Monday, April 30, 2012

My War

--h/t Deryle

"Quit smiling. What are you smiling for?
This is an arrest." This is your mug shot,

not your prom photo. I was smiling from happiness;
my government will not disappear me
--Peace Demonstration
Maxine Hong Kingston

Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it
--George Santayana

Lt. Stanley McChrystal enters an army in the late 70's

that is broken, riddled with drugs and race problems.

The soldiers aren't very good:

a collection of drunks, dirtbags,

junkies and scammers.

--The Operators
, Hastings (171)

Ranger has noticed a dismissive attitude toward the United States Army that fought in Vietnam, particularly at the Bad Boy lad's sites. He is not sure the reason for the snitty attitudes, but it seems like the lads doth protest too much. Their attitude ranges from supercilious to dismissive, implying that the U.S. experience in Vietnam is passe, and today's ranks are far superior in technology, doctrine, etc.

This arrogance of dismissing the recent past as Old School and no longer relevant is short-sighted and dangerous. Wars are not fought
ex nihilo, and that certainly holds for today's supposed efforts at Counterinsurgency (COIN) or Counterterrorism (CT) .

Today's military can focus on Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC) and pretend that it is a real war, when it is actually (fill in the blank.) In fact, today's Army has slack that we did not have in the 1960's and 70's, despite the rhetoric of how the last decade's stress has been so professionally addressed.

The U.S. fought a war in the Republic of Vietnam while also being deployed to address the Warsaw Pact. My service in Vietnam was preceded by a line Infantry assignment facing this threat on the German border
-- these were real threats. Today, the U.S. faces no such opponent.

As for combat ability, today's Army (USMC) has not fought any battles against hardcore enemy Battalions, Regiments or Divisions. The RVN battles against enemy units with organic artillery and severe unit discipline are legend. Enemy supply columns actually rolled down the Ho Chi Minh Trail like rush hour traffic in downtown Baghdad.
The enemy had the "division slice" of support for their operations, to include timely and accurate intelligence on U.S. intentions and capabilities.

The enemy in Vietnam had the will, the capability and the intent to prepare the battlefield at higher echelons, something unheard of in the Phony War on Terror
(PWOT ©). The threat faced in Vietnam was real and vicious ... what equivalent did we see after the fall of Baghdad or the months following the invasion of Afghanistan? The Taliban has no Regimental or above combat capabilities.

Per U.S. forces, we had one echelon above Corps, meaning we had a real Theatre Army scenario, to include a Theatre Army Commander with Corps supporting. This means not only did we have Theatre - Corps - Division assets, but we also had the on-call abilities of the RVN forces including all of the usual suspects: Artillery, Aviation, Combat Support and Combat Service Support. We operated as an Army, not as door-kicking combat Brigades sans higher assets.

So what's the reason for the dismissive attitude toward my Army as being anything less than professional?
Where is the evidence that any draftee fought less professionally than did the forces in the PWOT? From whence this lack of fraternity?

The troops in the Vietnam War were largely draftees and they earned their battle streamers with the same valor as did troops in all previous U.S. wars. What battles in Afghanistan or Iraq demonstrated the level of violence experienced by the Infantry units in the Vietnam War?

Further, there is a logical fallacy built into the argument of the Old Army detractors who say the 60's and 70's Army was "amateurish". If that is so, then we must accept that the Warsaw Pact was neutralized by a bunch of quacks. The next illogical step is to believe that today's professional volunteer force is totally responsible for the defeat of al Qaeda, despite the fact that less than 200 al Qaeda operatives exist worldwide (per former Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta.)

Framing the argument qua the Andrew Exum crowd, a crowd of amateurs defended the U.S. against Warsaw Pact with thousands of tanks, artillery pieces and millions of soldiers, while we are now ably protected against a laughable threat by the New Warriors.

Taking their argument to its logical ends, one must also believe the military leadership during the 60's was also incompetent, though carrying experience from two wars before assuming leadership in Vietnam. Contrast that with the present day Professional Army which sports a dearth of combat experience at the highest levels. The depth of experience was greater in Ranger's time frame than it is today, contrary to the hype.

And this is why we need poppy eradication programs in Afghanistan (though the Bushmills tap will always flow.)


  1. "(fill in the blank.)"

    Using WW2 as benchmark, I'd say it's boring occupation duty, and the most difficult combat operations are easier than liquidating a Soviet pocket.

  2. Nice post jim.

    You get some feeling of the current state of US strategic thought when there is absolutely no consideration of the policy/pipe dreams that got us where we are now. Two strategic disasters, for what? All the noise about "disruptive thinking" never gets beyond the level of tactics . . . But then that would be a bad career move for our current "warriors" and warrior pundits.

