Who Started the Vietnam War?

Who started the Vietnam War?

By Gregory H. Murry

MSG, USA (Ret)

Copyright 28 October, 2014


Now it is not good for the Christian’s health to hustle the Aryan brown,

For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,

And the epitaph drear: “A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”1


It was fifty years ago that our government was contemplating its next move in Vietnam. The presidential elections were in November and President Johnson was doing everything he could to present himself as the peace candidate, “We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” Now, as November approaches, we have the mid-term elections coming up, and there are calls for war in the Middle-East. It’s like Deja vu all over again.2

The debate about who was responsible for the United States losing the war in Vietnam has raged for almost forty years. As a veteran of that war, I have to confess, that I like many others, was not able to put the war behind me and spent an inordinate amount of my spare time reading the many books that have tried to explain how we won/lost the war. Then the thought came to me one day: Who started the war?

To answer that question, I had to make a decision: When did the war start? When did our involvement in yet another country struggling to define itself in the post-colonial chaos turn into combat operations for our regular forces? It seemed right to me to point to the events leading up to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. President Lyndon Johnson used it to justify deploying U.S. combat troops to Vietnam.

The Gulf of Tonkin incidents have been intensely scrutinized: Were there torpedo boats attacking U.S. destroyers? Were there torpedoes in the water? We’re not concerned with those questions here.

This is not about conspiracies either, but about covert operations and something known as ‘plausible deniability.’ It’s also about two actors on a stage in Southeast Asia during America’s entry into the first war we lost. Both of these men came from humble beginnings. Both went through the great depression and fought in WWII. They both saw the army as a place where they could make their way to high positions with the attendant benefits. These actors were soldiers emanating the ‘special’ aura that is associated with men who have come from the ‘secret world’ of espionage and covert operations. “They were skilled in combat operations and they also excelled at bureaucratic infighting which is not simply about coming out on top but the ability to so cover one’s tracks as to appear utterly blameless.”3

This is also about why history repeats itself, and learning lessons is beyond the capacity of most professional soldiers. My thesis was developed, when in 2003, I watched the U.S effort in Afghanistan almost mirror the early part of the Vietnam War. Much of our bungling in Afghanistan and Iraq can be traced backed to the machinations of these two men.

For me, it’s also personal. One of these ‘actors’ ran me and my battalion ragged for months at a time as we beat the bushes looking for ‘Charlie.’ That in itself wasn’t problematic, other than his ruthless disregard for our rest and recovery; but knowing that he referred to us, his sergeants and privates, as his ‘little people’ infuriates me to this day.

 Covert Operations

 Covert operations were codified in National Security Council Directive (NSC 10/2) of 18 June, 1948 on the Office of Special Projects. In it, the NSC, recognizing the need to counter the covert operations of the USSR, directed the Office of Special Projects, later renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) of the CIA, to plan and execute certain operations. These operations were to be planned and executed in such a way, “that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”

These operations would include: “…propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”4

The OPC began recruiting from Wall Street, the ‘old boy’ network of former OSS operatives, and the armed forces. One of the first recruited from the military was Richard Stilwell, a Colonel in the U.S. Army. Richard Stilwell was a West Point graduate and a veteran of WWII. He served as the operations officer (G3) for the 90th Infantry Division which saw combat in Normandy and was part of Patton’s Third Army. In 1947 he was assigned as a military advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Italy. Italy was going through a tumultuous struggle against communist efforts to take power. The communists were thwarted in part by one of the first successful OPC operations, and when Richard Stilwell left Italy he was with OPC.5

 The Korean War (in China)

 Stilwell was appointed chief of the Far East Division, and when the Korean War broke out, he began recruiting 90th Division men he knew and could trust. One of these men was William DePuy. DePuy had held several staff positions and was a battalion commander in the 90th Infantry Division. Highly decorated, DePuy chose to remain in the army after the war and requested intelligence duty. He took a one year Russian language course and was trained to be a military attache in Moscow, but was sent instead to Hungary where he impressed his superiors with the performance of his duties. When the Korean War started, he was recovering from a broken leg so instead of going to Korea, he was detailed to the OPC.6

DePuy’s biographer covers these activities with a broad brush, no doubt due to DePuy’s own reluctance to give any details. DePuy described them saying, “It was a very active life and rather exciting. I have to say in retrospect that it was not all that productive, but everyone was working hard…So, I’ll go this far: we were involved in a very covert operation against China.”7

