Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Friday, February 27, 2004

This is coolbert: Did General Westmoreland lie to his superiors during the Vietnam War? This is a widely believed contention that was brought to light some years ago now by a program on "Sixty Minutes". In that program, it was reported that Westmoreland understated in a deliberate manner the size of the enemy force the U.S. military confronted in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, General Westmoreland stated that the enemy force the U.S. military faced numbered about 300,000 troops. It should be fully appreciated that the American Army in Vietnam fought for the most part regular military units of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). These were military units that had a standard TO&E, standard equipment, uniforms, etc. Conventional military units. Most American Army units fought in combat with enemy forces of this nature. Now, at some point, a commander, Westmoreland in this case, is going to ask the question, "how numerous is the enemy?" And in doing so, that commander will have to make a value judgment as to who to count and who not to count. Westmoreland made the judgment to count as the enemy the type of units the U.S. Army most often fought against in Vietnam, the NVA. And, if you were to count as best you can how numerous the NVA was in South Vietnam, and what forces were available for reinforcement, this would have totaled about 300,000.

So, where did the contentious aspect of this count come from? It seems that during the early part of heavy American involvement in the war, starting around 1965, enormous amounts of enemy documents were captured by U.S. forces. It was only until several years later that a sufficient amount of these documents were translated for a detailed evaluation of their intelligence content to be possible. Adams, a CIA analyst, studied these documents and concluded that the number of enemy forces facing the U.S. in Vietnam was much greater than believed. Adams came to the conclusion that this enemy force was about 800,000 strong. This much greater number was brought to the attention of U.S. military authorities and was said to have been dismissed. And this was the source of the contention after the war was over that Westmoreland lied to his superiors.

Is this allegation of lying true? Well, it all boils down to what do you define as an enemy soldier. Westmoreland made the value judgment to count as an enemy soldier only those troops that were part of a standard military unit, had standard training, wore a uniform, etc. In the figure that Adams came up with, the counting of who was a soldier was done according to the method employed by the communist side, the Viet Cong. By the reckoning of the communist side, any eighty year old man who sharpens a punjii stake or any eight year old boy who set up a booby trap at night is a soldier. This a far more liberal definition of what is a soldier than the definition that was used by Westmoreland.

Given the fact that Westmoreland had to make a value judgment on how numerous the enemy force he faced was, and given the nature of what type of enemy force the U.S. military in Vietnam generally fought, Westmoreland probably made the right decision. It would be very unfair to say that Westmoreland "lied". To include eighty year old men sharpening punjii stakes or eight year old boys setting up a booby trap as a "soldier" is just not reasonable.



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