Moyar’s final chapter in Triumph Forsaken reveals his deep understanding of the 1965 Vietcong attack at Dong Xoai and the aftermath – yet another change in Saigon’s leadership. This closing chapter illustrates for Moyar the aggressive communist attacks taken throughout the central highlands as a synopsis for the war.
What will surprise many unfamiliar with Vietnam’s countryside, the battle was just 100km (or 62 miles) from Saigon. One of the spoils of military victory is writing history. The NVA claims to have killed over 4,500 South Vietnamese and 77 Americans at the Dong Xoai battlefield. (via Google Maps)
Today this would shock Americans to think a massive Vietcong battle was fought less than a two hour drive to Saigon. As reference, the distance is shorter between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Cannot help but wonder about Moyar’s theme: South Vietnam was destined to collapse by 1965. Yes Johnson’s remark to historian Henry Graff “The worst mistake we ever made was getting rid of Diem” rings true. Regardless of Moyar’s short timeline American interests never groomed a worthy successor to Diem. Despite a series of aggressive communist attacks in the central highlands in early 1965 the role of the US military was still restricted by the White House at 72,000 Americans in country. At Dong Xoai a US Special Forces camp assigned only 20 Americans to support 400 local soldiers from two militia companies.
Clearly the junta was incapable of running Saigon. Even in the field US advisors were also frustrated, to have their battle advice ignored by South Vietnamese officers. Moyar illustrates this point just prior to Dong Xoai. When NVA troops ambushed South Vietnamese troops a US advisor under attack recommended a course of action to the SVA officer in order to save his unit from being over run. The SVA officer ignoring the tactical advice. The US Advisor requested removal via helicopter just before the remaining unit was indeed over run. Looking back today it set the tone of the overall effort by the South.
Moyar makes a strong conservative case for Saigon’s fall as a result of Diem’s assassination. However the NVA and Vietcong with the help of Chinese troops and weapon were clearly the aggressor. The North pressed the war into the South, Diem and the junta just played defense. They only feared Eisenhower.
To Moyar, Kennedy and Johnson’s position of “limited war” post Diem has few merits but overall America’s dark nightmare was about to open wider than America could even imagine.