[ndlr] Annonce du CSIS sur un panel consacré à l’Offensive du Têt.
[ndlr] Annonce du Vietnam Center & Archive.
Conference Call for Papers and Panels
“1968 and the Tet Offensive”
April 27-28, 2018, Lubbock Texas
The Vietnam Center and Archive (VNCA) and the Institute for Peace & Conflict (IPAC) at Texas Tech University are pleased to announce a conference focused on the year 1968 and the Tet Offensive. We expect in this conference to approach these historical events in the broadest possible manner by hosting presenters who examine diplomatic, military, international regional, and domestic aspects of the Vietnam War during that year, as well as the strategic and tactical decision-making and actions that led up to and followed the Tet Offensive. This will include presentations that look at all participants to include the US, RVN, DRV, NLF, and the numerous allies and other nations involved. We will also strongly encourage presentations that examine the antiwar and peace movements at home and abroad, the efforts to support the war effort, and the efforts to end the conflict through international diplomacy, as well as military and diplomatic means in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Recent and emerging scholarship on the Tet Offensive and on 1968, more broadly, is refocusing much needed attention on some of the pivotal events that took place during that fateful year. In late November 1967, General William Westmoreland publicly conveyed his optimism regarding eventual US victory in Vietnam, helping President Johnson to buoy flagging US popular and political support for the war effort. In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, as fighting broke out in every major city throughout the entirety of South Vietnam, many started to doubt the veracity of those previous claims, including prominent politicians and members of the American media.
Attention within the US came to focus on some of the more brutal battles that emerged as US Marines fought to retake Vietnam’s ancient Imperial city in the Battle for Hue and they came under heavy fire during in the Siege of Khe Sanh. As the fighting intensified in Vietnam, so it did in the streets and on campuses across America, as critics of the war continued their calls for an immediate US withdrawal and an end to the war. So powerful was the effect of these events that on March 31, President Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection – adding to the leadership changes already in play with the departure of Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense in late February and the emergence of General Creighton Abrams and departure of General Westmoreland as commander of US forces in Vietnam in June. The violence that year included some of the most horrific wartime atrocities committed against civilians in Vietnam, including the Hue Massacre and the My Lai Massacre, while violence in the US claimed the lives of nationally prominent figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. The presidential election that year witnessed last-minute attempts by the Johnson administration to end the war in Vietnam sabotaged by the Nixon campaign.
By the end of 1968, approximately 550,000 Americans engaged in more than 200 major combat operations, dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs, and the overall financial costs of the war for that year alone totaled approximately $20 Billion. 1968 resulted in the highest numbers of casualties in a single year with more than 16,000 Americans and approximately 100,000 Vietnamese killed on all sides. All the while, the North Vietnamese and NLF fought on. With a new president and leadership team preparing to take over in January of 1969, innumerable questions remained as to whether a US victory could be achieved in Vietnam.
This two-day conference will be hosted at the MCM Elegante Hotel and Suites in Lubbock, Texas. Conference organizers welcome both individual presentation proposals as well as pre-organized panel proposals that include a moderator/commentator and three individual presentations. Conference sessions will follow the standard 90-minute format to include 60 minutes for presentations (20 minutes per presentation) followed by 30 minutes for questions and discussion. Presentations by veterans are especially encouraged as are presentations by graduate students. Graduate student travel grants will be made available to select students. All presentations will be video recorded and made publicly available after the conference via the Vietnam Center and Archive website. Select papers may also be published in a collection by the TTU Press.
Proposal submission deadline is February 15, 2018
Please submit a 250 word abstract and separate two-page CV/resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. The program committee of Ron Milam, Steve Maxner, Justin Hart, Dave Lewis, and Laura Calkins will evaluate all paper proposals and develop a program that reflects the many remarkable aspects of 1968. If submitting a panel proposal, please include separate abstracts for each proposed presentation and CVs/resumes for each speaker.
Thank you for your interest in participating in this conference.
Contact Email: email@example.com
Illustration « à la une » : photo de couverture du magazine Life, 9 février 1968 : « A guerilla is taken alive during the Ambassy battle » © 1968 Life.
