The Battle of Kontum Banner Image


[ Follow Ups ]   [ Post Followup ]
[ The Battle of Kontum Discussion Board ]

Posted by Jack Heslin on 17:05:00 05/30/22

Note: I have borrowed heavily from various sources but I have not provided direct references or citations. If a reader would like to know a specific reference, please feel free to contact me.

Based on the combat casualty figures for American wars, the last real war America fought was the Vietnam War with 58,000 deaths which was the fourth largest number of combat deaths after the American Civil War - 655,000 (est.), World War II - 405,000 and World War I - 116,000. The Korean War had 36,000 deaths with the Iraq War - 4,000 and the War in Afghanistan having - 2,000. The high-water mark for American troops in Vietnam was 543,000 on April 30, 1969. In addition, there were about 50,000 Korean troops deployed in Vietnam.

By 1972, when the North Vietnamese Army invaded South Vietnam, there were about 60,000 Americans still in the Republic of South Vietnam with all major combat units removed. Those American forces directly assisting the South Vietnamese units were advisors, aviation and support personnel. In March 1972, North Vietnam launched the Nguyen Hue Offensive (called the Easter Offensive in the West), its first full-scale offensive into South Vietnam, using 300,000 troops and 300 tanks and armored vehicles.

As we watch the events unfold in Ukraine, it appears to me that there are a number of similarities between the American efforts in Vietnam and the current Ukraine War. I am not asserting that the two events are exactly the same but rather that there are points of comparison to the historical events of the Vietnam War and the current Ukraine Russian War.
For purposes of this comparison, I am comparing the Ukraine government as the North Vietnamese Communist government and the Russians defending the Donetsk and the Luhansk People s Republics in the southeastern region of Ukraine known as the Donbas Region as the United States and its allies who were defending the Republic of South Vietnam.

In 1954 the Geneva Accords were signed in Paris. The accords called for a cease fire in the war, the independence of Vietnam, its division at the 17th parallel of latitude into two provisional states, North Vietnam and the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the establishment of a demilitarized zone 10 kilometers (6 miles) wide separating the two provisional states. Viet Minh soldiers were to withdraw to the north and military forces allied to France to the south. Under pressure from the Soviet Union and China, the Viet Minh (North Vietnam) signed the agreement. Neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Communist guerrilla forces in South Vietnam known as Viet Cong, were expanding their efforts to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. America provided support to the government of South Vietnam with material and military advisors. The American support escalated as it became clear that the Communists were succeeding in their efforts to destabilize the government of South Vietnam. With the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 America became decisively committed to supporting the South Vietnamese government.

As American involvement, along with allies, increased its presence in South Vietnam during the 1960 s they picked up the greatest amount of combat operations. The South Vietnamese forces were used mostly to defend against Viet Cong Communist guerrilla attacks at the province level.
North Vietnam was getting most of their external support from the Soviet Union and Communist China. The Soviet Union provided heavy equipment to include tanks and much needed air-defense systems. During the course of the war, it was reported that the North Vietnamese had the most advanced air-defense capabilities in the world.

With regard to the Ukraine Russian War, the Minsk agreements were a series of international agreements which sought to end the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The first, known as the Minsk Protocol, was drafted in 2014 by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, consisting of Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe with mediation by the leaders of France and Germany in the so-called Normandy Format. After extensive talks in Minsk, Belarus, the agreement was signed on 5 September 2014 by representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group and, without recognition of their status, by the then-leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People s Republic (LPR). This agreement followed multiple previous attempts to stop the fighting in the region and aimed to implement an immediate ceasefire.

The agreement failed to stop the fighting, and was thus followed with a revised and updated agreement, Minsk II, which was signed on 12 February 2015. This agreement consisted of a package of measures, including a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, release of prisoners of war, constitutional reform in Ukraine granting self-government to certain areas of Donbas and restoring control of the state border of the Ukrainian government. While fighting subsided following the agreement s signing, it never ended completely, and the agreement s provisions were never fully implemented. The Normandy Format parties agreed that the Minsk II remains the basis for any future resolution to the conflict.

There are similarities between the political agreements of the Geneva Accords1954 and the Minsk I and Mink II Agreements.

In the current Ukraine Russian war, the Ukraine military has received extensive training and equipment from NATO countries and during the current conflict continues to receive extensive material support from NATO nations.

