A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

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“A comprehensive and long-overdue examination of the immediate post–Tet offensive years [from a] first-rate historian.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
Neglected by scholars and journalists alike, the years of conflict in Vietnam from 1968 to 1975 offer surprises not only about how the war was fought, but about what was achieved. Drawing from thousands of hours of previously unavailable (and still classified) tape-recorded meetings between the highest levels of the American military command in Vietnam, A Better War is an insightful, factual, and superbly documented history of these final years. Through his exclusive access to authoritative materials, award-winning historian Lewis Sorley highlights the dramatic differences in conception, conduct, and—at least for a time—results between the early and later years of the war. Among his most important findings is that while the war was being lost at the peace table and in the U.S. Congress, the soldiers were winning on the ground. Meticulously researched and movingly told, A Better War sheds new light on the Vietnam War.
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About the author

Lewis Sorley is a third-generation graduate of the United States Military Academy who also holds a PhD from the Johns Hopkins University. He served in Vietnam, and in the Pentagon in the offices of Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger and Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland. He also taught at West Point and the Army War College. He is the author of five highly-regarded works of military history.
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Additional Information

Publisher
HMH
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Published on
Jun 3, 1999
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Pages
528
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ISBN
9780547417455
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / Southeast Asia
History / Military / United States
History / Military / Vietnam War
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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BEN SUC was a relatively prosperous farming village thirty miles from Saigon, on the edge of the Iron Triangle, the formidable Vietcong stronghold.  It had been “pacified” many times, but because of security leaks no Vietcong were ever captured, and it always reverted to them.  Therefore on January 8, 1967, American forces launched a surprise assault kept secret even from their South Vietnamese allies.  The plan was to envelop the village, to seal it off, to remove its inhabitants, to destroy its every physical trace, and to level the surrounding jungle.
   Jonathan Schell accompanied the operation from its beginning to its successful but dismal end, and reports it in depth as he saw it.  This time no one slipped away.  The story of the bewildering task of separating the V.C. from ordinary villagers is the dramatic core of the first part of this book.
   The 3,500 villagers were moved to a refugee camp in Phu Loi, a barren, treeless “safe” area, with only what possessions they could carry.  The bulldozers went to work and flattened every building.  For security reasons no advance preparations had been made, and the move became a human and administrative nightmare.  The people of Ben Suc were farmers, and there was nothing for them to do at Phu Loi, Mr. Schell offers vivid portraits of one individual after another—women, children, old men—as they are pacified and sink into apathy and despair.
   Here is an overwhelmingly affective narrative of American skill and good intentions squandered in a cause made hopeless by misunderstanding, by resistant traditions, and by cultural gaps not only between ourselves and the villagers, but between them and the Saigon government.  Mr. Schell’s report is devastating.
A "better war." Over the last two decades, this term has become synonymous with US strategy during the Vietnam War's final years. The narrative is enticingly simple, appealing to many audiences. After the disastrous results of the 1968 Tet offensive, in which Hanoi's forces demonstrated the failures of American strategy, popular history tells of a new American military commander who emerged in South Vietnam and with inspired leadership and a new approach turned around a long stalemated conflict. In fact, so successful was General Creighton Abrams in commanding US forces that, according to the "better war" myth, the United States had actually achieved victory by mid-1970. A new general with a new strategy had delivered, only to see his victory abandoned by weak-kneed politicians in Washington, DC who turned their backs on the US armed forces and their South Vietnamese allies. In a bold new interpretation of America's final years in Vietnam, acclaimed historian Gregory A. Daddis disproves these longstanding myths. Withdrawal is a groundbreaking reassessment that tells a far different story of the Vietnam War. Daddis convincingly argues that the entire US effort in South Vietnam was incapable of reversing the downward trends of a complicated Vietnamese conflict that by 1968 had turned into a political-military stalemate. Despite a new articulation of strategy, Abrams's approach could not materially alter a war no longer vital to US national security or global dominance. Once the Nixon White House made the political decision to withdraw from Southeast Asia, Abrams's military strategy was unable to change either the course or outcome of a decades' long Vietnamese civil war. In a riveting sequel to his celebrated Westmoreland's War, Daddis demonstrates he is one of the nation's leading scholars on the Vietnam War. Withdrawal will be a standard work for years to come.

Moving through the jungle near the Cambodian border on May 18, 1967, a company of American infantry observed three North Vietnamese Army regulars, AK-47s slung over their shoulders, walking down a well-worn trail in the rugged Central Highlands. Startled by shouts of “Lai day, lai day” (“Come here, come here”), the three men dropped their packs and fled. The company commander, a young lieutenant, sent a platoon down the trail to investigate. Those few men soon found themselves outnumbered, surrounded, and fighting for their lives. Their first desperate moments marked the beginning of a series of bloody battles that lasted more than a week, one that survivors would later call “the nine days in May border battles.”

Nine Days in May is the first full account of these bitterly contested battles. Part of Operation Francis Marion, they took place in the Ia Tchar Valley and the remote jungle west of Pleiku. Fought between three American battalions and two North Vietnamese Army regiments, this prolonged, deadly encounter was one of the largest, most savage actions seen by elements of the storied 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. Drawing on interviews with the participants, Warren K. Wilkins recreates the vicious fighting in gripping detail.

This is a story of extraordinary courage and sacrifice displayed in a series of battles that were fought and won within the context of a broader, intractable strategic stalemate. When the guns finally fell silent, an unheralded American brigade received a Presidential Unit Citation and earned three of the twelve Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam.
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