Rolling (the Vietnam) Stone Forward

So General McChrystal is now the latest victim of forgetting that the press is rarely your friend. It could be argued, and has been, that he received what he deserved, and the response to his poor judgment is a rare instance of agreement from both the right and the left for the most part. President Obama, of whom I am not a fan (but then I’m not on active duty), really had little choice in his decision to fire or not fire. And his choice of General Petraeus was also a no-brainer, as the country, and the war in Afghanistan, doesn’t need the specter of a ‘vetting’ process in which pro and anti Afghan war proponents square off in the media with a miniscule number of them actually knowing what they are talking about (Giving members of Congress another platform from which to pontificate is America at its most masochistic). Granted, the entire flap doesn’t have the gravitas of a MacArthur—Truman battle. This seemed more like a school yard scrap and a public venting. If every military man openly expressed his likely opinion that the U.S. State Department is peopled with incompetent jerks, we would be down to Lance Corporals running the Joint Chiefs. And, to be fair, the feeling is probably mutual.

There is, however, another unfortunate theme which is brought up by the whole affair. And that is the continued and seemingly ubiquitous use of half-truths and outright lies about the American War in Vietnam as a reference point for the war in Afghanistan. A specific instance is in the now famous Rolling Stone interview with McChrystal which launched him into retirement or at least banishment for the immediate future. Near the end of the article we read that “The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975).”

To deal briefly with the French in Algeria: Nothing in our COIN policy resembles the French actions in Algeria to any significant degree beginning with the fact that colonization was the basis of the conflict.

As to the reference to America in Vietnam, the facts are even clearer. The COIN initiatives in Vietnam were largely highly successful when fully implemented during the final years of our involvement (as a former Marine, I also proudly point out that the Marine Corps strongly advocated a similar policy in Vietnam almost from the beginning of their deployment). By the end of the U.S. military actions in Vietnam (in late 1972) the countryside in South Vietnam was about 90 percent under the government’s control, and the ‘blunt’ end of a COIN policy–killing the enemy in large numbers–sent the North Vietnamese scrambling to the Paris Peace treaty where they agreed to stop their aggression, free our prisoners, and left in place a democratically elected government in South Vietnam. The “loss” in 1975 was the result of a communist North Vietnam rearming and attacking the South Vietnamese in force after the American congress failed to live up to its obligations to support the South Vietnamese (and the peace treaty).

There are indeed valuable lessons to be learned from Vietnam, but the country is ill-served by basing them on false, incomplete, or misleading knowledge of the true history of our Vietnam actions. If the Rolling Stone wants to be taken seriously (as it has stated) as a journal of American political activity, it owes its readers (not just the anti-Vietnam war alumni) more than repeating the old and tired criticisms of our efforts in Vietnam.

Editor’s Note: Phillip Jennings is the author of the "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War." You really should buy one – you will like reading the truth!