Col. Harry Summers, Jr., presents “The Bitter Triumph of Ia Drang” (February/March 1984) as a “good place to start” for those who “still find the Vietnam War difficult to understand.”
A much better starting place on the trail to understanding is with the American subversion of the Geneva Accords. We didn’t support the 1956 unification elections because we saw a communist, Ho Chi Minh, as the probable winner in the presidential election. A Vietnam under Ho, however, would have posed no more of a security threat to us than Yugoslavia. We need not have killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people and ravaged their land, costing us fiftysix thousand American lives and billions of dollars. It is even likely that, without U.S. intervention, Vietnam would not have become a Soviet client state.
We started to lose the war when we dropped support for those critical Vietnamese elections. It might have been a blunder for the Vietnamese to have elected a communist president, but it would have been their folly.
As a sentry dog handler at Tuy Hoa Air Base from October 1967 to October 1968, I guarded those planes that flew napalm into the central highlands. What I saw was that poor battlefield analyses were secondary errors that followed our mistaken judgment to wage war when neither democracy nor our national security was at stake. That was the tragedy.