During the Vietnam War, America only halfheartedly attempted to engage the Viet Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army in Guerrilla, or Unconventional Warfare. Generally, however, the American Battle Plan called for Conventional Warfare, to take advantage of our technologically superior firepower. That doesn’t necessarily work against a more primitive adversary, however, that prefers to engage only on its terms. This is, in effect, somewhat of a David and Goliath mismatch!
After Vietnam, the U. S. Military has had an aversion to unconventional warfare. Although we have participated in numerous military engagements since then, I will focus on our three longest wars—Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The tank battle against Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard in 1991, and occasional confrontations with ISIS today have been conventional, in that the two armies faced each other head-on. Those battles were short-lived, however, and not against comparable firepower.
Weaker insurgent and military forces, with little more than rifles and the occasional bazooka, would be insane to confront a major military power head-on. Rather, they break-up into small groups and peck away at the more organized, larger foe. Keep in mind that our infantry is weighed-down with 70-to-100 pounds of gear, as were the Soviets in Afghanistan and Chechnya—and they suffered the same fate!
The small groups can scatter and hide, blend in with the local populace, or lure the superior force into cities, thus eliminating the value of the artillery and air bombardment. Also, major forces, which move in large groups can find difficulty traversing jungles, mountains and deserts. Infantry that usually deploys in armored personnel carriers (lightly armored, tracked vehicles) or helicopters, may be at a loss when their vehicles are halted by terrain, triple canopy jungle foliage or sandstorms.
When a large foreign army enters another country, it is usually regarded as an Invading Force. Also, our propping-up corrupt governments merely compounds the situation. The South Vietnamese government, which we installed, was composed of Roman Catholics who fled the North; however, that offended the predominantly Chinese Buddhists in the South. Then, the George W. Bush Administration replaced Saddam Hussein’s secular government with Shia Muslims who returned from self-exile in Iran, and embroiled the country into an on-going Shia-Sunni religious war. Afghanistan has always been just lines on a map, with more Afghan’s aligned with tribal or ethnic groups in neighboring countries than their own nation.
In most cases, America engages in these wars against countries that never attacked us or our allies, merely for economic or political reasons. Both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used Vietnam as tools to be re-elected. After the Tet (Chinese Lunar New Year) Offensive in January of 1968, the war was ostensibly lost, and national sentiment had shifted against it. Nixon kept it going, however, until January of 1973 in order to boost his re-election chances. George W. Bush also used the two wars in the Middle East to boost his re-election chances in 2004.
In war, if you’re not winning, you’re losing! Last June, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired Marine General, told a Congressional Committee that we are not winning the War in Afghanistan. After 14 years, I certainly believe that the same could be said for Iraq. But, if we continue insisting on fighting the wrong type of war, we will never win wars outright again!
Unconventional warfare just enables the weaker adversary to eliminate the strengths of the superior military power. And, as the equalizer effect kicks-in, the one remaining difference is that our enemy is fighting for a cause, while our troops barely know why they are there!
NOTE: Many times over the years, I have wondered how many lives were lost—on both sides—during that five year period in which the war was essentially lost. Even from the start, it was one huge, costly mistake!
The protest music, during the Vietnam War, was quite cogent. The linked song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, as performed by Peter, Paul and Mary in that era, has always been one of my favorites. I believe that it reflects the never-ending insanity of Warfare. A different version of the performance, by a much older Peter, Paul and Mary, playing to a packed audience of senior citizen–singing, clapping and dancing with their grandchildren–can be found on the Internet.