Military history



The Limitations of Firepower in Vietnam, 1960–1973

LANSDALE WOULD BE able to affect the outcome of the second Vietnam War only indirectly from his new perch at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations. His job was to help oversee the Department of Defense’s intelligence programs. He was allowed to take only occasional trips back to Saigon despite Diem’s desire to have him present full-time.67 When it came to Vietnam, Lansdale recalled, “I was practically without voice.”68

Lansdale, who had been promoted to brigadier general in 1960, was a victim of his own success. Following the publication of The Quiet American and The Ugly American, he had become the most famous military adviser since T. E. Lawrence—and just like Lawrence he earned both the wrath of resentful bureaucrats and the ear of senior officials.

The new president, John F. Kennedy, had read the works of Mao Zedong and Che Guevara and was intent on enhancing American capacity to fight what he called “subterranean war.”69 A few days after his inauguration Kennedy summoned Lansdale to the Oval Office and talked of making him ambassador to Saigon. That job offer was nixed by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, because Lansdale had acquired a reputation for being a “lone wolf”—not a “team player.”70 As the CIA’s William Colby noted, “When an order appeared wrong, he simply ignored it and went on doing what he thought right (and frequently it was).” Lansdale’s maverick ways, Colby wrote, “made him few friends among the more traditional bureaucrats and, more seriously, kept him from appointment to the kind of leadership positions where he might have been able to make major changes in American foreign policy.”71

Thus he was an outsider while the Bay of Pigs operation was plotted. Lansdale thought it was “suicidal” to launch a D-day–style landing with fewer than fifteen hundred exiles; he favored starting with “a small guerrilla force . . . and gradually build[ing] up its bona fides.” He subsequently became involved in efforts to overthrow Castro as chief of operations for an interagency operation code-named Mongoose. But he found his superiors, and in particular Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, impatient with his hopes of creating a revolutionary organization within Cuba that would win “the warm, understanding, and sympathetic approval of the people.” The administration “wanted fast action,” meaning commando raids and plots to assassinate Castro. Among the “nutty schemes” that were considered, as one author aptly termed them, was a plan to airdrop toilet paper printed with pictures of Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev to humiliate those Communist bosses. While few such proposals were actually implemented, their later exposure caused significant embarrassment to all concerned, including Lansdale, who would be hauled out of retirement to testify before the Senate’s Church Committee in 1975. As with North Vietnam, so with Cuba: Lansdale’s attempts to destabilize Communist dictatorships ended in ignominious failure.72

In spite of Kennedy’s support for his efforts, Lansdale was also stymied in his attempts to get the U.S. armed forces to wholeheartedly embrace counterinsurgency warfare. In 1962 the president urged the armed forces to prepare for a “type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat.”73 To meet this challenge, he set up a Special Group, Counterinsurgency, whose members included his own brother. But the group was chaired by General Maxwell Taylor, a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ambassador to Vietnam whose own outlook was relentlessly conventional. He favored preparing for limited wars between regular armies.74 Thus the armed forces paid the president lip service but nothing more. When JFK visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1961, the Army Special Forces proudly paraded in their new green berets, which the president had authorized them to wear over the opposition of the regular army, which despised any deviation from the norm. (The same color beret was worn by the British commandos with whom the first U.S. Army Rangers had trained in 1942.) Resplendent in their headgear, they staged a “real Cecil B. De Mille spectacular” for the president, one soldier recalled, which included a trooper in a “rocket contraption” flying across a lake and landing in front of the president.75 The army, told to include guerrilla warfare in its curriculum, even instructed its typists “how to make typewriters explode” and its bakers “how to make apple pies with hand grenades in them.”76

Such gimmicks may have been related, however tenuously, to carrying out a guerrilla war, but they had nothing to do with countering a guerrilla war, which was to be the army’s main mission in the 1960s. As Lansdale noted, Kennedy’s prodding produced “a lot of activity,” but most of it lacked “the quality desired.”77 Senior officers thought that conventional training, doctrine, and organization would be sufficient for this task. Their outlook was summed up by General George Decker, army chief of staff from 1960 to 1962, who claimed, “Any good soldier can handle guerrillas.”78