[ndlr] Signalement d’un CR de lecture en ligne de
Mourning Headband for Hue, originally published in Saigon in 1969 as Giải khăn sô Huế, was the first book-length account of the Tet Offensive. Its author, a prominent Vietnamese writer, Trần Thị Thu Vân, wrote under the pen name Nhã Ca. In late January 1968, she had traveled to Hue, where she was born, to mourn the death of her father. The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong attacked the next day. She remained trapped in Hue with her family for more than a month, until US and South Vietnamese forces finally prevailed in bloody urban fighting. Returning to Saigon, she wrote a forceful, fearful, poetic account of the devastating impact of war on civilians; its title invokes the white headband worn by Vietnamese grieving their dead. The book attests to the communist forces’ horrendous killings of thousands of Vietnamese in the Hue Massacre. Olga Dror’s translation now makes it accessible to an English-speaking audience.
Born in 1939, Nhã Ca became a prominent poet and writer in Saigon in the early 1960s. Her themes were « love, passion, and longing » (xvi). Raised a Buddhist, she adopted her pen name after reading the Old Testament « Song of Solomon, » also known (to Catholics) as « Canticles » (the approximate meaning of « Nhã Ca » is « canticle »). In 1966, she joined the Voice of Freedom, a radio station broadcasting into North Vietnam. Her first major work, At Night I Hear Cannons, was reprinted six times and sold over 100,000 copies. It tells the story of a family waiting, in the end futilely, for a son and son-in-law to return from the war to celebrate Tet, the Lunar New Year. While decrying the cost of war, its author yet takes no sides.
Olga Dror (Texas A&M), a scholar of Vietnamese history, worked closely with the author to capture her « unadulterated voice from the time of war » (xi). Her long « Translator’s Introduction » sketches Nhã Ca’s life and work and explains how the special « staccato tempo » of Mourning Headband « dramatically and palpably [reflects] life in raw and desperate eloquence in the middle of the battlefield that was Hue » (xviii). Especially valuable is Dror’s detailed and fair-minded analysis of contemporary reports of the massacre, the political uses of that reportage, and the rare and little known personal comments on the atrocity from the communist side. The current Vietnamese government has never acknowledged or openly discussed the massacre and there is no serious scholarly study of it.
Lire la suite : Michigan War Studies Review
[ndlr] Signalement d’un article de Cao Dac Tuan relançant le débat autour des articles de l’historien engagé Gareth Porter publiés dans les années 1970 : l’un concerne la réforme agraire en RDVN et l’autre le massacre de 1968 à Hue. Sur le blog dissident Dan Lam Bao, Cao Dac Tuan livre son point de vue sur cette bataille de chiffres incarnation de deux désastres humains dans un Viêt-Nam en révolution et en guerre. De quoi nourrir notre réflexion sur les sources historiques, leurs constructions et leurs interprétations.
Abstract: In the 1970s, Gareth Porter, an anti-war American scholar, published two articles on the land reform campaign in North Vietnam in the 1950s and the massacre at Huế in the Tết Offensive 1968, calling these myths. Porter’s articles are full of distortions and devoid of scholarship. Porter committed several logical fallacies in his reasoning and reflected a malicious misrepresentation of facts to suit his political stand.
In the 1970s, Gareth Porter, an anti-war American scholar, has written a number of articles opposing the Vietnam War (Wikipedia 2014a). Porter is one of many anti-war American scholars including Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and Marilyn Young. One of Porter’s specialties is to hunt down statistical information provided by the anti-communist Vietnamese and Americans, looking for errors or mistakes to make a case for accusing these authors of lying, mis-representation, or exaggeration. While the objective of truth finding is commendable, Porter’s one-sided approach is seriously flawed and renders him a communist propagandist who uses cheap and malicious tricks to attack others.
There are two myths that Porter has raised: the bloodbath in North Vietnam’s land reform campaign (1953 – 1956) and the Huế massacre in 1968 (Wikipedia 2014). As will be presented in the following, the truths about the bloody land reform program and the massacre at Huế have been known for many years. Nevertheless, Porter’s articles still appear as references in many sources, including the Internet, and are exploited to the maximum by the Vietnamese communists in their propaganda.
Lire la suite : Dan Lam Bao, 14/11/2014.
