ad info

CNN.com  U.S. News
  Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback

 

  Search
 
 

 
U.S.
TOP STORIES

California braced for weekend of power scrounging

Court order averts strike against Union Pacific railroad

U.S. warning at Davos forum

Two more Texas fugitives will contest extradition

(MORE)

TOP STORIES

Thousands dead in India; quake toll rapidly rising

Davos protesters confront police

California readies for weekend of power scrounging

Capriati upsets Hingis to win Australian Open

(MORE)

MARKETS
4:30pm ET, 4/16
144.70
8257.60
3.71
1394.72
10.90
879.91
 


WORLD

POLITICS

LAW

TECHNOLOGY

ENTERTAINMENT

HEALTH

TRAVEL

FOOD

ARTS & STYLE



(MORE HEADLINES)
*
 
CNN Websites
Networks image


Legacy of Vietnam still haunts U.S. military

April 27, 2000
Web posted at: 5:11 a.m. EDT (0911 GMT)


In this story:

Powell defined doctrine of 'decisive force'

Weinberger saw military force as last resort

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



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.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

"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."



RELATED STORIES:
25 years after Vietnam, stronger cooperation on MIAs
April 26, 2000
A look back at the Vietnam War
April 25, 2000
AsiaWeek Special Report: War And Peace
April 14, 2000
Cohen says visit goes far to improve U.S. ties with Vietnam
March 14, 2000
Images of Vietnam remembered
March 9, 2000

RELATED SITES:
National Alliance of POW/MIA Families
U.S. Department of Defense
Vietnam government information
Vietnam Veterans Home Page
Embassy of Vietnam - Washington, D.C.

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

 Search   


Back to the top  © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.