Russia defending and supporting the people of the Donbas region is more like the United States and their allies in their efforts to support the government of South Vietnam.
It is important to remember that the Russians continue to use the term a special military operation.

Point of comparison 1 History is the struggle of ideas

America s commitment to the defense of the Republic of South Vietnam had an ideological component to it. At the time, people feared the march of Communism throughout Asia and the struggle in the Vietnam War was, in part, against that expansion. It is easy to forget that now. The purging of Communists within South Vietnam was an ongoing effort to include efforts to find and eliminate Communists in government and in military positions.

The Russians have made the de-Nazification of the Ukraine government and military a stated goal of their special military operation. The presence of adherents to the Nazi ideology within the Ukraine military and government is now clear to anyone who has been watching the capture of Ukraine military in the southern Ukraine.

Point of comparison 2 Words matter

America never declared war against North Vietnam. It was an intervention authorized by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution but not a declared war. It was a protracted conflict which was often referred to by many as a war . The Korean War was also not a declared war but a police action. Both in Korea and Vietnam America fought a limited war unlike the total war we fought in WWII. The definition of winning in both the Vietnam War and the Korean War did not involve clear political goals other than the defense of South Vietnam and South Korea against Communist aggression. America and its allies succeeded in Korea but ultimately failed in Vietnam.

Russia has stated repeatedly that they are fighting a limited special military operation for specific political objectives that does not include the total defeat of Ukraine. Those objectives have been repeated many times and include the protection of the people of the Donbas Region.

Point of comparison 3 Timing of the intervention

When America deployed the US Army 1st Cavalry Airmobile Division to Vietnam in September of 1965, they were sent to II Corps in the Highlands of Vietnam. They were not sent to defeat Viet Cong Communist guerrillas but rather to face the regular troops of the North Vietnamese Army that had crossed the border from Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. The battle of the Ia Drang Valley, fought in November of 1965, preempted the North Vietnamese invasion across the II Corps region. The defeat by the American units of that invasion force stalled the plans of the North Vietnamese government to bring about a collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Interestingly, their efforts were repeated over the coming years in the same region without success. American forces were able to hold back North Vietnamese regular Army forces at the Battle of Dak To in late 1967 and TET of 1968. In the Easter Offensive of 1972, it was those same North Vietnamese divisions that invaded the Highlands but were stopped by South Vietnamese divisions with the help of American advisors and especially, the very effective fire from American bombers.

The launching of the Russian special military operation into Ukraine was predicated on a clear indication that the Ukraine Army had been preparing to launch a full-scale offensive against the Donbas Region to defeat the local militias. They had been preparing, with the help of NATO training and equipment for eight years. The range and intensity of the preemptive strike by the Russian military surprised the Ukraine government and their Western allies. The primary military objectives in the Donbas Region and the south of Ukraine were clear from the beginning. Capturing major cities in the North and West of Ukraine was clearly not an immediate goal of the attacks. The use of very effective fire in the form of precision guided missiles were used across the country to support the primary effort in the South and East.

Point of comparison 4 Controlling the narrative

At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the narrative, especially in the American press and media, was supportive of American political and military efforts to support the Government of South Vietnam and the military against the Viet Cong Communist guerrilla actions to destabilize the government. That changed after the Battle of Ap Bac in January 1963 when the American Press turned on the South Vietnamese Government and their military. The drumbeat of perceived failure of the Diem Government and the military culminated in the removal and assassination of President Diem in November 1963. The negative, antiwar narrative in the American Press grew through the following years until the end of American involvement with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords ending hostilities in January 1973.

The Russian military efforts in Ukraine have faced a full-throated negative barrage of propaganda in the Western Media which has not been successfully counted by the Russians. They certainly have not been given media space to tell their story. The usual fog of war has been increased greatly by false reporting that does not support the facts on the ground. While it is expected that propaganda will be ubiquitous during a war by both sides, it can lead to delusion and cognitive dissonance for one side or the other until the objective facts are finally exposed for all to see.

For this analysis, I will use the conceptual model that I developed in a paper I did in 1978 called Combat Power: An Ontological Approach to Combat Power while I was a student at the Naval War College.

Combat Power a political tool.

