This is coolbert:
I see that General William C. Westmoreland has passed away recently. Was ninety one years old. Led a full life, with achievements that only few can even dream about.
Was commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam during the period 1964-1968. Commanded during that period of the war when American combat units were MOST involved. Became a controversial figure during this period. Is considered to be the one military man who left the strongest and most lasting imprint on U.S. involvement in that war.
A war that did not develop with a favorable conclusion for the U.S. OR the South Vietnamese.
How WILL history judge the legacy of General William Westmoreland?
As a leader, Westmoreland undeniably rates very high.
Had a LOT of presence and bearing. LOOKED like a General. ACTED as a General. It was as if Westmoreland was BORN for his role in life. Westmoreland evidently fulfilled leadership roles even from the earliest age. And this was, as Westmoreland himself commented, came as even a surprise to him. He just SEEMED to exude leadership. Without even TRYING!! DID show concern for the combat troops. Was NOT a commander who lived in a rarefied atmosphere. MADE an effort to exercise command leadership without micro-managing. DID see combat and comported himself well as a combat commander [commanded an artillery battalion in the ETO] during World War Two [WW2]. In the leadership role, left little to be desired.
As a manager also must rate high.
In 1965 alone, American forces were able to move 100,000 troops 10,000 miles, and do so in 100 days. At the time, this was unprecedented. Moving that much combat power was an indication of the resolve the U.S. had AT THE TIME NOT TO LOSE IN VIETNAM. This move was a consequence of the appreciation of the situation that Westmoreland made at the time. An appreciation that the South Vietnamese were on the VERGE OF LOSING. The South Vietnamese were seen as not only being NOT ABLE to defeat the communist forces, but could not, in the short time, even stop them. The South Vietnamese army was on the edge of disintegration and defeat. American troops were the only reply that Westmoreland saw as being a viable alternative to communist victory.
It should be kept in mind that the role of a modern commander of the stature and rank of Westmoreland is NOT to involve himself deeply in the planning, operational art, and tactics necessary for victory. Westmoreland did NOT command in the fashion of say a Wellington or Napoleon. Having an instantaneous and with a single sweeping glance see the whole battlefield.
The modern commander such as Westmoreland has a staff or staffs that make plans and offer the commander options to accomplish the mission, based upon the commanders perception of the battlefield.
The modern commander such as Westmoreland is offered plans from his staff as to how to accomplish the mission. The modern commander such as Westmoreland must make correct decisions, implementing plans and operations that will guarantee success, based upon the mission.
The modern combat commander such as Westmoreland must act as a manager more than anything else, in the same context as the modern business manager would conduct business. Details are left to the subordinates, with delegation of authority. Keeping in mind that the manager DOES bear overall responsibility for what transpires.
As a military strategist, practitioner of the operational art, and as a innovative tactician, Westmoreland, in the eyes of some, seemed to be lacking.
It was felt that the appointment of Westmoreland at the time  to command U.S. forces in Vietnam, was somewhat of a surprise to his peers. Westmoreland was felt to be NOT the brightest lightbulb around. I feel this is just not so. NO ONE reaches the level of rank and command such as Westmoreland did without having something in the upstairs department. Westmoreland was an artillery branch officer. A combat branch of the Army that DOES require a measure of technical ability and an appreciation of "science" [science here defined in the very general sense].
Westmoreland did command and fight a war against the communist enemy in Vietnam in a manner he felt was commensurate to the situation!
That is to say, mass resources, locate the enemy, bring overwhelming firepower to bear upon the enemy, and defeat that enemy in what would be basically a protracted war of attrition. This was how U.S. commanders all throughout the Twentieth Century fought wars. And, in WW1, WW2, and to an extent in Korea, this manner of fighting DID prove to be successful. This was the model that Westmoreland emulated. A model that probably ANY American General of the time would have followed as well.
And, to an extent, this model of warfare WAS successful. The American military in Vietnam DID kill extraordinary numbers of the enemy [2 million to 3 million enemy killed??].
Under Westmoreland, this American strategy DID NOT prove to be successful in the long run. It was seen by many as a policy of using a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial eggshell. Many have contended that rather than using overwhelming firepower, a more flexible and reserved offensive capability should have been employed. Again, Westmoreland decided to fight the war, against primarily North Vietnamese Army light infantry units in this fashion [overwhelming firepower]. AS American combat commanders had been taught to fight. This was their experience, an experience in the past that had proved itself to be effective.
[Some critics have suggested that Westmoreland did NOT make an effort to understand his enemy in Vietnam. This may be true, BUT, it was not germane to understand the enemy given the American way of war at the time of Vietnam. NO ONE would have ever suggested that in WW2, it was necessary for American commanders to read "Mein Kampf", understand German National Socialism, or even understand German history and culture. Again, ruthless use of overwhelming firepower in a war of attrition was seen as the key to success.]
Westmoreland DID seem to fight a REACTIVE war. U.S. forces seemed to be merely reacting to the enemy most of the time. This was a perception that many had. And this may well be true. The North Vietnamese/Viet Cong enemy DID seem to hold the initiative. And strived to do so and were successful in this effort to exercise initiative. General Giap himself has commented on this. That the communist forces on all occasions DID seek the initiative. This was very foremost in their thinking. American firepower did quite often negate the initiative held by the communists. But, not possessing the initiative IS felt to be a serious drawback in successfully prosecuting a war effort. If you DO NOT have the initiative, you have a serious disadvantage.
Westmoreland did feel that his efforts were hampered from several quarters. This was to include:
* Excessive micro-managing of the war from politicians in Washington.
* An American public not in full support of the war.
* A very active and at times effective anti-war movement acting in the communist interests.
* An unfair press. A press that concentrated on and even enjoyed [almost maliciously so!!] pointing out American failures. A press that constantly was negative.
In retrospect, the career of General Westmoreland will be forever associated with Vietnam and the lack of American success.
In my opinion, for the most part, Westmoreland DID call the right shots regarding the war, as they were presented to him at the time, and with conviction on his part. That Westmoreland was NOT allowed to prosecute the war as he saw fit, as say in the manner of an Eisenhower in World War Two, was due to factors beyond his control.
The American loss in Vietnam was NOT primarily due to American military ineptitude. Westmoreland, as did the bulk of American forces in Vietnam, DID acquit themselves well. In 1964, NO ONE could have foreseen that U.S. forces eleven years later would have to leave Vietnam with their tails between their legs. Vietnam developed in a fashion NO ONE could have anticipated!!
I fear that the legacy of General Westmoreland will ALWAYS be controversial. But I do not think defeat in Vietnam was the result of his actions. Defeat in modern warfare cannot be described in simple aphorisms or attributed to simple reasons.