“Wyrd biõ ful ãræd.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Catching up on my reading.

I haven't gone outside much lately. It's been either too cold, or too wet, or both.  Instead, I've been doing a lot of reading to pass the time.

 Bernard Fall was a journalist who specialized in the Indochina War. That's what the Vietnam War was called when the French were fighting it, while we were still tied up in Korea.  He was eventually killed there, covering early American military operations after we took over from the French.

Dien Bien Phu is always spoken in the same breath as Khe Sahn if you are American.  In both cases, the North Vietnamese surrounded a major fire base and tried to wipe it out.  In the case of the French at Dien Bien Phu, they succeeded. Nobody thought the North Vietnamese could get anti-aircraft guns or heavy artillery in there, but they did.  France lost a large percentage of their elite Paratroop and Foreign Legion units there, and at the end of the battle they negotiated a cut and run.  We could have saved the French at Dien Bien Phu with a massive airstrike, and our Air Force was ready to launch it when the politicians in D.C. turned craven and left the French to twist in the wind.  Thanks to that, we inherited the war.


Bernard Fall wrote another book, on the Indochinese war up to the point of Dien Bien Phu.  It covers the different major operations of the first years of the war.  The French did not have enough troops, weapons or money but they put up a good fight. They did have some very good forces, including a unit that had been fighting with the UN in Korea and was withdrawn because things were getting tight in Indochina.

What strikes me as strange is how many big battles were fought right in the same places, first by the French then by us. But no one seems to have realized it at the time, and the Americans made the same mistakes, in the same locations, with the same results. Trying to use South Vietnamese troops worked out even worse for us than it did for the French, and that's saying something because by and large, the South Vietnamese were worthless.

It's interesting to read about the French Foreign Legion in Indochina. A great number of them were former German Army soldiers, and they had a great record, both there and in Algeria later. But when part of the French Army revolted against De Gaul in Algeria , the Foreign Legion was implicated and many of it's best units were disbanded.  I saw the Foreign Legion at work in Lebanon and was much impressed. Even then, there were still an inordinate number of German soldiers in it, mostly long term guys who were unimpressed with 50 years of Garrison Duty , which at the time was all the German Army had done since WW2. They wanted to see the elephant, and that's how they got in the Legion.

I've also been reading about the Korean War.  I had an Uncle who was a Marine Sergeant in the Pacific War, stayed in , and wound up in Korea as an Artillery Officer. He was with the Marines at "Frozen Chosen."  I spent 13 months with the Air Wing on Okinawa, and much of that time I was in Korea. Although I didn't know it while I was there, many of the places like Osan, Taegu, Yechon, and others where we operated had been big battles during the Korean War. Osan was where everybody went to buy brass, my house still has a lot of brass items from Korea here and there. But during the war it was a real knock down drag out.

It's a strange fact that the North Koreans and Red Chinese were  equipped with large numbers of German and American weapons from World War II.  The German weapons were gifts to the fraternal communist forces from the Russians, captured during World War II.  The American weapons were given to Chaing Kai Shek  during and after World War II. When his regime collapsed and the communists took over, they inherited vast quantities of American weapons and equipment. They then gleefully used all this material against us. A list of weapons captured by one USMC company from the North Koreans included the Thompson submachine gun,  Springfield M1903 and 1903A4,  M1911 Colt,  .30 caliber "American Enfield", K98 Mausers, MP-40 submachine gun, Walther P38,  Mosin Nagant rifles, Russian sub guns, Tokorov pistols and the list goes on. How would you like to have been responsible for ammunition supply for that Army?


The classic book on Korea is This Kind of War, and my copy comes from the Marine Corps Association Bookstore at Quantico, Va.

Korea probably isn't at the top of current military officers reading lists, but it ought to be. Everything we could possibly have done wrong , we did at the start of that war.  Since no culture records it's failures with the same enthusiasm as it's victories, not a lot is written about Korea.

Still, anyone on active duty today could learn a lot  from this book, if they could find a copy. Once you start reading it, it's very hard to put down.





Last night, or perhaps I should say early this morning, I finished this book.  It was written just after World War I, and though it's old, it's still interesting and informative. One thing that I found worth thinking about is the contention of Nickerson that societies inevitably decay,  that civilization is a constant pulse, going up and then slowly deteriorating until it collapses and is replaced by a new version.  Most of the book deals with the Romans, but there are sections on earlier and later cultures as well.

Winter is a good time for reading.  I've read all these books before, but it seems like I always learn something new every time I read a book for the second time.  With the weather being so bad, it's a good pass time.  I sit up in my study, with the big skylights and the window looking out over the mountains, and half the time I seem to wind up going to sleep in the big easy chair there.  Maybe I am hibernating and just don't know it.

