Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War

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Did America's departure from Vietnam produce the "peace with honor" promised by President Richard Nixon or was that simply an empty wish meant to distract war-weary Americans from a tragic "defeat with shame"? While James Willbanks doesn't offer any easy answers to that question, his book convincingly shows why America's strategy for exiting the Vietnam War failed miserably and left South Vietnam to a dismal fate.

That strategy, "Vietnamization," was designed to transfer full responsibility for the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese, but in a way that would buy the United States enough time to get out without appearing to run away. To achieve this goal, America poured millions of dollars into training and equipping the South Vietnamese military while attempting to pacify the countryside. Precisely how this strategy was implemented and why it failed so completely are the subjects of this eye-opening study

Drawing upon both archival research and his own military experiences in Vietnam, Willbanks focuses on military operations from 1969 through 1975. He begins by analyzing the events that led to a change in U.S. strategy in 1969 and the subsequent initiation of Vietnamization. He then critiques the implementation of that policy and the combat performance of the South Vietnamese army (ARVN), which finally collapsed in 1975.

Willbanks contends that Vietnamization was a potentially viable plan that was begun years too late. Nevertheless some progress was made and the South Vietnamese, with the aid of U.S. advisers and American airpower, held off the North Vietnamese during their massive offensive in 1972. However, the Paris Peace Accords, which left NVA troops in the south, and the subsequent loss of U.S. military aid negated any gains produced through Vietnamization. These factors coupled with corruption throughout President Thieu's government and a glaring lack of senior military leadership within the South Vietnamese armed forces ultimately led to the demise of South Vietnam.

A mere two years after the last American combat troops had departed, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, overwhelming a poorly trained, disastrously led, and corrupt South Vietnamese military. But those two years had provided Nixon with the "decent interval" he desperately needed to proclaim that "peace with honor" had been achieved. Willbanks digs beneath that illusion to reveal the real story of South Vietnam's fall.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History
This book should be considered required reading by all students of the American War in Vietnam.
As Willbanks demonstrates, no expenditure of firepower, blood, or personal heroics can redeem flawed strategies and policies.
Gregory P. Proceedings (U.S. Naval Institute)
An excellent read for the professional military officer, diplomat, politician, and academic.
Library Journal
The word Vietnam continues to stir up emotions for an entire generation. Willbanks (Combat Studies Inst., Fort Leavenworth, KS), a former army infantry officer, argues that the U.S. government abandoned Vietnam without winning the fight or adequately preparing the South Vietnamese to win on their own. He outlines American actions from the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 to the final fall of Saigon in 1975 and holds that Nixon's Vietnamization program was too little, too late. What in the mid-1960s had been a strategic fight in the war against communism was by the mid-1970s a nightmare Americans hoped to forget. Since Vietnam, the United States has avoided protracted conflict until the recent invasion of Iraq, where comparisons to our Vietnam experience will only intensify as the United States tries to turn the political, police, and military functions over to the Iraqis. For its detailed analysis based on extensive primary and secondary sources, Abandoning Vietnam is suitable for academic and military libraries.-Charles M. Minyard (ret.), U.S. Army, Blountstown, FL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616237
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/7/2008
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 390
  • Sales rank: 1,015,153
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James H. Willbanks is a professor in the Combat Studies Institute at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. An infantry officer for 23 years, he survived the devastating two-month-long artillery siege of An Loc during North Vietnam's 1972 Easter Offensive.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Vietnamization

2. Implementing the New Strategy

3. The RVNAF in Action

4. Raising the Stakes

5. Lam Son 719

6. The Ultimate Test of Vietnamization

7. Cease-Fire and "Peace with Honor"

8. The Fateful Year

9. Collapse in the North

10. The Fall of Saigon




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