Self-Liberation 101, Lesson 5.1: Case Study in Mao Doctrine

Case Study in Mao Doctrine

Or

Mr. Charles Breaks Uncle Sam’s Back

In our previous lesson we summarized the classic doctrine of guerilla warfare as put forward by the art’s greatest theorist, Chairman Mao Tse Tung. In this lesson, we will examine a real insurgency, consider the outcome and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Mao doctrine.

For every American older than fifty, the Vietnam War was a defining event. The war, though it involved comparatively few casualties and was fought far away, brought America to her knees, came close to causing a revolution and scarred American foreign policy for generations to come. How was it that a tiny nation half a world away defeated the world’s greatest superpower? How did one of the world’s most powerful armies come to retreat in disgrace and humiliation before an enemy it should have, on paper, vanquished virtually overnight?

To produce answers to these questions, we first have to understand the enemy America was fighting. By the time regular American troops landed in South Vietnam in 1965, America’s enemy had been fighting continuously for over 20 years. The Vietnamese Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, had fought the Japanese in World War Two. American advisors supplied them with weapons and tactical training, but their doctrine had always been that of Chairman Mao. When the war ended in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared the existence of an independent Vietnam. In his speech, he quoted the American Declaration of Independence. American fighter-bombers overflew the ceremony. American OSS advisors applauded.

The chief OSS advisor to the Vietnamese recommended an American alliance with Ho Chi Minh. But official Washington would have none of it. Ho Chi Minh was a communist who had spent years in Russia and China. Therefore, according to the ignorant logic of Washington bureaucrats, Ho Chi Minh had to be in league with the Chinese communists who were in league with Russia. The fact that China and Vietnam have been enemies for a thousand years meant nothing to these people. Americans don’t study history, they only repeat it.

So America backed Vietnam’s colonial overlord, France, against Ho Chi Minh. The French held on as the Vietnamese communist army, the Viet Minh, went from Stage 1 to Stage 2 to Stage 3 in their struggle in rapid succession. With textbook precision, the Viet Minh took over the countryside, isolated the French in their fortified base camps and slowly tightened the noose. Finally, in desperation, the French built a gigantic fortified camp at Dien Bien Phu, committing the vast majority of their troops in Vietnam, including the elite German SS mercenaries of Legion Etrangère to the defense of this fortress. The French objective was to precipitate a pitched battle with the Viet Minh and crush them in open combat. The French failed to realize that the Viet Minh was no longer the ragtag array of guerilla bands they had perceived it to be. Ho Chi Minh may have mistrusted the Russians and hated the Chinese with a burning passion, but he was perfectly happy to take the guns and ammunition they gave him. The French were aware of this aid, but they were wholly ignorant of its true magnitude. In accordance with Mao doctrine, Ho Chi Minh had worked assiduously to conceal his true strength and intentions.

Dien Bien Phu was a disaster for France. Surrounded on all sides by Vietnamese forces far larger than they believed possible, pounded by artillery of whose existence they had previously had no inkling, the soldiers of France went down to bloody and glorious defeat.

“Peace” negotiations picked up steam immediately. A French president was elected specifically to make “peace” with Ho Chi Minh. At the start of his term, the new leader of France said:

“Today it seems we can be reunited in a will for peace that may express the aspirations of our country… Since already several years, a compromise peace, a peace negotiated with the opponent seemed to me commanded by the facts, while it commanded, in return, to put back in order our finances, the recovery of our economy and its expansion. Because this war placed on our country an unbearable burden. And here appears today a new and formidable threat: if the Indochina conflict is not resolved — and settled very fast — it is the risk of war, of international war and maybe atomic, that we must foresee.”

Not very different, really, from another “leader” who would proclaim many years later that he was tired of winning, tired of being courageous and tired of defeating his enemies.

France had surrendered. It was all over but the formalities. By 1 August 1954, the French were out of Vietnam.

The aftermath of 1954 was a partition at the 17th parallel. North of this boundary lay the zone of control exercised by the Viet Minh. South of it lay the zone still held by France and Vietnam’s home-grown quislings in her employ. The North became the People’s Republic of Vietnam, ally of the Communist Block. The South became the Republic of Vietnam, ally of the West.

Needless to say, Ho Chi Minh was unwilling to tolerate this situation. While the Viet Minh had operated in North Vietnam for years, the South had never been a priority. Given his limited resources, Ho Chi Minh had concentrated on winning a secure foothold inside Vietnam rather than attempt to liberate the entire country. In a way, North Vietnam was to him nothing more than a gigantic Stage 2 no-go area, wherein he could freely train troops and stockpile arms; into which his forces could retreat at need and prepare for new offensives.

