1. Basic Information
Name: Chuck Gutzman
Occupation During the Vietnam War: Professional Soldier
Current Occupation: Retired/Writer
Battles: Lots of little ones, LZ 27 Victor, LZ Ripcord for big ones.
Beginning and Ending Dates of the War for me: 1965 & 1972
2. Why did the US fight a war in Vietnam?
The United States entry into the war in Vietnam was an inevitable outgrowth of the end of WW-II and the expansion of Communism. Our leaders had come of age during the WW-II era and had seen what the Communist did/were doing around the world. Because of the devastation of the other democracies of the west during WW-II there was no other democratic force on the face of the earth that could oppose them.
Get a map of the world as it was at the outbreak of WW-II and consider this – (In fact, to really get the point color the communist powers and their conquests red). At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 there was only one Communist State, the Soviet Union. At the end of WW-II Europe was prostrate, with most of her industrial capacity shattered and literally millions unsure as to how they were going to cope with whatever came next. By the end of 1945 Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary had all been absorbed by the Red Army. Germany and Korea had been divided in two, and East Prussia disappeared from the maps of the world forever. Finland was forced into tenuous neutrality though, because of her proximity, she tended to support Russian causes when asked to. The British, Dutch, and French overseas empires were disintegrating, with the Dutch being the first to go.
In Indochina Ho Chi Minh, who had been one of the founders of the French Communist Party, and was the founder of the Indochinese Communist Party, was engaged with the French. The Red Chinese were slugging it out with the Kuomintang in China, the Hukbalapaps were becoming active in the Philippines, and Yugoslavia, a loose amalgam of the former countries of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, and Serbia was in the throes of determining how they would organize as a communist state.
By 1946, the Hukbalapaps had expanded their activities to Luzon from Mindanao in the Philippines, communists were organizing in Indonesia, the Viet Minh and the French were locked in combat in northern North Vietnam, where the French tried to fight the war with professional soldiers, colonial levies, and Foreign Legionnaires rather than national conscripts, the Kuomintang was losing ground in China, and Yugoslavia was firmly communist under Tito.
In 1947 the US instituted the Marshal Plan to try and rebuild Europe, while the Japanese economy was being completely restructured under a plan devised by General Macarthur.
In 1948 the Communists blockaded Berlin necessitating the Berlin Airlift to feed and supply a surrounded populace, a Communist insurgency was trying to take over Greece, (opposed by the US under the Truman Doctrine), the Red Army attempted the military occupation of northern Iran, (also opposed by the US), and Albania began its slide into communism.
1n 1949 Czechoslovakia went Communist, the Hukbalapaps were beginning to threaten Manila in the Philippines, the Kuomintang lost and China became Communist while the Nationalist Chinese fled to Formosa, (Taiwan). The Viet Minh had begun to force the French back into the cities in Indochina, and a Communist insurgency was beginning in Malaya. In Europe the Communist Party was gaining strength in both Italy and France. Communist expansion was seen as a major threat to US interests and the “Containment Policy”, under which allies and military agreements around the periphery of major Communist states were sought in order to “contain” further expansion was promulgated. NATO was formed, followed in short order by CENTO and SEATO.
In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, the Hukbalapaps were fighting in the suburbs of Manila in the Philippines, and the Communist Terrorist insurgency in Malay and Southeast Thailand was in full swing, opposed by the British. The French, faced with increased support for the Viet Minh across the now contiguous Communist Chinese border began to falter in Tonkin. (North Vietnam). As Britain withdrew from “East of Suez” they faced a communist inspired insurgency in Aden, and one of the provinces of newly independent India voted itself communist.
In 1953 a shaky armistice had been signed with the Communist Chinese and North Koreans in Korea, temporarily halting the war along the 38th parallel. It is still in place today and the war has never been declared over.
By 1954 the French had lost the war in Indochina and, under the cease fire provisions of the Geneva Accords, they withdrew from Vietnam, though they retained forces in Laos under the agreements. The French withdrew from NATO in order to be able to meet the increasing demands of their war in Algeria, and in 1955 Germany was admitted to the alliance. Increased communist agitation in Indonesia became a cause for serious concern.
Throughout the early 1950’s the Hukbalapaps in the Philippines were increasingly active, and Communist Chinese artillery shelled the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu with regularity while Red Chinese and Nationalist Chinese fighter planes shot it out over the Formosa straits.
In 1956, following the Suez Crisis, the Russians established a major military presence in Egypt. The Pathet Lao began expanding areas of communist control in northeastern Laos. The Russians crushed uprisings in Hungary and East Germany with massive military power.
