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Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Lewis Sorley(Author)

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Westmoreland is a great book, a classic by an author who knows his subject well and tells the story without hesitation.” — General Donn A. Starry, U.S. Army (ret.), Commander, Army Training and Doctrine Command (1977–1981)

Is it possible that the riddle of America’s military failure in Vietnam has a one-word, one-man answer?

Unless and until we understand General William Westmoreland, we will never understand what went wrong in Vietnam. An Eagle Scout at fifteen, First Captain of his West Point class, Westmoreland fought in two wars and became Superintendent at West Point. Then he was chosen to lead the war effort in Vietnam for four crucial years.

He proved a disaster. He could not think creatively about unconventional warfare, chose an unavailing strategy, stuck to it in the face of all opposition, and stood accused of fudging the results when it mattered most. In this definitive portrait, Lewis Sorley makes a plausible case that the war could have been won were it not for Westmoreland. The tragedy of William Westmoreland carries lessons not just for Vietnam, but for the future of American leadership.

Westmoreland is essential reading from a masterly historian.

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Lewis Sorley "This is a terrific book, lively and brisk, and surprisingly interesting. How could this deeply flawed, limited man rise so high in the U.S. Army? This will be the definitive book on Westmoreland, and a must read for anyone who tries to understand the Vietnam War."-Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco  and The Gamble " Lewis Sorley's brilliant portrait of General Westmoreland helps us understand why our war lasted so long and ended as it did. This is biography at its finest."- Bui Diem, South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States (1967-1972) "A riveting history of how ambition corrupted soldierly virtues and led to slyness, hubris and national disaster. A scorching indictment of how generals covered up for each other."-Bing West, author of THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan  "To understand the Vietnam War in its totality one must logically try to understand General Westmoreland.  Dr. Lewis Sorley has made an enormous contribution by revealing General Westmoreland’s complex personality and the role it played in U.S. foreign policy."-Melvin R. Laird, former Secretary of Defense and nine-term Member of Congress  "Reaching beyond the surface to penetrate the enigma of General William C. Westmoreland, Lewis Sorley gathers the recollections of Westy’s Army colleagues, the man’s personal papers, and official records to tell the story of a general who has remained opaque despite the many debates over his role in the Vietnam war. Eye-opening and sometimes maddening, Sorley’s Westmoreland is not to be missed." -John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War

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Book details

  • PDF | 432 pages
  • Lewis Sorley(Author)
  • Mariner Books; Reprint edition (October 16, 2012)
  • English
  • 5
  • Biographies & Memoirs