Cao Dac Tuan est arrivé aux États-Unis en 1975 en tant que réfugié. Il a reçu un doctorat en génie électrique et un diplôme en droit. Il a enseigné le génie informatique et de l’informatique dans une université d’État. Il est actuellement avocat spécialisé dans le droit de la propriété intellectuelle. Il vit avec sa famille dans le comté d’Orange (Orange County), en Californie du Sud. Il a publié un recueil de nouvelles sur trame historique intitulé Fire in the rain en 2014.
[ndlr / Résumé] Alors qu’il rentre de France pour enseigner à l’Université de Huê, le Professeur Nguyễn Thế Anh revient sur la période troublée au Sud Viêt-Nam après la chute de Ngô Đình Diệm en 1964. Recteur de l’Université de Huê de 1966 à 1969, il doit s’accommoder de la fronde bouddhiste et estudiantine dans le centre du pays. Son témoignage englobe les événements tragiques du Têt 1968 à Huê lors desquels il fut épargné. On comprend pourquoi il fut profondément marqué par la situation chaotique de Huê pendant la guerre. Il termine cet entretien sur son départ du Viêt-Nam avec son épouse quelques jours avant la chute de Saigon le 30 avril 1975. Un départ pour Washington avant de rejoindre la France où il intégra le CNRS puis l’EPHE en tant que Directeur d’études.
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Giáo sư sử học Nguyễn Thế Anh đã kể lại với BBC về những năm tháng hậu Ngô Đình Diệm ở Huế và Sài Gòn.
Ông Anh đáng ra đã trở về Việt Nam từ Pháp, nơi ông du học, hồi năm 1963 nhưng phải lùi lại tới năm 1964 vì cuộc đảo chính hồi tháng 11/1963.
Từ Pháp ông về Huế làm khoa trưởng rồi viện trưởng Đại học Văn khoa Huế trong tình hình mà ông nói « rất căng thẳng » vì các cuộc biểu tình phản đối liên tục của Phật tử và sinh viên.
Giáo sư Nguyễn Thế Anh cũng chứng kiến vụ Mậu Thân 1968 trong những năm về sau nhưng cho rằng nhờ may mắn và nhờ có người anh làm tướng chỉ huy của miền Bắc trong dịp Mậu Thân mà thoát nạn.
Ông cũng kể về chuyện ông đã rời Sài Gòn, bốn ngày trước khi thành phố sụp đổ, như thế nào.
Source : BBC, 07/11/2013.
Pour en savoir plus : Tiểu sử Giáo sư Nguyễn Thế Anh
[ndlr] Film vietnamien dont le tournage débute en 1971 et se termine en 1974. Le scénario du film s’appuie sur deux romans de Nha Ca. Il relate le vie d’une famille confrontée à la guerre et aux grandes offensives militaires de 1965, 1968 et 1972. Le célèbre compositeur et poète Trinh Cong Son y joue le premier rôle. Sans doute une des raisons pour lequelles le film fut interdit de projection au Sud Viêt-Nam pendant la guerre. Jugé à l’époque « anti-guerre et gauchisant ».
ĐẤT KHỔ: Kịch bản dựa trên tác phẩm Đêm Nghe Tiếng Đại Bác và Giải Khăn Sô Cho Huế của nhà văn Nhã Ca. Khởi sự quay đầu thập niên 1970 và hoàn tất năm 1973 lấy bối cảnh từ 3 biến cố chính trong lịch sử chiến tranh Việt Nam: vụ Tranh Đấu Phật Giáo năm 1965 ở Huế, Việt Cộng tấn công vào Tết Mậu Thân (1968), và mùa hè Đỏ Lửa (1972), cũng gây nhiều sôi nổi và bị cấm chiếu trước 1975 ở miền Nam VN vì nội dung « phản chiến và khuynh tả. »
Version sous-titrée en anglais
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Filmed in 1971, the movie is set in Hue in the days before and during the Tet Offensive 1968 by VC. Its the harrowing and poignant story of the love of family, homeland, and culture during the Vietnam War. This Vietnamese, English-subtitled film dramatizes the effect of the Vietnam War on a single South Vietnamese family, the inner conflict of decisions, ideology by each member of the family.
