Rules of engagement that the United States followed were formulated to limit the force of operations in North Vietnam. The focus was to destroy North Vietnam’s abilities to fight, but in a way that would not upset China and Russia. The last thing the United States wanted was a full blown war with the Communists (Moss,2010). The ROE with limited war ideology and its assumptions are seen through the perspectives and experiences of six levels.
The soldier’s perspective was that limited war ideology made their lives more challenging. They were concerned with doing the assigned task and avoiding being sent home in a box. Soldiers felt the Vietcong were brave in comparison to the ARVN (Moss, p.203). They felt they were fighting someone else’s war.
Battalion Commander’s mission were to conduct operations. The objective was to have maximum results with limited resources. They had to follow ROE, but understand how to manipulate the rules to make combat effective. They had more functional independence then the higher ranks.
The Division Commander such as ARVN 7th Division, Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Van, who was known for flying a spotter plane during the Ap Buc Battle, felt as though the ARVN were incompetent (Moss, p.97). He did not trust ARVN officers and it appeared to him that the recruits had no passion for the fight. “They had no nationalistic feelings for South Vietnam” (Moss, p.100).
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, was second in command only to President Johnson. He was accountable for developing ROE for U.S. military forces in Vietnam. McNamara requested more troops and wanted to utilize Reservist and the National Guard (Moss,2010). President Johnson did not allow this to happen. He had many concerns with how the rest of the world would view the United States. To some degree, these ROE were so limited that the U.S. was set up for failure.
General Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. troops, was ultimately responsible for strategically conducting the war. His attrition strategy was thought to lead to victory. He believed that the United States massive firepower and ability to seek and destroy would kill enemies faster than they could be replaced (Moss, p.179). Eventually, the Vietcong would be so worn down that victory would be inevitable.
President Johnson’s role as Commander in Chief gave him the final say on the ROE. These were restrictive rules that provided boundaries for the war. The President did not want China and the Soviets to intervene and the fight with the North Vietnamese becoming a massive war with its allies. Johnson often was torn between the dovish and hawkish demands of his military advisors (Moss, 2010).
The United States continually underestimated the Vietnamese tactics. Guerilla warfare and the Vietcong’s air defense had crippled the United States objectives. The idea that eventually the North Vietnamese would exhaust and victory was in the near future was destroyed.
Moss, G.D. (2010). Vietnam:An American ordeal.(Sixth ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearsons
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