Assess the strategies and tactics used during the second Indochinese war.
To focus solely on the military strategies of the second Indochinese war is to limit one’s understanding of the complicated and unconventional nature of a war not open to purely military solutions. As discussed below, it seems apparent that it was the ability of the Communists, under consistent and unified leadership, to effectively combine their strategic and tactical efforts in the political, military, and diplomatic dimensions of the war which lead to their eventual victory.
Leaders from all sides of the second Indochinese war have emphasized the importance of the different strategic and tactical dimensions in a ‘comprehensive system’ of warfare. Truong Chinh (a leading member of the North Vietnamese government) wrote that resistance “must be carried out in every field: military, economic, political and cultural”1. Vo Nguyen Giap (a general of the Vietminh) observed that “the fight against the enemy on all fronts – military, political, cultural, diplomatic, and so forth – is waged at the same time”2 and even Lyndon Johnson (the American President) argued that the second Indochinese war was “not just a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.”3
The strategies and tactics of the political dimension of the second Indochinese war varied between both sides. The Americans looked to destroy their “opponent’s military capability to wage war” as, to them, the enemies’ “will to continue the struggle is irrelevant … [when] the means to that end are no longer available.”4 To achieve this, and in keeping with the American Containment policy, Johnson pledged “military and economic assistance [to] South Vietnam and Laos” for the “purpose of helping these countries to repel aggression and strengthen their independence”5 in his 1964 Speech to Congress. However, he largely disregarded “the crux of the problem [which] lay in the Saigon government’s inability to mobilize the people and pacify the country…[and] the absence of a [united] political community in South Vietnam”6 because, as Hoffman argues, “one’s success in reaching one’s end depends almost decisively on the solidity of the political base on which one operates.”7
America’s lack of political strategy and aid to South Vietnam meant that it continued to be a politically fragile state and “this fragility gave Hanoi the ability to continue rupturing the South.”8 It has, in fact, been argued by Gertner that it was this unstable “political terrain of Vietnam [which was the] characteristic that doomed United States efforts”9 as it allowed for the spread of Communist and nationalist sympathizing and opportunities for infiltration by Communist and nationalist agents. Thus the impact of the lack of American political strategy in dealing with South Vietnam and the significance of the political dimension of the second Indochinese war to its eventual outcome is highly apparent.
Indeed, for the Vietnamese Communists and the NLF, “the political dimension of people’s war was particularly significant”10 because they were “lacking the technological capability or the basic resources” to destroy the enemy’s military capability and therefore “must of necessity aim to destroy his political capability.” Because, as Mack argues, “if the external power’s will to continue the struggle is destroyed, then its military capability – no matter how powerful – is totally irrelevant.” 11
Truong Chinh maintained that “military action can only succeed when politics are correct”12 and for the Vietnamese Communists and Nationalists political strategy was certainly important to success. The NLF was the political organization which provided the power base of both Communists and non-Communist nationalists in South Vietnam; “it was a political force that fought… for the minds of the people.”13 Because of its power base in the ‘ordinary people’ of South