    Most "strategists", that would be the term they use to describe themselves, are unable to link military means with political purpose, or even define for themselves what the political purpose was/is. To question, or even recognize the assumptions behind the GWOT, is to realize how flimsy and self-serving they in fact are. We currently operate in a self-contained system of dubious assumptions/blatant lies which allow for the relentless imposition of an extensive system of control for what is a dissolving political entity.

    As in Vietnam, the military reflects the society from which it comes.

  3. I fear there is a belief that the US military will not face a full spectrum oponent. What drives my thought is the LSC. Undermanned, underarmed, under damage resistant. As I was trained by officers and CPO's that had ships shot out from under them, weapons and damage control were considered vital. Today, not so much. We may be facing a serious wake up call.

  4. Sven,
    i wonder if todays warriors ever read -THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER/Sajer.?I once had a BN. Cdr who used to discuss such works with me during duty hours. We always discussed military history as a matter of course.
    I believe that we now treat ASSUMPTIONS while planning rather like facts. We are pie in the sky rather than worse case thinkers. I've often been called a lot of bad names b/c i worse case plan everything. I live my life in that arena.
    Thanks for commenting.
    You may want to read my arts at Ranger concerning the u545 and the uss Davis. The germans shot that ship right out from under the crew. My Dad was a witness to the event.

  5. ranger: I believe that we now treat ASSUMPTIONS while planning rather like facts.

    You may have hit upon a very profound flaw in current thinking - in a variety of policy fields. There is indeed confusion between "belief" and "knowledge", between "opinion" and "reasoned conclusions", between "assumption" and "fact".

    Making and dealing with necessary and reasonable assumptions is a long lost skill. As a young LCpl at NCO School, the Old Gunny took us through a lengthy session on assumption making. At times, lacking data, assumptions may be necessary, and as the Gunny stated, they must be reasonable and based upon reality, not the desired objective. However, in today's "belief based" world, assumptions are more commonly selected to support a desired decision, not to make that decision. Enter GWB's alternate reality of WMDs in Iraq.

    Another caution the Gunny made was that once an assumption is made in the decision making process, stick to it through to the end of the process, unless it is superseded by a previously unknown fact. If the assumption results in a best course of action other than the one desired, don't change the assumption simply to support the desired course. After all, would one replace a fact with an assumption if the fact ran counter to the desired course of action? Again, enter GWB and WMD.

    In short, assumptions are a necessary evil, and to be used to make decisions only when absolutely unable to find relevant fact in a timely manner. Assumptions should be reasonable and based upon reality. Assumptions should be used to arrive at a course of action, not to guarantee the arrival at a preselected course of action.

    Assumptions are not a safe tool in the hands of an idiot.

  6. Al,
    We ALWAYS stated our assumptions b/f writing an OPORD.
    That's how we were trained.
    Read FOG OF WAR/Macnamera- they treated assumptions as fact -faulty logic/assumptions,
    and a war was based on this platform.
    It's all based in arrogance.
    Sometimes it's easy to confuse assumptions with IMPLIED MISSIONS , and that's why we rec'd the type of training that you have described.

  7. I have held my tongue over the past 10 years as to any comparison about what today's volunteer faces in Iraq and Afghanistan versus what his fore-bearers faced in RVN, Korea and WWII. Chief, you addressed my view ever so eloquently in your comment (

    I do not diminish the stress today's troops may suffer, but it is a different level and nature of stress, and a totally different experience of engagement in "combat". And in no way can I diminish the technical and tactical competence of the draftees with which I served, no the "draft encouraged" personnel as well. Hell, I would venture to bet that a good 50% of the aviators I served with were "draft encouraged" gents who would have never given a thought to flying for the Army had the draft not encouraged to do their service at a better pay level, amongst other incentives.

    As to "volunteerism" back then, anyone who witnessed the drawdown following Viet Nam knows that tens of thousands of Soldiers, officer and enlisted, were involuntarily sent packing from a career in uniform. Effectively, via RIF notices and refusal of requests for "voluntary indefinite" status, over 10,000 Captains were denied their desire to continue serving.

    It is almost as if revisionist history is being applied to glorify those who currently serve. Today's service members are being called to do what today's military operations require. That is, indeed, more than the bulk of the population is sacrificing. It's called an "occupational hazard". The finance clerks at my base camp in RVN was exposed to all 20 or so incoming rocket and mortar attacks that stuck the compound in an average year, and was paid significantly less that today's troopie for the pleasure of doing so. Yet they performed their job without fail. There was no difference in exposure based on draftee or "volunteer", nor did the timeliness and accuracy of my pay reflect a difference based on whether the clerk processing it was a draftee or otherwise.

    I am weary of this whole thing.

