This is the first of a two-book series on the American counterinsurgency against the Viet Cong. Hunting the Viet Cong - The Counterinsurgency Campaign in South Vietnam, 1961-1963, Vol 1-The Strategic Hamlet Programme covers the early American involvement in Vietnam before Americans were officially committed as combat troops, serving as advisors to South Vietnam.
Dr Darren Poole teaches military history at the University of Chester and University Centre, Shrewsbury, United Kingdom. Dr Poole has degrees in Geography, Education, History and Military History with over 20 years of experience. Dr Poole’s dissertation focused on the Vietnamese Strategic Hamlet Programme, and his research is evident with over nine pages of bibliography and nine pages of footnotes. The main point that sticks out is his focus on researching the “’unheard voices’ of conflict. These include, for example, the peasants caught in a cross-fire in South Vietnam and the view of the Viet Cong themselves.”
Much of what Americans know about war in Vietnam is based on American involvement (generally accepted to be 1954-1975); however, war in Vietnamese history dates back to the third millennium BC. Western Colonial history dates to 1887 with French Indochina, which was wrested by the Japanese during World War II. The French attempted to take back their colonies after the Japanese departure but found the Viet Minh (founded in 1941 as a united front to achieve independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) had consolidated power, leading to the French departure in 1954. Ngô Đình Diệm was appointed Prime Minister and soon after the 1954 Geneva Conference formally partitioned Vietnam along the 17th parallel. A year later, Diệm claimed the creation of the Republic of Vietnam with himself as president. From 1957, a communist insurgency backed by North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, was formed. This book picks up during President Diệm’s early years in power.
The book is presented in the @War series format, complete with black and white photographs, maps, and a color profile section composing the following three chapters:
- ‘Cutting Up’ the Viet Cong
- The Insurgents Respond
- The X-Factor
This book is a good history of the early involvement of American forces in Vietnam after the French left. A persistent theme is that America really never had a chance for success in Vietnam, and that the early years were rarely adequately reviewed. In Dr Poole’s words,
“Too often, the writing about the Vietnam War in 1961-63 has dismissed this time period in one or two sentences: a far more detailed, in-depth analysis is required. As Ang Chen Guan has argued, this time period was when ‘key attitudes were formed and vital commitments made’ and this book will seek to contribute to the understanding of the Vietnam War in its infancy.”
Dr Poole then goes into detail on the background and events of those crucial years, often focusing on people who, until recently, didn’t have a voice and provide a different narrative than is generally accepted. His analysis and research clearly show Dr Poole’s academic background and I was amazed at the photographs, from both sides, of the conflict. As he describes his third chapter on the X-Factor,
“Lansdale said, “There’s something missing” and McNamara said, “What?” and Lansdale said, “The X-Factor,” “What’s the X-Factor?” “Well, the X-Factor is what do the people think?” “There’s no way we can calculate his in any way numerically”. As recalled by Rufus Phillips in a conversation between General Edward Lansdale and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
This is a good book for another look at the early years of the American involvement in Vietnam. Modelers will enjoy the black and white photographs of UH-21s, UH-34s, UH-1Cs, M113 and M114 APCs, and color profiles of a B-26, UH-21, C-123B, UH-34, AD6, C-47, T-6G, O-1A, T-28s, AH-1s; combat vehicles include a Willys MB jeep, Dodge WC, M-8 Greyhound and M24 Chaffee. There are lots of photos of the Vietnamese and Americans with their weapons for inspiration. The photos and their captions alone are worth the price of the book.
I am looking forward to Dr Poole’s second book, the yet unpublished, “Hunting the Viet Cong, Volume 2 – Counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, 1963-1964” as he will continue his excellent research and prove the loss in Vietnam was not a foregone conclusion. The Viet Cong were cruel to their own people and the next book will delve deeper into the VC’s terror and violence, and a moral imperative for Western intervention.
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS-USA for providing the review sample.