tv [untitled] April 5, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EDT
this is cspan 3, with politics and public affairs programming throughout the week and every weekend, 48 hour of people and events telling the american story on american history tv. get our list and see our website. you can join in the conversation on social media sites. coming up tonight, american history tv examines the war in vietnam. then, u.s. naval war professor on the north vietnamese war strategy. after that, oral histories from the vietnam center and archive feature veterans of the first full scale engagement between u.s. forces and the people's army of vietnam. this weekend marks the anniversary of the bloodiest battle to be fought during the civil war. up to that point, the battle of
shoi low and we'll tour the battlefield with chief park rang ranger, saturday at 6:00 p.m. and sunday night at 7:00, the angel of the battlefield, clara barton, operated the missing soldier's office until 1868. join us as we rediscover the third floor office as it's prepare for renovations. this weekend on american history tv on cspan 3. each week, american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of america's collared professors. you can watch here every saturday at 8:00 p.m., midnight and sundays at 1:00. this week, a look at north vietnamese strategy with donald stoker, professor of the naval war college in california. the course is part of a class called strategy in war. it's about 50 minutes. >> a couple of pieces of
background first to think about this to set up for this. always think about here, what is this war about? for the north vietnamese? what are their objectives? now, the vietnamese -- north vietnamese communist objectives are pretty clear. it's not as clear from reading as it should be. they want to take all of southeast asia. french indochina. in particular, the conquest of south vietnam. that's what they want. they tell us the first thing we need to do is figure out the nature of the war. again, for our purposes for this, when you start your study of this case study, you start investigating this case study, think about that. what is the nature of this war? one of my colleagues back in newport, he talks about this being a war within a war within a war. and it's interesting perspective to think of because you have a multilayered series of events and activities obviously that are going on here.
and different ways of fighting it. for the communists in many ways this is a revolutionary war. they want to expand communism in southeast asia. again, south vietnam is only the next stop on the road to that. and a regular warfare, guerrilla warfare is the how, but not all of it. of course, you have a regional war that develops here as well between north vietnam and the united states. and this, of course, spills over and allows cambodia and so on and south vietnam, the fighting in north vietnam as well particularly on the air side of it. a lot of this is conventional. again, it's not all. that's not the whole thing. it's only part of the picture. and you also have to keep in mind that the cold war context of what is going on here, because we don't -- when we think about vietnam, we don't automatically think about this being a coalitional war. we sometimes even overlook the south vietnamese role in it.
some of the literature, for example. you almost think there's no south vietnamese army he'ding the book that there's pretty substantial south vietnamese forces. you've got on the communist side in particular, the coalitional aspect is very important for their success. you know, ho chi minh says that himself. so you've got support from communist china and from the soviet union as well. so keep that in mind here when we look at this war because you have these various different aspects of it. and you've got to deal with the various different aspects, these various different wars in some respects in a different matter. now, also, what is important to point out here before we go into this lecture, you can see from the time line that it covers an enormous, you know, amount of time. 30 years. obviously, we're going to leave a couple things out and just hit the high points. what is important to think about is, the primary means, the primary elements of strategy that the north vietnamese used to prosecute the war against us, when the united states comes into the war, these have already been developed before our entry into the war in a significant fashion. the tenets are there. they modify them to address us.
that's one of the reasons we're going to spend a lot of time on the development of their ideas and the developments or the methods for prosecuting this war before our presence. is really a significant factor. or a dramatic factor in it. now, of course, start first with a little bit of background. a little bit of theoretical background and historical background. we always give you some theory. and one of the important addition to the theory we've been doing this they were is the addition of what becomes modern guerrilla warfare from mao tse-tung, chinese communist leader, famous for uniting china. now, mao from fighting the japanese and then fighting the nationalists in the chinese civil war, he derived his own particular theory of guerrilla struggle. he's very good at blending and taking and modifying their ideas. but he's also very good at developing his own in the process. he famously writes a small book called "on guerrilla war." in 1938 he writes "on protracted
war." this was basically his scheme or his outline for how the chinese communists could take control of china, how to defeat the nationalists and also defeat the japanese as well. and his model of these three stages here that we'll talk about here in just a moment, it becomes the model for a lot of other insurgencies, particularly communist insurgencies in other parts of the world. and it also becomes for good or ill, it becomes the way we often evaluate insurgencies to see how far they've developed. again, can you see that's good or not, you can argue that, but it becomes that. and it becomes a tool for that. so what was mao thinking about? what does he mean? first of all, he had what we would call phase one, the strategic defensive. sometimes it's called the organization or consolidation phase. and here during this phase, the communists being weak, they would act primarily on the defensive. they would build up the party organization. they would build the basic structures. they needed later on.
