Like the Marine Corps, the Army has also been producing “pamphlets” to present their scholarship on the Vietnam War in a form easily digestible by the public. In this case, I’m looking at a five-part series titled Campaigns of the Vietnam War. Specifically, I’ve just finished reading the first two. Deepening Involvement, 1945-1965 summarizes the history of American’s participation in the post-World-War-II conflict in Vietnam as they, first, assisted and then replaced the French in fighting the communists in that country. It takes the reader up to the point where the U.S. began deploying full formations to South Vietnam and actively and directly fighting the insurgency. Buying Time, 1965-1966 describes the escalation involved in those deployments and gives a good overview of, not only the military actions through the early part of 1966, but the non-military initiatives that were also ongoing.
There’s not too much to say about these books. Like the Operation Starlite pamphlet, they are brief, easily read, and informative. On top of that, the books are also free (if you download an eBook from the link) and fairly inexpensive (if you purchase a hardcopy from the government.)
I do wish I’d come across these books at the beginning of my journey. The quick and comprehensive overview helps to get the details into perspective, much as the Vietnam 1965 Combat Operations scenarios has done for me in game format.
One piece of insight that I hadn’t considered before was the economic impacts of military aid. As the U.S. ramped up military participation through 1965, there were a number of factors that limited the speed of that escalation. General Westmoreland had done a clear analysis and requested the resources he felt were necessary to prevail in Vietnam. Was Johnson’s failure to provide those resources, as promised, in a timely fashion responsible for the ultimate loss of South Vietnam to the communists? Johnson, having run as a peace candidate, was not willing to risk his “Great Society” reforms by certain actions (calling up reserves, extending enlistments) that, had he done them, would have allowed him to fulfill the troop requests promptly. This was not, however, the only brake on the speed of deployment. Economic factors came into play.
In parallel with the direct military involvement, the U.S. provided aid, both military and non-military. The “stimulus” resulting from the combination of massive influxes of foreign money and the arrival of young Americans with wallets full of dollars had a tremendous inflationary effect. Inflation, in turn, contributed to dissatisfaction with the South Vietnamese government, directly undermining the purpose of the troops and aid that was flowing in. Economic advisors realized that the South Vietnamese economy had a limited capacity to absorb the influx of American troops and policy was adjusted accordingly.
It is interesting that in other contexts I would question, if not criticize, the lavishing of aid on an impoverished country. Yet when it comes to Vietnam, the logic of providing economic, rather than military, assistance would seem enlightened. I hadn’t thought of the unintended consequences. We never do, do we?