Bureaucracy Does Its Thing: Institutional Constraints on U.S. GVN Performance in Vietnam

Published: 01 July 2012

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# Lessons unlearnedokiquit 2012-07-01 19:06
"The sheer incapacity of the regimes we backed, which largely frittered away the enormous resources we gave them, may well have been the greatest single constraint on our ability to achieve the aims we set ourselves at acceptable cost."

When I arrived at my unit in South Vietnam, I was astonished when a savvy NCO told me, "This war is over, and we lost."

At that point our operational tempo was still high. We hunted the VC and NVA every day and, when found, we kicked his ass. We fought alongside the South Vietnamese and they sometimes performed poorly, but no longer ran like rabbits. We were reducing our presence, but still had some 400,000 troops in country. On paper, our South Vietnamese allies were growing in strength every day as we spent money like water to train and equip their military, and to bolster their civilian institutions.

But my savvy NCO buddy had already seen what it took me several months to learn. Once U.S. money stopped flowing, most of the South Vietnamese military and its civilian government would stop functioning or defect entirely.

The ordinary soldiers and common people of South Vietnam simply had no stake in their government. As soon as they missed a paycheck they stopped going to work. The South Vietnamese government and military served the big shots who were stealing U.S. aid with both hands and banking everything in Hong Kong or Paris.

U.S. grunts knew the South Vietnamese colonels and generals were thieves, so our higher-ups HAD to know. But did they do anything? No.

U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines did everything they were asked to do, fought and bled in our thousands, but we were betrayed by our own commanders who knew we were propping up a hollow man, but kept their mouths shut and didn't rock the boat.
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