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Cuốn phim như là bi kịch cho mỗi gia đình Việt Nam, trong cuộc chiến Quốc Gia-Cộng Sản, soi rọi những khía cạnh của cuộc chiến qua tâm cảnh của những nhân vật sống trong thời cuộc: người lính Biệt Động Quân bị lạc ra khỏi binh chủng; một người anh đi lính quân lực Việt Nam Cộng Hòa; người em trai nghệ sĩ đào ngũ với cái nhìn « hiện sinh ngây thơ » về cuộc chiến (nhạc sĩ Trịnh Công Sơn ở lứa tuổi 30); bà mẹ góa chịu đựng (Bích Hợp, nghệ sĩ số 1 của sân khấu cải lương Bắc Hà di cư); cô chị gái, như Hòn Vọng Phu, mòn mỏi đợi ý trung nhân chưa về (Xuân Hà), và cô em út, một teenage sâu sắc với nhiều chất vấn và bất mãn về thời thế (Vân Quỳnh). Phim Đất Khổ cũng có sự xuất hiện của diễn viên Hoa Kỳ Jerry Liles, trong vai một người Mỹ dân sự cao lồng ngồng, bị « mồ côi » và bất lực trong bối cảnh Việt Nam, rất khác với vai trò chủ động của những nhân vật người Mỹ trong những phim ảnh Hollywood về chiến tranh Việt Nam. Đạo diễn: Hà Thúc Cần.
A propos de ce film voir aussi :
Aux États Unis, la Vietnam War est le sujet de milliers (probablement plus) d’ouvrages : livres, articles, films, BD, jeux vidéos. En France, les publications sont, pour ainsi dire, inexistantes, les éditions Perrin ont donc pris l’heureuse initiative de faire traduire et d’éditer ce livre récent (il est sorti en 2009 aux Presses universitaires du Kansas). Le récit–analyse de Prados se situe dans un champ historiographique où, depuis plusieurs décennies, s’affrontent les “orthodoxes” selon lesquels la guerre ne pouvait pas être gagnée, et les “révisionnistes” qui affirment le contraire et parfois plus : ainsi Walt Rostow, conseiller du président L-B Johnson, pour qui la guerre avait été gagnée parce qu’elle avait préservé les autre pays asiatiques de l’emprise du communisme.
L’auteur revient à la guerre franco-vietnamienne d’Indochine – là où les États-Unis avaient mis le doigt dans l’engrenage – mais il ne conduit pas son exposé de façon classique et linéaire, c’est ainsi que son premier chapitre démarre en avril 1971 où il fait le récit de la manifestation des vétérans américains contre la guerre portée au sud du Laos par l’offensive sud vietnamienne. Pour ne pas réécrire une énième histoire de la guerre, il poursuit en « scannant » des thèmes qui ont été déjà étudiés : les présidents américains qui se sont succédés après F-D Roosevelt face à la question indochinoise et notamment L-B Johnson et sa décision « d’escalade » dans l’intervention américaine, le tournant de 1968 (l’offensive du nouvel an), la politique de Richard Nixon et son conseiller H. Kissinger, les contradictions internes de la République vietnamienne et de son armée (et nouveauté : les débats sur la tactique et la stratégie au sein de l’état-major nord vietnamien). L’auteur y ajoute un volet personnel en donnant une place non négligeable au mouvement anti-guerre aux États Unis, mais dans la nébuleuse de la mouvance anti-guerre, il s’attache plus spécifiquement à l’organisation Vietnam Veterans against the War / VVAW dont il fit lui même partie. Ses critiques n’ont pas manqué de relever l’insertion dans le récit de son expérience personnelle qu’ils taxent de subjectif et de partial tandis que l’auteur lui donne le statut et la justification de témoignage engagé.
John Prados cherche à démontrer que la guerre ne pouvait pas être gagnée par les Américains pour deux raisons principales : l’exagération de l’importance stratégique du Vietnam dans la guerre froide et en regard de ce fait, l’État sud vietnamien était très faible. En dépit des moyens financiers et militaires mis en œuvre pour le nation building, les gouvernants américains aveuglés par leur anticommunisme voulurent ignorer que les adversaires étaient porteurs reconnus de l’idéologie nationale unitaire. Ce qu’ils prenaient pour la nation building n’était qu’un State building sur des fondations fragiles pour ne pas dire inexistantes.
