|Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback||
Legacy of Vietnam still haunts U.S. military
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) -- Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon -- now Ho Chi Minh City -- to the forces of North Vietnam, and the ghost of defeat in the Vietnam conflict still haunts U.S. commanders.
The Communist victory taught a generation of American commanders that half-hearted warfare for ill-defined reasons is a recipe for defeat.
"We came out of there seeing really a failure of strategic, political and military leadership that got us in a situation we couldn't win," said retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
He was a company commander in Vietnam who rose to the rank of four-star general, before retiring to lead the war on drugs.
"The bottom line," McCaffrey said, "is you gotta know what you're trying to achieve, devise a mechanism to get at that end result that takes into account what the American people believe is right."
Powell defined doctrine of 'decisive force'
The Vietnam experience also convinced a young officer named Colin Powell to espouse a doctrine of "decisive force."
Twenty years later, as the nation's top military officer, he ordered nearly 700,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm.
"He (Powell) didn't want to amble in, as we had in Vietnam," said retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Richard Neal. "He didn't want to go in, to use an analogy, like a one-armed puncher in a boxing ring."
Weinberger saw military force as last resort
Powell's doctrine drew heavily on rules laid down by then- Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger after the terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon in October, 1983, when 241 Marines were killed while on a mission to provide presence in that country.
Weinberger resolved that military force should be used only as a last resort in well-defined, achievable missions that advanced U.S. interests, fully supported by the American public.
"The development of realistic missions, attainable goals, that's something I think that we're much more attuned to than we were in Vietnam," said Gen. Neal.
But the lessons of Vietnam are not absolute. Colin Powell's philosophy proved too inflexible for the Clinton administration, which wanted to use military force to advance important, but not vital, diplomatic goals.
Vietnam argued against incrementalism and using airpower simply to send a message, but those tactics were used, for example, by NATO forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The legacy of Vietnam, however, lingers. Every time a new mission is contemplated, such as sending advisers to Colombia to help fight the drug war, someone at the Pentagon warns, "We don't want another Vietnam."
25 years after Vietnam, stronger cooperation on MIAs
National Alliance of POW/MIA Families
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.