Small Wars · group of Young Turks...

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Now being reprinted in an updated and expand- ed edition, War Comes to Long An was first pub- lished in 1972 2 and was the book I longed to buy in 1965 as the most junior lieutenant in Vietnambut could nowhere find. Thereby hangs this tale of my adventures then in Vietnam and since elsewherea tale with implications for the creative process in academic writing, for the study of institutional change and of the learning disabilities of military institutions, and for prior- ities in public policy-making in America and elsewhere. Birthing War Comes to Long An changed my life. I had no inkling when I began the project with trepidation in mid-1967 at the age of 24using my own funds to satisfy my private curiosityhow it would change both my life and the lives of so many others. Perhaps these notes on the creation of that work may inspire others so inclined to dare the same creative act that summoned me, while at the same time illuminating some issues of public policy. Between the covers of War Comes to Long An, I kept myself out. In these pages I beg to convey the private side of that public act, inseparable from the process of creation and from what came next. Some readers may find what follows enter- taining or amusing; a few may find it helpful or even stimulating. You are my real target. ** ** ** Alot of people are alive today, confided Dick Childress to me one day in 1984, who would be dead if you had not written that book. He said he had circulated extracts to colleagues on the White House staff planning something (he didnt say what) somewhere (I guessed Latin America from headlines at the time). Reading my words led some influential officials to rethink the wis- dom of a debated course of action still unknown to me. These pages tell how that happened. Several questions arose over the years to me and to others about the books creation and the consequences of its appearance. With partial knowl- edge now of these consequences, and with the perspective of four decades as their author, I offer my own answers to these questions. How could I write War Comes to Long An? From time to time I have asked myself why, when the same data were in principle open to many, it was I who wrote this particular book and not anyone else among all the foreigners thrust into the war in one way or another. Several reasons have come to mind. WAR COMES TO LONG AN BACK STORY TO THE WRITING OF A MILITARY CLASSIC 1 by Jeffrey Race Small Wars Journal

Transcript of Small Wars · group of Young Turks...

Now being reprinted in an updated and expand-ed edition, War Comes to Long An was first pub-lished in 19722 and was the book I longed to buyin 1965 as the most junior lieutenant inVietnam�but could nowhere find. Therebyhangs this tale of my adventures then in Vietnamand since elsewhere�a tale with implications forthe creative process in academic writing, for thestudy of institutional change and of the learningdisabilities of military institutions, and for prior-ities in public policy-making in America andelsewhere.

Birthing War Comes to Long An changed my life.I had no inkling when I began the project withtrepidation in mid-1967 at the age of 24�using

my own funds tosatisfy my privatecuriosity�how itwould change bothmy life and thelives of so manyothers. Perhapsthese notes on thecreation of thatwork may inspireothers so inclinedto dare the samecreative act thatsummoned me,while at the sametime illuminating

some issues of public policy.

Between the covers of War Comes to Long An, Ikept myself out. In these pages I beg to conveythe private side of that public act, inseparablefrom the process of creation and from what camenext. Some readers may find what follows enter-

taining or amusing; a few may find it helpful oreven stimulating. You are my real target.

** ** **�A lot of people are alive today,� confided DickChildress to me one day in 1984, �who would bedead if you had not written that book.� He saidhe had circulated extracts to colleagues on theWhite House staff planning something (he didn�tsay what) somewhere (I guessed Latin Americafrom headlines at the time). Reading my wordsled some influential officials to rethink the wis-dom of a debated course of action still unknownto me. These pages tell how that happened.

Several questions arose over the years to me andto others about thebook�s creation andthe consequences ofits appearance.With partial knowl-edge now of theseconsequences, andwith the perspectiveof four decades astheir author, I offermy own answers tothese questions.

How could I writeWar Comes to LongAn?

From time to time I have asked myself why,when the same data were in principle open tomany, it was I who wrote this particular bookand not anyone else among all the foreignersthrust into the war in one way or another.Several reasons have come to mind.


by Jeffrey Race

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Foremost was an early and decisively formativeexperience arising from my own curiosity. Sincethe age of 15 I had been reading The New YorkTimes (one perquisite of a newspaper route) anddeveloped the habit of following the evolution ofstories from day to day. Taking Economics 1during my first year of college I became quiteinterested in the Great Depression, and readingShirer�s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich inanother course raised my interest in this subjectas well.