From their secure zone of North Vietnam, communist cadres flooded into the South via Laos and Cambodia. Well seasoned by their prior experience, the communists took over the villages of the countryside. The tools for this were strictly doctrinal. The communist cadres blended in and mingled with the people. By their honesty and simple lifestyle, they drew a sharp contrast between themselves and the corrupt officials of the ruling regime. By assiduous propaganda, the communists convinced the people that there indeed existed an alternative to remaining forever under the thumb of the aristocrats in Saigon and their local stooges. By working among the people, the communists infiltrated every organization at the village level and began to steer these into an anti-regime direction. By setting up false fronts in the guise of educational organizations, societies to oppose corruption, mutual aid societies, charities and the like, the communists made themselves the sole providers of justice and social services in the countryside. They then used these fronts to agitate against the government. A traditional harvest festival would “spontaneously” turn into a protest rally against the authorities. A demonstration against corruption would “spontaneously” turn into an attempt to expel pro-Saigon officials and their security forces. At every turn, the communists showed their side in a favorable light while painting the Saigon government and its servants in the darkest colors possible.

Through propaganda, shame, coercion, intimidation and outright violence, the communists took over huge chunks of the countryside. Female cadres were especially effective in shame campaigns. There are few things that so deeply wound a man as the public scorn of women. The younger and better looking the women, the more painful their scorn. Few things so strongly motivate a man to fight as the sight of women holding him in contempt for a coward and publically telling him so. Accusations of cowardice from a fellow man can be ignored or shrugged off. Not so the sight of a woman who publically and repeatedly tells a man to his face that he is a worthless, spineless serf and that, if he is unwilling to defend her, her children and her community, the woman will do what a real man would, were there any real men around.

Above all, the communists excelled at the War of Symbols. Their slogans were short and powerful, easily remembered. Their posters were simple, well drawn, powerful in their message, with high visual impact. They circulated biting, well crafted political jokes and satires. Everywhere and in everything, they were the VIETNAMESE communists, the VIET Cong, the NATIONAL Liberation Front. Everywhere and in everything, their enemy was the SAIGON regime, the SAIGON government, the illegitimate junta, the lackeys of the West, the remnant of colonialism, more French than Vietnamese, the locus of corruption, the bloody-handed murderers and rapists, the starvers of children, the evil monsters who committed every atrocity imaginable.

Even in dress the communists drew a sharp distinction between themselves and the Saigon elite. Dressed in the simple shirt and pants of an average Vietnamese peasant, eschewing luxury and showy display, the Communist organizer looked to the eye of the average Vietnamese as one of the people. It is incorrect to believe that the NLF cadre dressed this way merely in order to blend in and thereby escape government detection. While this consideration is true, it is doctrinally insufficient. It is important to emphasize that in a war of symbols every symbol must be exploited. The Communists were well aware of the fact that clothing is among the most ubiquitous and powerful symbols. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all judge others by their clothing. Our first impression is always formed based upon how a person looks. That first impression stays with us essentially forever. It is very difficult to dislodge and it colors all our subsequent actions. Dressed as a simple peasant, the communist cadre looked like he belonged among the People. Dressed in his fancy suit, the Saigon elitist looked like a foreign, colonialist transplant, an alien who did not belong. With his simple grey uniform, Ho Chi Minh looked Vietnamese. With their fancy Western-style uniforms covered in gold braid, the leaders of Saigon looked like foreigners.

The contrast made by the Communists was made deliberately and in conformity with Mao doctrine. The Communists were winning the War of Symbols while the Saigon government did not even know what a War of Symbols was, much less how to fight one. The communists knew very well that if a slogan is repeated enough times, it is believed. If a story is repeated enough times, it becomes the truth. If a symbol is ingrained in the consciousness of the masses, it rules their minds and sways all their thinking,

In vain did the Saigon government struggle against this menace. Radio broadcasts were ineffective. Few people in the countryside could afford a radio. Government print media could not reach the communist-controlled zones. No one would carry them there. Without a permanent military or police presence in the countryside, the Saigon government had no means to protect those who spread its propaganda. An occasional army patrol might put up a few poorly-composed posters, but the moment it left these would be torn down, replaced by the slick creations of the NLF propaganda arm.

Well aware that propaganda is a weapon more powerful than even nuclear bombs; the communists went after the enemy’s propagandists. Friendly media received exclusive stories and “access”. Hostile media received a bullet to the head. When criticizing the communists became a lethal proposition, most propaganda attacks from the Saigon media stopped. A few reporters managed to obtain government protection and a few others continued to attack the communists despite the threat. But the latter were soon silenced, while the former, well connected elitists one and all, did not work for papers that reached the ordinary Vietnamese. Since the media must always have a good guy and a bad guy in every story, for most media the government automatically became the bad guy and the communists became the good guy.