The concept of combat power may be seen as an equation consisting of two elements; mass and fire. (I am making a different distinction than that of the traditional fire and maneuver.) This conceptual bifurcation is an analytical technique which is much neater in the abstract than in the dynamics of actual combat operations. However, in the interest of gaining understanding, I believe it is a useful tool. When addressing the concept of combat power, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is made up of these two elements (mass and fire), and that they are variable relative to each other and relative to a specific opponent. Furthermore, any meaningful model using this concept must be applicable in any medium--land, sea or air (and for that matter, space).

Combat power may be defined as the actualization of force in armed combat. Force, in the broadest of terms, may be viewed as the power to effect change. The purpose of combat power is to implement a strategy in support of national policy. Military power is the potential from which combat power is actualized. Combat power is restricted in that it exists in time as an actualized force. Furthermore, it exists only at the point of contact. "...military force levels scarcely exist in the abstracto and must of necessity be understood in the immediate context of their global, regional, or even local emplacement." Let me emphasize: the point of contact is a spatio-temporal concept. That is, it has a beginning and an end in time and specific geographical boundaries.

With regard to the Vietnam War, the point of contact was in South Vietnam. The aerial war waged against North Vietnam was supporting the combat operations in South Vietnam but not intended to be decisive for most of the war.

America is not accustomed to political exploitation of military success. We carry the burden of Napoleonic strategy firmly established since the Civil War. The decision was to be made on the field of battle with the statesmen merely formalizing a "fait accompli." I realize this is an oversimplification, but it does serve to illustrate what I believe is a flaw in the American approach to world violence.

This is the way we fought both Iraq wars.

We are living at a time when violence or threats of violence have permeated the very fabric of our lives. Never before have so many people lived in an environment so charged with the imminence of violence. As a nation or a community of nations we will always be faced with the possibility, if not the probability, of violence in some form -- spontaneous or premeditated. We must be prepared to respond in order to limit the collateral effects of violence. Most of the people of the world live with the specter of a nuclear holocaust which threatens to engulf them and destroy their way of life. Much has been written about the horrors of nuclear war, and the balance sheets of the statistician s tally: cities by the tens and lives by the millions. More than ever, each of us, as an individual, is immediately concerned with conditions which might precipitate violence on this horrific scale. If there is one word or concept which captures the essence of our desires, it is the word control. "Control is what separates senseless violence from the purposeful use of force." This, then, becomes the objective of our actions. We seek control in all areas of social interaction in the belief that if we have control, we can gain our objectives without undue risk.
Control, as I am using the term here, does not necessarily mean dominance -- it simply means an ability to positively affect action. Thus, in terms of the violence extant throughout the world, we seek to control it in order to limit its collateral effects.

How, then, can we control violence? What are the means at our disposal, and who has the authority to legitimately employ these means? In terms of domestic violence, we have a body of law which can sanction and an instrument of the state which can use violence to control violence. "While violence breeds violence it can also act as a vaccine." Our state and municipal police forces are the legitimate means of force used to maintain domestic control. Recent experience in the form of "strikes" and ``sick-outs" have demonstrated, albeit painfully, the result of not having the means to control violence. In the international arena where violence has been endemic, we do not have an effective means of international control. "For where the power of law ceases, there war begins." As a result, nations must depend on themselves or on powerful allies to insure their survival in the face of the aggressive forces of violence.

The fiercest kind of competition is that in which one's continued existence is at stake. Oftentimes intense competition has been manifested in overt confrontation and violence. These primal struggles have taken a myriad of forms; however, most can be classified as armed conflict. Thus, war in all its various manifestations may be viewed as a violent struggle with each side attempting to control or annihilate the other. In the context of a struggle, the concept of balance is crucial to understanding the application of force in the form of combat power. "The same Clausewitz who argued that the psychological unbalancing of the enemy is the most important factor in victory totally ignores this factor when discussing the principle of mass. Tragically, it has been his fate to be primarily associated with cataclysmic war and senseless slaughter, rather than with skillful strategems aimed not at the physical but at the psychological defeat of the enemy." Balance or "equilibrium," as used here, is dynamic and must always be viewed in relative terms. Furthermore, it can be grounded in two areas-- physical and psychological. Physical balance may be viewed as an objective reality; whereas, psychological balance is based on a perceived reality. For example, two boxers may be objectively measured by standards applied to their relative physical attributes; however, their psychological balance is difficult to measure. It may be understood as a created perception of reality which is accepted by the one holding it. The process by which perception is created is essentially based on an interpretation of sense data, logical deduction, and, to some extent, intuition. Thus, a sense of psychological balance is based on one's perception of reality which may or may not accurately reflect the objective reality. This is a crucial issue in that it is here that one's sense of balance may be manipulated and, in competitive situations, it often is.

