My reaction to the landing at Tan Son Nhat airport last July reminded me a lot of the feelings that I experienced during the landing of a helicopter assault force into the thick of battle. I felt a powerful rush of adrenaline in the blood, my body stiffened, my mouth was dry, and my tongue became rough, like sandpaper.
An old Russian passenger plane that had served at least 30 for years had further aggravated the memories that were oppressive to me as it landed and, jumping up, ran heavily along the runway. But what really finished me off when I came down to the ground was the short stature of the guys in green pith helmets with red stars, in the form of soldiers of the North Vietnamese army. I knew with my mind that there was peace in Vietnam and there was no cause for concern, but the brain signals did not reach the hands that trembled like in paralysis. Only being outside the airport, I calmed down and was able to cope with the breath. Over the next week, I became convinced that very little had changed in South Vietnam since I remembered it, with the exception of the flag colors.
The Vietnam War was a heavy blow to the army and the people of the United States; she left a grim imprint on the entire Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. Before resigning his presidential office, Lyndon B. Johnson described the experience of the Vietnam War in a prophetic way: “I feel like a traveler caught by a thunderstorm on a deserted road in Texas: I cannot escape, I cannot hide and I cannot get rid of thunderstorms. "
Nevertheless, nothing, not even George W. Bush’s statement after Operation Desert Storm, "Thank God, we once and for all got rid of the Vietnamese syndrome." - can not make Vietnam forget: America’s longest war and the only one she lost. Vietnam experienced the conscience of the nation, like an investigator at the interrogation who would not let go until he knew the whole truth. We have to take a lesson from this military adventure once and for all, so that our guys needlessly will never again shed blood on any future battlefield.
In 1971, while serving in Vietnam, I turned to the help of the national press. After so many years of lies, I wanted to stop the madness that led everything to new victims, new packages with the bodies of the dead, I wanted to convey to the American people the truth that this war could not be won. I said: “Let's leave Vietnam. We got involved in this damned war with the mentality of the Second World War ... Our top military officials do not understand the essence of this war. ”
At the end of this “swan song” of mine, I also predicted that within four years the North Vietnamese flag would fly over Saigon. Four years later Tanks the North Vietnamese army burst through the central gate of the Saigon presidential palace, and the North Vietnamese soldiers raised their flag.
Since the time I had done so “hara-kiri” - but I did not miss and got everything in full, - the US Army led a full-scale campaign of silencing everything that pertained to Vietnam. It turned out as if the war in Vietnam had never happened. There was no serious discussion of the war; military schools, ignoring the lessons of Vietnam, in fact, stopped teaching methods of fighting partisans.
In military schools they returned to preparations for major tank battles in Central Europe, while preparations for military actions against the partisans were shifted to the background. To further stir up the water, a group of senior officers from the Vietnam War era rewrote history this war, presenting a distorted, in the spirit of "Alice in Wonderland," a reflection of what really happened. The essence of this revisionist campaign boiled down to the fact that the US Army won a victory on the land of Vietnam, but lost the war due to the fact that the soft-bodied, political games-prone citizens did not want to go their part of the way, and the left press poisoned the public consciousness.
Considering the fair saying “He who does not remember the past is doomed to repeat his mistakes,” I went back to Vietnam and spent three weeks there, meeting and talking with former enemies - from four-star general Tran Van Tra to private Nguyen Van An, to understand how they saw the war, sort out the naked truth and bring it to the soldiers - former, present and future.
These meetings convinced me even more about the correctness of what I understood during my five six-month service in the infantry in Vietnam, and what was based on my personal experience and the results of conversations held back in 1967. I interviewed more than 100 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong commanders of various ranks, from branch commanders to battalion commanders, while they were waiting for their part in American prisoner of war camps.