23 comments:

  1. Well it has been good weather for reading. I did manage to sneak in three hours in the garden on Sunday.

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    1. It's been too chilly to go out much here. We are expecting snow on the mountain tops tonight, which will include my place. I'm thinking of walking down and checking the mail, though.

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  2. Harry,

    (captaincrunch)


    On the whole Vietnam deal, I think we should have not gotten involved in the first place. Let the Communists take control and reinforce the bordering countries (and goverments) against insurgents from Vietnam.
    The Communists in Vietnam were extremely dedicated almost to the point of it being a 'fananatism of sorts'
    I can see where they were coming from being enslaved and beaten down by the French. The French poisoned the well' you could say so bad that the Communists were seen as saviors by the majority of people and at that point its almost impossible to win back their hearts and minds.

    I think we got involved in a quagmire in Vietnam. I don't think all of our troops fought in vain. In fact I argue we won the war in Vietnam.

    let me explain....

    We could not win in Vietnam unless we used weapons of mass destruction which would have made things worse with the Russians and Chinease. We know that Communism fundamentally does not work so we pulled out of Vietnam and slowly worked on collapsing the source (Soviet Union) which we did back in 1991.
    We won the Cold War and there by won the Vietnam war. Yes' Communist are still in charge in Vietnam but Nike (the shoe company) is paying Vietnamese pennies on the dollar to make shoes worth $200 over here. I guarantee you that Ho Chi Mihn is rolling over in his grave right now. The Communist are getting rich and enjoying all the trappings of wealth and capitalism.

    In the big picture' we won. All the veterans that fought the cold war, Vietnam veterans etc, should know that they won a titanic struggle that went on for decades. Now North Korea may go on for awhile, but I think they are running on borrowed time and Kim Ill Dung the third' may get a surprise bullet in the head from one of those old generals sometime in the future and North Korea will be the new China (that's another story)

    In the end run, its all about money. Evan the most dedicated die hard Communist will take the money at some point. In fact the premise behind Communism in the first place is to funnel all the good stuff to the people at the top so they can live like kings anyway.
    Now all that is starting to happen over here with Obamacare forcing us to funnel money somewhere, tax dollars being spent on solar panel companies and that fold up a year or two after they start up, etc. Hey we have seen this crap before in other countries, now its happening over here...it looks like Capitolism, but it's really Communism.

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    1. I read a book about Viet Nam, in which an American officer who returned years after the war told a Vietnamese officer that we had never been defeated in the field by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese officer pondered this a bit, and then said that while it was true, it was also irrelevant. I take his point.

      I remember the Domino theory, how if we didn't stop Vietnamese communism that Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, would all goo too. That would threaten Japan and Korea. I also remember that it was largely accepted at the time that communism was monolithic and run from Moscow. That wasn't true but we thought it was. In hindsight it would have been better if we hadn't gotten ensnared there, and a lot better if the war hadn't been run by politicians. I'm familiar with Clausewitz and his belief that war is an extension of politics by other means. But every time politicians involved themselves in military operations the end is disastrous .
      The only politician worth a damn during that period was Richard M. Nixon.

      Lots of British and Australian people go to Viet Nam on holiday. It's not one of the places I'd care to hang out , myself.

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    2. The people of South Vietnam were never committed to winning the war, after years of conflict under the French I think many did not care who was in charge just so long as there was an end to the fighting. The North had infiltrated so many communists into the South, as well as there being large numbers of South Vietnamese communists (Vietcong etc.) that all we did was prolong the inevitable.

      Captain Crunch is right, Capitalism is alive and well in Vietnam, went there last November and everyone seems to have their own business, from shacks beside the roads to shops on bicycles and bigger establishments. Funny thing is Australians were very popular everywhere we went despite fighting our longest ever war (until Afghanistan!) in Vietnam.

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  3. I haven't had any time to read anything for awhile. I have more books for classes that I have to read. I've been listening to a lot of Pod Casts lately. Classes started this week, so it's crazy busy here.

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    1. I expect it is. It's hard to go back after having some time off. Fortunately for me, I don't have to go back to anything but I put my time in when I was younger. I hope things settle down there for you.

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  4. After seeing the terrain in Vietnam and the Hell Pass in Thailand, it was always going to be impossible. I am only 5 feet tall and getting in those tunnels in Vietnam was really not nice. there is no way a well built person over 5"8 could ever have followed them.