As a first-year college student in 1961 I was wellinformed about current understanding of theseevents from the facts and analytical methodsdeveloped since the �30s. It occurred to me thatI could probably learn much, possibly even gainwisdom, by going back 35 years to read howevents whose actual future I knew were under-stood at the time by those necessarily ignorant ofwhat lay ahead.

And so I spent the warm summer of 1962 in thecool basement of Harvard�s Widener Libraryreading musty hard copies of the Times, from1928 every day through 1939. Many were myconclusions from this transformative experience:the incompleteness of knowledge in the midst ofworld-changing events, the lack of compellinganalytic (much less even of predictive) models togive meaning to sparse facts, the paucity of indi-viduals who made (in retrospect) sound predic-tions. (One exception was Otto D. Tolischus.)

But the most overwhelming impression was thatthe judgments at the time of knowledgable andrespectable people, even those with integrity anddedication, were untrustworthy. And so thissummer of reading had already by the age of 19ruined me as the potential disciple of any leader,school, fashion or body of authority.

Second is that, after a period of thrashing aroundin 1967 trying to structure my problem, I framed

the research question in a fruitful way: why oneside could better motivate followers to expendeffort and take risks. As it happens this wasexactly the way Count Tolstoy (I recalled later)had posed it in War and Peace: �Napoleon com-manded an army to be raised, and to march outto war . . . the question [is] why six hundredthousand men go out to fight when Napoleonutters certain words . . . .� Or not as in the caseof Saigon�s leaders by the time I had arrived as agreen lieutenant in 1965.

Third, I had the curiosity to search relentlesslyfor data answering that question. Curiosity is apersonal characteristic I luckily had in abun-dance. Others not so fortunate can train for it.

Fourth, my ease in the Vietnamese languageopened paths to all kinds of human and docu-mentary resources either unavailable to others orimpractical to use via translation or interpreta-tion. This was again a quirk of character. I firststudied the language on my own with a set ofinstructional tapes during 23 days aboard shipen route to Vietnam, through ignorance learningthe northern rather than the southern dialect(fine as it was comparable to learning BBC ratherthan Brooklyn English). During evenings thefirst year a friendly Vietnamese lieutenanthelped me to study as an alternative to carous-ing. I finally made very serious progress duringmy second year of service when I became the lastmember of the last rural advisory team to beemplaced in Vietnam, posted to an isolated areaaccessible only by helicopter. With just fourother Americans, all my professional activitiesinvolved Vietnamese counterparts only, offeringextensive opportunity for vocabulary expansion,for practice in speaking and listening, and forcultural immersion.

A vivid example of the resulting access was animportant trove of documents released to meafter a brief but amicable conversation with


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Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, laterfamously captured on film summarily executinga Viet Cong prisoner in the heat of urban gueril-la warfare. One reviewer of War Comes to LongAn was astonished that I should have receivedsuch cooperation: �One naturally assumes thatthe governments of newly-decolonized countriesare not going to open their confidential files topolitical-science researchers from Western uni-

versities, least of all their police files in time ofrebellion and civil war. And yet that is the facil-ity which the South Vietnamese authorities . . .extended to Jeffrey Race.�3

Fifth, I displayed genuine interest in my inter-viewees� lives, leading to many rich experiencesin open-ended talks, because (I am sure) theseinterviewees felt a real person-to-person rela-tionship however brief. This differed from thequestionnaire experiences recounted to me bymy students at university level in later years.

Why did the approach of this book divergefrom contemporary mainstream analyses?

In Chapter Four, �Lessons from Long An,� Irepudiate on the evidence other answers to thequestion then nagging the American public:�Why do we have so little to show for oureffort?�

Why did I or could I do that?

Partly of course because simple curiosity droveme beyond baseless explanations. But I coulddo this because as a novice I had no ego-involve-ment in existing policies or programs. Not onlywas I not an �expert,� I was innocent of knowl-edge. But I was secure in my identity, at peacewith myself so trying to gratify no supervisor,and sufficiently confident in my skills to dareview the problem in a new way. And I needed toplease no paymaster. (My only hope of externalsupport, a U.S. State Department grant, was can-celled immediately upon my return to Vietnamto carry out my research.)

How did my life change?

Little of my original life plan (quietly teachingpolitical science somewhere in New England)survived publication of War Comes to Long An.Instead I have spent my entire adult life outsidemy native country, encountering unimaginedups and downs.