Thanks to these interviews, a tactic was developed, which I subsequently applied with my “Hardcore” battalion (9-division 4 / 39-th
infantry regiment). The success of this tactic shows at least that. that the “Hardcore” battalion had a whole page in the small book of the North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Jiapa about the partisan war. In six months, my battalion, consisting mainly of recruits, destroyed more than 2500 Vietcongs and cleared a large piece of the Mekong Delta from them. Our casualties were 25 people.
During my visit to Vietnam, I went to Mai Tho, the main city in the Mekong Delta, where I met Brigadier General, retired Bei Kao. He fought from 1945 to 1975 of the year, having gone from an ordinary partisan to the deputy commander of the eighth military district in the Mekong Delta, with a territory almost equal to the state of Rhode Island. For two years I was pursuing insurgents in his military district — as an adviser to the South Vietnamese army and commander of conventional and special units of the US armed forces deployed along the border with Cambodia.
Bay Kao impressed me as a modest and unassuming man. He lives on the outskirts of the city in a simple peasant hut without running water and electricity - in contrast to the North Vietnamese "fat cats" who entered the villas in Saigon, which once belonged to corrupt South Vietnamese generals. Kao is already 74 of the year, but he has a soldier's bearing, he has a straight, clear look and he has a wonderful sense of humor.
Kao greeted me with open arms and laughed when I laid out my biography for him. He said that in 1969, he barely escaped an ambush by the Hardcore battalion. One afternoon he was swimming in sampan and found himself less than 300 yards away from one of my ambushes, when "the locals warned me with water strikes with oars." This is how it happens in war: we could meet earlier under completely different circumstances.
Kao emphasized several times that in the guerrilla war it is very important that the people side with the partisans, because the people provide them with food, intelligence, recruits and labor. He drew attention to Mao's maxim. that the people are for the partisans what water is for fish: remove the water - and the fish will die.
He said that one of the biggest mistakes of General William Westmoreland (the first commander in chief of the United States in Vietnam, the chief “architect” of the Vietnam War) was that he ignored the South Vietnamese people and waged his large-scale war in the inland areas and along the borders with Laos and Cambodia. Kao smiled and said, “Westmoreland was caught on the Vietcong bait. The strategy followed by Westmoreland was actually developed in Hanoi. ” Recalling Westmoreland’s statement in 1967: “We are winning,” Bei Kao said it was “very funny” and was a “brilliant lie.”
After the three divisions of Operation Atlborough, a widely publicized US victory, in which Bei Kao saw the defeat of the United States, held in 1967, he became convinced that Viet Cong could win on the battlefield. On the Tet offensive operation a year later, Kao said: “We realized that we also won on your home front. The Tet campaign has broken the morale of the American public. ”
He was right. After Operation Tet, the United States embarked on the withdrawal of its troops from Vietnam under the guise of the myth of "Vietnamization." It was a kind of cheating, which allowed the American army to flee and hand back the warfare to the "improved" South Vietnamese military machine. By this time, Kao had noticed the “light at the end of a long tunnel,” promising victory for those on whose side he fought.
Just then, I also reported to the shocked chief of staff of the army, General Harold Johnson, that if we did not develop a new strategy and tactics, we would lose the war. The gracious General Johnson, obviously, did not take into account my report, because only a few months after the offensive operation “Tet” conducted in 1968, he told the American people: “We are definitely winning a victory.” His assessment of the situation was overshadowed by statements by Westmoreland, who quoted inflated figures about the losses of the enemy (37000 people were killed) and glorified the great victory of the United States. Just a few months before Operation Tet, Westmoreland announced that “the hopes of the enemies had failed” and that the enemy was “knocked out”.
The American people could not understand how this enemy, who was “knocked out”, causes an unexpected crushing blow in the next instant. The Westmoreland deception launched by the media outraged the American public, most of whom had become negative about this war.