Soon, the Saigon government was in control of only the major cities, tenuously connected by booby-trapped and inadequately patrolled highways. The NLF ruled the countryside. The noose was tightening.

The cities, too, were no refuge to the anti-communist forces. As communist control over the countryside improved, communist cadres reached into the cities, turning vast slums teeming with Vietnam’s urban poor into hotbeds of NLF activity. Here, the pattern was the same as the countryside. The communists provided social services. They infiltrated and subverted labor unions and mutual aid societies. They drove away criminal gangs and corrupt government police, imposing relatively impartial law and order via a system of underground courts. The urban poor, inured to arbitrary oppression mixed with indifference, tyrannized by lawlessness and criminal gangs in cahoots with the government police, welcomed the new system wholeheartedly. Soon, vast areas of its own cities were off-limits to the Saigon government. The communists collected more taxes and better taxes than Saigon’s ruling aristocracy. Saigon’s soldiers and police could still force their way into the no-go zones, while operating in large numbers in daylight, but the only ground they controlled was the ground immediately under their feet. The westernized elite left behind by the French was sinking into a quicksand from which there was no escape. Like rats on a sinking ship, they could only watch as their doom came closer and closer and look for a place to jump off.

Fortunately for Saigon’s rulers, they still had powerful friends in Washington. Under the tenets of the domino theory that ruled the perceptions of America’s leaders, South Vietnam could not be allowed to fall, lest Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines follow. Since financial aid and the presence of special forces advisors was insufficient, the Johnson administration was willing to go further. America deployed fighter jets to provide air support to South Vietnamese forces. But the Saigon government was incapable of providing security for the airbases. So American troops were brought in to secure the airbases. But securing the airbases meant outposts and patrols to secure the perimeters. This, in turn, necessitated outposts to secure the outposts… Before long, America was fighting a full-fledged ground war in Vietnam.

It was a war for which America’s military was singularly unprepared. Trained for a clash of armor in the Fulda Gap, America’s military leaders had no understanding of insurgency. Few American officers had ever read Mao. Fewer still could understand what they read.

While the NLF organized itself into tight-knit three man cells composed of friends and relatives who would work with each other for years, the American soldiers were an army of draftees serving individual one-year enlistments. They came as individuals and they left as individuals. Turnover in most American units was such that unit cohesion simply could not form.

American officers served six months. By the time the average West Point lieutenant got his feet wet and began to understand what he was doing, it was time for him to leave. The average soldier in his platoon would know him for a few months. What loyalty could American men possibly have to their officers? Is it any wonder that the officer who demanded a great deal of his men in terms of discipline and risk would as soon receive a bullet in the back from them as their obedience? The average American soldier was out to simply finish his tour and go back to “the World”. He had neither interest nor stake in the war. All he wanted was to stay inside his base and play cards. If forced to patrol, all he wanted to do was avoid a fight. The officer who interrupted this routine was best gotten rid of as soon as possible.

In contrast, NLF officers were full-time cadre, in for the duration alongside their men. They were a known quantity. However harsh, however demanding, however ruthless, they would be there this year and the next and the next. The men knew them and they knew their men. The men themselves were committed to an ideal. They WANTED to fight. The nightly “criticism and self-criticism” sessions, conducted within every communist unit down to the level of the three-man cell, served to indoctrinate them with the ideal of independence from foreign influence and inspire within them an unswerving loyalty to their leaders and their comrades. When the NLF was forced to resort to conscription, conscripts inserted into its environment quickly became acculturated and indistinguishable from the volunteers who surrounded them. Though he matched little more than his AK and RPG against the full brunt of America’s firepower, the communist soldier was willing to come to grips with his enemy again and again and again, regardless of the price.

In training and fighting doctrine, too, there was a vast difference. The Americans were trained for pitched battles. In their way of war, massed firepower applied against enemy formations, coupled with the seizure of key terrain, would win battles and, ultimately, the war. In the American thinking, therefore, counterinsurgency had to be focused first and foremost on killing the enemy faster than he could recruit new guerillas. The Americans sought contact with the enemy via “search and destroy” sweeps, flooding the terrain with small patrols in an effort to provoke the Vietnamese into attacking one patrol. American units could then, using their superior communications and mobility, pile onto the Vietnamese and annihilate them.

