Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam

Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam

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by Gregory Daddis

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General William C. Westmoreland has long been derided for his failed strategy of "attrition" in the Vietnam War. Historians have argued that Westmoreland's strategy placed a premium on high "body counts" through a "big unit war" that relied almost solely on search and destroy missions. Many believe the U.S. Army failed in Vietnam because of Westmoreland's


General William C. Westmoreland has long been derided for his failed strategy of "attrition" in the Vietnam War. Historians have argued that Westmoreland's strategy placed a premium on high "body counts" through a "big unit war" that relied almost solely on search and destroy missions. Many believe the U.S. Army failed in Vietnam because of Westmoreland's misguided and narrow strategy

In a groundbreaking reassessment of American military strategy in Vietnam, Gregory Daddis overturns conventional wisdom and shows how Westmoreland did indeed develop a comprehensive campaign which included counterinsurgency, civic action, and the importance of gaining political support from the South Vietnamese population. Exploring the realities of a large, yet not wholly unconventional environment, Daddis reinterprets the complex political and military battlefields of Vietnam. Without searching for blame, he analyzes how American civil and military leaders developed strategy and how Westmoreland attempted to implement a sweeping strategic vision.

Westmoreland's War is a landmark reinterpretation of one of America's most divisive wars, outlining the multiple, interconnected aspects of American military strategy in Vietnam-combat operations, pacification, nation building, and the training of the South Vietnamese armed forces. Daddis offers a critical reassessment of one of the defining moments in American history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Daddis, an Army colonel and history professor at the U.S. Military Academy, offers “a work of historical revisionism” in which he challenges what virtually every Vietnam War historian has written about General William Westmoreland’s handling of the conflict. The accepted narrative holds that the commanding general of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968 fatally misunderstood the nature of the war and that his attrition strategy focused too heavily on massive troop deployments, all but ignoring “hearts and minds” pacification efforts. In this academic, book-length essay, Daddis quotes scores of reports, studies, and secondary sources, attempting to make the case that Westmorland’s military strategy was sound, but didn’t work because the Johnson administration’s overall strategy was seriously flawed. Westmoreland, Daddis contends, was a sharp thinker who developed a comprehensive military strategy that consisted of more than using massive American military power to try to kill as many enemy troops as possible. He never satisfactorily explains, however, why Westmoreland asked for 260,000 additional fighting men following the 1968 Tet Offensive when American troop strength in Vietnam already was at an all-time high of 536,000. More importantly, Daddis often argues semantics, sets up straw men (that, for instance, Westmoreland “almost single-handedly lost the war’’), and merely places the blame for the war’s outcome on others. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of the U. S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), from 1964 to 1968, is often portrayed as a myopic, inflexible leader who measured success by body counts. Daddis (history, U.S. Military Academy; No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War) offers here a deeply researched differing view that claims Westmoreland introduced sound strategies to a "bad war." These strategies included promoting a noncorrupt South Vietnamese government that would win the trust of its citizens and transforming the beleaguered Republic of Vietnam's army into a competent fighting force. Early on, Westmoreland recognized the hopelessness of these strategies as the communist National Liberation front won the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese who feared the United States was a repressive colonial power taking the place of France. The author concludes that Westmoreland failed because he believed in the Cold War doctrine that military force could resolve political and cultural differences, a view widely accepted by the U.S. government and its armed forces. VERDICT Daddis is at times repetitive and dense, but he effectively makes his case for revisiting Westmoreland's legacy. This account will be considered and challenged by historians and Vietnam-era scholars, its intended audience.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
From the Publisher

"Westmoreland's War...both rehabilitates Westmoreland's image and plants a stake in the heart of the distorted specter of him that has long haunted Vietnam War historiography. ... Backed by copious endnotes, Daddis demonstrates that contrary to legend Westmoreland developed an intelligent and comprehensive military strategy that was consistent with U.S. national policy and President Lyndon B. Johnson's larger political agenda. ... By demonstrating that the Army did try (not always successfully) to apply counterinsurgency doctrine and that this doctrine was insufficient to produce victory, Westmoreland's War directly challenges the unrealistic faith that some people have placed in counterinsurgency and nation building." --Army History Magazine

"[A] seminal work." --Army Magazine

"Westmoreland's War is an important book, and Gregory Daddis has provided a new and sophisticated look at the man many have blamed for America's defeat." --The VVA Veteran

"Westmoreland's War is truly a remarkable achievement. Daddis has vividly captured the complexities of Westmoreland's Vietnam strategy and the difficulties the U.S. faced in trying to implement it. Exhaustive in its research and breathtaking in its analysis, Daddis' book is now the standard for understanding the U.S. military escalation in Vietnam." --Robert K. Brigham, Vassar College

"In Westmoreland's War, one of the best historians of the Vietnam conflict deftly challenges a deeply encrusted cliché-that the U.S. forces failed in Vietnam because of the narrow-mindedness and ineptitude of the man who commanded them in the war's most important years. This boldly argued and convincing work of revisionism deserves the attention of any serious student of America's most controversial war." --Mark Atwood Lawrence, author of The Vietnam War: A Concise International History

"Westmoreland's War asks a question that should not startle but does: is it possible to have a sound military strategy and still lose a war? This is the question Gregory Daddis poses in his splendid history of the Vietnam War as it was fought by General William Westmoreland. The standard story of Westmoreland's failure turns out to be wrong in almost every particular, and Daddis' analysis of why and how it is wrong has major implications not only for our understanding of Vietnam, but also for how we can understand current U.S. military engagements. This is a book that must be read by anyone interested in the past, present, and future of America's wars." --Marilyn B. Young, New York University

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
11.50(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)

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Meet the Author

Gregory Daddis is Associate Professor History at Chapman University.

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