[FoRK] Westmoreland Dies...

Ian Andrew Bell FoRK fork
Mon Jul 18 22:16:09 PDT 2005

Some day I wonder if we'll be looking back at the service of General  
Tommy Franks, having overseen the current fiasco in Iraq, in much the  
same way we look back upon the career of Westmoreland.  Career  
military are learning that if you want that career to continue on,  
say, to the State Department that you've got to bend to the whims of  
politicians -- or you will be replaced.  Some students of history  
(yours truly among them) think that Vietnam could have been pacified  
with a substantial force (of course, one also has to ask "why  
bother") and it was when Westmoreland changed his tune and realized  
that an expanded war and a lot more troops would achieve this that he  
was smacked by McNamara and ultimately forced out in disgrace.

This pantomime was played in high-speed in 2003 when General Eric  
Shinseki was forced into retirement after testifying before the Armed  
Services Committee that the US was rolling into Iraq with inadequate  
troops.  Fall out of line with the re-election-focused whims of the  
politicians and you'll find yourself hawking your credentials as an  
"expert" on CNN.


Unfortunately no such options existed for the disgraced  
Westmoreland.  He was promoted out of theatre (and thus moved into  
the reality-free zone that surrounds the White House and Pentagon  
during times of modern warfare) out of respect for his loyalty.  When  
his government began to crumble in 1972, seeing the writing on the  
wall, he got out while the getting was good.

The lessons of Franks, Westmoreland, and Shinseki are essentially  
twofold: that Politicians don't run wars well, which is ironic, since  
it's more often politicians than soldiers who want to go to war in  
the first place; and that soldiers who fail to understand the first  
lesson and accommodate the political circumstances of war will have  
short careers.  The thing that should concern all of us is that there  
has existed for some time a system which virtually guarantees that  
wars will be entered into lightly by administrations for the  
foreseeable future, and that they will almost consistently be  
executed in the most ham-fisted manner possible.

In Vietnam, Westmoreland's bosses had an overreaching faith in Air  
Power.  And today?  An overreaching faith in technology such as UAVs,  
Stealth attack planes, etc.  In both cases, it seems, the military  
staff have been humiliated when it came to landing boots on the ground.

Of his Vietnamese opponents, Westmoreland once said: "The Oriental  
doesn?t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner.?  He  
took several opportunities to downplay the genius of opponent,  
General Vo Nguyen Giap, who had lost as many as 500,000 soldiers in  
battle, saying that "... such a disregard for human life may make a  
formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius.  An  
American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more  
than a few weeks."


More information about the FoRK mailing list