The Vietnamese saw American will to fight as the center of gravity. In accordance with Mao doctrine, they sought to show the Americans that the entire American effort was a futile one. They would attack only when sure of victory, harass the enemy at every turn and withdraw before superior force. The Vietnamese was a phantom soldier, aiming always to strike and immediately disappear, leaving the enemy flailing at empty air. What the Americans accomplished with helicopters and firepower, the Vietnamese would accomplish via preparation and camouflage.

Vast tunnel complexes were built across Vietnam. Each villager in the areas controlled by the communists was required to dig one meter of tunnel a day. The tunnels, with their underground barracks, command posts, classrooms, hospitals and kitchens, would shelter entire regiments. Equipped with dozens of well-camouflaged exits, the tunnels afforded the Vietnamese soldier unprecedented access to the battlefield, conveying him covertly and safely for kilometers, free of enemy observation or hindrance. Americans would literally walk on top of Vietnamese regiments and never know it. American “search and destroy” patrols would, more often than not, end with an exploding booby trap, a burst of fire from the jungle and sudden silence. While American reinforcements converged on the scene of the ambush and the American soldiers busied themselves with caring for their wounded and dying comrades, their communist opponents would slip into hidden tunnels and effectively disappear. As the Americans searched in increasing frustration and futility, the Vietnamese would move under their very feet, only to emerge kilometers away and repeat the entire thing.

After weeks upon weeks of fighting an invisible foe who seemed always out of reach, many American soldiers began to break down psychologically. The signature wound of the Vietnam War would be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

With a mounting toll of casualties came an escalating breakdown in discipline. Cases of shirking, malingering and even outright in-your-face disobedience began to multiply. Officers, seen as the source of futile and dangerous orders that only led to more pointless casualties, came under attack from their own men. Vietnam would give America’s army a new term: “fragging” – the act of throwing a grenade into the tent of a disagreeable superior in the middle of the night. To the individual American soldier, the mission was no longer victory. The mission was personal survival. Anything and anyone that endangered the success of the mission was to be eliminated. And so American unit after American unit came to cower behind the wire of their firebase, useless, ineffective and sometimes duplicitous to the point of sending higher headquarters false reports regarding fictional patrols.

Occasionally, American patrols would discover a tunnel entrance. Often, they would send men to explore the tunnels. For this eventuality, the tunnels of Vietnam were amply provided with traps and guards. Another American method was to throw smoke or gas grenades into tunnels, or to pump smoke into them using machines of various kinds. The Vietnamese quickly learned to build water traps to defeat such tactics. The tunnels were so successful that most were never discovered. In a particularly egregious case, an entire NLF regional headquarters was located underneath its American counterpart. The humble Vietnamese peasants who shined the Americans’ boots and did their laundry were in reality the very leaders of the Vietnamese resistance the Americans were charged with finding. Needless to say, American operations in the region somehow never managed to find the enemy headquarters and often simply failed to find the enemy at all. Why, it was as if the Vietnamese commanders were being briefed on American plans before American soldiers were! Only by sheer dumb luck did the Americans eventually stumble onto the existence of the Vietnamese headquarters under their feet. But while dumb luck will win you the occasional battle, it is difficult to win a war by sheer dumb luck. The Americans were losing. Worse, they did not even know it. In chess, it is possible to play a technically perfect game, free of any mistakes, and still lose. In war, it is possible to play a technically 100% wrong game, making all the wrong moves, and never realize it.

Among the most “successful” American strategies was the creation of so-called “strategic hamlets”. In brief, the Americans would occupy a village, do their best to root out the communists in it, establish an armed force and a defensive perimeter and try to use this village as a strongpoint against the communists. The strategy was, for the most part, an utter failure. The villagers, whose brothers and cousins were out with the NLF in the jungle, would not so easily take up arms to fight them. If the Americans got some kind of cooperation from the village, the communists would come as soon as the Americans left and punish the villagers. In the end, as the Taliban would put it some decades later, the Americans had the watches but the insurgency had the time. The Americans could offer only trinkets and toys, chewing gum and free soap. The communists could, and would, exact bloody revenge for betrayal.

Therefore, the Americans had to stay. Not only did they have to stay, they also had to control movement in and out of the village, lest weapons and explosives be smuggled in and food or other supplies be smuggled out to the NLF in the jungle. Therefore the Americans had to surround the village with barbed wire. They had to search those going in and out. They had to impose restrictions on movement. Suddenly, the villagers had to cope with gates that opened and closed at certain hours. Suddenly, they had to come and go when told and where told. Even the simple act of going to the bathroom became complicated. No longer was it possible to simply walk out into the fields in the middle of the night and do your business. Now one had to wait for dawn and the Americans’ permission.