Pour ce retour à une histoire globale de la guerre par une démarche originale et par des chemins de traverse, John Prados possédait un acquis de connaissances et de réflexions sur la guerre du Vietnam. Il s’y intéressa dès 1960 et en 1983, il publia son premier ouvrage sur L’opération Vautour, intervention envisagée au moment du siège de Dien Bien Phu. Il poursuivit par de nombreux autres livres (par exemple les opérations clandestines de la CIA) et articles construits non seulement par le dépouillement d’archives mais aussi par de nombreuses enquêtes .
Cependant, l’atout qui semble déterminant est l’accès aux archives du National Security Council dont il eut la charge du classement et de la conservation. Le temps qui passa ouvrit les vannes d’une documentation de première main : le plein effet des évènements produits après-coup, la déclassification, la loi sur les libertés de la recherche documentaire, la rédaction des mémoires-justifications, la libération des voix des participant et des témoins ont été un grand profit pour l’auteur. Sans compter ce que le présent suggère à l’historien, en l’occurrence l’intervention armée américaine en Irak.
C’est également après coup que l’insertion dans le récit de l’expérience anti-guerre de l’auteur apparait pertinente parce qu’elle rend compte de l’importance accordée par les gouvernants américains à l’opinion de leurs concitoyens : elle dévoile une véritable guerre (on est tenté de la qualifier de guerre civile ) à travers la multiplicité des moyens (parfois sans scrupules : infiltrations, usages de faux, mises en scène provocatrices, passages à tabac) mis en œuvre par le FBI et la police des États, la magistrature, pour contrer voire supprimer la contestation. Toutefois les efforts déployés n’ont pu empêcher le scandale du Watergate.
En tant que démonstration selon laquelle les États Unis ne pouvait gagner la guerre et en dépit de la masse documentaire très riche et bien brassée, le livre peut ne pas emporter la conviction des lecteurs, néanmoins il est un très bon livre, bien traduit, parfaitement lisible. J’ajoute que la Notice bibliographique de 21 pages (787-808) et les notes de références souvent explicites en font un bon guide de recherche pour qui veut aller plus loin dans la connaissance du sujet.
Colonel Ha Mai Viet provides his meticulously researched, impressively written and well-presented book about South Vietnam tanks in “Steel and Blood.” The author details the combat history of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Armor (AF) from “Ferocious Battles, 1963-68” through “Vietnamization, 1969-74” to the final days of the Republic in 1975—“The Capture of South Vietnam.” His is a riveting account of tank battle after tank battle, pitting the ARVNAF’s M41 and M48 tanks against the NVA enemy’s T54, T59, T34 and PT76 tanks.
Somewhat of a surprise to a Marine Corps Vietnam tanker—and possible Army armor as well—and for certain to those who declared that Vietnam was not “tank country” are the numbers and types of armored vehicles employed by both sides and the importance the VC/NVA enemy and ARVN alike placed on the use of armored vehicles in general and tanks specifically. Just one example: By 1975, the NVA had an estimated 600 T54s in or on the border of South Vietnam supplied by large, well-concealed fuel lines with sophisticated pumping and fueling stations that ran through Laos and Cambodia hundreds of kilometers from Haiphong in the north.
In battle after battle, from the Plain of Reeds through the three-front General Offensive and battles for the Central Highlands to the final assault on Saigon itself, Col Ha Mai Viet provides the reader with the often heart-wrenchingly candid and unwashed details of bloody victories and even more horrific defeats. He does not embellish the value of the ARVNAF in its successful fights nor does he minimize the faults of senior leaderships’ failed decisions contributing to catastrophic defeats. The author keeps to the rapid movement of armor and the battles in which tanks participate by extracting related details and placing them in “Notes.” There are 80 pages of notes, which add an impressive dimension of understanding of ARVNAF leadership, or lack of it.
In the second half of the book, the “Military History” segment, Col Ha Mai Viet’s attention to detail and in-depth research provide the reader the historical background of the ARVN in general terms and, more specifically, trace the establishment, growth and deployment of the armored forces (ARVNAF).
