“Uphill Battles:” Among the Guerillas Book Review

Looks like an interesting and worthy read

Conclusion:

While one can disagree with his retrospective estimate of the feasibility of a complete 1968 U.S. withdrawal, Mr. Scotton’s book offers fresh insight on a much-chronicled era. Moreover, “Uphill Battle” is a useful reminder of the enduring truths of effective counterinsurgency-particularly the need to build security and popular participation up and out from the basic community level.

Among the Guerillas

Frank Scotton’s curiosity about all things Vietnamese got him into risky situations-including shootouts with local Viet Cong.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/ book-review-uphill-battle-by- frank-scotton-1421281560? KEYWORDS=among+the+guerillas& autologin=y

By
RUFUS PHILLIPS
Jan. 14, 2015 7:26 p.m. ET

In “Uphill Battle,” Frank Scotton tells the remarkable story of his deep involvement in the American counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam from 1962 to 1972. What makes his account special is the range of his Vietnamese contacts and friends, his understanding of reality in the countryside, and his political insight that the war was going to be ultimately won or lost based on the intensity of motivation on the opposing Vietnamese sides.

The book begins with Mr. Scotton, about to turn 24, arriving in Saigon in 1962 as a newly recruited officer in the U.S. Information Agency. Formed in 1953 to conduct information programs abroad to counter Communist propaganda, USIA and its country missions (USIS) were an important part of the U.S. Cold War effort.

Mr. Scotton gives an intimate chronological account of his time on the ground in South Vietnam, where reality often conflicted with American perspectives in Saigon, let alone Washington. Mr. Scotton’s pre-assignment training, except for limited language exposure, turned out to be largely irrelevant. Among the characteristics that made him unusual was his determination to learn Vietnamese, which he worked at incessantly from his first day in country. There was also his insatiable curiosity about all things Vietnamese, which sometimes got him into situations of considerable risk-including at least two shootouts with local Viet Cong.

The book is enlivened by numerous anecdotes. In 1962, Mr. Scotton, still inexperienced, is left overnight in the company of the redoubtable Lt. Col. John Paul Vann (the central character of Neil Sheehan ‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Bright Shining Lie”). Vann was then the American military adviser to the 7th Vietnamese Army Division at My Tho, a key city in the southern Mekong Delta and an important ferry crossing to an adjacent province, Kien Hoa. There the VC had a strong historical base of support. Vann evinces ignorance of happenings on the Kien Hoa side of the river. Mr. Scotton takes the ferry across in the afternoon and browses around. With night coming, a shop owner advises him for his own safety to take the ferry back to My Tho or go on to Kien Hoa’s capital. Instead, Mr. Scotton makes friends with the local police guarding the ferry landing and discovers that it is quite safe there, because a tacit understanding exists that neither the VC nor government forces want to contest the ferry: Both need it for their own purposes. He beds down peacefully in the outpost and returns to My Tho the next morning, where he is chewed out by Vann for supposed recklessness. That is, until he tells Vann about the tacit arrangement. Vann quiets down. Later Vann unsuccessfully asks Mr. Scotton’s boss to assign Mr. Scotton to My Tho.

ENLARGE

UPHILL BATTLE

By Frank Scotton
Texas Tech, 464 pages, $39.95

After being introduced to USIS’s Vietnamese field operations, Mr. Scotton helps build the USIS field service by assigning trained Vietnamese employees to support government information offices. His work morphs into helping create Vietnamese combined paramilitary and information teams to contest the Viet Cong in rural hamlets. This effort shows signs of success but gets largely lost during the deployment of American troops and the subsequent ill-fated war of attrition. Mr. Scotton eventually becomes an executive assistant in 1970 to William Colby, the head of the CORDS program, the combined U.S. civilian-military counterinsurgency effort that had finally started in 1967 after much fruitless experimentation. It became effective only late in the day, when American public support for the war had drastically waned. Mr. Scotton was invaluable as one of the few Americans who understood counterinsurgency at the local level and provided a check on how it was actually working.

Mr. Scotton punctuates his narrative with context about events on the Vietnamese and American sides. He begins with the Buddhist crisis and the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, and follows with the South Vietnamese’s failure in 1964 to coalesce politically and militarily after the coup; the incursion by regular North Vietnamese units in late 1964; the fateful intervention of American troops in 1965; and counterinsurgency and “Vietnamization” after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Gradually, a more stable South Vietnam government emerged that supported counterinsurgency. But in Mr. Scotton’s view, it never developed a compelling political cause of honest, responsive government that could have attracted broad popular support.

Mr. Scotton characterizes the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973 as “disguised surrender” because it left North Vietnamese regular units in South Vietnam controlling future offensive staging areas even as it removed U.S. military support. His considered opinion is that South Vietnam could not have survived over the long haul without democratic reform, which the South Vietnamese government showed few signs of delivering. In hindsight, Mr. Scotton also believes that after Tet the U.S. should have concluded that the war was hopeless and withdrawn. How this could have been done in even a half-honorable way is not described. At the time, North Vietnamese negotiators were demanding that the U.S. remove the Saigon government and accept a coalition with the National Liberation Front, which they controlled. This would certainly have resulted in a rapid North Vietnamese takeover, followed by the same murderous repression that occurred in 1975. There was still the possibility that the post-1968 Saigon government and army might succeed with continued strong U.S. support, and in fact the subsequent counterinsurgency campaign did largely succeed in securing most of the countryside.

While one can disagree with his retrospective estimate of the feasibility of a complete 1968 U.S. withdrawal, Mr. Scotton’s book offers fresh insight on a much-chronicled era. Moreover, “Uphill Battle” is a useful reminder of the enduring truths of effective counterinsurgency-particularly the need to build security and popular participation up and out from the basic community level.

Mr. Phillips is the author of “Why Vietnam Matters.”

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