they would try to adopt popular measures to win over parts of the people, win over the pezzants in particular, the farmers by giving them land. they would use terror against their opponents. and they would do this to try to undermine the authority of governments and create an atmosphere of fear and instability which they could step up to fill this gap. you recruit and try to win over the people. as you get stronger, you move to phase two, sometimes called the stalemate phase or expansion phase, equilibrium phase. at this point once the communists thought themselves strong enough to start fighting the state with rough equality, they would begin to do so. political action would still be used, but guerrilla warfare, guerrilla fighting that was attritional in nature would start to take on an increasingly larger role. the guerrillas would build more bases, increase their recruiting. and as they got stronger, they would begin to convert the guerrilla forces into a regular army. also at the same time, they would start building their own governmental structures. kind of a shadow government to kind of supplant themselves. supplant the role of the formal government. so you wage guerrilla warfare, expand the base areas and begin building a regular army.
then when you become strong enough, you move to phase three. the strategic offensive phase or decision of the destruction of the enemy phase. now, in this phase the guerrillas decide they're strong enough to fight the government they're trying to overthrow toe to toe. your guerrilla forces are being transferred -- transformed into a conventional army. you'll still carry on guerrilla warfare, you know, but if it's necessary and if you need to, it's certainly part of it, and also ideally, this preparation in mao's mind, if you do everything right, you might get lucky and you might be able to even phase three might not be even necessary. but it's probably going to be. now, this is his model again something that's important. he's not putting this model forward for every guerrilla insurgency. when he writes his on protracted war, he is specifically
addressing the situation of china. but this is something that's taken up by other people, by the vietnamese communists. it becomes a model in some respects or as a foundational element for what they tried to do as well. now, some historical background. a little bit before we get into the vietnamese strategy. there's a little bit of historical background about french indochina. the french in 1858, they left the vietnamese emperor in place to control internal affairs. in 1919, the paris peace conference, ho chi minh, the famous communist leader of vietnam, he went to the paris peace conference. he tried to get vietnamese independents here is. he was rebuffed by it. he turns to communism. 1920, he founds -- he becomes one of the founding members of the french communist party. in 1930, he establishes the vietnamese communist party. in may of 1941, ho and the communists set up an organization. and this is an umbrella organization of various anti-colonial groups. and they also begin building the
first -- their first guerrilla bases. they build a movement based upon mao and in some respects supported by mao and the communists as well. they have their first bases on the border region. during the second world war, ho is involved in some guerrilla activities. some say he's one of the more effective anti-japanese guerrillas. some argue he doesn't do very much. he develops credibility in vietnam as an anti-french factor, as an anti-japanese nationalist. and he downplays his communist side while doing this. he remains important to ho. in july of 1945, vietnam like a lot of other countries at the end of the second world war is dividing the two occupation zones. and in august of 1945, the emperor, vietnamese emperor, baldi, he abdicates in favor of ho chi minh. this is important politically because it gives ho credibility in this respect. now, particularly in the eyes of the vietnamese people. in september of 1945, ho chi
minh declares independence. now, there would be a problem with that. now, the leaders of the communist movement, important for our purposes here, there's obviously a lot more. ho chi minh who we've talked about you can see on the slide. but these other three men here, particularly for our lecture and for your class, they're critical for us. you have the general on the far left there. he's much of the war minister of defense, runs the military committee, basically chief of the army. he has particular views on how to fight the war. on the other side, you have the party secretary, basically the second in command to ho chi minh. in the political realm. and then you have general tan who emerges as the commander of the vietnamese forces fighting in south vietnam. now, you will have a rivalry between jiap on one hand and another on the other hand as this develops. and how it used to be
prosecuting this war in the south. against south vietnam and against the united states. we'll see that here in a few minutes. sometimes the north vietnamese communists in the literature are depicted as super men and do everything right. you'll see they do a lot of things wrong. they're not all on the same page about what should be done either. so the first indochina war. they declared independence in 1945. but declaring independence is one thing. getting it is something completely different. in february of 1946, the french return. they want to reassert control over their former colonies. in december of 1946, the viet men, they staged their first attacks against the french. and this launches an eight-year war. the communists are driven out of hanoi in the initial fighting. and then the communists withdraw into the mountainous region north of hanoi. in october of 1947, the french launched an extremely large operation called "operation lea." and they're trying to clean the communists out of this area.