In mid-1968, after leaving active military serviceand one year into my research program, wordseeped out of my initial findings, bringing thefirst slippage of my career off its planned track.A then stranger, Jerrold K. Milsted, programmanager in the Bangkok office of the AdvancedResearch Projects Agency of the U.S. Departmentof Defense, phoned one day suggesting to meetat the Rex Hotel in downtown Saigon. Overlunch he invited me to visit Thailand whereARPA was supporting a research program on theThai anti-government movement. I agreed tovisit when I could make travel arrangements; hereplied �I have a plane at the airport. Let�s goafter lunch.� Since I kept a suitcase packed foremergencies, we left that afternoon.

Impressed by the opportunity to broaden myknowledge and the possibility of some free timeto write up the results of my then-completedVietnam field work, I moved to Bangkok for a


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year before returning to graduate study. Theresearch I started there was the first step towardmy life-long professional involvement withThailand.

Later the value of War Comes to Long An aidedmy application for an unusual fellowship fromthe Institute of Current World Affairs (the Crane-Rogers Foundation, now of Washington DC,then of New York). While the financial stipendwas modest, programmatic freedom and a gen-erous travel allowance permitted me to moveinto the study of relationships between political,economic and technological change using thevaried histories of Southeast Asian countries asmy test lab. Between ICWA and a subsequentinvitation to become a Research Fellow at theResearch School of Pacific Studies of theAustralian National University, I was able toexpand my work to Malaysia, the Philippinesand Indonesia.

From my Vietnam research and through a speak-ing tour organized by the United StatesInformation Service, I also became known to agroup of Young Turks in the Philippine militaryand to ranking figures in the Manila governmentas well.

During this time I retained my commission in thearmy and although on paper still a signal officer(my lifelong alternate profession being electron-ics), my military advisory background and expe-rience in strategic analysis had led to a series ofunusual assignments during my annual reservetraining. As I grew better known I came to berequested by name to serve on high-level Armyand Defense Department staffs in Washington,in fact being flown back for two weeks annuallyas an exception to budget guidelines despite myjunior rank.

In 1984 I was living in Thailand, self-employedadvising multi-national firms with operations in

Southeast Asia, particularly on the Philippineswhere both communist-led and Islamic insur-gencies were combining with the corrupt mis-rule of President Ferdinand Marcos and his fam-ily and friends to tear the country apart. Asimportant interests were at risk a debate raged inWashington between those attached to Marcosand those who felt he must go, recapitulating the1963 debate over what to do about Diem inVietnam�and often citing it.

That September I received military reserveorders to fly to Washington to join a multi-agency team tasked to devise a plan to handlePresident Marcos and to avert the collapse manysaw coming. Working intensely together wecomposed what a few months later PresidentRonald Reagan signed as National SecurityDecision Directive 163, �U.S. Policy towards thePhilippines.� Our team had considered the rag-ing policy debate and decided to word our draftin a clever way to gain agreement from bothsides (roughly, to sink with Marcos, or to risk aleadership change) but which given our knowl-edge of his character would work in only oneway were our draft to be adopted as policy. (Icalled the approach a mouse trap: somethingalluring but actually fatal.) The entire documentwas quite comprehensive, so we divided up ourtasks; my principal responsibility was devisingthe trap.

As expected the Philippine political and securitysituations continued to deteriorate. Midwaythrough 1985 an old Vietnam hand then postedto our embassy in Bangkok phoned me at homethere asking me to fly to Manila to receive abriefing from Ambassador Stephen Bosworthand then to spend a month diagnosing the risksin our current policy and forecasting what layahead. I asked why I had been selected when somany skilled official analysts were at hand. Hisreply: �You are known for not telling the bosswhat he wants to hear.�


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A month�s close study in the Philippines showedthere was no risk at all in continuing to supportMarcos: catastrophe was guaranteed. I submit-ted my report to Ambassador Bosworth who ashort time later was summoned to Washingtonfor an unusual private meeting with PresidentReagan in which my work modestly figured.

By February of 1986 the NSDD plan was clearlyunfolding, so I used accumulated frequent-flyermiles to join two consulting colleagues in Manilato view the show. I felt that I could not miss thegreat drama the scripting of which I had beenprivileged to witness in late 1984. (On my lastduty day with the multi-agency team my super-visor had called me in to say of the mouse trap"If this plan works it will be wonderful, but if itfails I cannot tell the President that a reservemajor drafted this." I judged I just had to go tosee it myself.)

