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Westmoreland and Abrams in Vietnam: A Study of the Military Operational Artist in Limited War

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Technical Report,25 Jun 2018,23 May 2019

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US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth United States

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Wars in the 21st century will likely be wars of limited political aim, and thus limited in the scope of the military aim and means. Theater of war commanders, as military operational artists, tasked with the application of operational art in wars of limited policy aims in the 21st century, must effectively link tactical actions to the political and military aims. One such war of limited political aim that highlights the importance of the relationship between the policymaker and the military operational artist is the much debated and highly divisive American experience in Vietnam. The Vietnam War provides key insights into the nature, functioning, and limitations of the military operational artist in his responsibility in the negotiation for the military aim and means in the conduct of modern theater operations. This monograph analyzes the comparative history of two military operational artists, General William Westmoreland and General Creighton Abrams, during the War in Vietnam from 1967 through 1970. Elements of operational art, end state and conditions, center of gravity, and lines of effort serve as the lens to evaluate the success or failure of each MACV commander to arrange tactical actions in time, space, and purpose for strategic ends. Using the above criteria demonstrates that Westmoreland failed to provide politically aware military advice in the negotiation for the military aim and means in Vietnam, while becoming embroiled in the partisan party politics of President Lyndon B. Johnson. This resulted in a loss of military perspective and a failed relationship between policy and operational art. Abrams provided President Richard Nixon with politically aware military advice and remained a military actor as opposed to a political one. Abrams tenure in Vietnam provides a successful interaction between policy and the operational artist in large scale military operations in wars of limited aim.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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