Different Era, Different War, Same Mistakes

Via Adam, Breibart has an interview with a former American soldier on the manner in which the United States is conducting itself in war:

“My First Sergeant, Tommy Scott, and myself, we led a heavy weapons company in a violent province in eastern Afghanistan,” he recalled. “It seemed like the enemy was always one step ahead of us, and we discovered why. Through the aid of a counter-intel team, we uncovered twelve spies operating on our base. These were Afghan laborers that were hired by the U.S. government to serve as translators and other workers to support us so that we could focus on combat operations.”

What’s incredible about this is the exact same thing was happening in Vietnam: huge numbers of the South Vietnamese employees of the American military were spying for the Viet Cong. Either due to negligence, incompetence, or ignorance the American officers would nonetheless talk openly in front of them, often even sharing sensitive information with their supposed allies. In one chapter of his book About Face, David Hackworth tells of how he transformed an army outpost he took over, which included the installation of a sauna. He made a point of conducting his briefings in there because it was the only place he could be sure there were no Vietnamese present.

There was another amusing anecdote in Robert Mason’s Chickenhawk, his memoir of being a Huey pilot in Vietnam. He tells the story of being told by a superior officer to pick up two kids of around twelve years old who were loitering around nearby and fly them back to base for interrogation, as they were suspected to be spying for the Viet Cong. He duly did, noticing the kids in the back – who had obviously never been in a helicopter before – were staring intently out of the doors. The two were released almost immediately because, well, they were kids, and got flown back to where they were picked up. Mason then made a wry comment about how even though the Viet Cong didn’t possess any aircraft they were nonetheless able to conduct a full aerial reconnaissance of a major American base.

It seems some things never change.


4 thoughts on “Different Era, Different War, Same Mistakes

  1. Kind of related. My boss just completed a motor bike trip of Vietnam which included the mandatory visit to My Lai. Anyhow we were chewing the fat about that chapter and how it boosted Colin Powell’s military career and how touched we both were with his succinct description of the rules of engagement at the time.

    “I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age male,” Powell wrote. “If a helo spotted a peasant in black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him. Brutal? Maybe so. But an able battalion commander with whom I had served at Gelnhausen (West Germany), Lt. Col. Walter Pritchard, was killed by enemy sniper fire while observing MAMs from a helicopter. And Pritchard was only one of many. The kill-or-be-killed nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong.”


  2. When some regiments of the Indian Army were sent to the Western Front in the Great War they had a particular weakness. Losses of officers were a terrible burden because it usually took up to three three years to train an officer to be competent in the languages of his troops.

    I suppose that’s a problem that the US is unlikely to face. They’ve always tended to lose a smaller proportion of officers than the British, and they are, by and large, disinclined to the hard work of language study.

  3. Every era discovers, in time, that when it comes to war there are some things that inevitably stay the same. For now we in the west are playing at “let’s be fair and that ensures they will be too” but before long that will shift, as it always must, to “let’s stop playing fair because they sure as hell aren’t.”

    As Patton famously said: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

  4. Playing both sides against the middle seems like a life saving strategy for some. Witness the “resistants de la derniere minute” in France. Included such famous shits as Satre, de Beauvoir, Mitterand… a long list.

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