Hunting the Viet Cong, Volume 2: The Fall of Diem and the Collapse of the Strategic Hamlets 1961-1964
This is the second of a two-book series on the American counterinsurgency against the Viet Cong. Here is the review for Hunting the Viet Cong - The Counterinsurgency Campaign in South Vietnam, 1961-1963, Vol 1-The Strategic Hamlet Programme. The second volume examines why the strategy ultimately failed when the Strategic Hamlet Program “seriously hurt and ‘cut up’ the VC”.
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, once again, 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. His research upends many mainstream myths and misconceptions of the Vietnam and bathes them in new light. Dr Poole even touches on the overlooked British and Japanese involvement immediately following the Japanese surrender in World War II.
Much of what Americans know about war in Vietnam is based on American involvement (generally accepted to be 1954-1975). However, a study of Vietnamese history and culture needs to be undertaken to understand how trying to use a proven strategy from another historical example or line of business won’t work as a cookie cutter solution. The strategy needs to be adapted to the people involved. This book focuses on Vietnam during President Diệm’s time in power from 1954 to his assassination in 1963, primarily on his focus of counterinsurgency through one of its many programs of counterinsurgency, the Strategic Hamlet Program.
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:
- Just Shoot
- Be Still
- The Beginning of the Beginning?
Conclusion and Closing Thoughts
This book is a good history of the Republic of Vietnam during President Diệm’s tenure, and the vacuum left after the coup against him. While there were surely missteps on both sides of the conflict, perhaps the biggest failures were intelligence and “cherry picking” among the various factions, both Vietnamese and Americans, summed up by the quote by President Kennedy, “Did you guys go to the same country?” after a briefing from two different advisors who visited different areas in Vietnam with different agendas.
As an example of a lesson learned is the ineffective use of South Vietnamese military groups. In addition to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), was the Civil Guard, the Civilian Irregular Defence Groups (CIDG), the Hamlet Militia, the Montagnard Commandoes, the Force Populaire, the Republican Youth, the Catholic Youth, Father Hoa’s Sea Swallows, the Hoa Hoa, among other lesser-known groups. Several were especially effective at pacifying areas of the Viet Cong.
This is an excellent book for understanding the early years of the American involvement in Vietnam. Modelers will enjoy the black and white photographs of UH-21s, UH-34s, early UH-1s, CMP CT15A (Canadian produced armored truck used by the British in 1945-1946, then handed over to the French), M113 and M114 APCs, and color profiles of A-1E Skyraiders, T-28 Trojan, CH-21 Shawnees, early UH-1A and B, CH-37 Mojave, UH-34D Seahorse, CMP CT15A, M113, M114 and profile drawings of an Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Montagnard and ARVN Colonel with a Regional Forces elephant rider. There is a lot of inspiration within the pages of this book.
The wait for the second volume was worth it. Dr Poole’s continued excellent research continues and he breaks out each section and chapter in a concise, detailed manner that defies the conventional thought that the Republic of Vietnam ever had a chance at self-rule and stopping the communist expansion. I had a hard time trying to summarize this book as there is so much thought-provoking information from hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of research. These two books should be required reading for anyone involved in counterinsurgency efforts as the lessons are timeless.
For anyone wanting a better understanding of the American involvement in Vietnam, I cannot recommend this book enough. As a retired Army officer with experience in counterinsurgency operations, this book would have been very handy before my deployments. The Conclusion and Closing Thoughts are a summation of why Dr Poole wrote this book,
“In summary, researching this work left me with a huge amount of respect for those fighting the Viet Cong in South Vietnam at this time. However, one event in particular has remained in my memory. When I was a child, I watched a documentary on British television where a young woman was in Washington and was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance, paying her respects to her dead brother. She asked tearfully, ‘what was it for? He died for nothing.’ Words can never replace such a loss or repair the pain felt, but I hope these books offer some small comfort to that young lady (now probably in her 60s or 70s) in knowing that her brother died trying to do some good. Like so many involved in South Vietnam, he - and so many others - gave so much to try and make one small part of the World a better place. I hope these books have – in my own small way – been a fitting tribute to those who served.”
Dr Darren Poole, this two-book series is an impressive work, and has made a difference. My fervent hope is that people appreciate this series for what it is – an incisive, deeply, and well researched work that better explains and counters the narrative that arisen from the American involvement in one of Vietnam’s many wars. This is a thought provoking, respectful series and I hope one of your successors does the same conscientious work on the American Global War on Terror when the time is right.
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS-USA for providing the review sample.