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A Review of The Secret War Against Hanoi

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 5, 2012

The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North VietnamThe Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam by Richard H. Shultz Jr.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author of this book used declassified material to give readers an inside view of “The Secret War Against Hanoi.” Unfortunately, it’s almost all from the operational level, or I guess more accurately, from a top down perspective. What I mean is we learn about special forces (SOG) fighting in the Vietnam area (N Vietnam, S Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), but with almost no personal stories behind what went on. Instead, we get directives and papers argued about and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House itself. It’s a book about politics and the resulting failures of SOG due to bureaucratic bullshit. It took years for a covert war to get off the ground, and just when North Vietnam started to publicly admit they were feeling the heat, the White House pulled the plug due to political reasons.

The book covers four main areas within SOG, including psyops, maritime ops, efforts to “cross the wire” to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and frankly, it’s a book about frustrations and failures. It was disappointing in that regard, because I’ve read plenty of books about SOG heroism in Vietnam, and that’s rarely reflected in Schultz’s book. In fact, it would have helped to add some stories of courage or valor or even cowardliness to give the reader a better feel for what he’s getting at, but the author doesn’t do this. Instead, you have military and civilian commanders running around subverting each other at every opportunity and it gets old after awhile. The jokers never learned to work together and they never learned in general. It’s amazing SOG accomplished anything with these people in charge. Sadly, the author portrays most SOG operations as blunders and failures. The truth is, there are no real metrics with which to measure SOG success — people went in to territories they weren’t politically supposed to be with no identifying information. We don’t know the true number of dead and missing SOG vets. It’s a pity.

This book is fairly dry and it gets boring and repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of information overlap between the chapters. I think a better book to read about the subject is John L. Plaster’s “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam.” It’s sad and tragic, but it gives you a real feel for what took place and just who fought these battles.

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