Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Guerilla Warfare Today

Guerilla Warfare

On March 14, 1954 a force of 40,000 Vietnamese guerillas began the attack on about 15,000 French troops at Dien Bien Phu. The French assumed their superior armaments and artillery would demoralize and eventually destroy the attacking force. However, they underestimated the effectiveness of guerilla warfare. On May 7, 1954 Ho Chi Minh’s troops over ran the French positions bringing about Vietnam’s independence from France, and ending a war which had turned the tide of public opinion in France against the war.

The American Army of the West was forced to contend with the unconventional warfare utilized by the Indians of the West whose attack and retreat methods coupled with their ability to launch deadly assaults from hiding. Their ability to inflict death and destruction created such unease that time and again the forward progress of the nation was stalled, and Eastern newspapers reflected a growing frustration with the military’s failure to affect a speedy victory over the disparate tribes.

Fidel Castro made guerilla warfare so popular in the Western hemisphere, as he operated from remote mountains to eventually overthrow and depose Fulgencio Batista of Cuba in 1959, that revolutionaries sprang up in nearly every Central American Country. The “Big Stick” diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt evolved to a “Walk Softly” approach as the Communist advanced inexorably forward under the leadership of Castro disciples like Che Guevara who became the spiritual leader of revolution in the Banana Republics, due in no small part to the fear of entanglement in more prolonged, costly, and painful guerilla warfare.

Then the ominous and effective tactics of Ho Chi Minh, when once again pitted against overwhelming military power, led to the disenchantment of yet another nation as America lost her will to defend an embattled people. The public clamoring for an end of American participation in the bloody conflict, led to an ignominious retreat from Saigon and the consignment of millions of Vietnamese to the brutal atrocities perpetrated by their new communist masters.

Ho Chi Minh, an autocratic dictator who ruled by force of arms, was not constrained by the need for popular support. Casualties, wrought in pursuit of the ultimate goal of victory, were little more than logistical inconveniences. Hoards of sapper squads penetrating defenses in suicidal attacks did little to affect military victory, but the emotional effect they left on the fragile psyche of a soft American populace cannot be overstated.

Today, America again stands against a foe who is little influenced by public opinion or the need for popular approval. While this enemy gives little thought to affecting a military victory, he is purposeful and vicious in his attacks upon the soft underbelly of the collective psyche. The resolution with which the enemy was initially confronted has dissolved into a wavering and mushy fear likely to result in the “jello diplomacy” of the late 1970's.

The anniversary of the beginning of the battle for Dien Bien Phu seems as good a time as any for us to ponder the consequences of yet another Saigon. The battle raging across the fruited plain is not how best to affect a military victory, but rather how best to withdraw with some semblance of honor. Politicians vie for the public’s ear as they promote onerous plan after onerous plan intended to build some measure of political capital, rather than affirm integrity and statesmanship.

What lies ahead should we run, with tails tucked firmly between our legs, from this new foe who not only wants us banished from a region of the globe, but annihilated from the face of the earth? The malaise” of the Carter years, and the capitulation to a kind of national self-debasement which resulted from defeat at the hands of the guerillas of Ho Chi Minh was nothing compared to the possible consequences of our squandering the opportunity to curtail a much more ominous threat to world peace.

1 comment:

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