VIETNAM

General

Richard H. Shultz, Jr.

 

Shultz, Richard H., Jr. The Secret War Against Hanoi: Kennedy and Johnson's Use of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Clark comment: While intending only to scan Shultz' work over the Christmas holidays 2002, I found it so well done that a closer read became necessary. Although the outlines of the activities of Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG or SOG) have been more widely known than some reviewers seem to think, the flesh that Shultz puts around the existing bones is finely molded. That he sympathizes with the people given SOG's particularly impossible mission does not in any way displace the author's critical eye. Whether discussing strategy (or the lack thereof), operational planning, or tactical activities, Shultz' insightful mind drives his sharp pen to skewer the decision makers of the period in a fashion that rings true. That Shultz has chosen to present his material in overlapping scenarios may seem redundant or repetitive to some. However, the style is a marvelous teaching tool, and the author uses it to good effect in putting SOG's role into the broader perspective of Washington's waging of the Vietnam War. This is a superb work.

For Ignatius, Washington Post, 10 Nov. 1999, Shultz "offers a startling new glimpse" at the Vietnam War.

Loeb, Washington Post, 24 Nov. 1999, notes that the secrets of America's covert actions in Vietnam "remained locked in a Pentagon vault until Shultz gained access four years ago to 3,000 pages of classified SOG files.... Shultz's treasure trove of a book is most fascinating as an operational text, describing intelligence cons and deception games worthy of John LeCarre at his best."

To Bernstein, NYT, 12 Jan. 2000, this is an "illuminating account" and a "searching, critical, dispassionate analysis." In Shultz' account, President "Kennedy showed no sign of souring on the war and wishing ... to bring about a U.S. disengagement. On the contrary,... Kennedy was so impatient to get results that when the CIA failed to do so, he transferred the operation to the Pentagon."

Friedman, CIRA Newsletter 25.1, says that this book "is the first-ever definitive and comprehensive account of the covert paramilitary and espionage campaign [in Vietnam], with many eye-opening disclosures."

Less impressed is Gatlin, Proceedings 126.4 (Apr. 2000), who makes the cardinal mistake of misspelling Shultz' name. Although the work "does provide the most complete picture yet of the origins, organization, and administration of SOG,... the uneven scholarship and lapses into an astonishing flippancy and clear agenda suggest [Shultz] (understandably) fell in love with his subjects.... Partly owing to ... reporting every word of interviewees ... the result is ... an unintended litany of excuses for SOG's relative ineffectiveness."

Cohen, FA 79.3 (May-Jun. 2000), sees Shultz' "understandable admiration for the courage and ingenuity of America's operatives and their Vietnamese allies" differently: "In the end, Shultz's respect for the agents involved does not compromise his dispassionate assessments of their accomplishments."

According to Andrade, IJI&C 14.4, Shultz "deftly outlines the evaluation of the covert program and its execution. Perhaps most importantly, he notes the consequences of Washington's micromanagement of OPLAN 34A." However, Shultz' sources "are so tightly focused on their subject that they lose the larger perspective.... Worse, he fails to examine sources from the other side."

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