This article appeared in the January 11, 1971 edition of The Nation.
The Defense Department’s own account of the Vietnam War holds the clues to our defeat.
SEVEN FIREFIGHTS IN VIETNAM.
Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army.
Superintendent of Documents.
Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C.
This book is "A preface to the full military history of the war in Vietnam" that is already in preparation by our War Department. It is not meaningful to call it the Defense Department. The American military hasn’t defended anything American for a generation now, but it has killed our youth in foreign wars, defending tinhorn dictators against the wrath of their own people.
The seven firefights in Vietnam, beginning with the account of a black officer, Major Cash, of the fight at Ia Dran, usually end with an American victory. These recitals contrast with Bernard Fall’s battle reports of the French fights against the same enemy. Fall’s accounts usually end in disaster. In selecting these particular battles, are the military bringing out our best efforts or are they trying to show the Americans winning where the French lost?
In the fight at Ia Drang, as in most of the other firefights, aircraft (something the French did not have) played a leading role: "At 0755 Moore directed all units to throw colored smoke grenades so that ground artillery, aerial rocket artillery and tactical air observers could more readily see the perimeter periphery, for he wanted to get his fire support as close as possible. As soon as the smoke was thrown, supporting fire was brought in extremely close. Several artillery rounds fell in our perimeter and one 105 jet, flying a northwest-southwest pass, splashed two tanks of napalm into our area, burning some of the men and exploding M-16 ammunition stacks. While troops worked to put out the fire, Captain Dillon rushed into the middle of the zone and laid a cerise panel so that our strike aircraft could better identify the area." But, as usual, our defense was successful and "By 1000 the enemy’s attempts to overwhelm the area failed and the attack ceased."
At the end of the battle there is a picture of Colonel Moore examining the enemy dead. There are no pictures of the American dead, although there were seventy-nine Americans killed in the fight. It is interesting that among enemy casualties there are listed 581 estimated dead. As to how this figure was arrived at, your guess would be as good as Major Cash’s.
Firefight number two, the convoy ambush on Highway One, also differs from Bernard Fall’s French disasters. His article on the French convoy ambush ended with complete annihilation of the French outfit. John Albright’s firefight ends with the line: "National Highway Number One remained open." Again it was the jets and the helicopters to the rescue. "The arrival of the jets in a battle that was only eight minutes old brought pure joy to the men crouching in the ditches."