The Cambodian Campaign

The 1970 Offensive and America's Vietnam War

John M. Shaw

Winner: Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award

When American and South Vietnamese forces, led by General Creighton Abrams, launched an attack into neutral Cambodia in 1970, the invasion ignited a firestorm of violent antiwar protests throughout the United States, dealing yet another blow to Nixon's troubled presidency. But, as John Shaw shows, the campaign also proved to be a major military success.

“Along with the tactics, Shaw does an excellent job discussing intelligence, logistics, and command problems.”

Paper Wars

“Shaw’s investigation into the primary sources of this campaign . . . has been exhaustive and is supplemented by an impressive array of interviews with key participants. . . . Shaw is one of the few historians who has attempted, fairly successfully, to paint a comprehensive picture of the Vietnam battleground, including the interplay of logistics, fire support, intelligence, communications, engineers, medical evacuation, and the like. The result is somewhat unique. Rather than just another grunt potboiler or one more general officer apologia, we have a genuine effort to examine a slice of the Vietnam War in all its myriad complexity from a staff officer's point of view. And for this we are in Shaw's debt.”

Journal of Military History
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Most histories of the Vietnam War either give the Cambodian invasion short shrift or merely criticize it for its political fallout, thus neglecting one of the campaign's key dimensions. Approaching the subject from a distinctly military perspective, Shaw shows how this carefully planned and executed offensive provided essential support for Nixon's "decent interval" and "peace with honor" strategies-by eliminating North Vietnamese sanctuaries and supply bases located less than a hundred miles from Saigon and by pushing Communist troops off the Vietnamese border.

Despite the political cloud under which the operation was conducted, Shaw argues that it was not only the best of available choices but one of the most successful operations of the entire war, sustaining light casualties while protecting American troop withdrawal and buying time for Nixon's pacification and "Vietnamization" strategies. He also shows how the United States took full advantage of fortuitous events, such as the overthrow of Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk, the redeployment of North Vietnamese forces, and the late arrival of spring monsoons.

Although critics of the operation have protested that the North Vietnamese never did attack out of Cambodia, Shaw makes a persuasive case that the near-border threat was very real and imminent. In the end, he contends, the campaign effectively precluded any major North Vietnamese military operations for over a year.

Based on exhaustive research and a deep analysis of the invasion's objectives, planning, organization, and operations, Shaw's shrewd study encourages a newfound respect for one of America's genuine military successes during the war.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series