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War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam Paperback – September 28, 2010
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About the Author
Bernd Greiner is professor at the University of Hamburg, as well as the director of the research unit on the theory and history of violence at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.
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Top customer reviews
Like Nagl and others, Greiner demonstrates how the US military was institutionally incapable of fighting a war on other than a massive conventional basis and its response to any situation was simply 'more', (bombs, artillery, troops, chemicals, Phoenix), to a stage where its doomed and blind approach to the Vietnamese insurgency (Nagl's term) and its approach to 'asymmetrical war' (Greiner's definition) led to strategic, tactical and moral bankruptcy and eventual widespread and massive murder of civilians, of which My Lai, Tiger Force and Operation Speedy Express were mere exemplars.
Greiner's hypothesis (comprehensively researched, footnoted and indexed) is unique in that he states that the use and escalation of massive force became indiscriminate and reached such a stage that the international rules of war (of which the US was a signatory) and the US military's own Rules of Engagement were effectively ignored and flouted, not just by GIs and junior officers, but all the way to the top of the US military hierarchy in Vietnam. He demonstrates how the obsession with body-count eventually led to the state of moral degeneracy where South Vietnamese civilians (the US's nominal clients after all)were regarded initially with disdain, then with contempt (universally 'gooks' and 'slopes' and worse) and then finally dehumanised altogether as 'if they are dead they must be VC', leading to widespread atrocities such as torture, rape and murder.
Greiner demonstrates that the US military collectively and institutionally lost its way (and its moral compass) in Vietnam and the obvious military and moral degeneration which reflected an unwinnable war being fought incorrectly and immorally resulted in indiscriminate, frequent and widespread slaughter of innocent civilians by infantry, artillery (e.g. indiscriminate 'Free Fire Zones') and air power (helicopter attacks as well as carpet bombing). Greiner's analysis is thorough and I think unarguable, especially in the confirming context of Nagl, Sheehan et al. Some of the translation is over-literal and a little ponderous(e.g. 'M16 storm weapons' (sic)), but that may also be a feature of the original German text, not always easy to translate without losing the original meaning.
A disturbing but necessary read and a vivid counterargument to the notion that the US always fought 'good' (i.e. moral) wars as well as
the increasingly prevalent notion that the war could have been won but the military were somehow 'prevented' from doing so.
Uncomfortable but necessary reading for serious students of the conflict and a significant addition to the literature on the Vietnam conflict.
South-Vietnam was considered as an outpost of the Free World and had to be defended at all cost against the enemy, communism, which the US government depicted as a monolithic bloc. If one domino fell in the Far East, all dominoes would fall.
The US army saw Vietnam as an opportunity to enhance its prestige and institutional weight. But the soldiers in Vietnam were the youngest and the poorest in the US society, of which a part was even mentally deficient (Category 4). They were poorly trained and inexperienced. On the other hand, the officers saw the war only as an opportunity for promotion.
The efficiency of the war machine was measured by the number of dead enemy soldiers (the body-count syndrome). The top level of the Pentagon even fixed monthly and weakly targets. But the enemy hid or took the bodies of their fallen soldiers from the battlefield as much as they could.
This book centers on war time atrocities and war crimes. Those atrocities were not collateral damage, but violence outside the direct war zones. The war operations were extended to the civilian population with the explicit authorization of the top of the Pentagon. It was a kind of political cleansing (`Search and Destroy' at random) by death squads. It showed blatantly the US contempt for international military law.
The horrible massacres of My Lai, My Khe and in the Southern provinces were not aberrations, but clear examples of the US strategy of `conquer at any price' (e.g., throwing prisoners from flying helicopters, peasants used for target practices, premeditated annihilation of all means of livelihood).
Where those `directly' responsible for the massacres heavily sanctioned? The judges were exceptionally lenient under the pressure of the public opinion.
For Bernd Greiner, the trial of My Lai unveiled painfully the illusion that the US was a `redeemer nation' chosen by God to fight for salvation.
This book was written by a German. Where are the objective American professional historians? As for other major recent events, they seem to be paralyzed. The rest is silence.
This all important book gives an appalling face to mankind.
It is a must read for all those who want to know who we, humans, really are.
The other is that the book is inaccurate in a lot of ways, even some that do not spring from his bias. I was particularly struck by one remarkable self-contradiction. On p. 22, he wrote that American soldiers found that "superior weaponry yielded no advantage, they suffered casualties without being able to inflict significant loss" on the Communists. Later in the same chapter, on p. 39, he mentions that the loss rate suffered by the Communist forces was huge, one of the highest loss rates in all of history. He does not appear to notice that both of these statements could not be true.