While certainly not the “grabber” that one finds in page after page of Part I, Part II is of significant value in understanding the development, structure, employment, logistics and administration of ARVNAF in terms of equipment. The author provides interesting information on the background and training of the armored personnel and quite candid comments on the ARVNAF leadership.
To follow the battles, I found the paucity of maps—there are just two small-detail maps—made the reading (and enjoyment) of the book somewhat difficult. Also, command structure, order of battle, and table of organization and equipment diagrams would have greatly helped in better understanding of the material.
Col. Ha Mai Viet states unequivocally that South Vietnam could have defeated the VC/NVA on the battlefield had the United States made good on its agreement to support the South after the withdrawal of American ground forces.
This thoroughly researched book, a 10-year effort, relies on both personal knowledge and interviews of hundreds of former ARVN as well as VC/NVA soldiers and officers of all ranks and military occupational specialties. To obtain a more balanced view—and with an armored slant—of the war that took more than 58,000 American lives, this book is a highly recommended read.
Source : Leatherneck, magazine of the Marines, Marine Corps Association.
Présentation de l’ouvrage sur U.S. Naval Institute.
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Book Review by Jay Veith.
Of the several thousand tomes published about the Vietnam War, only a few English-language viewpoints written by our Vietnamese allies grace the bookshelves. The South Vietnamese perspective, constrained by cultural and linguistic barriers, is unfortunately marginalized in the war’s literature for Americans. Due to these barriers, U.S. historians, even if interested in South Vietnamese motivations and actions, are left with little except military adviser reports, obscure embassy cables, or shallow news articles. Thus reduced to bit players, the South Vietnamese have become caricatures; either cowardly incompetents or corrupt warlords, with an occasional brave soul or hard-fighting unit briefly mentioned. A more balanced and deeper picture of America’s wartime partner has long been needed.
Former armor Colonel Ha Mai Viet has offered precisely that, a penetrating insight into the battlefield contributions of the South Vietnamese tank officers who fought alongside their American friends. His book details the contributions of a small but influential element of the ARVN, its armor/cavalry forces. Unknown to most, by war’s end the armor branch had grown considerably from its French roots. In 1975, Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Brigade, the III Corps organic tank unit, was undoubtedly the most powerful brigade-size element in the ARVN. Reflecting a rare combined arms outlook, Khoi built a formidable combat out-fit from previously independent armor, artillery, engineer, and ranger units. His merged brigade was still defending outside of Saigon when the final surrender came.
Viet spent ten years traveling the globe, tracking down and interviewing many of his former comrades-in-arms. He portrays the heroic deeds of his fellow soldiers while unflinchingly condemning South Vietnamese leadership errors. Covering two main topics, Combat and Military History, Viet outlines twenty-three separate battles from the ARVN side. The bulk of the Combat section covers the Tet Offensive, Lam Son 719, the Easter Offensive, and the bloody retreat in 1975 from the Central Highlands. He also provides rich details on unknown battles such as the terrible clash at Dambe in Cambodia in 1971. The Military History part provides unique facts on the formation and growth of the ARVN armor/cavalry branch from 1954 to 1975, including unit commanders, weapons, and organizational structure.
Brilliantly translated, no future work on Vietnam battles will be complete without reviewing this publication. Colonel Viet has provided a tremendous amount of fresh information, almost all of it oral history. That is the strength and weakness of the book. Like all interviews, the ones in this book only provide the participant’s side. For example, the account by Colonel Nguyen Van Dong concerning the Central Highlands retreat, while new and highly informative, perpetuates the myth that Brigadier General Pham Duy Tat, the II Corps Ranger Commander, was responsible for the convoy on Route 7B. Tat, when presented with Dong’s remarks, categorically denied the accusations, a point of view absent from Viet’s book. This is not to cast fault, as Viet was only interested in the stories of his armor colleagues. Yet without access to That’s perspective, the unsuspecting historian would perpetuate the story. Unfortunately, as General Cao Van Vien once told the reviewer, the war remains much like the movie « Rashomon »: the truth is subjective to the individual. Colonel Viet nevertheless deserves enormous credit for his industrious research and fine account. His is a major and much needed addition to the history of the Vietnam War.