they hammer the communists really hard, but they have bases to fall back on and they have in some respects sanctuaries in china certainly to draw support from. in february of 1950, the head of the vietnamese communist military force, general jiap, he begins converting the guerrilla army they had built into a regular army. they begin mounting a series of successful attacks against bases and so on particularly along the china/vietnam border. there's a french offensive in late '51 and another in '52 and they fail. and the french effort famously culminate in the battle of den bien ffu. the north vietnamese, they fight with the french, they move from being a guerrilla army, a light, small guerrilla force to being a conventional force that's able to defeat a great power on the field. now, it's a very -- it's in many ways a very stunning achievement. the geneva courts in 1954 will partition or divide, depends on
your point of view, vietnam. and this will end the french involvement. and here the communists, the other communist powers actually pressure the north vietnamese in taking this deal. they're not as interested in having it. but they convince them, south vietnam is weak. it's going to fall very quickly anyway. the north buys on it. they take the deal. and you see a massive transfer of populations from the north and the south. particularly catholics leaving north vietnam and going to south vietnam. now, the north vietnamese regime at this point will enter a period of consolidation in some respects. now, from 1954 to 1959, the north concentrated on building its structures and building the regime of north vietnam. but ho does some very typical way that the communists did this when they first take over a place. you suppress all the groups in the country that aren't aligned
with you. you begin the traditional communist practice of murdering any real opponents and also any ones that you imagine to be opponents. and they killed 100,000 people all in the name of land reform which is actually pretty mild numbers for communist land reform. now, the communists at the same time they're doing this, they never abandon the struggle against south vietnam because, you know, again, this is the first step. you've got north vietnam, yes, but you haven't gotten -- the communists have not gotten what they really want. one of the primary ways they carry out their war during this period against south vietnam and something that becomes a primary tenet of the way they fight south vietnam all through the course of this is through something they call the extermination of traders campaign. this is basically you kill any official or anybody that's against your regime or anybody that's useful to the south vietnamese regime or you abduct them as well. it's basically, this is a campaign, it's a terror campaign. this is designed to destabilize the government, discredit the government of south vietnam
because if you can't protect your officials, then the government has no credibility. well, the communists can protect you. if you come to us. it's also certainly to intimidate anyone that opposes you as well. you can see the numbers here. fairly significant numbers. now also, again, preparation. this is a way of prepping the south for them to take it over. another way, in may of 1959, they begin building what is known as the ho chi minh trail. and general jiap, this is his idea. he basically begins building the supply route through laos and later to be expanded into cambodia as well. and this is something that's very, very significant to the communist war effort in south vietnam, pivotal, pivotal for much -- for all of their war effort here once they really lunch the military struggle. now, the importance is critical here for supplies, logistics, for manpower and so on. the north devotes a lot of
effort to this. at one time they had 50,000 transport workers running it. they have 50,000 north vietnamese engineers that maintain it, another 12,000 infantry that guard it with anti-aircraft weapons and so on. and it became what was a trail eventually became 12,500 miles of highways with 5,000 kilometers of pipelines for fuel. so it's a very significant investment. 2 million people used the trail during the course of the war. and peak traffic was 20,000 tons a month. they moved every possible thing can you imagine. but the primary means of actually moving the supplies, the bulk of them come 100-pound packs on somebody's back down the trail. most of it's moved that way. and by 1975, you have 25 trails from the main trunk road that lead into south vietnam. so it very much gives the north a way to get around, get into south vietnam in ways that normally they wouldn't have had the ability to do so. it also gives them sanctuary
areas in laos and cambodia which is very important for their prosecuting the war. now, again, they're trying to destabilize the south. but the president of south vietnam is a man named zem. he knows -- obviously they know what the north is trying to do. and he actually begins to mount a fairly effective campaign of suppression of the communist insurgents in south vietnam. this, by 1960, is worrying the north vietnamese because what they saw is their cadres being decimated in south vietnam. so they figure they've got to do something about it. so in january of 1959, they escalate the war. and you have here -- this sets the stage for what becomes known as the second indochina war. and a key piece of this would be infiltration of units from north vietnam into the south. now, the north here is not just waging war. it's sometimes depicted of that. you see the north vietnamese army.
