A monograph about a long series of covert operations, directed by the CIA and the US Defense Department, that attempted
to infiltrate agents into North Vietnam for purposes of intelligence, sabotage, and psychological warfare.
Conboy (Shadow War, not reviewed) and Andrad‚ (Trial by Fire, not reviewed) interviewed CIA and military personnel and
spent much time in Vietnam talking with former commandos and ex-POWs. They found that one of the biggest frustrations of
the US leaders was their inability to form effective resistance groups against the North Vietnamese Communists: infiltration teams
of South Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and US Special Forces were soon captured, killed, or (in some cases) turned into double agents.
Although Conboy and Andrad‚ offer only limited information on what was accomplished in terms of espionage and sabotage
during the course of the war, they do shed new light on the famous Gulf of Tonkin incident: they maintain that when the USS
Maddox was fired upon by North Vietnamese forces (an event that led Congress to give full war powers to President Johnson),
the ship was already, in fact, on North Vietnamese positions—an act of war that belied the fiction that the US was not involved
as an adversary but only in an advisory role. The authors see the failures of US covert action as a strategic disaster, since their
lack of success led Washington policymakers to revert to "gradual" large-scale attacks conducted by air, artillery, and infantry
sweeps—tactics that prolonged the conflict and caused mounting casualties.
A depressing experience of a discouraging chapter in US history—in more ways than one: the dry recounting of endless
military reports leaves out much of the human drama of courage, sacrifice, and suffering that the gallant and nameless young
soldiers must have felt.