Vietnam War: Unstructured data reporting and counterinsurgency

After reading No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War I could not help but think about the consequences failed data reporting by MACV can serve a historical lesson for re-implementing or adjusting campus data reporting systems.

data reporting during Vietnam War
Data report tickets used by MACV in the early stages of The Vietnam War

Key stakeholders on campus should easily state their reasons for data collection and reporting. No Sure Victory benefits campus units by revealing an early, dare I say Big Data approach to unstructured data reporting and delivering actionable data.

Today we immediately understand Google’s Compute Engine or an Amazon Elastic MapReduce cloud for this demand.

Universities can thrive with diverse reporting teams. Working with Institutional Research and striving to improve enrollment and retention efforts are key goals. Yet important roles are filled with student workers. Here unstructured data often fragments over mismanagement. Many ad hoc Microsoft Excel documents are created without data governance and become silo’d from the campus data warehouse. Key stakeholders on any campus including CIOs, IR Directors, Research staff, Program Directors, campus data reporter writers and student workers. Even seasoned campus data report writers are not leveraged to streamline actionable data insights.

No Sure Victory brings to light a tragic failed data reporting implementation by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in addressing a war in Vietnam. The was his reputation as one of The Wiz Kids, the World War II Statistical Control unit that analyzed operational and logistical data to manage war.

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Latest read: No Sure Victory

In many ways my desire to understand the US failure in Vietnam has been a long difficult road stretching many years. No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War by Gregory Daddis answers many long held questions.
no sure victoryAfter digesting so many resources in reading, watching documentaries and listening to interviews with veterans, politicians and social leaders during the long duration of the war I believe No Sure Victory brings together strong indicators regarding our nation’s failure in Vietnam. The focus is the failure of MACV to gather and process data against an established set of goals (KPIs) over the long stretch of this war.

Daddis documents McNamara’s injection of data gathering when LBJ increased the American commitment to South Vietnam. McNamara’s experience as one of The Wiz Kids set the stage in his role as Secretary of Defense.

Our enemy was determined and battle tested. America was fighting a larger, strategic cold war with an emerging China and established Soviet Union in both Europe and Asia.

Daddis sheds light throughout No Sure Victory not only on the lack of White House direction but how MACV leadership could not adapt to fighting a war of counterinsurgency. Johnson, McNamara nor Westmoreland were able to establish measurable KPIs for reporting progress in the war. The impact of this television war confused the US government, media and population. At the same time Daddis points to key failures in not understanding the affects of the French Indo-China war regarding counterinsurgency. This lack of understanding established a crippling third leg the US consistently fought to balance against the cold war political spectrum.

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Last Days in Vietnam

It should be no surprise in all of my reading focusing on The Vietnam War that I would of course take full advantage of PBS’s offer to watch a free stream of the broadcast of Last Days in Vietnam. This was a 2015 Emmy nominated documentary that did not win last night.
Last Days in VietnamAmerica made a generational investment in both Vietnam and Southeast Asia. We today reflect and measure that commitment in blood and money. It is still difficult to watch two democracies struggled to fight a dedicated communist enemy.

I hope anyone can appreciate the difficult position American soldiers and staff at the US Embassy faced in the days of the war. Their interviews about the experience they faced in light of our Ambassador’s delusion that the south could establish an outcome similar to a South Korean truce two years after US troops departed.
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Latest Read: No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War

No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War by West Point instructor and military historian Colonel Greg Daddis appears to detail a much needed analysis to fighting counterinsurgency in Vietnam. I am very interested to learn how the military began implementing data collection for battlefield analysis.
no sure victoryNo Sure Victory may offer lessons for data collection today as we combat the war on terror. Daddis opens No Sure Victory with views that our early leadership in the 1950s including General Paul Harkins took an outdated, World War II approach to fighting communism in Southeast Asia.

Harkins was appointed the first commander of US Military Assistance Command in Vietnam(MACV) and his lack of understanding counterinsurgency looks to be a chief contributor to early failures in Vietnam.

In chapter two “Measurements without Objectives” Daddis reveals how President Eisenhower and the US Military failed to establish clear objectives in supporting South Vietnam following the 1954 Geneva Convention that split the country at the 17° parallel. This apparent lack of establishing key, measurable objectives remained unchanged even after sending military advisors. Daddis also sheds light on the apparent same inability to reach an attainable focus by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon never changed even after General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams. Why no changes to data collection or reporting after Abrams took control of fighting the war?

At just 87 pages into the book I feel that this is one of a very few books that finally helps learn how and why we failed not only win but an obvious inability to adapt fighting a war that was not improving over a long time. How was the impact of Body Count and Kill Ratio and Search and Destroy impacting the change to Hearts and Minds that emerged later in the war as we moved to pacification efforts after 1966.

It is very frustrating to see how our legacy military and political leaders were unaware of their need to adopt counterinsurgency following the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu, especially as Daddis reveals US Military learned much from the French approach to counterinsurgency in Algeria.

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