DePuy was chief of the China Branch of OPC. The covert operation DePuy referred to had at least two components: commando raids on the southern coast of mainland China under the Western Enterprises Incorporated (WEI) cover and Operation Paper. LTC Ray Peers, former commander of OSS Detachment 101 in Burma during WWII, an experienced unconventional warfare specialist, ran the WEI commando raids from Taiwan, but used various small islands along the China coast from which to strike the mainland. Later, Peers became famous as the investigator of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Among his helpers was Robert Barrow, a future commandant of the Marine Corps, and several other 90th Division veterans. These men trained local Chinese to be commandos. Some were dropped by parachute, but most of them took part in over-the-beach, hit-and-run raids.8

Samuel Halpern, a senior CIA officer had this to say about Operation Paper: “Somebody in the Pentagon…had the bright idea that the way to draw Chinese Communist forces away from Korea would be to attack China through the back door, as they called it: from Burma into Yunnan Province…They’re talking about creating this army for the attack by using Chinese Nationalist forces from Taiwan plus those who might have escaped out of China into Burma and into northern Thailand.

“We would support and ferry these Chinese Nationalists from Taiwan to Bangkok to the back door of China in Burma. Chinese Nationalist troops were flown from Taiwan…and then we dropped them into northern Burma. From there they invaded China. The Chinese Communists let them walk in and then destroyed them. The OSO (CIA Office of Special Operations)…discovered that the chief radio operator for the Li Mi troops happened to be a Chinese Communist agent.

Halpern goes on to say, “Bill DePuy honestly believed that Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-Shek) had a million guerrilla forces waiting on the Chinese mainland to rise against the Chinese Communists.” Then Halpern says that DePuy, when told that the OSO was collecting against the Chinese Nationalists to learn of their intentions said, ‘“How dare you try to penetrate and spy on our friends and allies.’”9

The culmination of Stilwell’s and DePuy’s adventures with the OPC was a closely guarded fiasco known in the CIA as the ‘Thailand Flap.’ It started when the DCI had ordered an investigation of opium trading under the cover of trying to overthrow the Communist government. Then came the murder by an OPC officer, of the OSO officer who was investigating drug flows through Thailand. According to R. Harris Smith, a former CIA officer, “Bedell Smith (DCI)…summoned the OPC’s Far East director, Richard Stilwell, and in the words of an agency eyewitness, ‘gave him such a violent tongue lashing’ that ‘the colonel went down the hall in tears.’”10

Bedell Smith’s final word on the whole affair was: “There is no point in bemoaning opportunities lost…nor attempting to alibi past failures,” he wrote in a letter to General Matthew B. Ridgway, MacArthur’s successor as chief of the Far East Command, “I have found, through painful experience, that secret operations are a job for the professional and not for the amateur.”11


 The ‘secret world’ of western intelligence has been bedeviled with increasing frequency by covert action military enthusiasts since WWII. The British, faced with a shrinking empire, used their intelligence services to generate smoke, and wave mirrors, creating the illusion that Britain was still a world power. After all, for several hundred years, they had played the ‘Great Game’ with Russia for world domination.

Not everyone was impressed with the ‘intelligence’ coming from the spy agencies of those times: “You listen too much to the soldiers…You should never trust the experts,” said Lord Salisbury to the Viceroy of India in 1877. “If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome, if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.”12

 The OSS

 At the beginning of WWII, the British intelligence services were largely responsible for educating and training the founders of America’s first spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This ‘special relationship’ continues to this day. The OSS conducted intelligence gathering and special operations in Europe, Asia, and Africa during the war. Its founder, Major General William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, tried to keep his organization intact when the war ended. But President Truman disbanded it and then reformed it as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).13

 The CIA

 Some wartime intelligence personnel stayed on with the new agency and some returned to the military. Others went back to the business and academic worlds where they all formed a network which Eisenhower later called the Military-Industrial Complex. It would have been better named the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex.

The CIA was intended to be an information analysis agency, but as the Cold War heated up, they were soon conducting covert and clandestine operations. From the beginning, military personnel were ‘seconded’ or transferred to the CIA. There they entered into the ‘secret world’ of ‘plausible deniability’ where accountability was minimal and everything was classified. The CIA inscribed a verse from the Gospel of John on a wall in the lobby of their headquarters, “and ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.” But in their collective heart was their real motto, “Admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations”14

Duty, Honor, Country doesn’t blend well with admit nothing, deny everything, etc. When career considerations and self-esteem are mixed in, it takes the highest character to resist the temptations to avoid accepting responsibility for one’s actions by conveniently covering one’s mistakes with a security classification and moving on.

