William Westmoreland

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William Childs Westmoreland (1914-2005) was a United States Army general, best known for heading Military Assistance Command, Vietnam during the main part of the Vietnam War, but also in his last assignment as Chief of Staff of the Army.

Early career

Born in Spartansburg, South Carolina, he graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery. He served in various military units, and, in 1941, was a staff officer of an artillery battalion in Hawaii.

Second World War

With quick wartime temporary promotions to major and lieutenant colonel, he served as an artillery officer in North Africa and Western Europe. By the end of the war, he was a temporary colonel and Chief of Staff of the 9th Infantry Division

WWII to Korea

After the war, he continued a rapid rise, commanding an infantry regiment and a reserve division, trained as a paratrooper, and commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Following assignments as an instructor at the Command and General Staff College and U.S. Army War College, he commanded the 187th Regimental Combat Team (airborne) in combat in Korea, and was promoted to temporary brigadier general in November 1952.

Steps to Vietnam

He next held a Pentagon staff position, attended Harvard Business School (rather than the War College that was more traditional at the time), and then commanded the 101st Airborne Division.

He was one of the few senior officers since 1940 not to have attended the military's internal school system, especially the Command and General Staff College (although he was an instructor there) and the various war colleges. His nontraditional education, in a school McNamara respected, and his interest in quantification attracted him to McNamara.[1]

Westmoreland next commanded the United States Military Academy, often a final three-star assignment. He moved to command the XVIII Airborne Corps, the main fast-reaction force of the Army.

Vietnam Era

Promoted to temporary full general, he commanded Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) from 1964 to 1968. As a MAC, rather than a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), which has a direct troop command responsibility as well as providing advisors and support to a Host Nation. After leaving Vietnam, he served as Chief of Staff of the Army, dealing with its change to an all-volunteer force during a time of protest.

Separate from the accusations of falsification of information settled through the legal process, questions were raised if Westmoreland truly understood the dynamics of the Vietnam War, and if he were fighting the war he wanted to fight rather than the war he had. [2]

In the enemy's concept, the war (i.e., dau tranh, or "struggle") had two major aspects, using the Vietnamese language terms:

  • dau tranh vu trang (armed struggle), with substrategies for
    • regular forces, including high-tech and conventional combat
    • protracted conflict, including both classic Maoist protracted war and newer idea of revolutionary war.
  • dau tranh chinh tri (political struggle).
    • dich van (action among the enemy)
    • binh van (action among the military)
    • dan van (action among the people).

Mackrubin Owens maintained that Westmoreland ignored dau tranh chinh tri, and also provided only minimal regular military training to the South Vietnamese. Westmoreland, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, were sufficiently confident in American military might — for which political struggle was not a major considerate — that they believed the war would be over by the time they trained the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. By the time his successor, Creighton Abrams, took control, it was too late to change direction to Abrams' "one-war" approach.

Westmoreland's successor, Creighton Abrams, paid much more attention to political warfare. When Abrams arrived in May 1967, he saw the American-designed system as wasteful defensive installations, of base camps for large conventional forces and static border camps, while the Vietcong continued to build shadow government in the villages. Many villagers believed, rightly or wrongly, that the VC were more responsive than Republic of Vietnam officials and absentee landlords. With his One-war model, he changed the direction from Westmoreland's methods.

Retirement

In retirement, he sued CBS News for libel in its 1982 program, "CBS-TV of The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception", which claimed he had falsified reports from Vietnam. The matter was settled out of court.

References

  1. Samuel Zaffiri, Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland (1994)
  2. Mackubin Owens (July 2005), "A Noble Soldier, Not a Great Soldier (Editorial)", Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University