Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Stone Age Lullaby

The only problem with the war games was that they did not go well.  The real question was to test out what would happen if we bombed the North.  It quickly became apparent that very little would happen.  The Red (or Hanoi) Team had some very good players, a smart general like Buzz Wheeler, and Marshall Green of the State Department; the Blue Team had men like Bill Bundy, General LeMay and McNaughton.  Hanoi had all the advantages; the bombing of the infiltration routes did not seem to bother it. The more the United States moved, the more men it could send down the trails.  For every American move, there seemed to be a counter move for Hanoi; the blockade of Haiphong saw the North Vietnamese simply put more pressure on the U.S. military bases in the South and slip more men down the trail. We bombed and they nudged a few battalions into the South.  We bombed some more of the greater military targets, and because we were bombing them we had brought in a surface-to-air (SAM) antiaircraft missile site to protect the South’s cities against North Vietnamese or Chinese bombing. So they put the SAM site under siege, and in order to protect the site, which was staffed by Americans, we had to bring in Marines, at which point they nudged a few more men down the trail.  The moment the Marines landed we had more difficult logistic problems, and the Vietcong simply applied more pressure to all supply routes, blowing up railroad tracks, ambushing convoys, making the small bases held by Americans increasingly isolated, dependent upon air supply (because there was little patrolling), and moving their machine guns in closer and closer to the bases, and beginning to shoot down the resupply planes.  The enemy was turning out to be very savvy, very clever, and to have just as many options at his disposal we did at ours.  Maybe even more. What was particularly disturbing, the civilians on the Blue Team were discovering, was that he could meet the U.S. escalations at surprisingly little cost of his own.
It was all very frustrating for the Blue Team and particularly for General LeMay, who was the classic Air Force man and who hated the restraints imposed by civilians.  He sensed that a new kind of war was coming and that once again the military would be frustrated, that sanctuaries would be given, that air power would be misused.
-David Halberstam
The Best and the Brightest