The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Ends, Ways, and Means in Vietnam

Through the Tet offensive in 1968, some have argued that the United States did not have a firm strategy in Vietnam. For a strategy to be coherent it must logically connect ends, ways, and means. If you assume that the U.S. end was a stable South Vietnamese government, and that the U.S. had the means to achieve that end, how do you evaluate the ways the U.S. pursued the strategy? Some things to think about: What were the U.S. ways? Were they logically connected to the end? What was missing from the U.S. strategy?


February 17, 2012 - Posted by | COIN, H300, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The ways that America chose to achieve the endstate center around the military and political actions at the operational level that were largely ineffective. While at the outset these were logically tied to the endstate, they became unfocused by changing political tides in America as well as military leaders that were at once aloof and micromanaging. The US strategy lacked clear benchmarks of success as well as a distinct absence of exit strategy or allies that were willing to assist the South in their struggle to the same extent as America. All of these conditions are disturbingly similar to our current approach in the war on terror.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder 17D | February 21, 2012

  2. I agree that in previous ears the way American decided to achieve its endstate was largely ineffective. Reasoning being included the growing reliance on military and political decisions at the operational level. The focus solely on military instead of both military and political hinders decisions towards having a viable strategy with clearly defined objectives.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | February 27, 2012

  3. “Vietnam, oh Vietnam… We want a stable pro-Western government that will assist the U.S. in containing Communism… How will we do that without escalating to a mutually assured destruction (MAD) conflict with the Soviet Union??? Let’s keep sending more troops and equipment until we bleed the Communists white, but do not cross any international borders…”

    While I, like many Americans, was not present during our our National Leaders’ meetings as they discussed their strategy for Vietnam, I do speculate that it was something like the above. I believe that our leaders knew that they wanted South Vietnam to be governed by a anti-Communist government with favorable ties to the West. What ways and means to use baffled them.

    I believe that our national leaders believed that they could prop up the South Vietnamese government primarily with military ways. Heck, who could blame them? We had air, naval, and ground superiority across the globe, with only the Soviet Union’s military as a comparable adversary. So, why couldn’t our military achieve the U.S.’s desired endstate?

    As we have seen throughout history, COIN type operations require much more than just military ways to successfully end an insurgency and reconcile the disenfranchised parties. Unfortunately for the U.S., our leaders focused much of their planning to achieve the desired endstate centered on military ways. I believe, as a hind sight jockey, that a more balanced approach with diplomatic, infrastructure, and economic ways would have been more successful than the limited war the U.S. tried to fight.

    I state this since it is easier to attrite a population’s people than its ideas. The VCI’s ideology in South Vietnam actually gained support as the ravages of the war waged across its land, creating more insurgents. IF, I capitalize it for emphasis, the U.S. had invested more in all for DIME aspects it may had stemmed the flow of support for the VCI. Without the population’s support the VCI would have floundered and that would have denied the NVA the support of the VC. Able to concentrate on the NVA that PAVN and U.S. forces may have been able to secure the international borders and gained more international support to protect the sovereignty of South Vietnam.

    Unfortunately, the above is a lot of hindsight if’s, and’s, and what if’s… As I stated, it is easy for me, and anyone else, to use hindsight to state that the U.S. should have used more of the entire DIME spectrum to quell the VCI insurgency instead of focusing the majority of its efforts on the military to reach its endstate of a pro-Western South Vietnam government.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | March 4, 2012

  4. 1. H306RA: Willbanks, James H. “Vietnamization: An Incomplete Exit Strategy”. In Turning Victory Into Success: Military Operations After the Campaign, as presented at the Secod Annual TRADOC/ CSI Historical Symposium conducted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 13-14 September 2004, edited by Dr. Lieutenant Colonel Brian M. De Toy, 135-67. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2004.

    H306RA: Willbanks, James H. “Vietnamization: An Incomplete Exit Strategy”. In Turning Victory Into Success: Military Operations After the Campaign, as presented at the Secod Annual TRADOC/ CSI Historical Symposium conducted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 13-14 September 2004, edited by Dr. Lieutenant Colonel Brian M. De Toy, 135-67. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2004.

    Comment by MAJ Deborah L. Holland | February 22, 2013

  5. In order for the Southern Vietnamese to have a stable government, they needed to have a stable environment created through military capability. Before the Tet offensive in 1968, the US did not have a firm strategy to create a stable South Vietnamese government. Even after the Tet offensive, the US Government (President, Secretary of Defense and Congress) seemed more interested in ending the US involvement in the war rather than ensuring success. The overall US exit strategy was labeled “Vietnamization”, or “de-Americanization” of the war, and focused more on a troop withdrawal strategy rather than ensuring victory through increasing capability and stability of the Southern Vietnamese. Thus, the US end was not logically connected to the ways. If the US end had been to merely withdraw, it succeeded and used necessary means. In order to support the US withdraw, the US incorporated diplomatic means, built up the Southern Vietnamese Army with training and equipment and conducted counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.
    The diplomatic way involved the Paris peace talks in which Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, negotiated for a cease fire and peace agreement. Some representatives from the Military advisory committee Vietnam (MACV) parties believed that the South Vietnamese agreed to the talks because of their “military weakness”, but respondents from the Defense Department held that the South Vietnamese intended to use the talks to obtain their goals through diplomatic means.
    The military way to withdrawal included modernizing the RVNAF through training, advising and equipping. Although the US enabled RAVN to modernize, its leaders were not prepared to defeat the North Vietnamese without US support. Additionally, the US advisors were not sufficient in numbers nor ability to train and advise.
    The pacification and development effort, now known as counterinsurgency (COIN), way involved Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program which was designed to integrate political, military, economic and security programs in order to gain back popular support. One of the CORDS initiatives was the Phoenix program to gather information about the Viet Cong within the villages.
    There were several elements lacking from the “Vietnamization” of the war. One was proper timing of the withdrawal. Nixon’s public announcement that he had ordered US troop withdraw hampered Kissinger’s ability to negotiate with N. Vietnamese representatives because their military easily invaded and overran several S. Vietnamese cities until the US began its bombing compaign. Once the North Vietnamese did agree to a peace accord, it was not effective at keeping them from attacking the South Vietnamese because it did not include the withdrawal of the 150,000 troops still in Southern Vietnam. A second element missing was the quality and quantity of US advisors. Also missing was Southern Vietnamese technological ability, leadership and resolve. Finally, was lacking was the American people’s and Congressional backing of the US President’s promise not to abandon the Southern Vietnamese.

    References cited in previous post.

    Comment by MAJ Deborah L. Holland | February 23, 2013

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