Similar sentiments had no doubt occurred to many other soldiers over the centuries before they were disabused of their illusions by rebels ranging from the ancient Maccabees to the nineteenth-century Spanish guerrilleros and the twentieth-century Irish Republicans. In fact, while guerrilla warfare on a tactical level utilizes many of the same skills as light infantry operations, the strategy of war among the people is entirely different from a clash between two uniformed forces on empty sand, soil, seas, or skies. Low-intensity conflict necessitates an emphasis on policing and controlling the population. The application of indiscriminate firepower can be counterproductive if it results in unnecessary civilian casualties and thereby drives more civilians into the rebels’ arms. Thus a war against guerrillas typically requires a degree of restraint that is far from the norm in conventional conflicts.

THAT WAS A lesson the U.S. armed forces were to learn at high cost in Vietnam—for neither the first nor the last time. The situation had deteriorated markedly since Lansdale’s departure in large part because of North Vietnam’s decision in 1960 to form the National Liberation Front to wage war in the south. On a brief visit in 1961 Lansdale was shocked to find that the Communists had “been able to infiltrate the most productive area of South Vietnam and to gain control of nearly all of it.”79 He was even more dismayed to see “Vietnamese artillery firing on villages”—that was “something you don’t do in a guerrilla war. . . . You never make war against your own people.”80

Diem, for his part, was becoming more isolated in his presidential palace, “screened in,” as Lansdale put it, “by his palace guard.” Following Lansdale’s departure Diem had no trusted interlocutor who could urge him to make democratic reforms. Instead he fell under the sway of his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, “a truly Machiavellian character,” in the words of a South Vietnamese official.81 He propagated a crackpot, quasi-Marxist doctrine known as “personalism” and employed heavy-handed tactics to repress dissent, leading to a fatal confrontation with Buddhist monks.

“If the next American official to talk with President Diem,” Lansdale wrote in 1961, “would have the good sense to see him as a human being who has been through a lot of hell for years—and not as an opponent to be beaten to his knees—we would start regaining our influence with him in a healthy way. . . . If we don’t like the influence of Brother Nhu,” he recommended, “then let’s move someone of ours in close.”82 But no American representative after his own departure was able to establish that kind of rapport with the prickly president. Similar woes would plague future generations of American officials who had to deal with José Napoleón Duarte in El Salvador, Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. It is, indeed, a common issue in any counterinsurgency where an outside power is supporting but not controlling an ostensibly sovereign ally. It was not a problem that confronted the British in Malaya, the French in Algeria, or other imperialists fighting in their own colonies, but in those cases the lack of an independent indigenous government presented its own problems in winning popular support.

In South Vietnam the most promising counterinsurgency initiative enacted post-Lansdale was the Strategic Hamlets program set up at the urging of Sir Robert Thompson, the “suave” head of the British Advisory Mission83 and, like Lansdale, one of the few prominent counterinsurgents with an air force background. (He had served as RAF liaison to the Chindits.) This population-resettlement and village-security plan was modeled on Malaya’s New Villages and Israel’s kibbutzim,84 but under the misguided direction of Ngo Dinh Nhu the program expanded too fast. As Thompson noted, “It took over three years to establish 500 defended Chinese villages in Malaya. In under two years in Vietnam over 8,000 strategic hamlets were created, the majority of them in the first nine months of 1963.”85 That was far too many for the fledgling South Vietnamese armed forces to safeguard, allowing the enemy to infiltrate the new hamlets. After Diem’s death in an American-backed coup, which came less than a month before Kennedy’s own assassination, the program fell out of official favor, although efforts to safeguard hamlets continued.

