- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: The University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (September 15, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226567702
- ISBN-13: 978-0226567709
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam 1st Edition
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"Do Armies really learn from their experiences, or does military bureaucracy reign supreme? As citizens, we should fervently hope the former is the real case; but, alas, as John Nagl shows in this brilliant analysis, foreign armies can on occasion learn more rapidly and thoroughly on their own. As now it attempts a massive transformation, the future of America's Army rests significantly on its ability to absorb and act on the rich insights of its younger generation of leaders, one of whom produced this incisive analysis." (Don M. Snyder, Professor of Political Science, Department of Social Science, USMA West Point)
"This book is a powerful examination of the learning cultures of two of the world's most prominent and capable fighting forces. John Nagl sheds much new light on why the British Army recovered from early failures in the Malayan Emergency and, even more importantly, why the U.S. Army did not profit to the same extent from its early experiences in the Vietnam War. Nagl couples extensive historical analysis with a dedicated soldier's eye as to what is practical. The book has both reassuring and disturbing lessons for us today." (Robert O'Neill, Chichele Professor of the History of War Emeritus, University of Oxford) --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
While this book is excellent, its assessment, as the author notes, is not the only reason why the United States lost the Vietnam War. The book is is a quick read and because of that it may feel at times to be an oversimplification of a very complex conflict. Readers should be reminded that Vietnam was a much harder conflict for the United States to fight than Malaya was for the British. The British had a much more stable government situation in Malaya and it allowed for a much better coordination of counterinsurgency tactics. The United States however, was forced to deal with a South Vietnamese Government that was incredibly corrupt and did little to win the support of their own population. The United States also had to face the problems of constant infiltration of North Vietnamese troops and a endless amount of supplies that could flow into South Vietnam from the North. These problems were not present or greatly reduced in the British experience in Malaya. Despite these criticisms, this book presents a well researched argument for why the US military failed in Vietnam and how it can adapt its tactics in the future. Given the United State's unparalleled conventional military strength it stands to reason that the United States will face many more unconventional conflicts in the future. More Vietnam's, Iraq's, and Afghanistan's may be on the way. If the military cannot change and adapt its culture to face the nature of unconventional wars it will continue to fail.
Once the mainforce units were gone, something the British never faced, small unit actions became possible. Nagi seems to forget that Hanoi was orchestrating regimental and division sized attacks, something no platoon could have stopped, and probably would have yielded a larger anti war movement far quicker than Moscow was able to organize. Nagi also fails to recognize that misidentifying your enemy makes even a successful strategy useless. Our enemy was no the VC, or even Hanoi. The enemy was in Moscow, and our efforts should have been to make Russia pay for its support of Hanoi and encouraging the war. Lest any people doubt this assertion, just ask yourself where the North made its Migs, SAMS, tanks, artillery, as well as the concrete, steel, trucks, needed to sustain its economy under assault from the US.
Finally I found that the inability to define your goals, the desire to limit the violence or material to be used (for example the refusal to mobilize the National Guard to exploit the victory after Tet) demonstrated Washington shouldn't have gotten the nation into a war if there were limits to the losses it wished to inflict or endure. To paraphrase "war is too important to be left to hack politicians unschooled in the art of war."
The sad truth is that in addition to a well done lesson plan to save American lives in current and future conflict, this is ultimately another indictment of our astonishingly incompetent and self serving "leadership", tossing lives with less regard then poker chips in a nickel and dime game.
Recently read "Dereliction of Duty' by McMaster, and then struggled through McNamara's pathetic response, trying to spin the truth as no other.