The Lost War
Chat V. Dang
         April 1975. From Quảng Trị which had been "liberated" since the Fiery Red Summer of 1972 (Mùa hè đỏ lửa), town after town, province after province fell to the advancing North Vietnamese Army (NVA). How could the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) crumble so quickly considering that the population of South Vietnam was seen on television screens worldwide "voting with their feet," running away from "liberated" areas?

         One fundamental explanation might be the difference in modus operandi between the two ideologies. Communism was able to foster, according to James Bruton, a "disciplined single-mindedness of purpose... to ensure that the front organizations and military forces were achieving their stated ends... Communist victory in the war is a case study of management-by-objective." North Vietnam was not outfighting the government of South Vietnam so much as "out-administering" it. This "single-mindedness of purpose" was bolstered by a major tenet of communist strategy, the targeted bombardments of innocent civilians by the NVA, ignoring the "battle for the hearts and minds" of the people that it had lost since the Tết Offensive and Huế Massacre of 1968. As Machiavellian as it sounded, the deliberate killing and wounding of civilians in South Vietnam succeeded in bogging down its government and army, which had to bury the dead and provided food, water, lodging, sanitation, and medical care to the tide of survivors.

         There were furthermore two different battlefield realities. Atheist international communism launched offensive armies fighting with their families safely remaining in North Vietnam where US bombings had ceased, while millennium-old Confucianism with its family-centered Cult of Ancestors permeated the defensive psychologies of South Vietnamese whether Catholic or Buddhist. The collapse started in the Central Highlands at Ban Mê Thuột where under pressure from the enemy, ARVN troops were abandoning their positions and units to go home and evacuate their families, using any means available including Jeeps and helicopters. Thus began on March 15, 1975 the retreat toward Tuy Hoà on the Central Coast known as the "column of tears" with horrendous military and civilian losses. Clinton Granger, a staff on the US National Security Council, wrote that ARVN soldiers were more concerned about the future of their families than their responsibilities to a government which might not be able to protect them. He believed that this one factor, more than any other, explained the rout in MRI and II.

        Please read the rest of the story in WAR AND REMEMBERANCE.