NAGO on the far left.
President Kennedy’s failure to challenge North Vietnam’s glaring and extensive violation of the 1962 Geneva Treaty on the neutrality of Laos, President Johnson’s compounding of this error by allowing Laos and Cambodia to become sanctuaries for North Vietnamese troops and supplies, and Kennedy’s regime change call that encouraged a South Vietnamese military junta to replace elected South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
The junta unfortunately murdered Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. This threw South Vietnamese civil government and military leadership into chaos for over two years, which the Communists exploited to the fullest, forcing a huge expansion of American commitment and troops. This regime change was the greatest mistake of the war. President Carter’s failure to support the Shah of Iran, long-time U.S. ally, in the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the Obama/Hillary Clinton backed Arab Spring involving Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria in 2011 were repeats of this media-pleasing liberal ideological error.
The fourth major error in Vietnam was the Johnson-McNamara theory of warfare—variously called “graded escalation,” “gradual escalation,” “the doctrine of gradualism,” or sometimes just “the slow squeeze.” It was the brainchild of Harvard academics, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was its foremost ranking advocate. Lyndon Johnson became its most faithful and powerful executive disciple. However bright the strategy of graded escalation might have seemed to Harvard whiz kids and game theorists, it went against the accumulated military wisdom of centuries.
The Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff ( JCS), Pacific Area Commander Admiral Grant Sharp, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department Intelligence Agency, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk all strongly opposed it The JCS and the intelligence agencies consistently advocated quick and decisive action against North Vietnam, including bombing critical military, air, naval, transportation, industrial, and fuel storage targets in all parts of North Vietnam, especially those near Hanoi and Haiphong. The Navy advocated aerial mining of Haiphong’s strategic port. Conventional military wisdom is to hit an enemy as hard and fast as you can to maximize his costs and minimize your own risks and costs. A Marine Gunnery Sergeant once gave the advice: “Hit ‘em as hard as you can, when they ain’t looking.”
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