The military officers who did tours with the civilian intelligence community were ‘made men’ when they returned to the armed forces. Many of them played major roles, though often behind the scenes, in the events leading up to and during the Vietnam War. Richard Stilwell and William DePuy were leading players.

Stilwell and DePuy were dilettantes in the ‘secret world’ of foreign intelligence. Like most military men they considered each problem to be a nail for which they had a hammer. Because of the need for strategic and tactical information necessary for national defense, military men are often brought into the ‘secret world,’ but most fail to see much further than the nail.

 Made Men

 After leaving the CIA, Stilwell commanded the 15th Infantry Regiment for five months at the end of the Korean War.  He taught at the War College and served as a strategic planner at the Allied Powers European Headquarters. He did a stint at the Pentagon and then served as commandant of cadets with General Westmoreland at West Point. While at the Pentagon, he wrote a paper dealing with the army’s counterinsurgency capabilities and doctrine. This paper identified him as a ‘counterinsurgency expert’ and his next assignment was Vietnam.15

After several schools and troop assignments, DePuy went to the Pentagon in 1956, where his biographer, Henry Gole says, “He joined the clever chaps in Washington who were at the top of the Army hierarchy.”  He wrote a paper for Major General William Westmoreland, a ‘fast burner,’ who remembered DePuy later when Westmoreland commanded the war in Vietnam. Gole closed this chapter of DePuy’s life by saying, “His stint in the Pentagon, close to the power centers, taught him political infighting, ways to get things done in a bureaucracy…”16

After leaving the Pentagon he went to the British Imperial Defense College and then commanded an infantry battle-group in Germany. Back in the Pentagon in 1962, DePuy was Director of Counterinsurgency and Special Operations for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. He must have realized that Vietnam was where he could make his mark. Since the airborne ‘mafia’ under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor and General Westmoreland were running the war, he became airborne qualified at forty-three years of age and was promoted to Brigadier General.

DePuy never served with an airborne unit and where he went to jump school is not clear. There used to be an airborne training course at Fort Bragg for senior officers, and he and Richard Stilwell may have gotten their wings there. His next assignment was in Vietnam where he would serve as Richard Stilwell’s deputy before taking Stilwell’s place as Westmoreland’s Operations Officer or J3. These two were Westmoreland’s most influential assistants.17

 Covert Operations

[A covert operation, like] a conspiracy, is rarely, if ever, proved by positive testimony…A witness swearing positively may misrepresent the facts or swear falsely, but the circumstances cannot lie.18

 Richard Stilwell arrived in South Vietnam in April, 1963. He became chief of the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV) Army Support Group before being made MACV operations officer (J3) and then MACV chief of staff. Operation Switchback was underway, a change of command from the CIA to MACV for covert operations in North Vietnam. Switchback was the result of the CIA fiasco at the Bay of Pigs, and President Kennedy wanted the military to handle large paramilitary and unconventional warfare operations.19

The CIA operations were run by William Colby, a former Jedburgh operative with the OSS, who jumped into France and Norway to organize resistance movements and blow up bridges. They included parachute drops of South Vietnamese unconventional warfare teams, commando and small boat raids along the coast, and psychological warfare operations. In sum, these operations were total failures.20

The internal security system in North Vietnam and its agents in the south insured that every team dropped into the north was met on the drop zone by security service personnel who captured the teams and persuaded many of the radio operators to send deceptive messages to their controllers. Maritime operations were usually met by North Vietnam patrol boats that shot them up and captured the survivors. During a meeting with Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, Colby told him of the failure of covert operations in the north, but was ignored.21

Colby’s only success was the use of Special Forces teams to create the Citizen Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) in a classic counterinsurgency operation. It would soon be terminated by MACV who took the SF teams out of the villages and put them on the border doing ‘offensive’ operations. That the Special Forces commander, Colonel George Morton, insisted on reporting to Stilwell, rather than to the MACV J3, per MACV regulation, indicates that Stilwell was the MACV ‘go to guy’ for any ‘special warfare’ issues.22


 McNamara was unconvinced by Colby’s assessment that the covert operations in North Vietnam were doomed to failure. No doubt, advised by Maxwell Taylor that the military could do what the CIA couldn’t, a new organization was formed in February, 1964 called the MACV Special Operations Group, later changed to the ‘Studies and Observations Group’ or MACSOG. Taylor and Westmoreland also had the man for the job, Richard Stilwell.

