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 Daddis opens No Sure Victory with views that our early leadership in the 1950s including General Paul Harkins took an outdated, World War II approach to fighting communism in Southeast Asia.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.

Were data gathering ordered by Robert McNamara still in their infancy? Daddis is revealing how the military establishment viewed data collection as a threat. Yet they also failed to adopt counterinsurgency in order to achieve victory in Vietnam. Did you catch the implications of technology in war? It was a directive of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara:

As President Johnson made the fateful decision to send ground combat troops to South Vietnam, the new MACV commander barely tampered with the command’s abundant metrics for progress and effectiveness. Staff officers, in fact, appended more reports to an already cluttered system. Though Westmoreland developed a strategic concept addressing the problems of both pacification and enemy attack, MACV failed to integrate the measurement reporting system into its decision-making processes. Perhaps most noteworthy in this first year of troop commitments, measuring the effectiveness of programs to fulfill Westmoreland’s strategy attracted little staff attention. Rather, commanders and staffs worried about how certain units executed an innovative organizational concept built around new technologies. Measuring the effectiveness of air mobility superseded measuring MACV’s overall operational and strategic progress. Institutional pressures to test these modern technologies and operational concepts dominated army thinking and established a dangerous precedent for the future conduct of the war and how it was measured.

McNamara brought management science operations back to the military from World War II and the Ford Motor Company to coordinate all the operational and logistical information required to manage war in Vietnam. This is turning into an amazing yet frustrating read.

Additional reviews: Wall Street JournalHistoryNet.comOxford Press and Foreign Affairs

What say you?