I had been present at three previous turningpoints in Asian politics: the 1968 Tet attacks inVietnam (on the very night of which I had in factbegun typing the first chapter of War Comes toLong An), the 1973 collapse of the military dicta-torship in Thailand, and the 1976 coup d�etatwhich overthrew Thailand�s elected government.(One academic fleeing the coup stayed at myhome near the airport while escaping the coun-try.) Now I was favored to view yet anotherfrom a distance of but a few feet: the moment onFebruary 23, 1986, on Epifanio de los SantosAvenue (EDSA) when Philippine Marinearmored personnel carriers momentarily haltedbefore a dozen Catholic nuns lying across theroadway (in the very front of a crowd of tens ofthousands who had come into the streets). Aftera brief stand-off and shouted threats and warn-ings, the lead vehicle roared its engine, leapt for-ward to crush the nuns�and stopped.4 In theinstant a moment later when Butz Aquino,brother of the assassinated Senator BenignoAquino, leapt atop the vehicle, it became appar-

ent that President Marcos was finished. Whichwas of course the plan.

As the drama ended we were pleased andrelieved at Marcos� departure, perhaps like adoctor upon a successful live birth. The Manilaairport had long been closed, but it reopenedquickly after Marcos left for Hawaii two dayslater. I took the first plane out.

To whom did War Comes to Long An appealand why?

My attempt to keep myself out of my researchresults, and to let the facts and the actors speakfor themselves, succeeded beyond expectation.

Several reviewers commented on this authorialvoice, unusual at the time since American inter-vention in Vietnam was such a polarizing issueand I myself had been an active participant onthe side of the Saigon authorities. For exampleThe Economist: �A remarkably compassionateand honest book�5; or the Marine Corps Gazette:�Mr. Race does not appear to espouse viewseither for or against the American effort inSoutheast Asia and is only concerned with pre-senting the facts from both sides along withdetailed analyses of key events and time peri-ods.�6

Three constituencies took up the book for theirown purposes.

First of course were scholars of modern Vietnamfor whom it became an important resource sincebased almost entirely on primary documents inthe Vietnamese language. I had, for example,uncovered an important error in recent histori-ography in connection with the 1960 Trang Supattack in Tay Ninh province, which was connect-ed to the larger and very hot political issue inboth Vietnam and the United States of whetherthe outbreak of violence in the South at that time


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was �simply a subversive campaign directedfrom Hanoi.�7

Second (and much later as explained below)were practitioners in the field of what is various-ly styled counterinsurgency, stability operationsor low-intensity conflict, who found a treasurehouse of concepts, analytical methods andinsights into areas crucial to their enterprise. (Ihad specifically noted in my 1972 introductionthat I had no purpose to suggest such.)

Third and somewhat to my surprise leaders inthe anti-war (later the anti-imperialist) move-ment such as Noam Chomsky drew on my workin talks, articles and books, and still do to thisday.8

Who were listening in the United StatesGovernment and what did they hear?

A lively academic literature informs us of factorsaffecting innovation, of both ideas and tangibles,including ego investments, sunk costs, cognitivedissonance and perceived value to the task athand. The history of War Comes to Long An in thepolicy and program arena could make a delight-ful case study in this regard.

My earliest published research appeared in a1970 issue of the scholarly journal Asian Surveyunder the title �How They Won.�9 Provocativeas the title appeared (in fact defeat would not beofficially conceded for five more years), its mostunwelcome aspect to policy-makers and the rea-son for the ensuing furore was that (in the midstof an emotional political debate in the U.S.) thecase was carefully documented and dispassion-ately presented by a former U.S. military advisor.

Some gentlemanly hate mail came my way fromAmerican military officers and I silently smiledat deprecation from highly placed civilians. Oneexample10: Brigadier General James A. Herbert,

who while still a colonel and senior Americanadvisor in Long An had frequently helped myresearch, told me during lunch one day during1971 that he had recently met Robert Komer(previously head of the American pacificationprogram in Vietnam) in a nearby Pentagon hall-way. He related that Komer, knowing Herberthad served in Long An province, said he had justread an Asian Survey article by one Jeff Race andwanted to know whether Race had ever visitedLong An province. Herbert and I had a goodlaugh about this, but the serious point is thatKomer, �with the personal rank of ambassador�as he was always described, and daily readingdetailed intelligence reports from the field,apparently could not conceive how anyone whohad ever visited Long An province could committo paper the analysis I had published in �HowThey Won.�

A short time later Dr. Chester Cooper, Director ofthe Institute for Defense Analyses, telephonedme from Washington inviting me to join a semi-nar on �lessons learned in pacification� which hewas organizing. The Defense Department waspaying a substantial sum, he said, to �search formajor lessons of pacification in Vietnam thatmay have applicability in some other area atsome future time.� I told him that the DefenseDepartment could learn no useful lessons and tothe extent his consulting firm could learn them,its findings would be ignored.

