SELF-DESTRUCTION: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era by Cincinnatus

SELF-DESTRUCTION: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An interesting addition to the growing body of post-Vietnam literature calling for reform of the US Army: not wholly sound, but highly indicative. ""Cincinnatus,"" an active-duty lieutenant colonel, blames American defeat on ""the ineptness of its soldier leaders""--attributable, in turn, to two major factors. First, the post-WW II Army brass adopted a corporate-style leadership which, the author charges, poisoned relations between officers and enlisted men. Under Vietnam combat conditions--countless search and destroy operations, unrestrained use of firepower, over-reliance on the body count as a measure of success--the Army turned into a brittle instrument of war, plagued by drug problems, poor morale, racial bitterness, and, finally, outright rebellion. Second, the Army was prepared to fight a conventional war in Europe--and totally unprepared to combat revolutionary warfare in Southeast Asia: its doctrine and techniques inevitably transformed the war into ""a gigantic My Lai."" The suggested remedies, however, are somewhat less than visionary. It is questionable whether an Army laying stress on ""pacification programs""--whatever special forces it employed--could have won against the resilient foe in Vietnam; it is highly dubious whether the cited models--American experience in Cuba and the Philippines, in Germany and Japan--are applicable to a ""nation-building"" strategy in the Third World. Other suggestions speak to the nature of US forces. In a future combat, the author advises, the National Guard and Army Reserves should be used (something the Army already has in mind); but he does not take up the political considerations that deterred Johnson from calling them up and might well operate in the future. His suggestion for a sweeping reform of the officer corps has been anticipated in a number of books; and Gabriel and Savage's Crisis in Command (1978), in particular, provides a more thorough analysis of the Army's poor combat performance in Vietnam. But his recommendation that deep and sustained programs in ethics be instituted throughout the officer corps has unquestionable value, and strengthens his fundamental contention--especially pertinent now--that the Army must come to grips with the trauma of Vietnam and internalize its lessons.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1980
Publisher: Norton