The Myth of an American Attrition Strategy in the Vietnam War

Authored by: Gregory A. Daddis

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415888479
eBook ISBN: 9781135070991
Adobe ISBN: 9781135071028


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If there is one word most associated with American strategy in Vietnam, surely it must be attrition. Critics of the war maintain that as the U.S. Army prosecuted its ground campaign in South Vietnam in the 1960s it employed a flawed strategy of attrition, concentrating, at the expense of all other missions, on killing enemy soldiers. Such narratives argue that General William C. Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV), focused on the “traditional attack mission of the infantry—to find, fight and destroy enemy forces.” 1 Hypnotized by the prospects of high body counts, officers like Westmoreland failed because they “never realized that insurgency warfare required basic changes in Army methods to meet the exigencies of this ‘new’ conflict environment.” 2 Thus, instead of correctly employing a counterinsurgency strategy, MACV’s commander opted for attrition and, in the process, squandered his chances for victory.

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