In the "fog" of war a clear perception of the situation is often lacking, and the participants are vulnerable to being manipulated. Violence in the form of combat is usually begun with both sides having some sense of balance and continues until one side or the other loses its balance-- physical, psychological, or both; or, there is a mutual recognition that an imbalance cannot be achieved through the use of force. Usually during the latter stages of the conflict, the protagonists enter into a dialogue, during which they agree on a reality. Historically this has been the case; however, in recent times there has been a reticence on the part of protagonists to arrive at a consensus.

"War" and "military strategy" are concepts which have been defined and studied throughout recorded history. For my purposes, however, I will use Grotius' definition of war "...war is the state of contending parties..." and add that it is a violent state. "War is thus a type of violence." "Strategy is the comprehensive direction of all the elements of power to control situations and areas in order to attain objectives." Furthermore, "The understanding of power and force and their effective use is critical to the understanding of strategy. The formulation of strategy is extremely important in that it specifies the opponent and provides a purpose for using violence. Strategy, therefore, provides the definition of victory --national survival (a state of balance), or domination of the opponent (a state of imbalance). By the same token, it defines defeat. For example, the French grounded themselves in the Maginot line prior to World War II. "They had hoped to sit behind the Maginot Line and let the Germans batter themselves senseless .... " In a sense, in by-passing it the Germans created a defeat according to the French definition. Our public commitment to a forward defense in Central Europe may in fact, be defining victory and defeat for us.

It is in the formation of military strategy that the interface between the military and civilian leaders takes place. "Politically, we must ensure that our civilian leadership is fully informed of the capabilities and limitations of our military power. Part of the problem in the past was that our civilian leaders were misled by our failure to tell them the hard truths, the unpleasant realities, our shortcomings as well as our strengths." However, the primary responsibility for the formation of strategy in our democratic society rests squarely with civilian leadership. "In its fuller meaning, strategy is defined as the art of mobilizing and directing the resources of a nation or community of nations--including the armed forces--to safeguard and promote its interests against those of its enemies actual or potential."

Vietnam is a perfect example of the political leadership not understanding the instrument of violence and, therefore, using it inappropriately and not exploiting battlefield success. Battles were won, but the war was lost. As in all wars the defeat was ultimately moral rather than physical. "...defeat results not from loss of life, save indirectly and partially, but from loss of morale." Military objectives were achieved; however, they were not exploited by the American political leaders to attain more important political objectives. Indeed, some have argued that there were no clear political objectives. "While the 'objective' was repeatedly stated by the President and Secretary of State, it was never done so in terms that would produce conceptual unity in the conduct of operations." If we accept the Clausewitzian view that war is a continuation of political intercourse and that battle is a means of continuing that intercourse, it should be recognized that success at the lower level may not always achieve the result desired on the higher level. Military objectives must support the political objectives "for they are only the means to a political end," and the political leaders must understand the instrument they are using in order to be able to exploit the success which results from its use. Furthermore, it must be understood that war, in essence, is "the state of contending parties" in which the involved parties intend to use violence in order to establish control, for "the aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy."