With the Saigon government plunged into a period of uncertainty and the Vietcong growing in strength, the new president, Lyndon Johnson, faced a thankless choice: either employ more military might or risk letting an ally fall. In 1965, in response to ostensible North Vietnamese attacks on two U.S. destroyers on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, he launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a gradually escalating series of bombing raids on the north that would be punctuated by pauses meant to spur negotiations. The first American ground troops were dispatched to safeguard air bases, but soon they took on an active combat role. By the end of 1965 there were 184,000 American troops in the south, a figure that was to steadily increase until topping out at 540,000 in 1969.86 North Vietnam responded by sending its own regulars south to fight alongside the Vietcong. That, in turn, led to a further deterioration of the security situation—not to mention the domestic situation in the United States, where the unpopularity of the war and the draft helped spark protests and riots on college campuses. By relying primarily on conscripts, the Johnson administration was ignoring lessons learned by, among others, the Roman, Chinese, British, and French empires, all of which had found that pacification operations far from home, seldom popular and invariably costly and long-lasting, were generally better left to professional soldiers who volunteered for this unglamorous duty rather than to unenthusiastic citizen-soldiers whose dispatch was certain to spark social unrest back home.

Nor was this the only lesson of guerrilla warfare past that went unlearned by the American forces. General William Childs Westmoreland, head of U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, was a courtly southerner who, if nothing else, looked the part of a general with his thick salt-and-pepper hair, bushy eyebrows, and granite features. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he was well schooled in conventional operations, but nothing in his background or education prepared him to face an enemy that did not stand and fight in the open like the Wehrmacht or the Korean People’s Army. In 1964, when Westmoreland was first being considered for command in Vietnam, a brigadier general warned that “it would be a grave mistake to appoint him”—“He is spit and polish. . . . This is a counterinsurgency war, and he would have no idea how to deal with it.”87 That prediction turned out to be tragically on target.

On the basis of his limited experience, Westmoreland had a one-word solution to the insurgency: “Firepower.”88 U.S. aircraft would drop more bombs during the Vietnam War than during World War II, with most falling on South Vietnamese territory.89Predictably, however, the liberal employment of firepower, combined with the use of noisy aircraft, helicopters, trucks, and tanks, signaled every American attack well in advance and usually allowed the enemy to slip away. Communist troops occasionally would slug it out with American formations—for example, in the famous 1965 battle in the Ia Drang Valley that was the subject of the book and movie We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young. But seldom would North Vietnamese or Vietcong units allow themselves to be trapped and annihilated. All that the massive expenditure of firepower achieved was to create lots of casualties and lots of refugees, thereby alienating the population of the south. “We really blew a lot of civilians away,” a U.S. officer later admitted.90

Like Kitchener in the Boer War, Westmoreland was indifferent to civilian suffering—he measured the progress of the campaign by compiling highly suspect “body counts,” and it was all too easy to count any dead peasant as a Vietcong fighter. Yet once American or South Vietnamese troops left an area, the Vietcong usually returned to reassert control. American forces were so busy chasing Communist formations around the sparsely populated highlands that they neglected to secure the country’s sixteen million people, 90 percent of whom lived in the Mekong Delta and in the narrow coastal plain.91

Westmoreland hoped to cut off the insurgents by interdicting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of roads running through North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia into South Vietnam. But he never succeeded, because the austere guerrillas did not require many truckloads of supplies to keep going. Moreover they had another supply line running straight from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was more important as an infiltration route for reinforcements (by 1966 over fifty thousand fighters a year were going south), but individuals hidden in the jungle were notoriously hard to hit from the air.92

There was, in fairness, more to the American war effort than conventional operations. There were also some promising counterinsurgency programs conducted in cooperation with the South Vietnamese. These included the Combined Action Program, which sent squads of marines to live in Vietnamese villages and protect them in cooperation with the Popular Forces militia; Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, which sent CIA and Special Forces personnel to mobilize ethnic minorities, the Montagnards, much as the French had done before them; Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols, which sent small hunter-killer teams made up of American and South Vietnamese Special Forces to gather intelligence and ambush enemy forces; and the Phoenix Program, which sent American and South Vietnamese intelligence operatives to root out Vietcong cadres. These programs produced more enemy kills and fewer casualties among American forces and Vietnamese civilians than more-conventional operations. One Vietcong leader later said, “We never feared a division of troops, but the infiltration of a couple of guys into our ranks”—a feature of Phoenix—“created tremendous difficulties for us.”93

But these programs were not quick enough or decisive enough for the U.S. military hierarchy, which was searching for what Lansdale derided as a “short-cut” or “magical formula.”94 Counterinsurgency came to be referred to as “the other war,” and it was little more than a minor adjunct to the lumbering search-and-destroy missions that consumed 95 percent of American resources.95 This was a major difference between the unsuccessful U.S. war effort in Vietnam and the more successful efforts of the British in Malaya and of the Filipinos in the Huk Rebellion. Those conflicts saw the employment of many counterinsurgency programs superficially similar to those utilized in South Vietnam, but they were the main effort—not a sideshow. In South Vietnam, mindlessly destructive “search and destroy” missions undid many of the gains won by more-focused counterinsurgency campaigns.

