In the last year of my teenage decade, I was part of the force sent by the United States to try and do what turned out to be, the impossible. The history of the Second Indochina War or Vietnam War as it is known to most Americans has been studied and debated since the first moment an American boot set foot on Vietnamese soil. That war will continue to be fodder for debate for as long as the United States exists.
An article recently in the New York Times about the efforts by the Pakistani Army to seize back a stronghold that the Taliban had carved out of their border region reminded me of tactics used forty years ago by a United States Army, superbly trained to confront their sworn enemy the USSR and the Warsaw Bloc.
We took an army that was designed to fight the "mother of all state on state wars" against the USSR. Our tactics and equipment were designed for total war and strategic thrusts and scorched earth methods to deny the enemy a foothold. The first two years of combat saw our best professional soldiers chewed up by a largely hidden enemy. By the time we adjusted our tactics the countries patience had worn thin and it became an exit strategy that governed our soul.
One of the first things discovered by American troops was the ability of the enemy to slip away unseen to what came to be know as VC tunnels. Many parts of South Vietnam were a warren of tunnels, built decades before, for earlier wars against the French and the Japanese.
A tactic known as Search and destroy became the norm, for an army indoctrinated to total war concepts. Airstrikes, carpet bombing, and massive artillery barrages were used to kill an enemy who was able to replenish themselves from cross border sanctuaries. The only lasting result of our kinetic force was to earn the enmity of the people we were tasked to help.
Only the United States Marines with their Combined Action Program (CAP) had any success winning the hearts and minds of the common people of Vietnam. And to top it off, they were deployed by General Westmoreland, to guard the DMZ as a buffer against North Vietnam, instead of being deployed to the village and rice rich Mekong Delta where their CAP program could have done some substantial good.