- Jay Veith. « Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). » The Journal of Military History 73.3 (2009): 1020-1021. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
- Veith, J.(2009). Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). The Journal of Military History 73(3), 1020-1021. Society for Military History.
Book Review by Dr J.R. McKay.
Ha Mai Viet’s Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia is an ambitious work. The author tried to produce both a history of the armoured branch of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and a history of the armoured branch’s unit’s roles on the ARVN’s battles with the Vietnamese Communist forces. While South Vietnam, and by default the ARVN, and its armoured branch lasted for only twenty years, this was a nation and an army that fought against its enemies for most of that time.
Steel and Blood is effectively two smaller books in one. The first part is a “Combat History” of the armoured branch’s participation in battles as well as a narrative of the war from an ARVN perspective. The second part of the book, “Military History,” is a summary of the organizational history of the South Vietnamese Armor Corps, a compendium of information on that branch and a comparison of its equipment with that of its North Vietnamese counterpart.
The combat history describes a series of battles from 1963 to 1975, based upon ARVN’s battles with the Communists. It starts with an orientation on the role of the armoured branch’s units in a series of battles, but slowly transforms into a general narrative on the progress of the war. Colonel Viet tried to tell the tale of what happened, balancing between what he stated that he sought to do and providing the proverbial “bigger picture.” While this might frustrate some readers, some observations merit mention.
First, one should keep in mind that he has provided a glimpse into a perspective that is often overlooked. The common narrative with regard to the ARVN has been that it was overly oriented on the byzantine politics of Saigon and insufficiently focused on waging counter-insurgency operations until 1968, when the Tet Offensive led to the development of a more combat-oriented ethos. Colonel Viet’s book points out that a number of ARVN units often fought harder than was realized at the time or since despite the political proclivities of some of the ARVN’s general officers.
Second, the author left one with the distinct impression that ARVN units tended to view their advisors less as sources of advice than sources of firepower. One gets the sense that during the earlier years, in some cases, ARVN officers may have resented advice from the technically sound yet less experienced advisors. The perception of advisors as sources of firepower appears to have become more acute after the 1972 Easter Offensive. The Nixon Administration’s policy of “Vietnamization” meant the phased withdrawal of American combat forces and increasingly shifting the burden of combat onto the ARVN. The Nixon Administration could not reverse this trend for domestic political reasons and sought to make greater use of air power as a result. This is a potential lesson for those destined for advisory duties; those being advised may be more interested in one’s capacity to influence the battle than one’s advice on how to do same.
Third, the book leaves one with the distinct impression that as the Communists made the transition from guerrilla warfare to mobile warfare, the importance of ARVN’s armoured branch increased. The early battles described organizations analogous to reconnaissance squadrons conducting economy of force operations against the Viet Cong; the later battles described ARVN tanks duelling with the North Vietnamese counterparts. Indeed, the Communist fielding of T-54 equipped units prompted the ARVN’s fielding of a number of M-48 “Patton” equipped units to cope with the threat. This also supports a broader point about the nature of insurgencies. The endgame of any insurgency is to set the conditions for assuring victory once conventional warfare begins. Colonel Viet’s accounts of battle start with clashes with the Viet Cong guerrillas in the mid 1960s and ends with tank battles between the North Vietnamese Army and the ARVN.
This section of the book, unfortunately, was at times difficult to follow. The author sought to describe both operational and tactical actions without maps, but made references to a series of place names. While there was an appendix providing general maps of South Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail, the inclusion of a series of smaller maps that showed the location and how the battles occurred would have helped clarify the “combat history.” Throughout this section, one was tempted to read the “military history” to get a sense of the evolution of the armoured branch’s organizations before linking it to their combat performance.
The military history was a collection of related topics designed to inform the reader about the war, the armoured branch’s evolution and its equipment. Again, the ARVN perspective was enlightening and it allows one to see the conflict through Vietnamese, albeit Southern, eyes, as opposed to the American or French perspectives. The organizational history began with the Vietnamese National Army of 1950, which was the army raised by the French within Vietnam during the war with the Viet Minh. The ARVN’s armoured branch’s roots lay in the creation of a series of reconnaissance platoons in 1950, which coalesced into companies in 1951, battalions by 1953 and regiments by 1954. After the Vietnamese National Army became the ARVN in 1955, these reconnaissance regiments became armoured cavalry regiments, four armoured regiments, a school and an amphibious group. In this period, they were equipped with Second World War era equipment cast off by the French that had been donated by the United States. During the 1960s, the older equipment was replaced by M113 armoured personnel carriers and M-41 “Bulldog” tanks.
