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The 25-Year War

The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam

Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The 25-Year War
    Book Description:

    " On April 30, 1975, Saigon and the government of South Vietnam fell to the communist regime of North Vietnam, ending -- for American military forces -- exactly twenty-five year of courageous but unavailing struggle. This is not the story of how America became embroiled in a conflict in a small country half-way around the globe, nor of why our armed forces remained there so long after the futility of our efforts became obvious to many. It is the story of what went wrong there militarily, and why. The author is a professional soldier who experienced the Vietnam war in the field and in the highest command echelons. General Palmer's insights into the key events and decisions that shaped American's military role in Vietnam are uncommonly perceptive. America's most serious error, he believes, was committing its armed forces to a war in which neither political nor military goals were ever fully articulated by our civilian leaders. Our armed forces, lacking clear objectives, failed to develop an appropriate strategy, instead relinquishing the offensive to Hanoi. Yet an achievable strategy could have been devised, Palmer believes. Moreover, our South Vietnamese allies could have been bolstered by appropriate aid but were instead overwhelmed by the massive American military presence. Compounding these errors were the flawed civilian and military chains of command. The result was defeat for America and disaster for South Vietnam. General Palmer presents here an insider's history of the war and an astute critique of America's military strengths and successes as well as its weaknesses and failures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4641-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. iv-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Prologue: 1950-1963
    (pp. 1-14)

    My first encounter with the Vietnam question occurred in August 1951, when I joined 145 career officers of the U.S. Army plus a handful of Air Force, Navy, and Marine officers assembled at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, home of the newly reinstituted Army War College, to attend the first full-fledged course in over a decade. Classes had been suspended during the 1940–50 period, and the National War College had been established soon after World War II at the site of the original Army War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C. In 1950, a rump preliminary session of...


    • 1 1963-1967: The JCS and Vietnam
      (pp. 17-46)

      The period 1963–65 was one of the most tumultuous times for the United States in all its history, for these years saw American military power committed to a war in Indochina which was to divide Americans to a degree unprecedented since the Civil War a hundred years before. Two presidents served during these years—John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

      In examining this critical period, this chapter will focus on the role of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. To place their role in the proper context it is important to understand the nature and organization of the...

    • 2 1967: Corps Command, Vietnam
      (pp. 47-66)

      After the fateful decisions of 1965, American forces were deployed to Vietnam in a steady stream as fast as units could be brought to a state of combat readiness; and by mid-1967 American combat troops were heavily engaged in much of South Vietnam. In April 1965 I had been ordered from the Washington scene to the Dominican Republic to command the U.S. forces operating there during the period 1965–66.¹ My Dominican adventure was followed by a year (1966–67) commanding the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where we were very much concerned with readying units of...

    • 3 1967-1968: Army HQ, Vietnam
      (pp. 67-81)

      At headquarters, U.S. Army, Vietnam, I replaced a very fine soldier, Lieutenant General Jean Engler, perhaps the most respected logistician in the U.S. Army at the time. When I arrived on the scene many horrendous logistic problems had already been largely solved. It is easy to point out deficiencies in hindsight, so the remarks that follow are offered in a constructive spirit and are not intended to detract from the thousands of talented, hard-working, dedicated support people who made large-scale U.S. operations in Vietnam possible.

      HQ USARV had a strong staff. Brigadier General Robert Taber was my chief of staff...

    • 4 1968-1969: The Transition Years
      (pp. 82-94)

      It turned out to be my lot to serve out the final years of direct American involvement in the Vietnam War as the Army vice chief of staff in Washington. In this capacity, I could view those years from the perspective both of the JCS and of the highest command level of the Army, not to mention the civilian stewardship of the Army and the Department of Defense.

      While in Vietnam I had not fully appreciated the seriousness of dissent back home, in particular the magnitude of the riots in the United States in the spring of 1968 following the...

    • 5 1969-1971: Vietnamization
      (pp. 95-116)

      Although the Vietnamization process and the disengagement of U.S. troops from the war began in earnest in the latter part of 1969, few people realized how soon or where the mettle of South Vietnamese forces would be put to the test. The new strategy of Vietnamizing the war, while at the same time bringing greater military pressure to bear on Hanoi and steadily withdrawing U.S. forces, turned on the ability of the South Vietnamese to carry on the war on their own. In this sense the new strategy was a gamble, betting that the South could hold its own with...

    • 6 1972-1973: Cease-Fire Achieved
      (pp. 117-129)

      As the crucial year of 1972 approached, MACV and the Vietnamese Joint General Staff worked overtime to get the nation’s defenses in a better state of readiness to meet the next NVA invasion. It was expected to come in January or February 1972 and to hit hardest in the northern provinces of South Vietnam.

      An important element of the Vietnamization program entailed a large expansion of the regular South Vietnamese forces, which increased by almost one-third (from about 825,000 to over a million), while Saigon’s paramilitary forces almost tripled in size (from 1.3 million to 4 million). (Most of the...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 7 1973-1975: The Final War Years
      (pp. 130-152)

      Under the terms of the January 1973 cease-fire agreement, the United States and all other third countries agreed to remove their remaining forces from South Vietnam within sixty days. In addition, the United States agreed that it “would stop all its military activities against the territory of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” that is, North Vietnam. Hanoi, on the other hand, was allowed to keep its forces in the South, supported from safe bases in the North and in Laos, while South Vietnamese military bases were vulnerable to attack. Neither North nor South Vietnam was allowed to accept the introduction...


    • 8 American Operational Performance
      (pp. 155-171)

      So far, this examination has dwelt somewhat more on the negative aspects of U.S. involvement in Vietnam than on the positive side—things the United States did well. This is a natural outcome because the analysis to this point has been largely problem and issue oriented. This chapter will bring out some of the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of American performance. U.S. Army activities will be the focus.

      American direction and conduct of the war and the operational performance of our armed forces, particularly during the 1962–69 period, generally were professional and commendable. Performance continued to be...

    • 9 American Strategy
      (pp. 172-188)

      The hard lessons learned, the questions raised, and the lingering issues will be part of the legacy of Vietnam. No doubt our experiences there will have a lasting impact on our foreign policy and related defense policy. The Vietnam tragedy will probably be an inhibiting factor in our external relations and domestic policies for at least a generation. On the other hand, a sudden shock like Pearl Harbor or a domestic disaster on the order of the Great Depression of the 1930s could well tum American attitudes around very quickly. In fact, in the early 1980s definite signs of a...

    • 10 The Larger Lessons
      (pp. 189-210)

      Let us now turn to what we as American citizens and military professionals should have learned from Vietnam. We are probably too close to this long, difficult period to grasp fully all its implications and ramifications. Many years will go by before the American people will begin to understand the war, and even more years before history makes a judgment. Nonetheless, we can examine what appear at this time to be the larger lessons, particularly those that in potential future conflicts could have far more serious consequences for the United States than was the case with Vietnam. This chapter will...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 211-216)
  9. Glossary of Acronyms
    (pp. 217-218)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 219-222)
  11. Index
    (pp. 223-237)