Notwithstanding steady increases in the forces at his disposal, Westmoreland never achieved his cherished objective—to reach a “crossover point” when he was killing more Communists than Hanoi could replace. Even as American commanders eagerly claimed credit for often exaggerated “body counts,” the number of enemy fighters in the south steadily climbed. According to official American military estimates, there were 134,000 Communist regulars and guerrillas in the south at the end of 1965 and 280,000 by 1967. The CIA believed the actual figures were much higher—over 500,000 by 1968.96

Communist forces suffered staggering casualties—after the war, Hanoi admitted losing 1.1 million soldiers97—but it made little difference. North Vietnam was a dictatorship impervious to public opinion. The American public was more casualty conscious and began to turn against the war when it became apparent that little progress was being made in return for the sacrifice of so many American lives. Long before the final toll had reached 58,000 dead, millions of Americans had taken to the streets to protest the war’s continuation, making it America’s most divisive conflict since the Civil War. Hanoi deliberately played on public opinion in the United States, tailoring its propaganda to encourage antiwar activists, some of whom, most famously Jane Fonda in 1972, actually visited the north. The Hanoi line had it that the Vietcong were independent of the north and that Ho Chi Minh and other northern leaders were not really Communists.98 These myths were believed by many in the West. The people of North Vietnam, by contrast, were cut off from anti-Communist appeals by government censorship.

Years later, after he had left Vietnam in ignominious defeat, Westmoreland and many of his military colleagues tried to shift the blame for their ill-chosen tactics to their political masters, especially President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. But while Johnson did micromanage the bombing of North Vietnam for fear of drawing into the war Hanoi’s allies, China and the Soviet Union, he took a hands-off attitude toward operations in the south. “Within South Vietnam, the U.S. commander had very wide latitude in deciding how to fight the war,” writes historian Lewis Sorley. “That was true for Westmoreland, and equally true for his eventual successor.” “Westy,” in short, had no one but himself to blame for his decision, eerily similar to that of earlier French commanders in Indochina, to fight a “war of attrition” that played directly to the Communists’ strengths.99

THE CONVENTIONAL—and futile—contour of the war effort was already well established by the time Lansdale arrived for his second tour of duty in South Vietnam in August 1965. His bureaucratic enemies had forced his retirement from the air force at the end of 1963, only a few months after his promotion to major general, but Vice President Hubert Humphrey remained a fan and thought Lansdale could still be useful. The CIA station chief in Saigon “damn near dropped his martini” when he heard that this “blunt and unorthodox” interloper had been appointed as a civilian to head the newly created Saigon Liaison Office, reporting directly to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.100

Lansdale reassembled many of the old gang from the 1950s along with some newcomers—including the former Pentagon aide Daniel Ellsberg, who would achieve infamy in 1971 as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the war. At his two-story villa on Cong Ly Street, Lansdale and his aides hosted a nonstop stream of Vietnamese visitors with whom they chatted over ginseng wine into the wee hours and sang folks songs.

By now Lansdale was a “living legend” who was expected by the press to perform “miracles.”101 But there was no native leader comparable in stature to Magsaysay or Diem for him to work with. Just as Lansdale had expected, Diem’s downfall, which had been engineered by one of Lansdale’s associates, the CIA officer Lucien Conein, had led to the rise of one uniformed dictator after another, each lacking legitimacy.