The book describes the 1960s as a developmental period where the armoured branch began to specialize more. Armoured cavalry companies were the most common unit, but the branch also began to field reconnaissance and tank companies as well. Indeed, the book left one with the impression that the ARVN armoured branch fought most frequently as companies within larger entities. Indeed, the ambitious combination of the “combat history” and the “military history” was most useful in illuminating such matters. Colonel Viet followed this discussion of the evolution of the branch’s units with a compendium of facts. This had the effect of breaking a logical sequence of information in order to provide a series of interesting yet esoteric facts. He identified every commander of an ARVN armoured unit from the troop to the brigade level, the surgeons, and provided an account of their reunion at Fort Knox in 2000. Unfortunately, the multiple sources of information made this section, and indeed the book, seem less of a general history than a sourcebook or compendium of facts about the ARVN armoured branch.
Ha Mai Viet was a South Vietnamese Armor corps officer who served for 21 years, retiring as a Colonel. During that time, he had served in a number of different positions within armoured units, but his two most noteworthy positions were as an Assistant Division Commander and as the chief of the Quang Tri province.6 This meant he had fought the Communists for at least twelve years before leaving his country in its final days. His patriotism and pride in his military have been reflected in his writing. In addition, he wrote some of the accounts of specific battles from a personal perspective. Readers should take these points in mind before passing judgement on the book’s value.
Readers may be wondering what value a book about a nation that vanished a quarter century ago may have today. What can the ARVN’s experience tell us today? Is it relevant for the Canadian Forces in the early 21st century? The short answer to such questions is yes; however, this depends upon one’s perspective and interests. Those interested in comparing the evolution of different armoured branches may also wish to read those parts of the book. One should note that the ARVN’s approach to combat development was based upon trial and error in battle; they did not have the luxury of time to consider their organizations in great detail. Furthermore, reading the ARVN perspective may give pause for thought for those destined for advisory duties about what those being advised may be thinking.
Dr J.R. McKay
1. The RVN is better known as South Vietnam.
2. Many readers will no doubt be aware of the American participation in the war, spanning from 1964 to 1973 and the end of the war between North and South Vietnam (1973-1975), however, many may not be aware that South Vietnam had to contend with several armed groups in its infancy in 1955 and coup attempts from within the ARVN. The Communist insurgency began in South Vietnam in 1957 and North Vietnam began to provide support to that insurgency in 1959. A year later, the North Vietnamese sought to see all armed resistance groups in South Vietnam coalesce into the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF). Readers may recognize the other, slightly inaccurate, name for the NLF—the Viet Cong. The ARVN began fighting [?]
3. There are two examples of this phenomenon. The author defends the actions and decisions of ARVN tactical commanders at the Battle of Ap Bac (January 1963) and the President’s direction that contributed to the disaster in Operation LAM SON 719 (January 1971). For details, see: Ha Mai Viet, former Colonel, ARVN, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armour and the War for Southeast Asia, (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008), 16-17 and 84. For examples of the criticism levelled on those two incidents, see: Lieutenant General Phillip B. Davidson, U.S. Army, Retired, Vietnam at War: The History 1946-1975, (Novato: Presidio, 1988), 573-604, and Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 203-265.
4. Readers should be aware that due to the influence of the U.S. Army, the ARVN armoured branch used the term “Troop” to describe subunit-sized organizations and the term “Squadron” for unitsized organizations. This review uses the generic Canadian Army terminology of “company” and “battalion.”
5. The M-41 “Bulldog” came into American service during the Korean War and entered ARVN service in 1964. It weighed 24 tons, its main armament was 76 mm, it had 12 to 38 mm of armour, and it could reach speeds of 72 km/h.
6. This province was in Military Region 1 / I Corps Tactical Zone, just south of the Demilitarized Zone. He left South Vietnam in 1975, during the final days of that country.
Source : Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 12.1 Spring 2009, pp. 123-125 (pdf).
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of National Defence, 2009