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A sympathetic portrait of a noble warrior,
This review is from: Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland (Paperback)
It is certainly true as the Kirkus Reviews blurb on the back cover notes that William Westmoreland has been "alternately overlooked and maligned by history." The former is inexplicable and the latter - sad. It is a shame that this fine book is not in print. As far as I know, this is the only full biography of Westmoreland and it deserves a wide audience.
While sympathetic, it is not hagiographic. While not entirely persuasive, Westmoreland's defense of his conduct of the war is strong and has been too easily dismissed by some - such as Lewis Sorley in "A Better War" (though, nonethless, another fine book).
What Zaffiri clarifies is that the strategy of attrition was not strictly Westmoreland's. At the Honolulu Conference in February 1966, Westmoreland received a memorandum drafted by McNamara and Rusk which explicitly authorized him to conduct a war of attrition: "... attrit by year's end, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces at a rate as high as their capability to put men in the field." McNamara and McNaughton devised this strategy and in the subsequent 3 years never seriously sought to modify or scrap it. The infamous "body count" was devised by the whiz-kid McNamara who believed he'd devised a mathematical formula for "winning" the war.
In fact, the Johnson Administration never sought to "win" the war per se, but to prevent the North from winning. They erroneously believed that they could persuade the North, through carrot and stick, to give up their dream of a united Vietnam. It was Washington that would not permit an effective bombing campaign against the North. It was Washington that would not allow an invasion of Cambodia and Laos to destroy the Communist sanctuaries after Tet '68 when enough troops were available to do so. Westmoreland was repeatedly turned down when he requested permission to invade these base camps.
As Westmoreland says in his autobiography:
"I elected to fight a so-called big-unit war not because of any Napoleonic impluse to maneuver units and hark to the sound of the cannon but because of the basic fact that the enmy had committed big units and I ignored them at my peril. The big-unit war was in any case only a first step. As a former member of my staff in the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Richard G. Stilwell, wrote later, in likening the insurgency to a boulder, a sledge first has to break the boulder into large fragments; groups of workers can then attack the fragments with spalling tools; then individuals pound the chips with tap hammers until they are reduced to powder and the boulder ceases to exist.
In the early months of American involvement it was risky, even perilous, in regions where the enemy's big units might be met, to commit troops in less than battalion strength, and even then at least a brigade had to be available in case of trouble. After our campaigns of 1966 and 1967 and after the enemy had expended his resources in a nationwide offensive in early 1968, I could commit companies and even platoons and multiple squad-sized patrols without major concern. The boulder was reduced to fragments, the fragments to chips. That the enemy could bring in another boulder from outside the boundaries of South Vietnam and strike again, as he did in the spring of 1972 and finally in 1975, was another matter, one of the peculiarities of a war in which one side respected international frontiers while the other did not."
There is no question that Westmoreland was had his hands tied by irrational Administration policy to a great extent. That excerpt from his memoirs is a compelling rejoinder to those, such as Sorley, that insist Westmoreland should have begun fighting a small-unit war based on pacification from day 1. But there is no question that Westmoreland had little interest in pacification and that he did not do nearly enough on the Vietnamization front.
In short, the lion's share of the blame for the failure to produce a final victory in 1966-9 belongs to Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara. (It was McNamara who insisted on the infamous "body count" which Westmoreland personally deplored).
This book covers his fascinating family history going back to the English Civil War and his ancestors in the "Upcountry" of South Carolina. It details his personal life including his childhood, his marriage and his children. It follows his service in WWII in North Africa and at Remagan Bridge as well as in Korea. It also details his life after being COMUSMACV: his term as CSA, his abortive run for Governor of South Carolina, and his libel trial against CBS.
In the account of his battle against CBS and Mike Wallace's shameful smear-job of him and his dedication to, and sincere pride and affection for, Vets, Zaffiri shows us a man of honesty, integrity and honor.
This book is a fitting tribute to General William C. Westmoreland, who passed away last month at the age of 91.