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After reading this book I find Khe Sanh to be the war in Vietnam in microcosm. The problems of differing perceptions held by Westmorland, Marine General Walt, the CIA, Special Forces, Marine Force Recon and the Bru tribesmen who occupied Khe Sanh illustrate the violations of the principles of war of objective and unity of command. Hovering above it all was the President of the United States exercising personal control of a battlefield from his office, 10,000 miles away.
In retrospect, Khe Sanh was a victory in a sense for the U.S. An isolated U.S. garrison that blew reville and raised a tattered American flag each day despite the inevitable mortar/artillery barrage it drew, told the Bru tribesmen and the North and South Vietnamese that he U.S. was still in control despite being outnumbered significantly. Almost unlimited American artillery and air support helped make the point.
Reading this book, one almost feels the fear, frustration, and misery the garrison endured there. Yet the reader senses the fierce pride that only combat soldiers doing a dirty, thankless job can feel. You can also imagine the rage felt when they were told simply that Khe Sanh was no longer important and to simply walk away.
Valley is essentially a foxhole level analysis of this campaign that shows how decisions emenating all the way from Washington and Saigon impacted the lives of the men on the ground. They were indeed the bait that lured thousands of North Vietnamese to their deaths. Like elsewhere in Vietnam, they were left with nothing to show for their heroic efforts.
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With the onset of the Pacific War, though, there's a new thread to follow: naval operations (hence my review's title). John Prados certainly excels at describing naval operations in the light of knowledge gained through intelligence, all the while throwing in an amazing amount of detail, but there are other books describing operations (although minus the recent codebreaking informations), and better ones at that.
Sadly, by switching to operational history, Prados almost forgets about the war behind the scenes, the sleepless nights in crowded rooms, during which some "super-brains" solved incomplete puzzles, which were to prove vital in the war effort, without earning themselves the honors they deserved. Only this reason keeps me from awarding 5 stars - there are 4 for being one of the most detailed and fascinating to read operational histories of the Pacific War.
Prados is wise enough to limit the topic to just naval intelligence issues, but still fills 735 pages with detail and skill. The pleasant surprise is that it's so well-written, building each issue to its climax in the wartime theater. And, with 50+ years of perspective, you can feel the tide of the war shift after Guadalcanal.
The art of intelligence-gathering increased dramatically during this war because of radio intercepts, so Prados covers the topic chronologically. He has an excellent analysis of Japanese Naval strategy at Pearl Harbor, during the Pacific conquest period, and the shift to a "defensive" strategy of the homelands.
Prados does an excellent job comparing the structure of Japanese and American intelligence-gathering; also in indicating both opportunities and limitations of intelligence in war-time. The reader also sees the dramatic impact that war-time propaganda has in mis-leading military leaders.
Surprisingly low-tech intelligence issues are important at various points during the war: such as the absence of photo-reconnaissance early in the war for Americans. For the Japanese navy, poor ship-recognition skills by Japanese pilots and skippers leads to assumptions that American carriers present no threat because they've been reported as sunk -- or that destroyers were cruisers or even battleships.
The book is closed by an excellent post-war period which does two things: follows the careers of major intelligence participants and discusses social aspects of military training.
From an inteligence and operations viewpoint this is the standard
for the WW2 pacific conflict. (american viewpoint)
Well written,detailed and a great value.
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Well it doesn't. It does fine all by itself. It gives some great insightful information to the reason behind some of U.S invasions, wars, and other candelstine efforts foreign and domestic.
Anybody that lived through the era that the book was covered will get bored easily as no true secrets are revealed. But for those born around the 80's, will become very informed.
A good book, but not that good. I give it three stars because the title does not match the book.
These covert activities ofter are the first steps that leads the U.S. into succeedingly hostile overt activities. The process is complicated by the fact that a covert operation has some loose oversight within our democracy. The author gives the reader a good feel for the past endeavors of the agency and analyzes the results.
I would recommend this book to any American because wherever the CIA is most active will generally be a place where crucial and influential American foreign policy decisions will follow. It is beneficial to have the past record of covert activity available. Covert activity is as the author states probably the most convenient and easiest way to accomplish a short term foreign policy objective and always a temptation to every U.S. administration, but it often comes with the price of a longterm political backlash from the populace involved.
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There is no doubt that The Blood Trail has historical value. Prados has pulled together high and low-level accounts from both sides to produce the first real synthesis on this subject. Unfortunately, far more is promised than is delivered by this book. One major problem is the over-focus on Washington strategy sessions by Bundy, McNamara, LBJ, et al. It seems that every book written on the Vietnam War has to detour into the Oval Office, no matter how much this ground has been trampled before. The only germane aspect of these familiar policy debates is the issue of whether the insurgency in Vietnam would be handled with diplomatic or military means. Prados shows that severing the Trail by a variety of military means was the preferred option.
Although the Americans tried everything from ground attacks, bombing, mining and raiding, they could not sever the Trail. Thus Prados concludes that, "the truth is that the war fighters lost their gambit". Well, that's rather obvious Dr. Prados, given that we lost the war. Unfortunately, by asserting that we couldn't sever the Trail by military means (which actually is not proven, only that the means employed did not work), the author leaves the reader high and dry. What then should the United States have done about the Trail? Abandon South Vietnam in 1964? Negotiate surrender? How could we have known that interdicting the Trail would fail if we did not try it? There is nothing worthy of being called a conclusion here. I also believe that Dr. Prados overstates the effect of severing the Trail in any case. Even if the US military had successfully interdicted the Trail for say 6-12 months, thereby disrupting the enemy build-up, Hanoi would merely have asked for a temporary cease-fire. They could then use the period of cease-fire to repair any damage to the Trail.
I think Prados misses the boat on this one. The Vietnam War was not an exercise in military logistics, whereby if we had severed the enemy lines of communication their war effort would have collapsed. Prados has been influenced too heavily by Jomini and Clausewitz, instead of Mao. First, the enemy would always find a way to get some troops and supplies into South Vietnam, no matter how painful we made this to them. Even if we stopped 80-90% of the troops and supplies - a real success - the remaining 10-20% would probably be enough to keep a low-level insurgency burning in South Vietnam. The war was not about logistics, it was about motivation and protracted struggle. The fact is that as long as Hanoi's leaders remained committed to victory, they could outlast any temporary US military successes. The United States never intended to adopt a large-scale, open-ended defense of South Vietnam for decades on end. Thus, the Trail was probably not as critical to victory or defeat as Prados makes out.
Vietnam Veteran, author of "The Cave", a novel of the Vietnam War.
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