The United States Army in Vietnam: Combat Operations–Taking the Offensive, October 1966 to October 1967, by George L. MacGarrigle, Center of Military History, $44.

No service public relations spin here in the first of the Army’s Vietnam War combat operations histories. The book is critical of United States Army field generalship in several spots and points out how the failings of Washington-level policy makers produced a frustrating, morale-sapping and lethal stalemate.

MacGarrigle describes the strategies, tactics, and larger operations that characterized the first full year of an American-led offensive against Communist forces in the Republic of South Vietnam.

The author’s formula in sketching the fighting is to conduct a running operational study aimed at explaining the war’s status in the fall of 1967. His technique is to first describe the plan or cause of an operation, then to provide a blow-by-blow battle account. Next, MacGarrigle recounts and analyzes Communist appraisals of their own and American battle performance. After a few of these tales, he weaves in the effect of the operations on contemporary strategic debates.

From this step-by-step investigation, a few factors that ultimately shaped the war’s outcome emerge. For example, the Communist strategy during this period was to stage a “big unit war” aimed at the destruction of as many Allied units as possible. But, a combination of their own logistical limitations and American firepower forced North Vietnamese and Viet Cong leaders into occasional short duration raid-type tactics that could not inflict much damage at any one time. On the other side, the American commander, Lt. Gen. William Westmoreland, was denied the ability to seize Communist bases in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and forced to defend South Vietnam’s populated regions without commanding South Vietnamese forces or having what he believed to be adequate American forces. Westmoreland therefore had to be content with an attrition strategy, periodically launching forces from defensive positions and pouncing on any Communist force unlucky enough to become exposed. This, of course, would time and again be thwarted by the Communists’ crossing over borders just in the nick of time. In short, both sides had selected operationally impossible strategies that produced an impasse.

Rod Paschall