This is a perfect example of the ‘mystique’ being more powerful than the reality. Stilwell’s monumental failure in running covert operations in China ten years earlier had been covered up by security classifications, and all that was known was that he was one of ‘those guys’ who had been in the CIA and therefore ‘knew the deal.’

When you read the MACSOG official histories, the redacting can be disconcerting. For the purpose of this presumption, the redacted material has to contain references to the men who had learned to keep their names out of anything that might come back and bite them later. Annex A of the MACSOG Command History states, “SOG was organized on 24 January, 1964 as the Special Operations Group under the direct supervision of the Chief of Staff, MACV…the overall plan was designated MACV OPLAN 34A.” Richard Stilwell became the chief of staff and the MACV covert operations against North Vietnam began. They were almost a mirror image of his operations against China while working for the CIA twelve years earlier.

Richard Stilwell is mentioned by name once when Special Forces commander, Colonel Theodore Leonard said, “I was called to Saigon during one of Secretary McNamara’s visits and without any warning I was brought into the conference where he was consulting with General Westmoreland, General Stillwell, Ambassador Lodge, and General Taylor; also present was Ambassador Unger. Out of a clear blue sky I was asked how soon I could launch operations into Laos.”23

 Good Money after Bad

 MACSOG was presented with the failure of the unconventional warfare teams that had been dropped into North Vietnam by the CIA and were now under North Vietnamese control. Under pressure from Stilwell, twelve more teams were sent north by SOG and disappeared into the hands of the North Vietnamese. Colonel Clyde Russell, the first SOG commander said, “[the] people we were going to infiltrate into North Vietnam, unfortunately, were of questionable capability and we found none who wanted to go. As a matter of fact, we forced them into the airplanes on numerous occasions and even then they did not want to go back to North Vietnam.”24

Meanwhile, there had been a change in thinking about the use of covert operations. Previously the CIA had used them at President Kennedy’s behest to ‘send a message’ to Hanoi, telling them to stop supporting the insurgency in South Vietnam. Johnson and his advisors didn’t seem to understand that the North Vietnamese were replying with a message of their own: “If the Americans want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea.”25

Ho’s message was conveyed in victory after victory when the VC fought the South Vietnamese Army, and with various covert operations of their own, such as bombing the American officer’s quarters in Saigon. Now it appeared that the covert operations would be intensified with the purpose of provoking North Vietnam to attack U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin.

 Enter DePuy

 DePuy joined Stilwell in the spring of 1964. By then, Stilwell was the MACV chief of staff and DePuy became the J3. He had already been out there in 1962 while serving as Director, Counterinsurgency and Special Warfare (DCSOPS). “In 1962, I went over to Vietnam with Colonel George Morton to establish the Special Forces headquarters at Nha Trang. The Central Intelligence Agency had taken over a number of Special Forces “A” Detachments and had inaugurated a program up at Ban Me Thuot, with the Rhade tribe of Montagnards… We thought Special Forces had a role to use its own troops, but we didn’t want them to play it under the Agency. The Army wanted to play its own game. So, that was the beginning of setting up the Special Forces Command in Vietnam.”26

 The Gulf of Tonkin

 As MACV J3 under Stilwell, DePuy was able to take the burden of covert operations off of Stilwell’s shoulders. MACSOG built their own staff, but their ‘go to’ man was DePuy. The optempo of coastal raiding greatly increased after he arrived: everything from capturing North Vietnamese fishing boats and blowing bridges, to small scale commando raids on storage facilities and barracks. Using Norwegian ‘Nasty’ PT boats, with Norwegian mercenary captains, the crews shot up North Vietnamese PT boats and their bases.27

At the same time SOG was directing the covert raiding of the North Vietnamese coast, the U.S. Navy was running communication intelligence gathering missions along the same coast. These operations were known as DESOTO patrols. On 28 July of 1964, SOG conducted shore bombardment missions in the vicinity of a DESOTO patrol being conducted by the destroyer USS Maddox. The Maddox continued its patrol, and on 2 August it was attacked in broad daylight by three North Vietnamese PT boats.