The Americans formed a local “militia”, but what kind of person would really serve in a “militia” to point arms at his own relatives? In every society, you can find a few who would do such a thing for money. But do you want to hand them weapons and authority over everyone else? Of course, abuses multiplied and resentment grew. The villagers quickly came to perceive the barbed wire of the perimeter not as an instrument of security but as an instrument of imprisonment. The armed pro-American militia came to be seen not as defenders but as jailers, reprehensible stooges of an alien occupier. Alternatively, the militia quickly went over to the communists and provided to the Americans only the illusion of control.

The Americans could not really feel secure inside Vietnamese villages, among foreign people who visibly hated their guts. So they placed their own encampments not inside the villages but near them. The Americans thus became the foreign castle on the hill, not defender but oppressor. In many a “strategic hamlet” the situation quickly arose whereby the Americans ruled by day, while the communists ruled by night. If the “strategic hamlet” really did become a bastion for the Americans, the NLF would ruthlessly destroy it. Completely enthralled in the cult-like atmosphere of the NLF, the communist fighters would carry out the orders to destroy a traitor village without hesitation. For this, it was not necessary to overrun the American base outside the “strategic hamlet”. A large raid on the village or a heavy barrage of indirect fire, coupled with a demand that the villagers leave the “strategic hamlet” was sufficient.

Still, in 1967 the Americans could point to “success”. The presence of American troops seemed to create an absence of communist troops. Of course, the communist cadre still controlled the villages, but the Americans did not know or understand this. Every time the Americans engaged the NLF, they inflicted casualties and the NLF eventually retreated. Many an American veteran of Vietnam will still say that America won every battle above platoon level. Theoretically, they would even be correct. If you define “victory” as “we kept the ground and the enemy retreated”, then indeed the Americans won. But this is not how victory was defined in the eyes of the Vietnamese.

It was also not how victory was defined in the eyes of American civilians back home. As the war dragged on and casualties mounted with no end in sight, American domestic public opinion began to turn against the war. It did not help that America depended on conscripts. The anti-war movement grew first and fastest among those who had the most to gain from a quick American withdrawal – the cowardly elitist students of America’s universities and their weakling parents. The classic American anti-war protester was not out on the street because he believed in some noble cause. He was out on the street because he was afraid of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Behind all the pretty rhetoric about “imperialism” was the sheer unadulterated cowardice of spoiled brats who grew up during the economic boom of the 1950s, wallowing in luxury with not a care or a responsibility in the world. Eagerly egging on the loud cowards were the agents of the KGB and other anti-American elements whose interests would benefit from an American defeat in Vietnam. So with every body that came home to America in a flag-draped coffin, the Vietnamese won a victory. American morale dropped, the protests grew noisier and noisier and the communists perceived that they were on the right track.

So incredibly successful was the communist campaign that they radically misjudged their own strength. Throughout 1967 they drifted away from a doctrinally correct strategy and toward a “conventional” warfare option. The result were mounting casualties and difficulties, but for reasons of party politics, the communists were unwilling to recognize that they were making a grave error. Believing that a collapse in Saigon was imminent, the communists planned a Stage 3 transition for the Tet of 1968. In the communist conception, organized units of the NLF backed by troops from North Vietnam would take over virtually every major city in South Vietnam. The people would rise up in support of the communists, the Americans and their demoralized allies would be isolated and the war would be won.

Nearly 100,000 NLF troops simultaneously struck 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district capitals and, of course, Saigon. NLF troops attacked the US embassy and numerous other targets in Saigon in full view of Western media. Chaos reigned across the country. The initial offensive seemed on the verge of success.

But the initial success of the Tet Offensive soon turned into an unmitigated disaster. The communists had neglected target development. In many cases, their conventionalized operations had led to a neglect of intelligence preparations and caused units to attack based on faulty intelligence, resulting in operational failure. A good example of this problem was the attack on the main radio station in Saigon. The station had been seized, but the communists failed to develop the target sufficiently. As result, they did not realize that the broadcast antenna, which was located elsewhere, had its own control room. As soon as the NLF took the radio station, the control room cut off the antenna, rendering the station useless.

Worse, the communists had misjudged the morale of their enemy. The Americans did not collapse, nor did the regular army of South Vietnam. The public did not rise up. Instead, the Americans and South Vietnamese eagerly applied their superior firepower while the public sat on the fence. It’s one thing to sympathize with or even shelter a few guerillas. It’s quite another to fight on their behalf.