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Review Text

  • By The Shoulders of Giants on January 4, 2018

    Anyone who saw Mike Wallace's 1982 CBS documentary on General Westmoreland, The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, which drove Wallace to attempt suicide in despair at the tragedy he was exposing, knows the problem explained in this book: Westmoreland and his command repeatedly and systematically lied to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Congress and the American people by severely under-reporting the known combat strength of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong, or VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in the Vietnam Theater of Operations. This created a false picture of enemy resources and order of battle, giving the wrong impression that the VC and NVA were not capable of mounting a coordinated, large scale, nationwide offensive. And so the VC & NVA's Tet attack erupted in January 1968 on unsuspecting defenders who should have known better, demonstrating the scale of Westmoreland's failure -- not because Tet was a military success, but because it happened at all given Westmoreland's assessment of the enemy -- effectively ending years of support by the US government and American people for an independent Republic of (South) Vietnam.For example, Westmoreland relied on attrition ratios of VC and NVA to Americans killed, believing that if it was 10:1 or greater, the war eventually would be won, regardless of the actual "crossover point" at which the enemy can no longer replace their losses, which never was reached, even though Westmoreland falsely reported to a joint session of Congress in April 1967 that it had been reached the previous month. But war is a mobilization of two societies' resources, and if the enemy's society can mobilize enough personnel to cover their losses, while our society can't -- for whatever reason, be it economic, political, military or biological -- then a high kill ratio is neither sufficient nor necessary for prevailing. As one Senator memorably told Westmoreland, "Americans don't care about the 10, they care about the 1."Another example is the battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, when the 1st Air Cavalry Division attacked the NVA 33rd and 66th regiments. In this particular case, the enemy decided to stand, fight and counterattack, in essentially a conventional battle designed to test and develop their tactics against the US military. Westmoreland was able to use massive air support and artillery, employing hammer-and-anvil tactics in which infantry were the "anvil" holding enemy forces in place while artillery and air were the "hammer" destroying them. Westmoreland mistakenly generalized from the example of Ia Drang to conclude that the entire war would be fought in this manner, combining large search-and-destroy operations with high kill ratios in a war of attrition against large enemy formations. But Ia Drang was not paradigmatic of the tactics employed by the VC and NVA, who learned they would suffer catastrophic losses from American air and artillery in conventional large-unit battles, and who changed their tactics accordingly, to employ small formations infiltrating close to American units, "grabbing them by the belt" as NVA General Giap called it, making air and artillery difficult to use effectively. In short, the VC and NVA were unwilling to fight as Westmoreland needed them to fight if his strategy was to succeed. (The siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968 is now understood as mainly a pre-Tet diversion to lure attention away from the villages and cities, not a return to large-unit conventional battles.)Another example is Operation Junction City in early 1967, which targeted the non-existent building containing the Central Office for South Viet Nam (COSVN), a mythical structure, purportedly analogous to the Pentagon, which was alleged to be the physical command and control location for all communist military and political assets in the South. No such building was ever found, and is now known never to have existed, even though Westmoreland claimed for years after that it did exist. In fact, Westmoreland needed the COSVN building to justify his strategy, to the point that he would have to invent it if it didn't exist, rather than admit his strategy was mistaken. Worse, Junction City included a bogus "combat" parachute jump by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, earning every participant a Combat Jump Star for his Parachutist Badge, even though it was a sham publicity stunt demanded by Westmoreland: the drop zone had already been secured by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which also guarded the site and the journalists who were pre-positioned on the ground to photograph and interview participants, and there was no combat, with the only casualties being caused by rough landings. This was warfare by appearances, not according to reality, as if Westmoreland were Robert Duvall's character, Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, waging battle to accomplish personal, idiosyncratic objectives, essentially to look good, not to win the war.Another example is Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 14.3-67, published in November 1967, less than three months before the Tet offensive, which asserted, "Communist military forces and political organizations in South Vietnam declined in the past year," giving a total of just 292,000 enemy. In fact the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Westmoreland's own intelligence staff officers claimed more than 420,000 enemy in the South, as many as 590,000, and that the total was increasing every month, never decreasing, despite combat attrition. But Westmoreland explicitly ordered his command never to report a total exceeding 300,000 enemy, an order which was corroborated by multiple intelligence officers in sworn court testimony after the war, and his demand won out in the SNIE report because he was theater commander. This subversion of sound intelligence is one reason why the communist Tet offensive was such a shock to American political leaders in 1968: according to Westmoreland, it was simply impossible for the enemy to mount such a coordinated, sustained, nationwide offensive, because in both the short-run and the long-run they were being roundly defeated and categorically lacked the resources. But that was a lie because Westmoreland knew better: his best intelligence contradicted him and he knew it.Another example is Westmoreland's view of the Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam (ARVN), which he regarded as irremediably incompetent, a liability to be kept as much as possible out of the way of US operations, not as a necessary resource that must be, or even could be, improved and incorporated as important battle assets. Consequently, little attention was paid to training or equipping ARVN units, which typically made due with obsolete World War Two-era weapons like the M1/M2 carbine, which was outclassed by the NVA's standard infantry weapon, the AK-47. At the same time, indigenous South Vietnamese forces were tasked with some of the most difficult operations of the war, providing pacification and security for villages, district and provincial capitals. These policies were fodder for North Vietnam, who argued they were fighting not a civil war but a war of national liberation against a foreign invader, as if Westmoreland willingly wore the suit tailored for him by the communists.Another example is Westmoreland's use of artillery: some 94% of all artillery fire missions in 1964-68 were never spotted by observers, constituting "interdiction and harassment" missions whose victims were unknown to those carrying them out. Westmoreland explicitly rejected criticism of this strategy by underlings who rightly argued that it caused harmful collateral damage against civilians, and turned locals against the US and South Vietnam government. Those killed by such fire missions were almost invariably counted as enemy combatants, and were added to the kill/death ratio, often without any evidence that they were, in fact, enemy.Westmoreland tended to see the war not as political and economic in nature (it was), but as primarily military in nature (it wasn't), so that he claimed never to have lost a major battle, as if that implied he should have won the war, without realizing that winning battles is neither necessary nor sufficient for winning wars -- a fact borne out by America's longest war ever, in Afghanistan, where the US and NATO have almost never lost a battle, but haven't won the war, with no end yet in sight. Sir Robert Thompson, veteran of Britain's successful 12-year Malayan campaign, who literally wrote the manual on anti-communist counter-insurgency, observed that "it was not General Giap who beat President Johnson, it was General Westmoreland." Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called him "the most disastrous American general since Custer."The My Lai massacre of some 500 civilians occurred in March 1968 while Westmoreland was in command in Vietnam, and came to public attention while he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By 1974, the year Westmoreland retired, the Army's Vietnam War Crimes Working Group had documented more than 320 substantiated, separate incidents of atrocities committed by American soldiers during the war, including the murder and torture of civilians, most of which was kept secret until 1994, when the report was declassified. Unfortunately, this book pays little attention to My Lai, and no attention at all to the other atrocities committed under Westmoreland's watch, nor does it address the role that Westmoreland's strategy of attrition, with its "measure of merit" in terms of bodycounts and kill/death ratios, may have played in encouraging the targeting of civilians so as to inflate statistics. This book also dismisses with little consideration the argument that Westmoreland, like Japanese General Yamashita, who was tried and executed by the Allies after World War Two for war crimes committed by troops under his command, was criminally culpable for the war crimes committed by his own troops. In my opinion this constitutes a significant deficit in the book's evaluation of Westmoreland's leadership.The Vietnam war was clearly unwinnable by means of Westmoreland's strategy of attrition, large-unit seek-and-destroy operations, neglect of pacification and the South Vietnamese military, and interference with his own chain of command (such as the Marines in I Corps). Even though Westmoreland's successor, General Abrams, sought a different strategy and modus operandi, the damage to America's trust and confidence in its war leaders had been done. (Westmoreland famously sued Wallace and CBS for libel but dropped the case after his own intelligence staff officers testified against him in court.) Unfortunately, these lessons went unheeded, so that the US launched a costly preemptive war based on demonstrably misrepresented intelligence, culminating in Secretary of State Colin Powell's bogus presentation of "facts" to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, to justify invading Iraq -- a presentation which Powell himself would later regret -- evincing philosopher George Santayana's oft-quoted assertion that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And so this book is a case study in how resources are squandered and war is lost by letting the tail wag the dog.