The Maddox fired a warning shot and the PT boats fired torpedoes. After a brief battle which included air strikes from the carrier USS Ticonderoga, which sank one of the PT boats, the North Vietnamese returned to their base. Several nights later two U.S. Navy destroyers on DESOTO patrols reported that they were under attack by four PT boats. Aircraft were launched, but no PT boats were seen. This was the Gulf of Tonkin incident that President Johnson used to get congressional authority to go to war in Vietnam.28

 The War Fighter

 DePuy must also take as much responsibility for losing the war as anyone. He and Stilwell have been ‘credited’ with being General Westmoreland’s chief architects of the attrition strategy and the ‘search and destroy’ tactics used to attain it. DePuy reasoned that American firepower could overcome North Vietnamese willpower before America ran out of political will. In 1965, Richard Stilwell left Vietnam and went to Thailand. There he commanded the U.S. effort in that country. DePuy remained in Vietnam.29

After serving as the MACV J3 for two years, he took command of the 1st Infantry Division in March of 1966. There he endeavored to take the fight to the main force VC units that were threatening Saigon. He wasted no time putting his stamp on the division. Ten days after taking command, he rewrote the division’s tactical SOP, demanding that his soldiers stand their ground when meeting the enemy in the jungle instead of pulling back and calling for artillery and air strikes. After the battle of August 25th, during Operation Amarillo, he changed the SOP again, basically, back to what it had been before he arrived. He would later say, “I presided over that very gory and unsuccessful operation, the VC made monkeys out of us.” He had relieved a number for battalion commanders for incompetence, claiming that they were killing American soldiers. I wonder why he didn’t relieve himself after that fiasco.30

When he looked back on his command of the division he said in an interview, “I guess I was surprised a little bit, too, after I took over the division, about the difficulty we had in finding the VC. We hit more dry holes than I thought we were going to hit, they were more elusive than I had expected, they controlled the battle better. They were the ones who usually decided whether or not there would be a fight…

“I wish that we had all been smart enough to say in 1965, when we went in, “That’s what they are going to do to us.” If we had been that smart then maybe we wouldn’t have gone in…But, I don’t remember anybody saying that, do you? Not even the experts, the scholastics, or the academics said that. Oh, there was one who did, Francois Sully, who is now dead. Now, the reason he did is because he had been through it before with the French. He told me and he told others. He said, ‘You’re never going to win it. You’re not going to be able to find them. You’re going to thrash around and you’re only going to fight the battles that they win.’ Well, he wasn’t quite right. He wasn’t right in every detail, but he was right in net and sum.31

He continued, “I guess my biggest surprise, and this was a surprise in which I have lots of company, was that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong would continue the war despite the punishment they were taking, I guess I should have expected that. I guess I should have studied human nature and the history of Vietnam and of revolutions and should have known it, but I didn’t. I really thought that the kind of pressure they were under would cause them to perhaps knock off the war for a while, as a minimum, or even give up and go back north, I understand that from 1965 to ’69 they lost over 600,000 men. But, I was completely wrong on that. That was a surprise.”32

These are interesting words coming from the man that the Army appointed to the positions of Director, Counterinsurgency, Special Warfare (DCSOPS) and Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA); but, once again, that aura coming from his stint in the ‘secret world’ dazzled the eyes of the uninitiated.

 Exit DePuy

 DePuy’s career was on a dead-end street when he returned from Vietnam in 1967. General Westmoreland took credit for saving DePuy’s career when he asked General Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to keep DePuy out of the reach of the army chief of staff, General Harold K. Johnson, by putting DePuy to work for the Joint Staff. He became the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA).33

DePuy was highly regarded for his way with words. He wrote the “Report of the Chairman, JCS, on the situation in Vietnam and MACV Requirements” for General Earle Wheeler while he and Wheeler returned from a post-TET assessment for President Johnson. Westmoreland had characterized the VC TET offensive as the destruction of the Viet Cong organization, but the briefing that DePuy and Wheeler gave to President Johnson’s group of ‘wise men,’ was described by DePuy in 1979 as a too dismal picture of the situation.34

DePuy said, “However, I must say that the briefings were not encouraging at that time. And, perhaps those of us who gave the briefings were suffering a little bit from the Washington point of view, as opposed to the field point of view, despite the fact that some of us had just been out there.” The next day, these ‘wise men’ told Johnson that the war was lost. Johnson was furious and accused the briefers of ‘poisoning the well’ and demanded to hear the same briefing from them. After that briefing, DePuy said later that he thought Johnson had already decided the war was lost.