Finally, the Americans and the South Vietnamese army had the war they were trained to fight, with massed formations, defined lines of battle and a distinguishable enemy defending key terrain. Not a single South Vietnamese unit collapsed. The communist troops were massacred. Estimates of their losses top 80,000. In exchange they could point only to a few thousand American and South Vietnamese casualties.

Some have claimed that the North Vietnamese communists were seeking to deliberately destroy the NLF. However, at this stage of the struggle such a strategy would have been counterproductive. The NLF was no threat to the politburo in Hanoi, nor was there any interest in destroying such a useful instrument. In reality, the communists simply misjudged themselves. The militant voices of those who wanted victory in one fell swoop prevailed over the reasoned arguments of those who urged doctrinally correct methods. Were this not the case, the regimental and company commanders of the NLF, men of generally high initiative and considerable military skill, would not have so readily obeyed their orders. In the eyes of the NLF, victory was possible.

Indeed, by an indescribable irony of fate, the utter disaster of the Tet Offensive turned into a great victory for the communists. While they essentially lost the NLF and were forced into Stage 1 operations, only slowly rebuilding to Stage 2, the American press turned Tet on its head. In the eyes of the American public, the communists, who were allegedly being defeated, were not supposed to be able to mount such a large-scale uprising. The scope and sweep of the country-wide chaos, brought into America’s living rooms along with the militarily ignorant commentary of openly traitorous reporters, caused the American public to believe that the American government had lied all along about the course of the war. Therefore, in the midst of their greatest victory, the Americans suffered their greatest defeat. The American government began to suffer from a “credibility gap”. The press turned openly anti-war. The public wanted out.

Negotiations began almost immediately. Instead of pressing its advantage, America squandered it. As the negotiations dragged on, the American press turned into a North Vietnamese propaganda organ. The communists returned to doctrinally correct methods and began to reassert themselves throughout the South. At the same time, the American anti-war movement, spurred by communist propaganda spouted by America’s press, grew out of control. As American teenagers burned draft cards and waved the communist flag on the Washington Mall, the leaders of North Vietnam began to see the exact outcome predicted by Mao doctrine. Their enemy was defeating himself. All they had to do was apply a consistent stream of casualties and propaganda. The Americans would do the rest to themselves.

It all happened exactly as Mao doctrine predicts. The futile running back and forth by military forces shackled to ridiculous restrictions, the misuse of bombers to send “messages” during negotiations, the talking while shooting while pretending not to shoot, the idiotic “peace now” faction demanding immediate withdrawal, the American press painting the communists as the good guys and the government of South Vietnam, not to mention their own government, as the bad guys. There was corruption and political infighting and coups in Saigon. There was an American push for “Vietnamization”, a codeword for running away wherein Americans hastily raised and trained South Vietnamese forces whose officers promptly stole their soldiers’ pay and sold military equipment on the black market. And through it all the Americans were simply looking for a way to cut and run “with honor”.

It is true that the communists made their own mistakes. Even before the Tet Offensive they did not have majority support. They controlled the countryside through intimidation and had good inroads into certain urban areas, but the majority of the urban population did not support them. This never changed. But it didn’t matter. The majority of Vietnamese sat on the fence or kept their head down out of fear. After all, most people everywhere just want to be left alone. Mao doctrine recognizes this. As long as the majority doesn’t actively aid the guerillas’ opponents, all is well.

The communists kept their eyes on the prize, while the elite in Saigon played power games. They kept up pressure on the Americans with a steady drumbeat of casualties and propaganda. And, eventually, they got what they wanted. The Americans beat a cowardly retreat from Vietnam. The last ground troops left in August of 1972. A “peace” treaty was signed in January of 1973. In June of the same year, the American Senate passed legislation prohibiting all further American military involvement in Vietnam, leaving America’s erstwhile allies in Saigon high and dry. This was followed swiftly by rapid cutbacks in military aid to South Vietnam.

Not only did the Americans run away in terror, they were forced to throw their allies to the wolves. It was a staggering defeat. The Americans were not simply beaten. They were crushed.

The American army, though on paper always stronger than the communists, had suffered such a collapse of morale that many of its soldiers simply refused to fight and officers had to be provided armed escorts just to enter their soldiers’ barracks. There were drive-by shootings in American motor pools and half the soldiers were on drugs. American troops would remain worthless throughout the 1970s. In the end, it took Reagan’s total reforms of the 1980s to rebuild the American Army as a worthwhile military force. Still, to this day, “the draft” remains a Third Rail in American politics. America literally has no military manpower reserve worth speaking of because American politicians cannot dare demand simple Duty to the State from American citizens. The Americans today have a tiny Army that is overstressed to breaking point by the deployment of a little over a hundred twenty thousand men to Iraq. In reality Iraq, a nation of 20 million, requires at least two million troops to successfully occupy. The Americans cannot muster such numbers. Therefore their forces are unable to maintain a presence throughout the entire country and are forced to run futilely hither and yon, putting out fires. The Americans were defeated in Iraq before they ever went in, simply due to the pitiful number of troops they were able to muster. This military impotence, whereby American troops can topple statues but not hold ground, is an enduring legacy of the Vietnam War.

