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Part III: The River Styx


This is third in a series of commentary about “The Vietnam War” PBS series airing now. See also my blogs about Part I: DejaVu and Part II: Riding the Tiger.


September 20, 2017

Part III focused on the introduction of US ground troops into the South Vietnam.  In doing so it started to lay the groundwork for the eventual disillusionment of the American body politic.

We are introduced to a young high school graduate and his family.  We know that in a future part of the series he will be killed and the audience will have had its heart strings played.

What was truly interesting in this almost 2 hour segment was the leadership styles introduced and the emerging critique of President Johnson, General Westmoreland, the Vietnamese leadership and the humble Ho Chi Minh.  We learn that there Le Duan, who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam was the driving force behind the aggressiveness of the North Vietnamese.  He is credited with advocating the introduction of the North Vietnamese Army into South Vietnam.  This is a little known fact.

The South Vietnamese leadership was unstable at best, according to the series.  It mentions numerous coups by different military leaders and mentions in particular General Nguyễn Khánh…  I mention him because I can remember him being introduced to the Corps of Cadets during lunch in 1964.  The US military went out of its way to gain the support of the different Vietnamese leaders.

President Johnson is shown to be much more calculating than is normally the case.  He had what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that was a blank check for the introduction of ground forces 10 days before the events in the Gulf occurred.  He also ordered the introduction of 3 battalions of Marines secretly.  There is a brief mention of the 1964 Presidential election where Johnson hammered Goldwater on escalation to include nuclear weapons while Johnson portrayed himself as a reluctant warrior.  The opposite of what was to become reality.

LTC Hal Moore and his battalion of the 7th Cavalry and the battle of the Ira Drang Valley are a focus of the study.  My friend Joe Galloway talks extensively about Moore’s leadership—first into the battle and last out.  Unfortunately, one critical event is not mentioned.  During the height of the battle of Ira Drang Valley Moore leans against a tree and disconnects from the battle swirling around him and tries to anticipate what he can do to influence the battle 10 to 20 minutes into the future.  This is a skill that every leader should seek to achieve.  Anticipate what will be needed rather than reacting to the minute.

We can hope that this focus on leadership continues into future parts of the series.

Part III Continued

Why groiund troops?  The series gave two reasons for the introduction of ground troops into the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and the two are actually related.

President Johnson, even though he had won the election 1n November of 1964 was reportedly worried about being humiliated.

The second reason is the pyric victory that the Vietnamese Army won at Banh Gia.

The Viet Cong had launched a major offensive on December 4, 1964 and captured the village of Binh Gia, 40 miles southeast of Saigon. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) eventually recaptured the village. It took an eight-hour battle and the reinforcement of the initial assaulting force by three battalions which were brought in on helicopters. Losses included an estimated 200 ARVN soldiers and five American. advisors killed.

Reportedly battles such this, in which ARVN suffered such heavy losses at the hands of the Viet Cong, convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the South Vietnamese could not defeat the communist without the commitment of U.S. ground troops to the war. The documentary refers to this as a turning point in the conflict.

The actual turning point occurred several months earlier when Le Duan caused the infiltration of NVA units into the south to increase.  It is this infiltration that made the pyric victory possible.

As we continue through the series there will be several other turning points.

Part III continued

This documentary has habit of inserting what appear to be throw away lines except they are value loaded.  In this case the idea was planted like gospel that the anti-war movement was legitimate.  This concept must be considered as the series develops.

 


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