Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's nice that they're reading about Vietnam but...

...Jon Western asks the right question. This debate is about Afghanistan, so why aren't they reading books about Afghanistan in the White House?

I have read neither Lessons in Disaster nor the Lewis Sorley book that it is supposedly dueling with. But I just quickly read the PW summary of Sorley at Amazon, and my equally quick (i.e., off-the-cuff) reaction is this: One could make a good case that the Vietnam War was lost after the Tet Offensive -- not military but psychologically. So what happened on the ground after that was in some sense irrelevant to the outcome. However, the Vietnam War was one thing and Afghanistan is another. Historical analogies are always perilous because it is so difficult to make intelligent, wise use of them in decision-making. So, decision-makers, put down the Vietnam books and start reading some books on Afghanistan, please. Thank you.


hank_F_M said...


Viet Nam is a sample of one. And something of an outlier in that the “guerillas” won. They should perhaps read a cross section. Then they would have something to apply to their mandatory Afghanistan reading.

Both Lessons in Disaster and An Better War should not be read in isolation, together would be better, but also with others.

If they are going to read one book about Viet Nam Harry G Summers A Critical Analysis of the Viet Nam War would probably be much better. This was originally a sudent text at the Army War Collage and if it is not still on the required reading list it was the our senior military leadership was. I think if nothing else it would be a good look at the lessons the military sees from Viet Nam. The long discussion on objective or rather the lack of it would probably apply directly to Afghanistan.

LFC said...

OK. Keep in mind, however, the practical consideration that policymakers are inundated with reading and have a limited amount of time.
Somewhat though not entirely off-topic: Yesterday I took out of the library Alexander Downes's Targeting Civilians in War (Cornell Univ. Press, 2008) and have started to look at it. (He was a student of Mearsheimer's.)