The social effect on America as a whole was even more profound. For the first time in American history, a substantial proportion of the national population supported the enemy while their country was at war. The American press turned openly treasonous and has remained so to this day. Only in the late 1980s and 1990s, with the rise of conservative talk radio and the appearance of Fox News did America regain some semblance of a neutral, objective press faction. However, to this day America has no pro-American, patriotic news organizations of note.

Revolutionary and terrorist groups bred by the collapse of American morale during the Vietnam War may have disappeared by the eighties, but their self-hating ideologies never truly faded away. Today, members of the Weather Underground still hold prominent positions in American society. The generation of draft-dodging intellectuals who grew up hating their own country during the Vietnam years has gone on to take positions as America’s educators and the shapers of popular opinion, poisoning generations of American youth with cultural relativism and suicidal humanism.

With a rejection of loyalty to their country, the value of Duty to the Nation and traditional family values, Americans nearly destroyed their society. Decisions made by hedonistic judges unleashed a flood of pornography and struck down laws that protected women from insult and abandonment. Divorce became as easy as taking a cracker out of a refrigerator, freeing American men to routinely trade their wives in for newer models almost without penalty. Foul language in front of ladies was no longer a misdemeanor offense punishable by hefty fines. Public dress codes were repealed as restrictive to “freedom of expression”. Society vulgarized. Feminist lunatics turned women into disposable sex-objects, devalued motherhood, emasculated America’s men and created a generation of latch-key kids raised by pornography and television. In short, America descended into a downward spiral of mindless hedonism from which it is yet to fully recover.

In foreign policy, American credibility was completely destroyed. Henceforth, only a complete idiot would rely on American promises of support or trust treaties backed by American guarantees. America’s backbone was broken. From this point on, a few casualties would be all it would take to drive America away. A nation of 300 million, where tens of thousands die each year in simple road accidents, would blanch and run at a few hundred to a few thousand dead soldiers. It took a little over 58,000 dead for America to run away from Vietnam. In Lebanon it took a few hundred. In Somalia, a few dozen. Today, after a mere 4,000 dead lost over four years, America is on the verge of running away from Iraq. Fortunately for the Americans, the world still has plenty of idiots eager to trust in American promises. But the proportion of such idiots among the word’s decision makers is consistently falling as examples of American spinelessness and duplicity keep piling up. The words of South Vietnam’s last president will ring forever through history, a reminder to all those who would trust in America’s promises: “At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis. But the United States did not keep its word… …The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men.”

In the dry season of 1973-74, the NLF and the NVA launched a spectacularly successful guerilla offensive. It was time for an end to the farce. This time there would be no true Stage 3 transition. Instead, a fully conventional army raised and trained in North Vietnam, equipped with hundreds of tanks and aircraft, thousands of guns and hundreds of thousands of men would cross the borders of South Vietnam, crushing all attempts at resistance under an avalanche of men and machines. The South Vietnamese, cut off from all help and abandoned by their allies, stood not chance.

In March of 1975, the NVA began a limited offensive in the Central Highlands. The South Vietnamese collapsed. ARVN units panicked and ran. Officers abandoned their men and fled ahead of them. Desperate civilian refugees clogged the roads and prevented all attempts at orderly retreat as communist artillery shells and bombs rained down on soldier and civilian alike, turning retreating columns into panicked mobs fleeing blindly for their lives. It was the end.

Everywhere, the forces of North Vietnam rolled forward almost unopposed, taking hundreds of thousands ARVN prisoners. The ARVN 18th division, considered by all to be a bunch of undisciplined cowboys, made a heroic last stand 64km north of Saigon. As “elite” units collapsed all around them, the “cowboys” of the 18th held their ground to the last, outnumbered seven to one, with no hope of victory or reinforcement. For two weeks they held Xuan Loc, destroying three enemy divisions. Finally, on 21 April, the 18th division ran out of ammunition and withdrew under the pressure of overwhelming numbers. South Vietnam’s president resigned and fled the country the same day. On April 23, the American president declared a cutoff of what little foreign aid the United States still supplied. On 25 April, the remnants of the 18th division were destroyed defending Bien Hoa Airbase. Saigon fell on 30 April.