The biggest obstacle Lansdale encountered, however, was on the American side, in the “Pentagon East,” the swollen and cumbersome U.S. bureaucracy in Saigon. When he had first arrived in South Vietnam in 1954, there were only 348 American servicemen in the entire country; by the end of his second tour, in 1968, the figure had grown to more than half a million.102 Lansdale, for his part, had only eleven team members.103 He had no independent authority of his own, and his ability to exert any influence was limited by his own ineptitude at office politics, by his lack of high-level support in Washington, and by the bureaucracy’s chronic suspicion of him. One official summed up their attitude: “We don’t want Lawrences of Asia.”104

The cause of such antipathy was not hard to discern. The Quiet American was in opposition to American policy as it had developed since the early 1960s. He did not want U.S. troops in South Vietnam, certainly not in such large numbers. “The military can suppress the Communist forces . . . ,” he warned Ambassador Lodge, in an accurate summary of the lessons of thousands of years of guerrilla conflicts, “but cannot defeat them short of genocide.” He favored political action at the “rice roots” level to develop a “viable democracy,” guided by culturally savvy advisers rather than the kind of “heavy paternalism” he found among so many Americans in Vietnam who were in his view prolonging “the ills of colonialism.”105 He was aware of the need for military action but scathing in decrying the big-unit, firepower-intensive tactics of American and South Vietnamese forces. He warned in a 1964 Foreign Affairs article, “When the military opens fire at long range, whether by infantry weapons, artillery or air strikes, on a reported Viet Cong concentration in a hamlet or village full of civilians, the Vietnamese officers who give those orders and the American advisers who let them ‘get away with it’ are helping defeat the cause of freedom.”106

When Lansdale tried to advance an alternative approach to pacification, he later admitted ruefully, his “ideas got clobbered time after time by the U.S. officials.”107 His prescience, and that of other experienced counterinsurgency hands, such as Robert Thompson, John Paul Vann, and Roger Hilsman, was widely recognized only after the Tet Offensive, which occurred a few months before he left Vietnam for good.

ON THE NIGHT of January 30, 1968, General Vo Nguyen Giap, under pressure from hard-line Communist leaders, launched a surprise attack against Saigon and most of the other major cities of the south utilizing 84,000 fighters. Lansdale was awoken, along with many other residents of the capital, at 3 a.m. on January 31 by “some loud bangs nearby, followed by automatic weapons fire.” Before long, firing had broken out “all over the place.” A Vietcong suicide squad even managed to penetrate the heavily defended grounds of the U.S. embassy before being wiped out. Just like Giap’s premature thrust into the Red River Delta in 1951, this attempt to strike a “decisive blow” was a costly defeat. An estimated 37,000 Communists were killed and 5,800 captured, while only 1,001 American and 2,082 South Vietnamese troops perished. The general uprising that Hanoi hoped to spark never materialized. Instead Vietcong brutality in Hue, where they executed 2,800 civilians during the three weeks that they controlled the city, caused a popular backlash in the south.108

But while unsuccessful militarily, the Tet Offensive reaped a valuable propaganda windfall for Hanoi by discrediting official proclamations that, as Westmoreland had claimed in November 1967, the war’s “end” was in “view.”109 On the last day of March 1968, at 9 p.m., President Johnson took to the airwaves from the Oval Office, wearing a sober blue suit, a narrow red tie, and a grim expression on his heavily wrinkled face, to announce a partial bombing halt designed to “de-escalate the conflict.” In a stunning surprise at the end of the forty-minute address, he added that, in order to concentrate all his energies on achieving “our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace,” he would not seek or accept “the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” Thus the Vietnam War claimed its highest-profile victim: the Johnson presidency.110 Nine days earlier the president had already relieved Westmoreland, kicking him upstairs to become army chief of staff. Westmoreland’s request for even more troops was denied. This was a tacit admission that the war was not going well—something that the public already knew. Only 26 percent of those surveyed by Gallup shortly before his address approved of Johnson’s handling of Vietnam.111

The next president, Richard M. Nixon, and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, had no choice but to launch a policy of “Vietnamization,” which involved the gradual withdrawal of American combat troops while they searched for an “honorable” end to the conflict. Thanks to the mauling the Vietcong had received during the Tet Offensive, however, it was in no position to take immediate advantage of the American pullout. Westmoreland’s deputy and successor, General Creighton “Abe” Abrams, kept the pressure on by putting more emphasis on providing “security for the people of South Vietnam’s villages and hamlets” while gradually scaling back conventional operations. Abrams got rid of the “other war” mantra and replaced it with “one war.”112 He was greatly aided by the OSS and CIA veteran William Colby, who turned CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support), a subordinate command charged with pacification, into an effective instrument of counterinsurgency. Security conditions in the south actually improved even as the number of American troops fell. By 1971 Colby and his daredevil subordinate, John Paul Vann, were able to motorbike across the Mekong Delta with no bodyguards—and no trouble.113