The military power of a nation is the combined potential of all the services to actualize force in the form of combat power. Combat power, therefore, is the actual instrument which is used to gain control. Not all the potential military power of a nation may be actualized at any given time. For example, in Vietnam--"We were losing the political war and we did not have the power in usable form to invade North Vietnam." The ultimate objective of combat power (if the intent is control) is the opponent's mind; more specifically, it is his perception of reality. "For the issue of any operation of war is decided not by what the situation actually is, but by what the rival commanders think it is." If we can, we want to create a reality for the opponent that will allow us to control him. During non-violent periods political leaders attempt to create a reality that will convince a potential opponent not to resort to violence. The political approach usually assumes rationality; --To the rational actor, the availability and use of military force has utility only so long as expected gains exceed expected costs." This rational "cost-benefit" approach is, of course, nothing new. Hugo Grotius, in 1634, wrote: "This is conformable to what was said by Augustus, that no war should be undertaken, but where the hopes of advantage could be (shewn) to overbalance the apprehensions of ruin." The perception we hope to create, therefore, is that the potential opponent cannot win now-and, it must be remembered: "...the opponent's perception of one's commitment is decisive" --but that he may win at some time in the future. "In terms of policy, one would combine a strong military posture (LOSE NOW) with Machiavellian manipulation of Nation Y's 'Value of Peace' (WIN LATER)." I wish to emphasize, of course, that this is a "created perception" and not the actual reality. If the opponent perceives a no-win situation now and no-win situation in the future, he may be willing to risk a possible loss now rather than a certain loss later. This created reality is the product of skillful political action which exploits our national strengths and the opponent's weaknesses.

Military power as a potential--that is, as potential combat power--is one of the tools the political leaders may use. Admiral Arleigh A. Burke clearly understood the Soviet use of this tool: "They have shown--and they now show--a rare skill in the psychological use of good military strength. They have often gained their ends without having to commit their forces, and that is important." When violence is imminent or has occurred, then actualized force--combat power--is used to achieve the degree of control desired. "Power must be recognized by others if it is to function, whereas force functions by itself." In a violent environment the objective is still the opponent's perception of reality and, therefore, his mind. As always, the ultimate objective is control.

In the current Ukraine Russian war, Russia is using their combat power, the special military operation , to achieve clearly articulated political goals which includes the defeat of the Ukraine forces and the securing of large territories in the South and East of Ukraine. During the Vietnam War America struggled to articulate clear military objectives for the use of combat power. Instead, weak useless indicators such as body count was the measure with the expectation that the killing of a great many of the enemy troops in Vietnam would cause the North Vietnamese to end the conflict. It did not.

The ineffectual bombing of North Vietnam only served to strengthen the will of the North Vietnamese government who believed they could withstand anything America could throw at them. That lesson was learned in WW II when the German bombing of Britan only increased the resolve of the British government and the people. The decisive action of dropping two atomic bombs on Japan convinced the leadership that they could not survive against those kinds of weapons and they agreed to unconditional surrender.

Until December of 1972, our air strikes against North Vietnam were totally politicized with an intent to punish the North Vietnamese rather than to cripple their ability to wage war in the south. This is totally opposite to what the Russians are doing in Ukraine with highly effective precision missile strikes against high value targets. Furthermore, the Russian missile strikes cannot be stopped and they do not put highly trained pilots at risk.

During the Easter Offensive of 1972 the South Vietnamese military with, the help of American military advisers and massive amounts of American very affective fire in the form of bombs, mostly from B-52s, fought with courage and determination to break the North Vietnamese offensive causing huge casualties for the invading divisions.

Eventually, in December of 1972 President Nixon used very effective B-52 bomber strikes against North Vietnam and mined the Haiphong harbor which forced the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table in Paris to sign a peace agreement in January 1973. Unfortunately, the President and his advisors squandered the great success of the South Vietnamese military in defeating the North Vietnamese forces in the Easter Offensive of 1972. The Nixon Administration should have demanded the removal of all North Vietnamese forces from the Republic of South Vietnam as a condition to stop the heavy bombing of North Vietnam and the removal of mines from Haiphong harbor.

The withdrawal of American support from South Vietnam after the resignation of President Nixon guaranteed the success of the North Vietnamese in 1975 and the South Vietnamese government and their military leaders knew the end was near.

That will not happen with Russia in the Ukraine. It is clear now, that in spite of enormous financial support to the Zelensky government, Ukraine will be defeated and Russia will achieve their political objectives. Furthermore, they will achieve it through a well planned and supported special military operation in a very short period of time. It is unlikely that they will negotiate away the battlefield success they have achieved at the cost of their soldier s blood and the people of the Donbas, unlike the South Vietnamese people, will be free to live their lives without the threat of destruction from the Ukraine government.

As of this writing, direct involvement of NATO in this lost cause would be catastrophic in ways unimaginable by many.

Follow Ups:

[ Post a Followup ]

[ Follow Ups ]   [ Post Followup ]
[ The Battle of Kontum Discussion Board ]