  8. The fundamental argument is emotional not rational.

    It goes something like this:
    They lost Vietnam, hence those guys are losers.
    I don't feel like a loser therefore what I am doing today must be a lot harder than whatever those incompetent boob losers did way back then.

    Counter-arguments are met with the following response: "La la la, I can't hear you, La la la".

  9. jim

    Obviously, junior NCO's weren't being trained to write OPORDS, even though we were trained to issue "5 Paragraph Combat Orders" for platoon level and below. What the Gunny was teaching us was to only make assumptions when necessary, and then to evaluate those assumptions to select those that were the most reasonable. In short, one does not decide to make a frontal assault, than then gin up assumptions about relative enemy strength and fighting positions that support the a priore decision to make a frontal attack. Whether or not you know the actual weapons mix of the enemy formation you will be attacking, if that "Type" formation normally has machine guns, for example, than the only reasonable assumption, lacking hard intel to the contrary, is that the formation you are going to attack has machine guns. And you plan your course of action accordingly. You don't assume away machine guns to make a pre-selected course of action seem appropriate.

    There is a world of difference between "rational decision making" and "rationalizing" a preconceived decision. Unfortunately, that world of difference is becoming less and less recognized and used.

  10. Al,
    The thought process is the same for e1 and 01 to O 10.
    Can't disagree with anything that you've presented.

  11. Jim -

    I like Exum's blog. He has some insightful posts. You are right though that a few of his kibitzers are whackjobs, and usually those only sign in as Visitor and not by signature. I believe it is a political thing of a few right wing infants. They saw that Kerry served in Nam and Bush did not. They were brainwashed that Bush was tough and Kerry was not, so they made the assumption that the rest of us VN vets were losers and wimps like their preconceived picture of Kerry. It is certainly not the opinion of the majority of the volunteer force.

  12. Great youtube video on a 2012 Salute to Vietnam Veterans by both General Zinni and Joe Galloway:

    Like Zinni says: if Vietnam Vets were such a bunch of jerkoffs then why are there so many stolen-valor-pretenders out there who claimed to serve. There are not too many people pretending to be Woodstock vets.

  13. Mike

    You are so right, Zinni hit it spot on.

    I was pondering this whole glorification thingie, and came to the conclusion that as less and less of the population ever wears the uniform, it takes less and less to impress them. By elevating service to "amazing sacrifice", one more easily explains away why one does not serve. WWII was fought by a great segment of the male general population. The PWOT is "fought" by just those who are "cut out for it". Leaving military service as appropriate only for those who "volunteer" is a great out for the sick, lame and lazy. I have more respect for those who fled to Canada to avoid the draft. At least they put so0mething at risk in dealing with their obligations as a citizen - loss of the ability to return. Today's "war lovers" can do it at no personal risk at all.

  14. Aviator,
    One of my faithful readers, and now a friend accepted his draft, did his duty, and then went to Canada never to return.
    Now that's noteworthy.
    I will not use his name.
    As for woodstock veterans- didn't marines have woodstocks on their m14's?

  15. Jim - I knew at least one Marine that was a vet of both Woodstock and woodenstocks in the RVN. Or maybe not as I think he came later after the m16s came in.

    Also, as bad as it was in Vietnam, I shudder to think what my father and his friends went through in Italy. And my Grandma's baby brother - got a taste of the mustard gas in France. Those old timers were the ones who had a tougher time than our generation. And that is to say nothing of the Civil War veterans on both sides. Even the volunteer soldiers of the Indian Wars had a more demanding service life, especially the ones who made the Starvation-March under General George Crook.

  16. mike,
    we were all very lucky indeed compared to the campaigns that you mention.
    The 9th ID in Europe had a 240% turn over.

  17. jim-

    We of the draft era had to accept and manage the "risks" involved in the draft. You could simply "take your chance" and see if you got called or not. You could enlist and perhaps have a choice of MOS or reserve component service. You could enter an officer program. Or you could flee, and possibly not ever be able to return. The point is that the bulk male population dealt with those risks. Today's males simply let the other guy do it, and put an "I Support the Troops" magnetic sticker on their SUV.

  18. Hey all, a bit late to this post and pretty much agree with what everyone's said so fare. I'll just add one thing: I'm just a reserve intel pogue supporting zipper-suited sun gods, but in my 19 years of total service I've never heard a bad word said about Vietnam vets by anyone who wore the uniform. I know people are still digging up TTP's and such from the Vietnam era in order to improve tactically today.

  19. @ Andy "I've never heard a bad word said about Vietnam vets by anyone who wore the uniform."

    Agreed. I believe the one or two that Jim is talking about are veteran wannabees letting their typing on the internet overload their a$$.