Cooper conceded that the Defense Departmenthad earlier experienced learning difficulties butwas optimistic now and urged my attendance. Iagreed provided he would circulate in advanceto the other seminar participants the fourthchapter of my book (then in final draft) andanother paper I had written detailing whatmight be done about impediments to institution-al learning that cognitive dissonance theory pre-dicts.11 Cooper agreed.


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On my arrival in Washington I was advised thatCooper and his three-star Marine colleague haddecided not to circulate the documents aspromised. I stayed anyway, envisioning achance to conduct an experiment on live sub-jects.

The first day�s discussion was conducted withinwhat one could call the �conventional wisdom�of American policy and practice up to that time.At several points during the day I introducedevidence from my research indicating that eachprogram under discussion must be evaluateddifferently if events in Vietnam were viewed aspart of a process of social revolution rather thanas banditry or external invasion. None of mysuggestions was pursued by other participants;the usual response was to continue as if I had notspoken.

On the second day we discussed corruption andwhat American advisors could do about it, forexample threaten a low �pacification rating� iftheir Vietnamese counterparts continued corruptpractices. I suggested viewing corruption insocio-political terms: that corruption resultsfrom a certain distribution of political power,and if corruption concerned Americans, thenthey must concern themselves with politicalchange. In short, the distributive issues of polit-ical justice could not be avoided, and the fact thatthe Saigon government corruptly perpetuated anoppressive social order was not some lamentablehandicap but the heart of the problem.

Finally I suggested that the most important les-son of �pacification� in Vietnam was to learn torecognize an impossible (technically, �over-determined�) situation. If, as some seminar par-ticipants had privately told me, certain impor-tant variables could not be manipulated by theUnited States, and yet manipulating those vari-ables was essential to averting catastrophe, thenintervention made no sense and honesty com-

pelled us to tell that to the Department ofDefense in order to save lives in the future inter-ventions which the Department was then con-templating.

Cooper delivered an immediate and heatedresponse to these proposals to consider new per-spectives and new scientific variables in evaluat-ing existing programs: (1) IDA�s charter did notpermit consideration of the �lessons� I hadurged considering�despite the explicit request inhis letter of invitation to raise important relevantpoints; (2) their sole concern was with moreeffective implementation of existing programs,even though these were part of an ill-conceivedstrategy and a disastrous policy; (3) he wouldnot permit the meeting to be diverted by �theo-retical� considerations; programs were only tobe evaluated �pragmatically.�

At this point his colleague rose to say that hecould summarize in two pages all the errors ofAmerican strategy and policy in Vietnam, butthe Defense Department would not pay to betold such a thing, so he and Cooper could notpermit such subjects to be discussed. While thetwo of them may have been just as uncomfort-able with this reality as was I, it was still athrilling example of crimestop.12 I silently rosefrom my seat, left the room, flew back to Boston,and added a piquant addendum to an ArmedForces and Society article I had written describingthis very phenomenon.13

The next phase came when such individuals asCooper and his three-star colleague began toretire, die or gain promotion from the brillianceof their accomplishments: the younger genera-tion of my peers in the military saw an openingto introduce subversive notions into militaryinstructional curricula, with interesting results.

One example was the 1973 innovation of Major(now retired Colonel) Jean-André Sauvageot,


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legendary for his field experience and profoundlanguage fluency. Sauvageot returned in Marchof that year from interpreter duty with the FourParty Joint Military Commission to become aninstructor at the Army Command and GeneralStaff College, the mandatory schooling programfor all officers ranked major or above. He suc-ceeded in gaining the commandant�s permissionto introduce War Comes to Long An to the school�score curriculum, where it remained until aroundthe time of the withdrawal of American forcesfrom Vietnam. Then in 1977 now retired SpecialForces Colonel John D. Waghelstein re-intro-duced War Comes to Long An to the school�s LowIntensity Conflict curriculum, with amusing con-sequences as he later wrote in an article aboutU.S. involvement in Iraq.