It appears to me that DePuy saw which way the wind was blowing in Washington and distanced himself from Westmoreland and the conduct of the war that he had a big hand in creating. He wrote Westmoreland’s end of tour report entitled “Report on Operations in South Vietnam…” After Westmoreland became Chief of Staff of the Army, he chose DePuy to be his assistant vice chief of staff.35

Stilwell returned to Vietnam in 1968 and served as XXIV Corps commander until 1969 when he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in Washington, DC. From there he went to Korea as commanding general and then he retired. He was appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy where he played a heavy hand with issues regarding special operations and military intelligence.36


 General Creighton Abrams, who succeeded Westmoreland, made DePuy the first commander of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) where he took on the task of rebuilding the Army after Vietnam. DePuy was fixated on the Warsaw Pact’s massive conventional force in eastern Europe. The Europeans were not interested in a nuclear exchange, and so he reasoned that the west would have to fight an active defensive campaign to stop a Russian invasion.37

In his efforts to rebuild the army, a noble effort, but ironic in that he bore much of the responsibility for destroying it in Vietnam, DePuy determined that the U.S. Army should not fight another counterinsurgency war. In the post-war army of the 70s and 80s, Vietnam was a non-event with no useful information for the next generations of soldiers.38

He staffed TRADOC with many of the men who served under him in the 1st Infantry Division. Out of that TRADOC synergy DePuy took the army back to where Vince Lombardi would start with ‘This is a football.’ They revamped the army schools and training programs, created the Common and MOS specific skill Manuals, the “How to Fight” manuals, the Army Training and Evaluation Program, and the National Training Center. They also described the need for a new tank, an infantry fighting vehicle, two helicopters and an anti-aircraft system, ‘the big five.’39

He and his disciples wrote the 1976 edition of FM 100-5 (Operations), the basic manual of how the army fights. They built an entire system of training and education to prepare the army for ‘winning the first battle,’ using what DePuy called the ‘active defense.’ “Force ratios, superior fire power, attrition, and toe-to-toe slugfests characterized DePuy’s Field Manual,” said James Burton, one of reformer John Boyd’s acolytes.40

DePuy went to the rebuilding task with his usual enthusiasm, and the result was what the world saw during Operation Desert Storm. President H.W. Bush announced, “It’s a proud day for America. And, by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” Many professional soldiers gave credit to DePuy and his TRADOC team that took the lead in rebuilding the army after Vietnam.41

The next version of 100-5, known as the Air/Land Battle was something that Heinz Guderian and George Patton would have recognized. Borrowing from Boyd’s OODA loop theory, the army, while defending the front, would attrite the enemy’s second echelon and follow-on forces by using fast moving maneuver forces on the ground and deep strikes from the air. Boyd’s emphasis on attacking the enemy’s mind verses DePuy’s attack on men and material was a step away from the traditional American way of war; but both men failed to recognize the need to consider the civilian population and its response to the presence of a foreign army.42

In 1987 Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. published a scathing exposition of the Vietnam War entitled, “The Army and Vietnam.” General DePuy was quick to denounce it in a review published in Army magazine as, “A superbly researched book is flawed by the doubtful premise around which it is organized…the “concept” of the U.S. Army for fighting wars. This concept is described as an ineradicable fixation of the Army on European-type war—a prodigious consumption of resources to avoid the spillage of American blood—and to borrow from the demonology of the military reform movement a strong preference for firepower and attrition.”43

After being appointed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, pressed for an expeditionary force capable of deploying quickly by air to various places in the world where the U.S. had an interest in projecting its power. Apparently, not realizing that expeditionary warfare would automatically put U.S. troops into insurgency situations, the Army training continued with General DePuy’s vision. The Army complied by buying some smaller, wheeled, fighting vehicles, and then sent the troops to do what they always have done: fire, receive and return fire. Supported by the unprecedented precision of bombs and missiles, they swept away any conventional force that tried to fight them.44

The enemy however, having learned many of the lessons from the Vietnam War, responded with classic insurgency moves such as hiding within the population and mining the roads with command detonated bombs, now much more lethal, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs.) The bottom line has been presented by numerous captured Taliban fighters, “The Americans have the watches but we have the time.” Once again, thanks to short-sighted thinking, we would squander the two most important resources, lives and time, in futile efforts to bring our enemies to battle, so we could destroy them with our technology.45

Many of us ‘old soldiers’ were sorrowfully amused when the U.S. Army announced the impending publication of a new “Counterinsurgency” manual for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. FM 3-24 includes many of the hard-learned lessons from Vietnam and other ‘brush-fire wars’ of the last century. The manual was put together by General David Patraeus and LTG James Amos (USMC) when it appeared we were about to lose the war in Iraq. After the apparent success of the surge of 2007 with Patraeus at the helm, the advocates of counterinsurgency doctrine were satisfied that the army had turned the corner.46

