From a Vietnam Vet: A Guest Blog

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 20, 2009

My dear friend Printer Bowler is a former army captain who served with psychological operations units in Viet Nam (1966-67). He was attached to the Third Marine Amphibious force, I Corps near the DMZ. He’s a perennial history student, now teaching, writing and pumping out radical troop-support propaganda from his home in Montana. It’s a pleasure to post this missive from God’s country:

Da Nang: Capt. Bowler offers a Camel to a buffalo

Da Nang, 1967: Capt. Bowler offers a Camel to a buffalo

The bone yard is full of our delusions

What a concept! Respect your adversary, know who’s boss, see what you have in common and make a deal. Everybody does it on a daily basis—from personal relationships to corporate takeovers.  Everybody, that is, except the Pentagon and DOD. So ironic that it’s been left to Steven Pressfield, one our most respected historians and my favorite literary rock star, to remind our leadership of this perennially ignored reality. 

Since WWII, military strategists and clueless politicians have been addicted to high-tech shock-and-awe strategies, the delusion that remote-control warfare does the job. Of course, initially it can tenderize battlefields . . . but then what? “Mission accomplished!” someone announced from an aircraft carrier. Not even close. That was the beginning of the Iraqi/Afghan quagmire, not the end, which is still searching for itself in a distant fog.   

Success or failure, the buck stops at management

Troops, while you’re out there getting sniped at, roadside bombed and ambushed, our leaders have been glued to their video war games and computerized spread sheets. They still think they can blast their way into foreign neighborhoods and suddenly be top dog. Only recently have they looked up and noticed that drones and smart bombs alone often create far more “enemies” than they neutralize. Like it or not, almost every bomb dropped in Iraq and Afghanistan spawned a hundred new al-Qaeda and Taliban recruits, killed and alienated dozens/hundreds of formerly neutral civilians. Stupid plan, stupid results.

Until we wise up and join forces with their key (tribal) leaders, as Alexander and others discovered, we’ll keep losing lives, confidence, respect and Treasury bills. Experience, our poor ignored teacher, is getting very frustrated with us Americans!

Déjà-vu minus 40 years:  Didn’t hear you, say again?

I’m a Viet Nam vet and I still cringe at the disaster our British Redcoat toy soldier mentality made of that poor little country. Our strategy there was shock-and-awe by whatever name: B-52 carpet bombing, relentless tactical air strikes on suspected VC/Viet Minh positions (often hamlets full of innocent people). Plus, massive aerial applications of Agent Orange in a preposterous attempt to destroy every non-rice plant in the country so there’d be no place to hide. Seriously! This was Defense Sec’y McNamara’s number-cruncher game plan taken to an extreme level of absurdity. Meanwhile, our infantry units were grinding through one booby-trapped jungle nightmare after another, getting hammered and going nowhere.

The result?  With our brain-fart assistance, Ho Chi Minh and the black pajama people—with their little bags of rice, SAMS and AK-47s—brought the mightiest military power in the world to its knees.  Just like the Afghans did to the Russians less than two decades later. (It’s crazy, but think about this: What if we had made a deal with Ho Chi Minh’s tribe instead of those incorrigible French colonial losers and their South Vietnamese collaborators?) 

Time to wheel and deal our way out

Think also about this: what if we made a deal with the Taliban, like Reagan did in the ’80s? And how about a new deal with the Iranians, like we could have done countless times instead of overthrowing their democratically elected leader (Mossadegh, 1952) and mounting our oil-lackey Shah in his place.  All the radical Imams we’re fighting now came to life as rebels against the Shah and us, his sponsors.  They finally overthrew his regime and have been the big roosters ever since. Hating us ever since.  Face it—we, and our British predecessors, essentially gave birth to present-day radical Islam in Iran. We have done nothing to earn their trust or respect, and done much to terrorize and isolate them. Don’t want to believe it? Lose Fox News and read your history. It always has been and still is about oil. In Iran. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. In America.

In the Islamic mind, the past lives in the present. Muslims remember the events of their entire history, good and bad, as if it all happened last week. It’s a tribal thing. We Americans seem to forget everything that happened before last week. We should know by now that even our super hi-tech military arsenal can’t save us from such an oblivious approach. We have to wake up and start making smart, mutually profitable deals with the main players—especially those we call “enemies.” Come back, Sun Tzu, we need you bad!  

Very important people are MFA (missing from action)

Where are the children of Congresspeople and Pentagon/DOD people?  Fort Lauderdale? They need to be in uniform, camped out with our troops, getting up every day and facing the shrapnel and snipers right in the thick of it. Until the talking heads running this war have a personal stake in it, it will remain a CYA paper game in far away Washington. Until the microcosmic “Tale of Two Captains” becomes national policy, and not just isolated acts of resourcefulness and goodwill, our troops have to carry the DOD’s job on top of their own. Hey, who said world peace was going to be easy?

God bless all you troops, and keep a heads-up out there.   • 

Posted in Afghanistan, Agora, On Tribalism

3 Responses to “From a Vietnam Vet: A Guest Blog”

  1. July 20, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Well said, Sir!

    It’s worth remembering that during Vietnam, the Marines were running a very successful COIN program in the south, but Westmoreland made them stop and pushed them into FOB’s like Khe Sanh – so much for that strategy…

    It seems the only war the Army is ready to fight is the war of the generation prior

  2. TS Alfabet
    July 21, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Where to start?

    While I pay my respects to Mr. Bowler’s service in Vietnam, his… analysis and recommendations are threadbare and misguided. The facts that he relies upon are popular myths, questionable at best. His prescriptions for making deals with dictators (like the Iranian mullahs) are a shameful sell out to every American value we hold dear. And the Taliban? While recognizing that there are some insurgents that are doing it for the paycheck and a far smaller number who are ideologically committed to the cause (and, thus, incapable of negotiating in any meaningful way), how exactly would Mr. Bowler ensure that A-stan does not become a hotbed of terrorist planning and training?

    Our greatest mistake has been in allowing Al Qaeda to take up a comfortable residency in Pakistan in 2001. We should have told the Paks back in 2001 that we are coming after AQ and if the Paks want to come along for the ride, that’s fine, otherwise get out of the way… “Prepare to be boarded.” We gave them that type of ultimatum before we invaded A-stan. Somehow we lost our nerve when it came to the Pak border. A border, by the way, that doesn’t really exist for any practical purpose.

    It will probably take another horrific attack on the U.S. to get us back into the proper frame of mind to win this war against islamic fascism. Until then, we are just playing games in the Middle East.

  3. March 30, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I was on the ship USS Hopewell, during the Vietnam War. I am currently suffering serveral illness, which I believe is a direct result from the chemical, Agent Orange. One of the diseases I have, is hemochromotosis, which is overload of iron in the liver. I would like to know if there is anyone out there that has hemochromotosis and was also exposed to Agent Orange. If there is also anyone that was on the USS Hopewell at the same time (Between 1967-1970) Trying to get comp for medical and PTSD, I have been denied. I have been at it for two years. Thanks, Gary G.