In 1959 Castro established communism in Cuba and began exporting “National Wars of Liberation” to Latin and South America. Communist China crushed Tibet and assimilated it into the People’s Republic of China, then fought a series of border skirmishes with India. The Russian Premier announced that the Soviet Union would support “National Wars of Liberation” anywhere in the world.
At the same time, the Russians mounted a very large airlift operation to supply weapons and military equipment to the Pathet Lao in northern Laos and the Communist Viet Cong initiated open warfare with the South Vietnamese government.
During most of the 1950’s the governments of Europe were almost entirely self absorbed in trying to revive their shattered infrastructure, though the French fought a bitter war in Indochina, and a worse one in Algeria, while the British engaged the Communists in Malaya and Aden.
In 1960, following a heavy build-up of American combat power in the Southeast Asian area, the Geneva Conference was called back into session and Russia, China, and the US agreed to the “Neutralization” of Laos. The US withdrew her personnel, the Russians turned over their airlift assets to the North Vietnamese and ceased active support of the Pathet Lao, and the Chinese downgraded their military mission in Laos. However, the North Vietnamese did not withdraw as agreed. Instead they began actively upgrading the network of roads and trails in eastern Laos that would later become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Moving into the ‘60’s, as the United States evaluated the worldwide thrust of Communism, the decision was made to oppose it’s expansion into Indochina by increasing support to the Diem regime in South Vietnam, and initiating clandestine support for the forces opposing the Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese thrust into northern and eastern Laos. British success against the CTs in Malaya and the gradual erosion of the Hukbalapaps in the Philippines as a result of counterinsurgency efforts initiated by Ramon Magsaysay and General Edward Lansdale indicated that insurgencies could be successfully put down. The analysis also indicated that communist success in Southeast Asia would give them a chokehold on the major transportation lanes through the Straits of Malacca, bringing intense pressure on the Japanese, possibly leading to their neutrality. Their victory in Southeast Asia could result in outflanking India within a short time, bringing with it the real possibility that the non-aligned status of the sub-continent would perforce become more pro-Chinese in flavor.
Laos was originally considered as the locale for forcible opposition, but its limited infrastructure and difficult logistical problems caused it to be bypassed in favor of Vietnam. President Kennedy began introducing combat units into Vietnam, (Air Force and Green Beret). Russia installed missiles in Cuba in 1962, nearly provoking a nuclear confrontation, then - when Communist China suddenly invaded India later in the year – US policy makers decided that Communism must be forcibly opposed.
In short, as the only major world power in the position to do so at the time, we went to war to attempt to stop the spread of Communism, and even though we were not successful in Vietnam, the strain on the Communist powers and the outcome is believed by many to have had an impact which ultimately, when combined with other things that were going on, stopped the spread of Communism cold.
3. I enlisted in the Army in 1955 and by the time Vietnam came along I considered myself a professional soldier. War is what the country kept me around for. At the same time, I had seen communist operations in a place or two and was absolutely convinced that they had to be stopped cold somewhere.
4. Praised. Had it not been for Vietnam it is quite likely we would still be on a nuclear knife's edge with the Soviet Union.
5. Necessary, but badly handled by the stripey pants brigade (US State Department) following the completion of major combat and before the insurgency kicked up. There probably has not been a dumber decision made by any one than Bremmer's disbanding the Iraqi Army, since it was the only organized central authority in Iraq.
5. (Again) Initially we entered combat full-out, with a clear objective. In Vietnam we tried to play a game of gradual escalation, pretending that the enemy was other than who it really was, which simply allowed the enemy (which was always North Vietnam) an opportunity to regroup and adjust every time it got bad for them. In Vietnam we also shoved the Vietnamese into a totally subordinate role and then interfered with everything they tried to do. Later, the insurgency in Iraq had a number of similarities to Vietnam, but there were no real outside supporting powers, such as China and Russia in Vietnam, and there were no real sactuaries that the enemy could retreat into and kick his wounds. Additionally, combat in cities in Vietnam was limited, in Iraq it was common. We started the process of integrating the Iraqis into our opperations almost from the git-go.
6. See above.
7. I became a lot more cynical when dealing with politicians. I recognized that the media had a separate ax to grind and would either make things up or spin a comment to fit their agenda. I missed a great deal of my children's early years.
8. Not readily available. However, there are about 6-800 in my book "Vietnam: A Visual Encyclopedia" It is currently out of print, but you can get one from Barnes and Noble.Com as a used volume. The hardbound would probably be a little better than the softbound.
Good luck with your project.