In this lesson, we examined the Vietnam War. This war was conducted almost exclusively in accordance with Mao doctrine. Vietnam’s victory over America proves the enduring validity of Mao doctrine. A tiny third-world nation had defeated the word’s premier superpower. A seemingly unstoppable giant turned on itself and devoured its own guts. To this day, the Americans suffer from the debilitating effects of their defeat in Vietnam.

In the next installment of Self-Liberation 101 Lesson 5 we will examine the strengths and weaknesses of Mao Doctrine and the organization of doctrinally correct local forces. We will also say a few words about the most successful self-financed practitioners of Mao doctrine.

4 Responses to “Self-Liberation 101, Lesson 5.1: Case Study in Mao Doctrine”

  1. Daniel Says:

    An interesting version of the Vietnam war… I spent a while in Hanoi, and read what Vo Nguyen Giap had to say about how he defeated the Americans, which is similar in spirit to what you said here and very interesting. I was especially interested by the way he described the “air Dien Bien Phu” where the North Vietnamese downed a good number of B52 bombers during American air raids, and considered this a great victory. And history proved them correct.
    Note also what happened after the war- the way Vietnam now has an incredible pool of talented young scientists and a really interesting research scene, while Israel has the remenants of a grand Jewish intellectual scene which it is grinding into the dust… sunrise versus sunset. Let’s pray the sun will rise on us again soon as Jews as it is rising on Vietnam!

  2. Daniel Says:

    I disagree by the way with the way you describe the battle of Xuan Loc, which was a victory for the North Vietnamese. Admittedly it was not as easy as other battles, but the PAVN won convincingly against a vastly technically superior division. The ARVN weaponry was far superior to anything the PAVN had, and they used “daisy cutters” and other weapons to cause huge casualties. Like in Dien Bien Phu, the North Vietnamese proved they can continue attacking despite huge casualties. And none of the 3 divisions (the 6th, the 7th, and the 341st) were “destroyed” as you put it.
    The battle ended when the North Vietnamese damaged Bien Hoa airbase, forcing the 18th to withdraw.
    I also disagree with the description of the Vietnam war as “Mao doctrine”, although I don’t have the military expertise to prove it. Ho Chi Minh learnt from Mao, but he added many ideas himself, and fought very differently from Mao. A key point was the idea that low-level soldiers have to show ingenuity to overcome technically superior weapons, which I don’t believe Mao talked about, and which was a hallmark of the way the North Vietnamese fought and the way you think outposts should work.

  3. vienna mike Says:

    Daniel, I will not argue the details of Xuan Loc with you, as this is not the main point of the story here. There are conflicting accounts of the battle. Great bravery was exhibited by both sides. Nonetheless, the 18th division faced down 7:1 odds when all around them, ARVN units were crumbling and running. The pathos and heroism of the moment is undeniable.

    The larger issue of North Vietnamese elaborations on Mao is important, so I will address it. Doctrine is not a straight jacket to be rigidly followed. Doctrine is the skeleton around which the muscles of force structure are grown, wherein the sinews of operational art are anchored and through which runs the marrow of leadership to produce the blood cells of a living, fighting organism called an army. Tactics are its skin and officers are its nerves, but without the skeleton of doctrine, it becomes a shapeless amoeba unable to sustain or move itself.

    Improvisation on a theme is what makes a force unpredictable, adaptable and, ultimately, victorious. Those who shackle themselves rigidly to the doctrine instead of using it as a foundation upon which to build their own edifice turn their force into a horde of mindless robots and ultimately doom themselves to huge casualties and probable defeat. It is only right and proper that the warriors of North Vietnam did not fight like Mao. They were not Chinese and they were not in China. Neither have the Tamil Tigers or the FARC or the Nepalese guerillas fought like Mao. But the skeleton of all these forces is the doctrine of Mao Tse Tung.

  4. Daniel Says:

    In the Israeli elite forces, which one may learn from, they have a saying- “chayal panter who chayal me’alter”- a Panther warrior (i.e. an ultimate soldier) is an improvising soldier.
    Incidentally, the Israeli elite forces were in some sense founded by General Orde Wingate, who is also an interesting model for how a small force can destabilize a much larger force (and the great improvisor), in the way he messed up General Motoguchi’s offensive with highly effective guerilla action by his “Chindits” in Burma.
    Would a “Chindit”-style destrabilization action be effective in an Israeli setting, do you think? Centres of action behind enemy lines to strike supplies in order to divert energy from enemy offensives…

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