In 1977 LIC instruction at CGSC consisted offorty hours out of the 1,000-hour curriculum,reflecting the Army�s interest level. We werean entertaining bunch, not a serious threat toDon Starry�s Air-Land Battle crowd and wewere pretty much left alone. We used JeffreyRace�s little book War Comes to Long An andlooked at the �Third World� as the play-ground of the future. We analyzed insurgentmodels, spoke �Mao� and foco and kept theflame alive. The LIC team had the area ex-perts, so we had some credibility in assessingthe arenas of the future. General Bob Arterwas the Commandant and he enjoyed our lec-tures and let us dabble with our little piece of

the curriculum. When General WilliamRichardson arrived in 1979, the LIC portionwas cut to nine hours, the Air-Land battlemafia took complete control and our Vietnamexperience and [counterinsurgency] becamenon-subjects.14

In fact, I myself was invited to lecture StaffCollege students in 1977 and again in 1978 butonly once thereafter (in 1991) as interest wanedwhen it became known that �nothing importantto the U.S. Army ever happened in Vietnam,�which came to be viewed as a never-to-recuranomaly.

Except recurrence has been so frequent withsuch grievous consequences that many concludethese are not accidents but systemic failures ofdecision-making. Ironically, War Comes to LongAn now appears in the curricula of all the U.S.senior service schools, as part of the officialcanonical explanation of how America lost theVietnam War.

Chief of Staff of the Army General PeterSchoomaker has been quoted as writing that inVietnam, �The U.S. Army, predisposed to fight aconventional enemy that fought using conven-tional tactics, overpowered innovative ideasfrom within the Army and from outside it. As aresult, the U.S. Army was not as effective atlearning as it should have been, and its failuresin Vietnam had grave implications for both theArmy and the nation.�15

Former Vice Chief of Staff of the ArmyGeneral Jack Keane has also been quoted asnoting that in Iraq, �We put an Army on the

battlefield that I had been a part of for 37 years. Itdoesn�t have any doctrine, nor was it educated

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and trained, to deal with an insurgency . . . .After the Vietnam War, we purged ourselves ofeverything that had to do with irregular warfareor insurgency, because it had to do with how welost that war. In hindsight, that was a bad deci-sion.�16

Such high-level regrets, coincident with thedemands of involvement in the Middle East,have recently come together to inspire the U.S.military to develop a body of doctrine drawingon the lessons of experience. Examples includethe Army�s 2006 Field Manual 3-2417 and theHuman Terrain analysis system developed bythe Training and Doctrine Command.18 And theentire text of Chapter Four of War Comes to LongAn is now (2008-2009) assigned as the core read-ing setting the scenario for aweek-long classroom exercise atthe Command and Staff Collegeof the Marine Corps University.

Such doctrinal innovations maythus now be starting to addressthe question I raised at the 1971IDA seminar.

But in forming national policyor strategy, a three-decade lagbetween knowledge acquisitionand knowledge application isworthy of note, even of concern.

While some may fear more andbetter American military interventions arisingfrom these doctrinal innovations, I am insteadreassured. Better insight by military leadersinto the internal workings of foreign societiesmight lead equally to better decisions to exit anintervention, not to intervene, or to intervene inways more in keeping with America�s historicvalues. In my experience no one is more cau-tious of risking lives than he who has personallyexperienced weapons fired in anger.

To what larger issues does War Comes to LongAn point?

It is well known that most human behavior isdetermined by irrational, pre-rational or emo-tional factors. As much as this is cause for con-cern in quotidian affairs, ample reason exists tobelieve it applies equally to the formation of pol-icy and of strategy, even though these should bethe domain exclusively of stated objectives andserene application of logic to facts. In the Viet-nam context for example Leslie Gelb, RichardBetts and Daniel Ellsberg have written extensive-ly (from differing points of view) on distortionin Vietnam policy-making for personal politicalbenefit.19 H. R. McMaster produced a startlingstudy on the distortions institutional factors im-

posed on top-level decision-making.20 I have written on onekind of psychological factorinvolved.