The new president pulled the troops out of Iraq and sent Patraeus to Afghanistan to work his magic there. Meanwhile the naysayers were whispering their disdain for this. When Patraeus was retired and sent to CIA,  his protégé, General Stanley McChrystal, was forced to endure a long policy review with the opposers demanding a counter-terrorism strategy. After a short time McChrystal was relieved of his command, and the army was able to toss the new manual into the trashcan.47

Whenever soldiers have to operate amid a civilian population, they must be more like well-trained local police. This is the information age. Every ‘friendly fire’ incident will be in the social media before rigor mortis has set in. Every death perceived by the locals to be unjustified turns another extended family or tribe against us. This requires extensive language and cultural training. Already proficient at the use of deadly force, they have to empathize with a population that doesn’t look like, act like, or think like they do. These skills should not be limited to Special Forces.

Can this be done? Yes, but it is a slow process. Training the trainers is the critical task, lest you have the blind leading the blind. Unfortunately, for the fast moving, hooah-hooah DePuy army of today, it’s impossible. As the U.S. continues to lose its credibility and retreats from its interventions in old world activity, resuming its isolationist ways, the Middle East will continue to implode: Then the end will come.


 1 Rudyard Kipling-The Naulahka

2 LBJ (Speech) Akron University, Akron, Ohio (October 21, 1964)

3 Quote of Scott Anderson (Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern

        Middle East) Page 233,  Doubleday, NY: 2013

4 National Security Council Directive on Office of Special Projects (NSC 10/2) of 18 June, 1948


5 Department of the Army (Stilwell Obituary) 3 February, 1992

6 Henry G. Gole (General William E. DePuy-Preparing The Army For Modern War) Pages 25-85 University Press

of Kentucky: 2008

7 Romie L. Brownlee and William J. Mullen III (Changing an Army-An Oral History Of    General William E.

DePuy) Pages 105-106 Center Of Military History (CMH), Washington, D.C.: 1979

8 Frank Holober (Raiders of the China Coast) Pages 7, 10, 60-87, 123, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD:1999

9 Frank Holober (Raiders of the China Coast) Pages 3, 108, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1999

Ralph Weber-Editor (Spymasters: Ten CIA Officers in Their Own Words) Pages 119-120, Scholarly Resources

Inc. Wilmington, DE: 1999

10 Peter Dale Scott (American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to

         Afghanistan) Page 85 Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD: 2014

11 Tim Weiner (Legacy of Ashes) Page 61 Doubleday, New York 2007

12 Anthony Verrier (Through The Looking Glass) Pages 1-6, 16   W.W. Norton-London 1983

13 Thomas Moon and Carl F. Eifler (The Deadliest Colonel) Page 49 Vantage Press, New York: 1975

Camp X (The History of Camp X) http://www.camp-x.com/historyofcampx.html

Weiner (Legacy of Ashes) Page 5-31

14 Weiner (Legacy of Ashes) Page 25

Porter Goss, former DCI (Speech at Tiffin University) Toledo Blade 2006

15 Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. (The Army and Vietnam) Page 43-44 John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, MD: 1986

16 Gole (General William E. DePuy-Preparing The Army For Modern War) Pages 101, 110, 113

17 Gole (General William E. DePuy-Preparing The Army For Modern War) Pages 75, 95-97 115-142

Sorley  (Westmoreland-The General Who Lost Vietnam) Page 77 (Photo)

Graham A. Cosmas (MACV The Years of Escalation, 1962-1967) Page 138, CMH, Washington, DC 2006

18 John A. Bingham (The Trial of the Conspirators-1865) Page 52


19 Kenneth Conboy and Dale Andrade (Spies and Commandos-How America Lost The Secret War In North

            Vietnam) Page 84 University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS: 2000

20 William Colby (Honorable Men) Pages 33-50 Simon and Schuster, NY: 1978

21 Sedgwick Tourison (Secret Army-Secret War) Page 100-101, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1995

22 Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. (The Way We Do Things: Black Entry Operations Into North Vietnam, 1961-1964)

Page 1-5, 11, 13-14, 26, 41, 49-50, Center for the Study of Intelligence Washington, DC: May 2005


Thomas L. Ahern, Jr (CIA and Rural Pacification in South Vietnam) Pages 45-60, 112, Center for the Study of

Intelligence Washington, DC May 2001

23 Joint Chiefs of Staff MACSOG Documentation Study Appendix D (Cross-Border Operations in Laos) Page D-8

24 Tourison (Secret Army-Secret War) Page 127

Joint Chiefs of Staff (MACSOG Documentation Study) Pages B-Q-7, 8, ANX Q to APX B, 16 July 1970

