In contrast, the US advisors shared no historical background with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and there was a complete lack of cultural understanding between the two. American advisors were confident in their experience from World War II and the Korean War, and any reluctance by their Vietnamese counterparts to do exactly as the Americans would do was often perceived as laziness or incompetence[II]. The foundational relationship for a successful military assistance partnership was simply not strong as it was for the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists.
To be clear, China’s assistance was critical. As Seals[VIII] points out, China provided professional advice, weapons, logistics, and a strategic deterrence against a US invasion of the North Vietnam. But the fighting was always left to the PAVN and thus China never took the feeling of ownership of away from the Vietnamese.
This is in stark contrast to the ARVN forces who, as US support decreased later in the war, complained that their way of fighting had become dependent on massive amounts of supply and ammunition and significant air support[VI]. They had become accustomed to fighting a materiel and ordnance heavy fight like their US advisors, which was not at all suited to the nature of counterinsurgency warfare fought among the civilian population. Nor were such methods of fighting suited to the ARVN forces capacity to sustain it.
The Chinese may have simply been lucky to support a motivated and culturally compatible Vietnamese military. Given less favorable circumstances the task would no doubt have been exponentially more difficult. Could Mao’s PLA have advised the Vietnamese, if necessary, in a strategy other than People’s War? Could it have successfully advised a military with which it shared no culture or history if the situation required it? Could Chinese encouragement have provided the necessary enthusiasm for the cause if the Vietnamese Communists were reluctant? One can only speculate. More importantly, can the US advise any of its allies in anything other than its own methods and doctrine if the situation requires something different? Can it tailor advising and assistance to a military that culturally is a poor fit for US institutions? Can the US encourage host nation ownership? Judging from the current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer unfortunately seems to be no.
- “The very massiveness of our intervention actually reduced our leverage. So long as we were willing to use U.S. resources and manpower as a substitute for Vietnamese, their incentive for doing more was compromised.” – Komer, Bureaucracy At War.