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.
After 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.
Even within MACV, the military’s yearly rotation of officers contributed heavily to the failed implementation of measurable, actionable statistics McNamara benefitted from while in the Air Force in bombing Germany. No junior officer wanted to rock the boat and limit career opportunities. New support staff at MACV had to reinvent data reporting almost every year while the war strategy itself was also changing. Many reports were obsolete in the field which further frustrated commanders in battle.
No Sure Victory leads us to believe MACV could never fully recognize in fighting a war without fronts that data could not be weighed equally from the Central Highlands, into the Mekong Delta and even to Saigon. I believe it was driven from Johnson to Nixon and implemented between Westmoreland and Abrams. They were more accustomed to fighting a successful campaign based upon their success in World War II.
Daddis does not put on kid gloves when addressing how officers in the field objected to reporting multiple data points. They viewed McNamara’s requirements to be overwhelming to their day to day combat roles. Change at every level is hard.
The shocking impact of Project 100,000 provided a fait accompli to our mission in Vietnam. It has strong lingering ties to the cultural backdrop of American military efforts portrayed in cinema, with Platoon and Casualties of War coming immediately to mind. Clearly this policy set back momentum in the battlefield when the GVN and America really needed it the most.
Daddis accurately addressed stated views by military commanders that the character of American soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and Operation Junction City were dramatically altered by the drug counter culture of the late 1960s. The most damning impact was fragging of senior officers.
Daddis did not reveal MACV‘s data gathering measures regarding US aid in economic and social programs. That data must be available. It would be interesting to see how that data could be quantified along with the full measure of US military expenditures in Southeast Asia. And yet although not addressed in No Sure Victory, the corrupt instability of multiple short-lived governments in Saigon undermined all efforts to combat VC activities in the south.
The closing chapter is well written and brings together our failures in Vietnam, how we are still learning and re-implementing them in the war on terror today.