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A Review of The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973 by Shelby L. Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been an interesting book if the author hadn’t gotten so bogged down in minute details. It’s about the American military in Vietnam, circa 65-73, and it’s pretty comprehensive, at least through 1969. One of its faults, though, is that it spends an inordinate amount of time going over each year of the 1960s and then lumps all of the 1970s into one final chapter. It’s like the author gave up, just like the military did. Another fault I found was that the author made the US military out to be virtually unbeatable and told countless stories of us giving the VC and NVA beatdowns in the jungle, which didn’t actually happen all that often. He’s really gung ho about the US military and it’s just not authentic. He does go into detail on Tet ’68 and the US did win the battles of Tet, but we lost the war then and there — the war of public opinion — and from that moment on, we tried everything possible to extract ourselves from Vietnam and turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, who were worthless as fighters. Granted, I didn’t necessarily want to read an entire book of battlefield failures, but it should have been more balanced and it wasn’t. Another — major — bone I have to pick with the author is that he went on and on about the specific US, VC, and NVA units engaged in battle, to the point where it was simply mind numbing. Witness:

“Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, airfield, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters…. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout companies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back…. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary, fused them with the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor….”

Oh my freakin’ God!!! And on and on he drones. It’s a real snoozer. If the author had just said some soldiers and Marines were fighting the enemy, he could have shortened the book and made it a lot more readable. Only mega-history geeks will like this because it’s mind numbingly boring.

The author also kind of goes elitist on us. He attributes our loss to the draft, specifically to drafting poor men from racially diverse backgrounds, many of whom were allegedly on drugs. “By 1969 the US soldier in Vietnam usually represented the poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced sergeants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and motivation.” Poor, inexperienced men on one year rotations just wanted to get home alive and stopped fighting, per the author. I really think Stanton thinks we could have beaten the NVA if we had kept fighting an offensive war without one year rotations. I don’t believe that, but I think he does.

I did enjoy reading about the various battles, but Stanton had this annoying habit of slimming them down to five sentence paragraphs, which obviously left a lot out, and then incredibly just jumping right into another conflict with no real transition visible. It’s bizarre!

I am giving this book three stars because I’m interested in the subject matter, but it’s a poorly written book that will bore the hell out of most people. As such, it really deserves a two star rating and I certainly can’t recommend it at all.

View all my reviews

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