The following year Giap launched a conventional attack on the south—the third repetition of the same mistake he had made in 1951 and 1968. Trying to prematurely end an irregular conflict can be a costly blunder for either insurgents or counterinsurgents; in this type of war there are no shortcuts to victory. Giap was generally a study in patience; certainly he had more of a long-term outlook than either the French generals he had fought or their American successors. But he was prone to roll the dice on premature offensives that came to perdition—and that marred his reputation as one of the most successful guerrilla strategists of all time. Although there were few American ground troops left, the 1972 Easter Offensive was smashed by the South Vietnamese armed forces aided by American airpower. By January 1973, following the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong harbor, the Hanoi government was ready to sign the Paris Peace Accords bringing the war to a halt—at least temporarily.

Despite Nixon’s claims of having achieved “peace with honor,” more than 150,000 Communist troops remained in the south, and they began violating the accords almost at once.114 Even so South Vietnam might have survived if the United States had been willing to keep its troops in place, as it had done after the Korean War. But public opposition to the war and the Watergate scandal, which destroyed Nixon’s popularity after a landslide reelection, made that impossible. American aid to the south was cut off entirely in 1974, even as China and the Soviet Union continued their support for the north. In 1975 a North Vietnamese invasion led to a quick collapse of the south. The end of the twenty-year war was brought about by regulars riding T-54 tanks, not by pajama-clad guerrillas, but it was the guerrillas who made possible the final Communist victory by wearing down the will of the American people to continue the struggle.

HO CHI MINH, who died in 1969, did not live to see the end of the long struggle against “the imperialist and feudalist forces.”115 Long before his demise he had become an aging, ailing, avuncular figurehead while real power was exercised behind the scenes by the hard-line party leader Le Duan. More even than Vo Nguyen Giap, whom he derided as a “scared rabbit” for being afraid to confront the United States directly in 1965, Le Duan was the primary architect of one of the most humiliating drubbings ever suffered by a superpower.116 The cost of his single-minded dedication to victory was staggering—much higher than any democratic politician could have tolerated. Hanoi estimated that the twenty-year war cost 3.6 million Vietnamese lives on both sides.117

Conventionally minded American soldiers such as Colonel Harry Summers later argued that the conflict had been lost because they had been forced to devote too much attention to “the guerrilla war in the south,” while shortsighted politicians prevented them from addressing the “root of the trouble . . . at the source.”118 The war, it was claimed, could have been won only with a conventional invasion either of Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail or, better still, of North Vietnam itself to depose the Communist regime. This ignored the likelihood of intervention by China, which by 1967 had 170,000 troops in the north, should U.S. troops cross the seventeenth parallel.119 It ignored, too, the lessons of the French Indochina War. The French had occupied the entire country and still had been defeated by determined guerrillas with supply lines stretching into China.

Fickle political leadership undoubtedly contributed to the worst military defeat in American history—but so did the obtuseness of a military establishment that tried to apply a conventional strategy to an unconventional conflict. The outcome might have been different if more attention had been paid to the advice of counterinsurgency experts such as Edward Lansdale, who had warned as early as 1964 “that the Communists have let loose a revolutionary idea in Viet Nam and that it will not die by being ignored, bombed, or smothered by us.”120 Lansdale did not believe the war was unwinnable if the right methods were applied. But that did not happen until after public support for the war effort had already collapsed in the United States.

Vietnam was far from the only place where guerrillas were triumphing over America’s allies during the “Radical Chic” era. Another notable success for “people’s war” was in some ways even more galling because it occurred right in the Yanquis’ backyard, in a country that the United States had dominated ever since it sent its troops in 1898 to help Cuban insurrectos oust their Spanish overlords.

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