Latest read: Embers of War

Fredrick Logevall won the 2013 Pulitzer for Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. Today America continues to hold a quiet, deep divide when looking inward to find the truth regarding our long nightmare in Vietnam.

Logevall traces America’s involvement to Paris at the end of World War I. A young Nguyen Ai Quoc sought support at the June 1919 Paris Peace Conference from US President Wilson. Quoc carried a declaration addressing a free Vietnam. He never met with Wilson. At the conclusion of the conference Nguyen Ai Quoc, translated to mean “He Who Loves his Country” changed his name to Ho Chi Minh.

Embers of War

Astounding that in 1919 a young revolutionary could patiently wait 50 years for his opportunity to bring independence to Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh would become (much to our regret) one of the most famous revolutionaries in history.

He led his country to defeat two western powers in a devastating war that lasted over 30 years. His cause was a war of independence against the French and then the Americans.

Interesting to learn how well Ho Chi Minh understood America. He lived in Boston and New York City. He worked as a cook, a baker and later a production line manager for General Motors before returning to Europe.

Embers of War beautifully illustrates how the US State Department shifted policy from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman. It was only strengthened under Eisenhower. It is still difficult to imagine the level of initial support in men, money and weapons we gave to support Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh against French colonial rule after World War II. It is a stark wake up to read how CIA advisors met with Ho Chi Minh and our US Army units training his troops.

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Dong Xoai and the required US shift in Vietnam

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.

triumph forsakenWhat 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.

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Triumph Forsaken: The Prize for Victory

Moyar’s book Triumph Forsaken has a deep view in Chapter 16, The Prize for Victory: January–May 1965 regarding the risk Johnson faced in considering an exit strategy from Vietnam. Moyar has written an interesting aspect of America’s effort in defending Saigon after a less-than-stellar-efforts by the South Vietnamese Army throughout 1964.

triumph forsaken

Moyar’s view is Johnson lack of strong, even overpowering reprisals against the North in 1964 opened the door to global criticism of America’s policy in fighting communist expansion.

Was global domination reaching a tipping point? According to Moyar China was America’s threat not in 1964 but in the future. Russia was clearly not a long term threat.

Stemming the tide against growing communist expansion in Southeast Asia Moyar indicates the White House was measuring the geopolitical shifts within Asia and beyond.

In chapters 13: Self-Imposed Restrictions: January–July 1964 and chapter 14 Signals: August–October 1964 Moyar illustrates a range of points for the overall failure of the South Vietnamese Army to recover from previous confrontations with the North and Vietcong.

Moyar continues to see the failure of Ap Bac in early 1963 as a defining point for America’s policy. The South never recovered according to Moyar from Diem’s assassination. Did a real opportunity to pull out of Vietnam in 1965 impact Johnson? Moyar documents his view throughout Chapter 16:

In the event of a precipitate American withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson told his advisers on one occasion, the Southeast Asian nations would label the United States a “paper tiger,” and the United States would see its credibility plummet in the region …. Rusk informed the President on one occasion that if South Vietnam fell, the United States would lose its alliances with Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, and in addition the Chinese would dominate India, while America’s European alliances would remain intact.

During a meeting with Eisenhower in February, he read the former President a State Department message on Thailand as evidence of Vietnam’s international significance. In the message, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand described a discussion with Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman in these terms: “This morning, in my first meeting with Thanat after my return, I found him in a rosy glow over the vast improvement in morale throughout Southeast Asia as a result of American and South Vietnamese [air] strikes on North Vietnam.”

Ho Chi Minh told an African diplomat that a Vietnamese Communist victory would “help the people of all nations see that they need not be afraid of the Americans,” and that “once the United States is defeated in Vietnam it will never be able to win anywhere else in the world.”

Aside from France, which doggedly called for the neutralization of South Vietnam to gratify old grudges against the United States and assert its independence, the countries of NATO supported America’s stance on Vietnam. NATO’s Expert Working Group, composed of representatives from NATO countries small and large, asserted in the spring of 1965, “It remains a vital interest of the West to prevent a Communist victory in South Vietnam which would stimulate similar developments throughout Southeast Asia.” Many NATO nations – including the two most powerful, West Germany and Britain – said that America’s willingness to defend Vietnam was a key indicator of whether America would protect its allies not only in Asia but also in Europe.
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Latest read: Corporate Agility

How do organizations compete today?  Corporate Agility: A Revolutionary New Model for Competing in a Flat World provides a good reference on how major US companies have adopted a new business model for competing in a flat world.

corporate agilityAfter reading Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century book series on globalization and the breakthrough work by Jerry Wind and Victor & William Fung in Competing in a Flat World: Building Enterprises for a Borderless World.

I found chapters in Corporate Agility a fit perfectly to the above works.  Corporate Agility supports business case studies throughout the book that span a wide range of industries with lessons for all who are seeking new models for business in the 21st globalized century.

The strongest chapter is early in the book surrounding the shift in company buildings and the move to a mobile workforce that permits companies to break expensive building leases and create smaller ‘offices’ with limited administrative staff and resources.

I have experienced these efforts directly in working with clients who have been forced to trim staff and yet end up in an dry office complex with over 50% of their office cubes empty.

Actually I’m reminded of a PR company who hired temporary workers to “work” in all their empty cubes while a potential client made an office visit.  Needless to say they did not understand the basics of a company’s need for agility as described in the book.

I feel the early chapters of Corporate Agility is an expansion of The World Is Flat while the book’s case studies just touch the surface that is presented in detail by Competing in a Flat World.

Corporate Agility’s book website

Latest read: On the Brink

A financial crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson faced the largest crisis in our country’s modern history with a great opportunity.  His first hand account of the near collapse of our financial economy is detailed in On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System.
on the brinkHis strongest writing are the 20 pages in the book’s Afterward, written one year after his departure from Treasury with the opportunity to look back and reflect upon the events and the solutions including TARP and the role of the G20.

Paulson was certainly the right type of person for the job having served as the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs.  He previously served in the Nixon administration as an assistant to John Ehrlichman during the Watergate scandal.

Although reluctant to accept the job as United States Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, Paulson acknowledged upon his arrival in Washington a credit crisis was on the horizon.  Clearly Paulson notes he was naive of regulatory powers in Washington and any suggestions of financial reform in an election year were all dead on arrival.

It’s worth repeating that between March and September 2008, eight major US financial institutions failed — Bear Stearns, IndyMac, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual and Wachovia.  Six of them in September alone.
Paulson jumps right out of the gate on page 1 as all Americans would have wanted:

Do they know it’s coming Hank? President Bush asked me.  “Mr. President we’re going to move quickly and take them by surprise.  The first sound they’ll hear is their heads hitting the floor….For the good of the country I proposed we seize control of the companies, fire their bosses and prepare to provide $100 billion of capital support for each.”

Regrettably its not Wall Street but rather Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government backed lending institutions (GSEs) that Paulson is addressing.  Paulson should could have done the same for Lehman, Bear Stearns.and ALL the other institutions since they received taxpayer money to keep them afloat….on their yachts.
–When you learn that someone at a financial company made a 1 Billion bonus (yes a billion for one person) you can see where the ship was heading…right into the rocks.

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