Bay Kao said: “Our first task in the war against the United States was. to gain experience. Our second task was to develop tactics with regard to your mobility and technical equipment, and the final task was. to tire and exhaust you in battles. We were patient. We were ready for a long, protracted war. You are not. We studied your tactics, intercepted messages transmitted by radio. Americans talked a lot on the radio. Too much. This gave us a lot of valuable intelligence information. We even knew when your B-52 would make bomb strikes. Our scouts were everywhere. Scouts are the most valuable soldiers in war. ”
He continued: “We always knew your plans. You yourself have informed us. Your helicopters appeared first. Then shock aviation and finally the soldiers. Our goal was not to stand and fight, but to leave, unless we thought that we could gain a tactical or, as in the case of Operation Tet, an important psychological victory. ”
The next goal of my visit was the Mekong Delta area of Cai Bee, where my “Hardcore” battalion carried out operations in the mud of rice fields for several months, tracking down Vietcongs and trying to avoid dangerous booby traps. Ironically, near the place where my command bunker was once located, I met the retired Viet Cong colonel Le Nguk Diepa, who commanded the main forces 26IB battalion. It was a strong unit, with which my battalion fought several times.
Diep commanded this unit for four years, then for another two years he commanded another infantry battalion before becoming a regimental commander. He was an experienced professional, and by the time he retired, 45 had almost continuous battles: 30 was mainly in the Mekong Delta against the French, South Vietnamese and Americans, and 15 in Cambodia, against the Khmer Rouge.
The United States helped the Viet Congists to develop tactics
He said: “The Americans taught us tactics, and we won the war. Our school was a battlefield. Few of your commanders remained in Vietnam long enough to understand how to fight. ” He stressed that the Americans were too dependent on their cars and fire support, and did not understand the significance of the human factor in the war.
In the village of Mai Hiep near Kai Bi, I met the former captain of Wan Van Dut. He served for eight years as a private, and ended the war in the rank
the commander of the company of the battalion XNUMHA main forces. My battalion and 261 battalion were facing each other during difficult battles, and now it turned out that Duth valued my unit as highly as I did. Walking through the old battlefield, I told Doug that the land itself and the situation in the delta, as in most of Vietnam, favored his side, and that we looked like a beached fish.
He laughed and said, “Yes, your army behaved like a“ British fish ”during your own war of independence. America lost here because its commanders did not understand the people of Vietnam, the local characteristics and the nature of the war. ”
The views of Dut were like a reflection of mine. American troops used more shells against the Vietnamese and three times more bombs (by tonnage) than in the aggregate against Japan and Germany for the entire Second World War. Westmoreland, a former artillery man, believed that the firepower and equipment would perform a miracle, and that his strategy of exhaustion would break the enemy’s resistance. It worked in all our other wars before, which means it should have worked in Vietnam.
While in Mai Hiepe, I also met with Colonels Lee La-mom and Dang Viet Mei. They are almost 15 years served as battalion commanders. The average American battalion or brigade commander served in Vietnam for one six-month period. Lama and Maya could be compared with coaches of professional football teams playing each season in the final for the Super Prize, while the American commanders were like rosy-cheeked mathematics teachers, instead of our professional coaches, sacrificed to careerism. To become generals, our "players" risked their lives, commanding battalions in Vietnam for 6 months, and America lost.
May Lam, a dozen other former Viet Cong servicemen and I visited the old battlefields and discussed tactics, equipment and the course of the operations themselves with the enthusiasm of young infantry school cadets. There was no bitterness or anger. There was no hatred between us. We recognized that then we were the soldiers who carried out the orders.
I asked Maya and Lam about the tactics of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. called "belt grip." They said that this tactic was developed during the war with the French and was intended for military operations at close distances from the enemy, so as not to fall under his shelling. The scenario of most of our battles in Vietnam focused around breaking through this “capture”, withdrawing the wounded and then attacking the entrenched enemy. This scenario was played out again and again throughout the war and almost always, towards the end, the American general announced our victory. For claiming the right to win, the criterion of the Second World War times was used: the victory for who left the territory after the battle. It didn’t matter in Vietnam.