25 Marilin Young (The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990) Page 172 Harper Collins, NY: 1991

26 Brownlee and Mullen III (An Oral History of General William E. DePuy) Page 118

27 Edwin E. Moise (Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War) Pages 13-14, 17, The University of North

Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC: 1996

28 Conboy and Andrade (Spies and Commandos-How America Lost The Secret War In North Vietnam)

Pages 113-123

29 Department of the Army (Stilwell Obituary) 3 February, 1992

Gole (General William E. DePuy-Preparing The Army For Modern War) Pages 170-173

30 Brig. Gen. William DePuy (Commanders Notes #1) Office of the Commanding General, HQ, 1st Infantry

Division, 27 March 1966

Gole (General William E. DePuy-Preparing The Army For Modern War) Page 176

31 Ibid Pages 160-1

32 Brownlee and Mullen III (An Oral History of General William E. DePuy) Page 118

33 Gole (DePuy-Preparing the Army for Modern War) Page 197

34 Ibid Page 207

35 Brownlee and Mullen III (An Oral History of General William E. DePuy) Poisoning the well Page 169

36 Susan Lynn Marquis (Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding U.S. Special Operations Forces) Pages 156-158,

Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC: 1997

37 Gole (General William E. DePuy) Pages 197, 212

38 Colonel Richard M. Swain (Selected Papers of General William E. DePuy) Page 372-373 Combat Studies

Institute, U S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: 1994

39 Frank N. Schubert and Theresa L. Kraus, General Editors (The Whirlwind War-The United States Army in

                Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM) Pages 25-33, CMH, Washington, D.C. :1995

40 Major Paul H. Herbert (Deciding What Has To Be Done: General William DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM     100-5, Operations) Pages 7, 9, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, KS: 1988

James Burton (The Pentagon Wars) Page 52 Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1993

41 President George H.W. Bush (Remarks to the American Legislative Exchange Council March 1, 1991)

42 Burton (The Pentagon Wars) Page 52

43 Krepinevich, Jr. (The Army and Vietnam) John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD: 1986

Colonel Richard M. Swain (Selected Papers of General William E. DePuy) Page 372 Combat Studies Institute,

U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: 1994

44 Bradley Graham (By His Own Rules-The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld)

Page 208, Public Affairs-Perseus Books, New York: 2009

45 Seth G. Jones (Take the War to Pakistan) New York Times: December 3, 2009


46 FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 (Counterinsurgency) 2014

47 Bob Woodward (Obama’s War) Pages 85, 188, 373-374, Simon & Schuster, New York: 2010




  1. Jose (Joe) Garcia Jose (Joe) Garcia
    June 26, 2015    

    Most of had just graduated from High School within a year or two of each other and we were highly motivated, after listening to the fine graduation speeches to go out there and set the world on fire. Little did we know the flames of war were already burning hot and quickly spreading in a little known country name Vietnam. Whether you went to Vietnam or not, the flames of public opinion and protest engulfed those also that never left the United States. The world was already on fire and the young graduates just didn’t know it. The Vietnam War had a flame that would touch many lives over the next ten years or so.

  2. Joseph DeSutter Joseph DeSutter
    September 2, 2016    

    Greg/Sgt Murry: I ran across your “Stilwell, DePuy, and the Vietnam War” on lindikin by way of google. It it filled a few of the (many) gaping holes in my education, and spoke to me as if we were having a beer at an off-base/post pub. I retired in ’94 but my Air Force career feels pretentious compared your combat experience in the army. I spent 8 active duty years in academia (5 on the AF Academy faculty, 3 in the middle of that in grad school), then spent my final 7 in national security policy positions under Reagan, Bush 41, & Clinton in the White House. But you’re the researcher, writer, and publisher, and I’m the one looking for a education. I wasn’t surprised when you brought Creighton Abrams into the discussion, but I did NOT expect it to be in relation to his appointment of Dupuy to TRADOC. Even more surprising, you opted not to elaborate on implications that struck me as counter-intuitive to say the least. From my elementary understanding in the field of your expertise, I thought that would be world class “man bites dog” material — book by itself. Abrams — the poster boy of “how it should have been done” — appoints exactly the guy who made his revolutionary thinking necessary — and not to some staff job but to train the next generation of warfighters! What am I missing? Am I over-crediting Abrams? What should I have been reading? Thanks for your extraordinary service, for a great article, and for any feedback you can give me on the question, Joe DeSutter (McLean, VA)

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