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There Can Be Only One: An Analysis of Operational Artists in Vietnam

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Technical Report,01 Jun 2016,25 May 2017

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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The Vietnam War remains a controversial war and continues to be the subject of much debate. GEN William Westmorelands lack of strategic vision has been identified as the reason for losing the war, but this paper argues that this myopic view of events is unfounded. The author wrote on this subject to gain a greater understanding of Vietnam through the lens of Operational Art. The question this paper answers is Who were the Operational Artists in the initial phases of Vietnam and were they successful in applying Operational Art Determining who had the creative leeway, and ultimately exercised Operational Art, is important in understanding the application of Operational Art in Vietnam. This understanding will benefit future Operational Artists and their staffs in understanding how to develop a strategy based on policy and negotiate for the means. Operational Artists will then creatively apply these means in the ways they determine feasible. The types of evidence that form the basis for this inquiry are personal accounts from the commanders analyzed, primary sources in the form of unclassified documents and reports, analysis from prominent historians and official histories. This study will evaluate potential Operational Artists by the following criteria Authority, Responsibility, and Strategic Communications. The structure of the argument of this paper will be defining the term Operational Art and reviewing its history along with the history leading up to United States involvement in Vietnam to establish context. GEN Harkins and Westmoreland will be evaluated in this context by the proposed criteria, and their roles will be compared to recent Operational Artists and their performance in the Long War. This study concludes several relevant points. GEN Harkins was not an Operational Artist despite his role as a Theater Commander because he was ineffective at strategic communication and did not meet the criteria of authority and responsibility.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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