By Arrigo Velicogna
‘One side could move quickly, could almost disappear at will, controlled large areas of the countryside. The other side had overwhelming firepower but were always going to be “strangers in a strange land”.’[i]
These two sentences encapsulated our common understanding of the Vietnam War. They are simple, effective, but hopelessly misleading. Yet they are entrenched deep not only in the common understanding, but also in plenty of academic analyses. But a repeated lie is still a lie, despite its popularity. Wars in Vietnam, either the French ‘Indochina War’ or the American ‘Vietnam War’, are misunderstood, misremembered and misrepresented. Few years ago historian Dale Andrade wrote that the understanding the US Army had of the Vietnam war came ‘in spite of its own official history, which provides a balanced and detailed account of the war.’[ii]
The war the United States, the Republic of Vietnam and their allies faced in Vietnam was at the same time a conventional war and an insurgency. Diminishing the former to emphasise the latter, has had been recently fashionable is wrong. In writing Into the Iron Triangle I wanted to provide the readers with a counter to the constant rehashing of myths and stereotypes. The book looks at one year of clashes between Saigon and the Cambodian border culminating in the first multidivisional American operation of the war, ATTLEBORO. These clashes chiefly involved the US 1st Infantry Division, the famed Big Red One, and the Peoples Armed Forces 9th Division. Battles alone were just a single component of a complex war so I have put them into their strategic context, showing large clashes were an integral part of both sides’ strategy. Beside chronicling the battles, Into the Iron Triangle looks at the units involved, their organisation, their doctrine and their equipment. The reader will discover how both sides were in reality strangers in a strange land, and were constantly trying to bring overwhelming firepower on their opponent.
Hopefully I have brought a convincing alternative to our common understanding and one that brings to the fore what was really happening on the ground rather than generic theories of conflict.
Into the Iron Triangle is now available to buy on the Helion & Company Ltd website here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/into-the-iron-triangle-operation-attleboro-and-the-battles-north-of-saigon-1966.php
[i] Eoghan Kelly, Nam the Way it Was, Wargames Soldier and Strategy, 113, 2021, p.78
[ii] Dale Andrade, Westmoreland was Right, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 19-2, 2008, p.149