[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Venable on Boylan, 'Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sun Mar 25 19:29:04 MDT 2018

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sat, Mar 24, 2018 at 11:45 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Venable on Boylan, 'Losing Binh Dinh: The
Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971'
To: H-REVIEW at lists.h-net.org

Kevin M. Boylan.  Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and
Vietnamization, 1969-1971.  Lawrence  University Press of Kansas,
2016.  365 pp.  $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-2352-5.

Reviewed by Heather P. Venable (Air Command and Staff College)
Published on H-War (March, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Kevin M. Boylan's _Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and
Vietnamization, 1969-1971_ seeks to test the revisionist claim that
the United States was winning the Vietnam War through its
pacification efforts after the Tet Offensive but lost anyway because
policymakers did not stay the course. Boylan does this by focusing on
a particular province to explore the interrelationships between
pacification and Vietnamization, arguing that they worked at cross
purposes, ultimately failing both to prepare South Vietnamese troops
to fight independently and to eliminate the VietCong insurgency.
Vietnamization, in particular, could not succeed because of poor
South Vietnamese leadership, which also challenges the revisionist
claim that indigenous leadership improved significantly after Tet.

Kevin Boylan draws on his dual background as a defense analyst
concerned with Iraq, among other issues, and as a graduate with a PhD
in military history from Temple University, where he studied under
Russell Weigley. The author recently left his position as a history
professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to support his
wife's academic career.[1]Overall, Boylan challenges revisionist
approaches, claiming they rely excessively on top-down assessments
made by high-ranking policymakers and overly sweeping views of South
Vietnam. By contrast, Boylan takes a bottom-up view focused on the
specific province of Binh Dinh in order to better understand the
localized and multifaceted nature of insurgencies. While certainly
not the first to take this approach, he has chosen a province that
represents a geographical aberration in South Vietnam, which made it
especially challenging to pacify. In particular, it had poor soil
that made it difficult to sustain its overpopulated numbers.
Communist ideology thus found a receptive population, becoming
entrenched as early as World War II, when the Viet Minh filled a
power vacuum enabled by French defeat and gained a reputation as
nationalists for battling the Japanese. In short, the province could
be considered the Appalachia of South Vietnam.

Ironically, early pacification efforts made significant headway,
offering hope that they might be successful. From April 1969 to
December 1970, the 173rd Airborne worked in Binh Dinh to "secure
individual hamlets" while providing training to the Territorial
Forces that ultimately would replace it (p. 8). In this way, the
approach certainly represented a more population-centric method of
counterinsurgency than the United States previously had attempted in
Vietnam, although it would be dangerous to draw many comparisons to
recent US COIN efforts in Iraq and elsewhere because this program did
not attempt to win "hearts and minds". Rather, it represented a
"quick fix" designed to regain "military control of enemy-dominated
communities" (p. 48). This approach rested on policymakers'
assumptions that villagers were "apolitical" (p. 287). By contrast,
the VietCong had a more targeted policy of maintaining their
"_psychological _grip" on those villagers most likely to be active in
leading their communities (p. 289), which provided them with an
important advantage.

If Communist morale and activity did suffer greatly in 1969, however,
those gains resulted from the efforts of US rather than South
Vietnamese troops. Moreover, all of the US military effectiveness in
the world could not counterbalance the local government's political
shortcomings. Simultaneously, the Phoenix program failed to destroy
the Vietcong infrastructure even as the Communists increasingly
responded to pacification's successes by engaging in acts of
terrorism against local government officials. By 1970, policymakers
problematically sought to both enlarge and consolidate pacification,
effectively working at cross purposes. The exodus of US troops from
the country only made this even more unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the United States hoped optimistically that _more_
training of the Territorial Forces might turn the tide. But Boylan
compellingly argues that all of the training in the world could not
solve the real reason Vietnamization failed--an almost unsolvable
problem with South Vietnamese leadership. He depicts Vietnamese
officers who eschewed the support of their advisers, just seeking
access to "stuff"--particularly the logistical and firepower support
the US provided. Most of their "casualties" resulted from desertions
rather than battle. Advisers bemoaned that belaboring Vietnamization
just made these patterns worse, because the South Vietnamese only
became more dependent on the United States. In short, the South
Vietnamese simply had not "commit[ed]" themselves to winning (p. 83).
In large part, though, Boylan concludes that this can be explained by
the fact that the "South Vietnamese themselves were never fooled"
about the depth of US commitment (p. 295). This conclusion, however,
rests on the kind of sweeping generalization about South Vietnamese
morale that he critiques the revisionists for making, which
ultimately challenges his provincial focus. A clearer overarching
roadmap to guide the reader either in the introduction or within the
individual chapters themselves also might have helped to alleviate
some of these problems, as one frequently arrives at the end of a
chapter with only the unfolding of the narrative to guide the reader
as to the author's overarching purpose.

It is almost impossible for the reader to avoid drawing tragic
comparisons between today's current conflicts and debates about how
and if victory is even possible. Ironically, the United States did
make substantial short-term progress in pacifying Binh Dinh, but it
failed utterly at Vietnamizing the war, which made victory
unattainable. Pursuing both at the same time was impossible. As a
high-ranking US official wrote in 1970, "We have gone about as far as
we can go in turning this country into an armed camp" (p. 289). This
work could have done more to shed light on perspectives from the
Vietnamese "camp," but it does provide an excellent exploration of
how Vietnamization and pacification coexisted uneasily in a
challenging province in South Vietnam.


[1]. LinkedIn profile,
https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-boylan-538835128, accessed January
22, 2018.

Citation: Heather P. Venable. Review of Boylan, Kevin M., _Losing
Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization,
1969-1971_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50993

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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