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    1. We used "tunnel rats." Very small men chosen for their small stature. They sent them down into the tunnels with a flashlight and a pistol. I wouldn't have wanted to do it. I think Viet Nam was a no win situation for us because the Vietnamese on "our side" were by and large worthless, while the communists were motivated (by foul means or fair) and weren't going to quit. I know very well the feeling of being stuck in some hellish place where you have nothing in common with the locals and wondering why you are there. It's not easy to stay motivated under those circumstances. When you throw in the fact that we were drafting people, mostly poor people, and our political leadership was clueless, it's a miracle we did as well as we did.

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  5. Winter is always the time to catch up on reading, writing, cooking and just relaxing. We had snow here today, I think around 4". Stay warm my friend.

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    1. We are supposed to get snow tonight, and again on Wednesday, and again on Friday. Just as the Direct TV people drop the Weather Channel.

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  6. Thank you for the reviews of the above. The Vietnam war ended years ago and it still has a lot of people reviewing it. When my Dad got out of the war (WWII), he said he didn't want to remember any of the bad, only the good friends he made during his enlistment.

    Reading an interesting book of the American West. DESERT RIVERMAN - THE FREE SPRITED ADVENTURES OF MURL EMORY. I read of this on a blog called Dirttime and the recommendation convinced me I would enjoy it. I am - thought I'd mention it to you or others who might enjoy it as well. Hope you don't mind me mentioning this - delete it if you do, I won't hold it against you.

    Thanks again.

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    1. I think most vets work very hard to just remember the good things about their service, and there usually are a lot of good things to remember.

      I'll look for that book. My brother sends me good books on the American frontier and I really enjoy them. I just read "Blood and Thunder" about Kit Carson not long ago.

      I wouldn't think of deleting your comment. I welcome it, and the comments are why I write the blog. I live way out in the woods and don't mix much with people ,so this is my link to humanity. ;-)

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  7. Well I still put a lot of weight into the theory that both Korea and Vietnam were social engineering defeats more than military. Korea of course rebounded it was so soon after WWII that it was easier to switch gears and get things going after the initial shock but by the time Vietnam rolled around the military was already hopelessly hobbled by the Multi-cult and Liberalness. In many ways the Military actually rebelled against the encroachment after Vietnam but it was a feeble attempt to reclaim itself until today we see how it is really being gutted.

    As with everything rotting our institutions these days it all started in the 50's and 60's.

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    1. The author of "This Kind of War" said exactly that. I feel like our military is still largely valid, even if the rest of our culture no longer is.

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  8. As I understand it, and perhaps Im wrong, while Dien Bien Phu was a bad loss for the French, Khe Sanh was not nearly as bad for the US. As I read it, the operation was such a huge capital investment for the VC/NVA that once it was over they were unable to mount any significant operations for quite a while until they recovered,

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    1. We didn't lose at Khe Sanh. Our airpower and long range artillery slaughtered them. But it was eerie. You had the same set up, a big base surrounded by high ground the bad guys held. Giap was the commander of the NVA at Khe Sanh just as he had been at Dien Bien Phu. The difference was air power and artillery. We could hold out, the French, with vastly fewer resources, couldn't. They even had civilians flying their transport aircraft for lack of military pilots, and of course the civilians went on strike, refused to come down to altitude so dropped their loads in bad guy territory, etc. Khe Sanh worked for us like Dien Bien Phu was supposed to work for the French, it lured the NVA into range for air power and big guns. But I worked with some old salts who had been at Khe Sanh, one Lt.Colonel in particular, and he told me the whole time the battle was going on, Dien Bien Phu was on the minds of the officers. They wondered if Giap was going to be able to pull it off again.

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  9. Glad you are enjoying some light reading. I'm officially burned out on Game of Thrones and started the second book you sent me today. Good stuff.

    Now I have to get motivated to tear out carpet and put a laminate wood floor in a room this weekend before the family gets back. Fun times.

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    1. I've never seen the Game of Thrones but I've heard it's good.

      Reading is a way to get your mind off things you might not want to ponder but which keep coming into your head.

      Better you than me on the housework. I don't like carpentry. But somebody has to do it. ;- )

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  10. Another good book to read about a battle against great odds is "Battle of Long Tan" by Lex Mcaulay. Whilst not on the same scale as the battles at Dien Bien Phu or Khe Sanh it is a gppd account of a small force holding out & ultimately defeating a much larger enemy.

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    1. Hey, good to hear from you. I hope you got the reply I sent to your last email. I did it on the Kindle and that appears to be hit and miss.

      I'll see if I can track down a copy. Sounds like a good read.

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    2. G'day Harry,

      Yes I did thanks, I will check to see if my e-mail has gone through now! Yes it is a good book, I think it is out of print now but hopefully you can track down a copy.

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    3. I may have just gotten confused. That seems to be happening to me lately.

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