I asked Lama how his people were able to endure the brutal shelling from the American troops to which they were subjected throughout the war. He replied: “While on the defensive, we tried to always fight, with strong dugouts, deep trenches and prepared positions. Your bombs and missiles were ineffective, except in the case of a direct hit. ”
The highest ranks of the Pentagon believed that the conflict in Vietnam was purely military in nature, not political, and that firepower and technical superiority would break the will of opposition leaders, such as Lam and Mei. General Jiap, commander of the North Vietnamese army, said: “In the war there are two factors - people and weapons. Ultimately, the human factor is decisive. " Our leaders did not understand this. They thought in terms of the Second World War. Generals of habit use in modern wars the strategy and tactics of yesterday. The American military leaders could not fully understand the secret of the strong, resilient and idealistic-obsessed people from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies, and see the corrupt, sluggish, third-rate South Vietnamese army in true light.
Ironically, those of us who were in the trenches were well aware of the meaning of the “human factor” that General Jiap spoke about. Most of the infantrymen praised our opponent in Vietnam. He looked like a fighter fighting a monster who does not give up and does not ask for mercy, although he is literally bleeding to death. On the other hand, almost all the infantrymen hated the troops of our South Vietnamese ally, often only pretending to fight.
From 1965 to 1973, American forces repeatedly made the same mistakes, often in the same place. Our officers, as a rule, were not familiar with the words of the ancient Chinese military philosopher San Qiu, who once wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you can not worry about the outcome of hundreds of battles. If you know yourself, but do not know the enemy, then your every victory will be paid for by a subsequent defeat. If you do not know either yourself or the enemy.
Among the former Viet Cong commanders with whom I had talked, I did not find one who did not study the works of San Qiu up and down. Bei Kao, being in 74-year-old age, could repeat from memory the whole sections from the works of San Qiu. But none of the Viet Cong commanders I interviewed knew who Karl von Clausewitz was. However, American officers who had been trained at Fort Benning, here in Vietnam, were given the first clear lesson on the works of this German thinker, who systematized the rules of the "classic" war and wrote that a different approach was needed to different nations. But what worked for ordinary troops on the plains of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries did not work at all in the 1960-70 war among the jungle against enemy partisan forces, which had lightning strikes. The Viet Cong did not fit into the framework of European rules of warfare, written by a staff aristocrat officer.
The Vietnamese have their own principles of science to conquer, forged in the fire of battles. Throughout the war, American troops seemed to "dance to the partisans' pipe", which firmly held the initiative in their hands. The purpose of the Viet Cong was to fight only on its own terms, at a time that suits them and at their chosen place. If they were trapped and could not get out of it, then, gritting their teeth, they fought like devils.
“How did you manage to resist the superior power of the enemy, who could only launch more rounds in one battle than your side in a whole year?” I asked. May answered: “At first it was difficult to fight with your helicopters and airplanes. A flurry of missiles, bombs and artillery fire caused panic among our fighters. But we learned to fight. We set up an ambush. We knew it,
that stocks of bombs, missiles are exhausted before you, than the morale of our fighters. " Lam added: “Yes, we were weaker materially, but our fighting spirit and will were stronger than yours. Our war was fair, but yours was not. Your infantrymen knew this, as did the American people. ”
Lam was right in her reasoning, looking back at the past more than 20 years ago. However, in the 1965 year, when Lyndon Johnson was the first to drag us into this South Asian quagmire, Vietnam became a new hard drug of the cold war period: easy to start, difficult to stop. When our politicians finally woke up and realized that this was a disastrous war that could not be won, we were already drawn into it for a long time.
During the 30 years of war, the Vietnamese light infantry, thanks to their high fighting spirit and ability to fight, was defeated by three great military powers: Japan, France, and finally the United States. Lam explained: “We fought hard and never yielded, because for the Vietnamese people there is nothing more than freedom and independence. For this you can give and life. "
Twenty years ago, the last unit of the US troops left Vietnam, and the war passed into the hands of Saigon generals. Two years later, their army collapsed and collapsed under the blow of the North Vietnamese army like a shack built from pieces of tin that was in the path of the hurricane. The Vietnamization Program, as predicted, could not withstand the pressure of the North Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese army completely disintegrated when the American air support was discontinued. The North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong defeated one victory after another, until the last 1975 military campaign of the year decided the outcome of this war.