My personally living this histo-ry has convinced me that anissue of paramount importancebefore my country is how tomitigate such grave distortionsin public decision-making�andnot just in foreign policy or mil-itary strategy. As this is writtenin late 2009, we see in the UnitedStates the impact on the worldeconomy of exceptionally mal-adroit public decision-making,

even though the ill consequences now occurringwere completely foreseeable and indeed fore-seen and the object of strident warnings foryears. Self-interest played some part in this sadtrain of events but is hardly the sole explanation.Delusional processes clearly were at workthen�and are still at work now�among highlyeducated and seemingly rational public officials.

I conclude with the subject closest to my heart9

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after this difficult experience: the personalresponsibility of individuals. Though histori-ans, political scientists or sociologists may talk of�trends� or �historical forces,� in fact such intel-lectual constructs work only through the deci-sions of human beings one at a time.�Distortions in policy formation� work in noother way than though individuals with names,just like those across the table from me in the sor-did IDA incident described above.

My solution is that as individuals, parents,group leaders and officials we adopt high stan-dards of honesty and dependability, propagatethem to those in our care, punctiliously observethem ourselves and ensure that those under oursupervision do likewise. Observing rules ofprudence would not lift us to paradise but itassuredly would mitigate the severity of theinjuries we inflict upon ourselves. Beyond cor-recting specific errors of analyis such as thosediscussed above, an urgent national task is thussystematically to address distortions in decision-making as a generic problem of our national life.

1 U.S. Army Command and General StaffCollege, Historical Bibliography No. 8, �MilitaryClassics,� <>, accessed Febru-ary 1, 2009.

2 Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An (Berkeley:University of California Press, 1972).

3 �The Rising of the National Liberation Front,�Times Literary Supplement, March 17, 1972, page293.

4 Permit me to offer a humorous aside. I livedthree years in a combat zone, was in Saigonduring the 1968 Tet attacks which brought vio-lent fighting to my doorstep and was right upclose during three turbulent government collaps-es in Bangkok and one in Manila. But the onlyincident of personal violence in my life so far oc-curred when drunken townies jumped me inHarvard Square in 1964.

5 The Economist, March 11, 1972, page 65.

6 Marine Corps Gazette, May 1972.

7 See War Comes to Long An, Chapter Four, foot-note 5 for details of this issue.

8 �. . . War Comes to Long An . . . to date, the bestaccount of the origins of the insurgency underthe U.S.-Diem regime� at footnote 15, page 422 ofNoam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, ThePolitical Economy of Human Rights (Cambridge,Mass.: South End Press, 1979).

9 Jeffrey Race, �How the Won,� Asian Survey X:8,August 1970, pp. 628-650.

10 Discussed in more detail in Jeffrey Race, "TheUnlearned Lessons of Vietnam,� Yale Review66:2, December 1976, pp. 161-177.

11 Jeffrey Race, �Vietnam Intervention:Systematic Distortion in Policy-making,� ArmedForces and Society, 2:3, May 1976. But note thatthe published text was marred and its sensedistorted in this journal by several typographicaland formatting errors. See footnote 13 for a cor-rected text also amplified by an epilogue testingthe article�s hypotheses.


*** ***

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12 Crimestop: "the faculty of stopping short . . .at the threshold of any dangerous thought. Itincludes the power of not grasping analogies, offailing to perceive logical errors, of misunder-standing the simplest arguments . . . and of beingbored and repelled by any train of thoughtwhich is capable of leading in a heretical direc-tion. Crimestop, in short, means protective stu-pidity." George Orwell (pseud.), 1984 (London:Secker and Warburg, 1949), Chapter 9; down-loadable at <>.

13 Revised version online at <>

14 John D. Waghelstein, "What's Wrong in Iraq?or Ruminations of a Pachyderm," MilitaryReview, 86:1, January/February 2006, pp. 112-117.

15 As quoted in John Nagl, �The Evolution andImportance of Army/Marine Corps FieldManual 3-24, Counterinsurgency� Introductionto Department of the Army Field Manual 3-24,Counterinsurgency (Chicago: University ofChicago Press, 2007).

16 Ibid.

17 Department of the Army Field Manual 3-24,Counterinsurgency (Chicago: University of Chi-cago Press, 2007).

18 <>

19 Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts, The Irony ofVietnam (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1979);Daniel Ellsberg, "The Quagmire Myth and theStalemate Machine," Public Policy, 19, no. 2(1971), pp. 217-74.

20 H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty (NewYork: HarperCollins, 1997). BAKSTORY.QXD 01-03-2010--> BAKSTORY.PDF 01-03-2010

-> BAKSTORY.RTF 01-03-2010 (some formatting mutilation)

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