there are 10,000, sometimes over 100,000, north vietnamese regular troops. you have the guerrilla forces, but you also have extremely large numbers of vietnamese troops. keep that in mind. there are multiple pieces to this puzzle here. now, the north vietnamese, their grand strategy really for prosecuting this war is what they call revolutionary warfare. what do they mean by this? well, again, the core of it comes from mao's basic tenets of prosecuting a guerrilla war. you see on the graphics in a moment. the guerrilla points, but this is something mao would agree with as well, you've got to have the idea -- you've got to win the idea war. you've got to motivate the people politically. you do this through indoctrination, terrorism if it takes that. you also have the conventional and unconventional military means that you're going to use. it's very broad-based approach. and you also -- the north also comes to the point where they believe -- that they believed
this very early, that you have to mobilize the entire population to do it. everyone is a soldier and everyone is involved in the struggle to conquer south vietnam. now, to prosecute this revolutionary warfare, the north, again, they have a multipronged approach. political as well as military elements. on the political side of it, they have several different things that in their mind fall under political struggle. one of these is deception. and deception and political action. they very much link these things together. deception is always a big part of how the north vietnamese are going to mask what they're doing in south vietnam. they do a very good job of doing this. we fall for it pretty well. in december of 1960, they set up a successor called the national liberation front. and this was an effort to bring together various anti-dm groups under a communist umbrella. during the war, the north, of course, denies that these are just puppet groups or that
they're being united under communism. later they say yeah, we fooled you. but both the military, again, both the military and political moves that they're making in the south, they try to make it look like a lot of this is coming from the south. and they try to make it look like that the military resistance in south vietnam, the insurgency, is something that comes just from the south. though it's not. it's something that's a wholly owned subsidiary of north vietnam. and again, they're very successful in doing this. they're so successful that for a lot of the conventional wisdom about the vietnam war, especially among critics of the american involvement, is that this insurgency in south vietnam, this is all resistance to the oppressive dm government. no, it's not. now, the communists also, while they're doing this in the first stages in the early '60s, they're expanding their shadow government in the south, trying to bring as much of it under their control as they possibly can.
by 1962, the vc in the south, they probably had 300,000 members and probably 1 million supporters. certainly the movement's growing. now, again, terror continued as a primary weapon while they're doing this. and you can see from the quote here how important this is to the way that they prosecute the war. and also, what is important, while they're doing these things against the south, the political and the military, they're also negotiating with the south. and later with the united states as well. but at the same time, negotiation is a political tool in their arsenal. but at the same time, they fight while they're negotiating. and this is important to think about dealing with the north vietnamese. they have a particular philosophy when doing this. a quote from a general -- excuse me, a north vietnamese general named vin in 1966. quote, in fighting while negotiating, the side which fights more strongly will compel
the adversary to accept its conditions. in other words, you know, and during this war, they're constantly negotiations or negotiations for negotiations. in the north vietnamese mind, the more you're negotiating, the harder you fight. because to them, this indicated seriousness. fighting hard indicated seriousness. so when you're negotiating, you fight harder to put pressure on the enemy, and maybe you get a better deal out of it. so that's the important thing when dealing with them. the military struggle element of this is, of course, very, very critical. and you have the conventional part as well as the unconventional elements of the north vietnamese effort. when vietnam is divided in 1954, the north vietnamese leave behind probably 10,000 or 15,000. who had come north in 1955 to get training. all of these guys become the leadership for the insurgency in the south. it's basically the vc as we call them. i just call them the vc the rest of the time. and they build this vc, the communists very good at organizing things. they organize the vc as kind of a three-tiered force. you have the main force. these are guerrillas that have become stage three. they're basically designed -- they're conventional units. maybe not as heavily armed, but
they're conventional units designed to fight the south vietnamese army. you have regional forces, guerrillas who work full time and assigned regions in the south. and then you also have this local vc militia in the areas they control that the south -- that the communists control in you have regional forces in assigned regions in the south and kind of this local vc militia and the areas they control. that this south, excuse me, the congress control in south vietnam. now, hanoi makes sure that it keeps a very tight control on this organization. and what is going on in the south. in 1961, they establish something called the central office of south vietnam. and this is set up in cambodia. and they do this to run the war in the south.
