BBC News – Viewpoint: Counter-insurgency lessons from Vietnam

Viewpoint: Counter-insurgency lessons from Vietnam

American soldiers and Vietnamese refugees returning to the town of Hue, in Vietnam

The rise in so-called insider attacks by rogue Afghan security forces has highlighted the perils of joint operations in counter-insurgency. But former US soldier David Donovan, who fought in Vietnam, says lessons learnt long ago have been forgotten.

If you could feel the heat and sweat of the tropics. If you could hear the noise of battle and sense the fears.

If you could put yourself on the other side of the world where you are the selectee of your government to advise and help a unit of foreign fighters defend their village.

And if you and that unit are at this moment in combat but they are being slow to react, you might come close to understanding how I felt one day in 1969 in the Mekong delta of Vietnam.

The enemy were in a nearby tree-line. They had taken us under fire, and bullets were cutting leaves from the trees.

We already had wounded – one man shot in the foot, another in the side. Everyone had gone to ground and the Vietnamese officer, my counterpart, was down behind a small dike with some of his soldiers. He was fixed in place, not taking the lead.

I was an American infantry officer there to provide assistance when possible and leadership when necessary. Frustrated at our slow reaction, I ran toward my counterpart intent on getting him to lead his men. But as I made my way, a background programme had already begun running in my mind. It asked, “What are you doing here? Is this ever going to mean anything?”

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About the author

Terry Turner

David Donovan is the pen name of scientist Terry T Turner, of the University of Virginia. He served in the US army from 1967 to 1970, and saw frontline action in Vietnam. He has written a number of books about his experiences there.

BBC News – Viewpoint: Counter-insurgency lessons from Vietnam.

I can’t really say too much about this but, I have over the years known quite a few officers who were advisers to ARVN units, and they pretty much unanimously say nearly the same things as the author does here If they are correct, and I believe they are, it’s still another reason to get out while we can.

As Donovan says the Mullahs in the hills are saying exactly the same things about us as they did the British 150 years ago. Remember how the poem ends?

If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

 I don’t think it would be wise to have cause to write a similar poem about the American soldier.


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9 Responses to BBC News – Viewpoint: Counter-insurgency lessons from Vietnam

  1. Fantastic post!


    • Thanks.


  2. This is somewhat off topic but really not. A great many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are returning with PTSD. Without some form of psychological treatment a lot of these men will descend into addictions, violence and living on the street, marriages broken, both wives and children can equally suffer from PTSD from their husbands.

    Sadly, the military system of gradual de-senitization from the traumas of war is not only largely ineffective but it’s like asking a woman who’s been raped to have relive the rape over and over again. It’s totally insulting to that person’s psyche.

    What I’m familiar with and has been found to be extremely respectful, useful, fast and effective is a combination of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) as system of tapping the body to release the negative traumatic physiological energy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which allows the brain to reorganize the way it thinks about not only the traumas but about where you are and want to be in life.


    • No, I don’t consider it off topic, and I don’t denigrate it either, it’s real, and it’s bad.

      I don’t understand though, how this has become so bad siince Vietnam and the GWOT, and there are some instances in the World Wars as well but, before that we never heard of it, or its symptoms actually, why? Is there something in the way we are raised now that is different and causes this problem in those who self select to be warriors, or was it just suppressed before? Anybody have any thoughts.


  3. In the Civil War it was called “Soldier;s Heart,” in WWI and II it was “Shell Shock.” Patton was ignorant and as he later commented, “I should have kissed him.”

    It’s more prevalent now as we are more aware of the symptoms. Still, this problem exists, most Vets are reluctant or more likely unable to talk about the horrors they’ve experienced. I don’t think that there’s any difference about the way we’re raised. I think that those going into the military don’t think about it as a possibility or don’t think about it at all.


    • I suspect you’re correct, and I further suspect it is a mark of civilization, and the reluctance to take a human life, which would explain why it never appears to occur in savages.


  4. Good point.


  5. JessicaHof says:

    It would be nice to think our leaders had a plan and knew what they were doing; it would be even nicer if there were any evidence of those things.


    • It surely would, i would feel much safer if there were a plan, however flawed.


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