Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars is the story Sam’s incomplete memoir War of Numbers could not deliver. Sam Adams died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 54. Sam was a gifted analyst at the CIA. Author C. Michael Hiam delivers a well written narrative of Sam’s life.
Sam displayed the uncommon trait of speaking truth to power. As history often suggests Sam was in the right place at the right time.
His truth revealed outcomes that pitted him against the White House, MACV and even senior leadership within the CIA.
What also made Sam unique was his inability to backdown to the highest offices in the government. Sam created a point of great turmoil by discovering and confronting repeated MACV intelligence failures. His analysis was not supported by CIA Director Richard Helms. Nobody wants to make their boss look bad.
Haim traces Sam’s life from Harvard to a rising star within the CIA to a disillusioned analyst. War of Numbers did not shed light on Sam’s death. Realizing Haim was going to discuss his passing at the close of the book I dreaded the last chapter to the life of Sam Adams.
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Lewis Sorely’s effort in A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam is a good summary how Creighton Abrams altered the American war effort after succeeding William Westmoreland. Westmoreland executed a war plan from LBJ based upon large battalion strategies that were successful fighting World War II and Korea.
The Viet Minh proved to the French their war was a new type of war. The NVA understood America’s superior firepower and technology could overwhelm their efforts. But for the Viet Cong and NVA this enemy was another war in their long quest for national liberation.
To a larger extent the second indochina war was a war against Diem, the U.S. appointed, French-educated Catholic leader. America selected him to rule a highly corrupt, agrarian and Buddhist society.
Abrams inherited the same political handcuffs trying to pursue the enemy into Laos and Cambodia. LBJ’s Vietnam was a war that limited what American forces could accomplish. American politicians never permitted a ground attack above the 17th parallel. It is disheartening to understand Abrams was not in command control of all US military forces. The Air Force and Navy did not report under his chain of command at MACV.
Abrams clearly understood the role of American forces after Tet. He shifted from large engagements with the NVA to re-establishing protected hamlets and securing the South against Viet Cong guerrillas.
The CIA’s William Colby and US Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker worked with Abrams to develop a very effective approach to both the military and political infrastructure in South Vietnam. To a great extent this helped turn the tide of the war somewhat in America’s favor.
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Lewis Sorley wrote A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam taking a position that the US won the war in Vietnam. This is proving to be a different twist to the war from the American point of view. His focus is only on America’s efforts after Westmoreland departed.
This book has been viewed as an attempt to portray America’s great success led by Creighton Abrams against the Communist NVA and the Vietcong. The suggestion left to the reader is the US actually won the Vietnam war.
This has proven controversial to say the least. The early chapters lay out the shifting role between Westmoreland and Abrams, the role of LBJ and the emerging leadership of CIA’s William Colby and Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker.
To Sorley’s point by switching quarterbacks at the beginning of the fourth quarter the US was able to score a great number of touchdowns. Yet the score after three-quarters was already too deep to overcome. This will prove to be a very interesting read nevertheless.
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.
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