it's basically their command. to run the war in south vietnam. and while they're doing this, they decide the south into various districts so they can organize throughout the country, even down to the village level. now, in 1961, the north intensifies the military as well as the political struggle against the south. and what they're hoping at this point when they do, when they do this is, they think that they can politicize the situation enough and make it violent enough to where they can projoke a general uprising against the south vietnamese regime. one of the strands that often runs -- certainly always runs through the north vietnamese military thought here is they can create a situation of instability and terror in the south that is strong enough and indoctrinated enough people where they'll get provoked uprising in south vietnam. they never get this but they're hoping it's going to be part of it. this is not unusual for other communist movements to have the same type of view and they're generally just as unsuccessful, at least with a mass uprising. now, critically, at the same time here, they have another issue that's starting to bother them.
the u.s. has pretty extensive advisory groups in south vietnam. and the north is worried that if they have too much success in the south too quickly, this would provoke u.s. intervention and u.s. escalation. they develop this problem of balancing, well, how much pressure do we put on the south vietnamese to make this regime collapse if it becomes too clear that we're making it collapse, maybe we'll provoke the americans into becoming bigger and stronger and then this will make it more difficult to make the regime collapse. but at the same time, we've dot to put pressure on it to win it. so what do we do? so it's a difficult thing for them. and eventually it will be their military efforts and their pressure that will help convince them to support south vietnam more strongly. now, importantly, the north also in 1961 decided that this would probably be a long war. that it would be a protracted struggle and they needed to keep that in mind and they would have to at the same time be patient and still have to worry about the american intervention, too. in december of 1962 after a failed attempt to negotiate a coalition government with the
u.s. and with the south, the communists decided that, well, they really had to intensify military action. that was going to be the primary route for doing this. and they began concentrating in the central highlands of south vietnam building base areas, building this as a base area for also fighting the war in the south. now, this action, certainly what they're doing, it provokes a response from the kennedy administration. and the kennedy administration replies with some fairly -- in some respects, a fairly successful methods. again, there's in argument about this. they reply primarily with a strategic program. this was an effort basically to consolidate populations in rural areas of vietnam. and in some areas it's successful, in some it isn't.
it's not managed as well as it could. this is something that for our purposes this frightens the north vietnamese. they see in this areas it's successful from separating them from the guerrillas, and they dislike this a lot. the other counterinsurgency things that the kennedy administration and other administrations are doing, these are things that worry the north vietnamese immensely. now, they also worry that as american involvement is increasing, that they're going to get a war with the u.s. just like they got with the french. now, but the kennedy administration in 1962, they decided to basically neutralize laos and negotiate about it. and this gave the north vietnamese hope that they could convince the u.s. to withdraw their support from south vietnam. now, in december of 1963, excuse me, in late 1963, this gentleman here will be killed in a coup. and this -- when this happens, this is very helpful to the north vietnamese. they look at this now as being a great opportunity because there's a power vacuum that emerges in south vietnam. and the north now decides that really military effort probably would be their primary tool that
could be used for taking over south vietnam. now, to do this, to fight this war, of course, they can't do it on their own. particularly the military resources they need to do it. that north vietnamese do not have the ability to produce them. and so again, we talked about in the beginning how there's a coalitional aspect to the struggle. here's where it comes in, the aid from china and soviet union. the communist regime in china is particularly helpful. and ho made a good effort to cultivate a special relationship with mao tse-tung, and he usually consulted the chinese about every major decision having to do with the war. now, the chinese, they didn't want to see the u.s. establish in south vietnam either. they looked at vietnam in many respects like they did korea. to them, south korea was a place for american bases. well