Small Wars Journal

Look Who Has Been Entrusted With Vietnam Military History

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:22am

Look Who Has Been Entrusted With Vietnam Military History

W.R. Baker

Franklin C. Annis’ recent article (SWJ, February 16, 2019) Who is to be Trusted with Military History?” is a good start, but it fails to address a number of items and takes a slap (intended or not) at Vietnam veterans.

Having often dealt with “service historians” about Vietnam beginning some 30 years ago, I find them to be more concerned with the narratives they were working on or had just completed to the applause of many, than to admit they didn’t have the complete story. They also seem to embrace the mistaken belief that the generals knew what was going on and the books or articles they later published were based on the information that they compiled themselves (that’s what they have staffs for). It’s unfortunate that these same generals weren’t interviewed by soldiers who might have been present in the same conflict or battle to ask direct and pointed questions for more substantial or significant answers. To expect service historians to produce materials to ensure domination of future battlefields is expecting too much because it doesn’t seem as important as making good looking reports, knowing how to negotiate, working with the press, etc.

Today, unfortunately, most of the professors in even our military academies and colleges have been compromised. Any of the Vietnam veterans that were teaching have since moved on, being replaced by professors (both military and a large number of civilians) who were subject to the anti-war attitude that has infected our service schools since. The Vietnam War has become a “well-known failure of the American military” that it is not a matter of any possible contention – some professors have even said they avoid the subject.  More and more, Vietnam is no longer a separate class and has been tucked into the broad “Cold War” portion of history classes and text books. If you expect to see a balanced presentation of books to read about Vietnam in a course syllabus, you will probably be disappointed – there are few “well-researched” courses.

This same “affliction” continues today among the “academic” and “popular” historians, as well. Having written to many about their works, they almost never acknowledge their oversights or, more often than not, fail to respond to inquiries or the information you provide. Both types of historians generally have the arch-typical “orthodox” point of view, usually summed up as “America bad, North Vietnam good.” The press are willing accomplices to books and any documentaries that uphold this anti-American diatribe, which help sell books and these mostly fictional movies. As in the novel 1984, control over the history of the Vietnam War has been virtually lost, there will be no discussion about it, sayeth the Thought Police.

“While this group of individuals may not be the first to come to mind when discussing the field of military historians, we cannot dismiss the value of the first-hand experiences that can be relayed by combat veterans. There seems to be a great distrust of veterans in the academic community” (my emphasis). But as I’ve written, these historians appear to think, perhaps due to the reason that you imply when you mention psychiatry – that all Vietnam veterans are “nuts” (except for general officers, of course). This allows them to feel content in dismissing most things any of them might say.

In addition, the odds are great that many of these same historians think that the average Vietnam veteran was an uneducated draftee (because, after all, there were draft deferrals for education, marriage, and medical problems, etc), though 79% had a high school diploma or better when they went to serve in Vietnam.

“While many veterans will never receive any formal instruction in the field of history, they still can play an important role in communicating the history of the U.S. Military.” (my emphasis) What a biased and narrow-minded thing to write - there are many of us who have advanced degrees, some are in history, too. Imagine that! In some ways, one could construe that as age discrimination, something we already encounter.

There are many very good books written by perhaps, lesser known Vietnam veterans, reflecting a wide-range of topics having to do with their time there. Some, like Roger Soiset’s The Two Dollar Bill reflect what an infantry officer personally encountered in 1969. The recently released book, BAIT: The Battle of Kham Duc Special Forces Camp was written by two Vietnam veterans – James D. McLeroy (who was there at the time) and Gregory W. Sanders - and is full of references. By the way, the authors of both books have history degrees.

Killer Kane: A Marine Long-Range Recon Team Leader in Vietnam, 1967-1968 written by Andrew R. Finlayson (USMC, ret) is almost a textbook of how to conduct long-range patrols, based on this Naval Academy graduate’s first tour to South Vietnam.

As these titles indicate the nature of each book, Whitewash/Blackwash: Myths of the Viet Nam War, by Vietnam veterans Bill Laurie and R.J. Del Vecchio (with contributions from a former POW and two Army Vietnam veterans) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, by Vietnam veteran Phillip Jennings, contain many examples of what is usually taught in our schools, service academies, colleges, and in our society about Vietnam and our actions there which are false and misleading.

Books by Vietnamese veterans, including ones who were on the other side like Bui Tin and Truon Nhu Tang, are also very much worth reading and are an integral part of the Vietnam War.

These are but a few examples of real and accurate research of facts, not opinions, that are usually overlooked and even denigrated by the same people and organizations (including our own government) that are expected to present accuracy and truth. Such things as “common knowledge” and “everybody knows” are but a blind for their incompetency and laziness. My personal favorite is a major intelligence agency in our country telling me that they have no record of anything they had written concerning the Easter Offensive of 1972 and my many specific Freedom of Information Act requests revealed nothing!

Since having a PhD somehow automatically makes one an instant “expert” on the Vietnam War (just ask them) and is so important that it seems to rule out teaching in upper-level courses in military and civilian colleges, perhaps awarding a PhD to revisionist Vietnam veterans (who greatly outnumber the orthodox variety who fault our efforts in Vietnam at every turn) is in order so students can finally learn the truth of what really happened during the Vietnam War? Hieu?

About the Author(s)

W. R. (Bob) Baker graduated with the first 96B/Intelligence Analyst class at Fort Huachuca, AZ in 1971. He was then assigned to the 1st Battalion (which soon became the 571st MI Det.), 525th MI Group, headquartered in Da Nang, Vietnam. His further assignments included positions at Fort Bliss, Texas; two tours with the European Defense Analysis Center (EUDAC) in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany; and the 513th MI Group in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

He left the US Army and worked as an analyst for Interstate Electronics, Northrop-Grumman and Xontec defense contractors before teaching in primary and secondary schools.

Mr. Baker has a bachelor of science degree in Government from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton. He has authored other Easter Offensive articles and is currently writing a book on this subject.