How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War
Sales Date: July 21, 2004
390 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: July 2004
- Published: May 2018
Did America’s departure from Vietnam produce the "peace with honor" promised by President Richard Nixon or was that simply an empty wish meant to distract war-weary Americans from a tragic “defeat with shame”? While James Willbanks doesn’t offer any easy answers to that question, his book convincingly shows why America’s strategy for exiting the Vietnam War failed miserably and left South Vietnam to a dismal fate.
That strategy, “Vietnamization,” was designed to transfer full responsibility for the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese, but in a way that would buy the United States enough time to get out without appearing to run away. To achieve this goal, America poured millions of dollars into training and equipping the South Vietnamese military while attempting to pacify the countryside. Precisely how this strategy was implemented and why it failed so completely are the subjects of this eye-opening studyDrawing upon both archival research and his own military experiences in Vietnam, Willbanks focuses on military operations from 1969 through 1975. He begins by analyzing the events that led to a change in U.S. strategy in 1969 and the subsequent initiation of Vietnamization. He then critiques the implementation of that policy and the combat performance of the South Vietnamese army (ARVN), which finally collapsed in 1975.
Willbanks contends that Vietnamization was a potentially viable plan that was begun years too late. Nevertheless some progress was made and the South Vietnamese, with the aid of U.S. advisers and American airpower, held off the North Vietnamese during their massive offensive in 1972. However, the Paris Peace Accords, which left NVA troops in the south, and the subsequent loss of U.S. military aid negated any gains produced through Vietnamization. These factors coupled with corruption throughout President Thieu's government and a glaring lack of senior military leadership within the South Vietnamese armed forces ultimately led to the demise of South Vietnam.
A mere two years after the last American combat troops had departed, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, overwhelming a poorly trained, disastrously led, and corrupt South Vietnamese military. But those two years had provided Nixon with the “decent interval” he desperately needed to proclaim that “peace with honor”' had been achieved. Willbanks digs beneath that illusion to reveal the real story of South Vietnam’s fall.
"I think it is the best book I've read on the last part of the Vietnam War."—Tom Ricks in Foreign Policy
“The finest account to date of American military and political policy from the aftermath of the Tet Offensive to the 'fall' of Saigon. This book should be considered required reading by all students of the American War in Vietnam, whether they are in the classroom, the newsroom, the sitting room, or the war room."—Journal of American History
“As Willbanks demonstrates, no expenditure of firepower, blood, or personal heroics can redeem flawed strategies and policies. . . . Willbanks effectively demonstrates that a flawed U.S. exit policy led to the raising of a Viet Cong flag over Saigon on April 29, 1975.”—Vietnam
“History is not supposed to repeat itself, but one is drawn to some sobering similarities between our current attempts to create a stable and secure Iraq and the legacy of the failed policy of Vietnamization.”—Parameters
“At a time when the United States once again finds itself trying to withdraw with honor from a foreign military entanglement, this book is an excellent read for the professional military officer, diplomat, politician, and academic who hope to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated.”—Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute
"Willbanks, a former U.S. military adviser who survived the 1972 battle of An Loc, has written what will be the best overview of the military and political situation in Vietnam in the post-Tet period. He has mastered the scholarship on the subject and recounts, in great detail, the Nixon administration's flailing attempts to achieve "peace with honor."—Journal of Cold War Studies
"One of the finest military histories to date of the final two stages of the Vietnam War: the period from the Tet Offensive in 1968 to the American withdrawal in 1972, and the bitter end game, 1972-1975. Why Vietnamization failed just two years after the United States withdrew its forces from Vietnam on 29 March 1973 is the central question of the book. This is sobering tale told by balanced, exacting scholar. The level of Wilbanks' research not only meets the bar of most current scholarly publications, but exceeds it in many areas, especially his use of U.S. Army documents. Wilbanks carefully builds each of his major arguments with the best available evidence, and is careful to employ historiography from all sides of the political spectrum in making his case. One will find, for instance, quotations from Marxist scholars and U.S. Army generals in the same paragraph, making nearly identical observations about the war. In short, Wilbanks' history of the period along with Jeffrey J. Clarke's Advice and Support: The Final Years, 19651973 will stand out as a seminal account of the period for many years to come."
—International Journal of Naval History
"This fine book is highly recommended for history enthusiasts, military and governmental professionals, and general readers who want an unbiased view of a critical part of recent history."—On Point
"A must read for those interested in the Vietnam War. Essential."—Choice
“Easily surpasses previous books on the same period of the war. . . . An excellent and valuable addition to the history of the Vietnam War.”—Dale Andrade, author of America's Last Vietnam Battle: Halting Hanoi's 1972 Easter Offensive
“Provides valuable perspectives on the tenuous balance between political realities and military strategies. Required reading for students, scholars, strategists and military planners.”—Larry Berman, author of No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam
“A candid and convincing analysis of the failure of Vietnamization.”—David L. Anderson, editor of Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre
“Recommended to the scholar and to the general reader alike.”—William Duiker, author of Ho Chi Minh: A Life
List of Illustrations
2. Implementing the New Strategy
3. The RVNAF in Action
4. Raising the Stakes
5. Lam Son 719
6. The Ultimate Test of Vietnamization
7. Cease-Fire and “Peace with Honor”
8. The Fateful Year
9. Collapse in the North
10. The Fall of Saigon