  • By Ed Sherwood on September 2, 2017

    I am a US Vietnam veteran and Infantry officer who served in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969 as a platoon leader until wounded in action. I remained in the Army for the next twenty years until I left active duty due to medical reasons. I had in some ways, at least emotionally, set the Vietnam War aside until recent years. In 2015 and 2017, I attended two reunions which included about 40 former enlisted men from my platoon and company. The reunions personally and vividly brought back to mind the individual commitment, combat skills, and courageous sacrifice of those with whom I fought. We all were reminded of our fellow soldiers killed in battle and their many families who bore the brunt of loved ones lost. Not long ago, I attended a pre-screening at the National Infantry Museum near Fort Benning, Georgia.of the soon to be released 18 hour, ten episodes of "Vietnam", a documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. After that showing, I decided I needed a broader, indepth perspective on the war. Of the materials I've read, none are better than two Lewis Sorley books, "Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam" and "A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam". Both are well researched and contain extensive quotes and insights by numerous military leaders and senior government leaders of the US, South, and North Vietnam. They tell a sad, but riveting story of the decisions and events which led to America's failure in Vietnam contrasting the leadership of General Westmoreland from 1963 to 1968 and that of Abrams from 1968 through 1973. No war since the Civil War has caused such a great upheaval in our society. The books are must reading for anyone who wants a better understanding of the war, its leadership lessons, and the many military, political, economic, psychological, and sociological factors that affect success or failure in war. In our present day, our nation's Vietnam War experience provides the historical foundation for our military success in the Persian Gulf War. It also casts a long, troubling shadow on our later involvement in Iraq and our on-going, long-lasting war in Afghanistan. I heartily recommend these two Sorley books without reservation.

  • By Unbias Reviewer on March 11, 2018

    The very best author on Viet-Nam. He has two books on the subject (this is one of them) they are my Bible on the subject.

  • By Carl on September 20, 2017

    Excellent book, well researched and very readable. The main theme is probably somewhat controversial, but the author makes a good case that Gen. Westmoreland was not the right general for that war.

  • By George W Prescott on June 23, 2017

    Lewis Sorley has raised an interesting question - can our failure in Vietnam be traced to one man, the general in command, William Westmoreland?Sorley provides an excellent biography of the man, and also turns a piercing eye at how Westmoreland ran the ground war in Vietnam. I, for one, am not quite ready to say that Westmoreland was "The One" who lost Vietnam, but Sorley certainly makes a solid case that his approach was flawed. One of Sorley's best arguments has to do with the neglect of ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army. Westmoreland acted as if the war would be won quickly (a flawed assumption based on the fact that North Vietnam could in effect run a slow speed invasion through Laos and Cambodia), or that time was no problem (ignoring the classic problem of America at War, that Americans get impatient and will not accept a long war that seems to be going on for ever). An important addition to the literature on the Vietnam War, well worth reading.


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