After the fall of Saigon whom regime US forces. acting like an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand, completely abandoned the experience of the Vietnam War. It is fraught with future disasters. In future wars, there will be no tank brigade attacks across the desert; on the contrary, it will be low-intensity battles with irregular armed formations of the enemy. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have not a “new world order”, but rather a “new world disorder” with local wars in which irregular formations take part, such as, for example, in the Balkans, in Somalia and in Peru. Hence the urgent need for our armed forces to be ready to participate in such campaigns and to suppress the insurgents.
In January, Lt. Gen. 1990, Lt. Gen. Retired Henk Emerson and I were invited by the Pacific Command to instruct commanders and personnel based on our experience in dealing with partisans. We were both surprised at how much the senior US Marine officers and army commanders had forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. When we explained the simplest tactics and methods of conducting operations, which were usual for Vietnam, the listeners perceived this as a revelation from above. This one was like reinventing the wheel.
Emerson and I realized that the American experience of the Vietnam War was either ignored or possibly lost. Ironically, this is exactly the way American leaders acted with the French experience of waging the war in Indochina. It is said that when Westmoreland was asked why he did not take into account the long experience of the French in Vietnam, he replied: “The French have not won a single war since the days of Napoleon. So what can we learn from them? ”How many lives would have been saved if our leaders were not so arrogant and unprofessional.
My impressions of light infantry units such as the 82 Airborne Division during Shit and Desert Storm operations, marines and parts of the 10 Mountain Division of the US Army in Somalia, and impressions received during training the training of the 7 and 25 of the light divisions convinced me that many of our light infantry commanders — from the lowest ranks to the highest army circles — suffer from the usual army illness — the PPSD ( shit"). concerning the bitter, degrading lessons of Vietnam.
Acting on instructions. Wrong
A few years ago, I accompanied the rifle company of the 25 Division in anti-guerilla exercises. At the final stage, the company launched a decisive attack on the fortified positions held by the “enemy”. Later, I asked the commander: “What the hell are you attacking fortified positions while fighting with the partisans?” “So we have it written in the task, sir,” followed his reply. This brilliant young captain conscientiously followed the instructions received during the preparation at Fort Benning: “to find, accurately determine the location, attack and destroy” —that was required to capture Berlin, but which only leads to unnecessary casualties in an unusual “not up-to-date war”.
"Attacks on enemy dugouts" owe their appearance on the memorial wall of military valor the lion's share of names. Throughout the war, from the first insane attacks of the 173 airborne brigade against machine gun dugs in military zone C in 1965 to the subsequent reckless attack of the 101 airborne division against fortified positions on Mount Hamburger Hill in 1969, the Americans were deceived as small. Many times during the war years, our rifle companies bled to death, seizing fortified objects, which they were simply incited to seize. The lack of clever tactics played into the hands of our opponent. Throughout the war, the enemy acted actively, and we only reacted to his actions in his chosen place, at a convenient time for him, substituting himself for his blows.
You can not even win a football match, not to mention the war, just simply responding to the actions of the enemy.
In all the anti-guerrilla exercises I have watched over the past four years, little attention has been paid to training on the disposal of conventional mines and booby traps. I doubt even the availability of training devices for training with mines and mines-traps. The generals have computers, while the rank and file do not have simple simulators; it smells new vietnam. More than 60% of the casualties killed and wounded suffered by the Americans in Vietnam are associated with these little predatory tricks.
In 50 years, those of us who directly fought in the most incredible conditions and who know the truth will die. But the Vietnam War is closer to the prototype of future wars than the Second World War or the recent conflict in the Gulf. We must study the experience of the United States. acquired in Vietnam so that in the future we don’t have to re-experience the failures of the Vietnam War.