Small Wars Journal

Vietnam to Iraq – America’s Lessons Never Learned

Vietnam to Iraq – America’s Lessons Never Learned by Norvell B. DeAtkine - Lima Charlie

We have а professional and moral responsibility to learn the relevant lessons of the recent past.” The foreword of the recently released report, The U.S. Army in the Iraq War (the Iraq Report) sets forth the goal of what would become the U.S. government’s longest and most detailed study of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and the Iraq conflict thus far.

“OIF is а sober reminder that technological advantages and standoff weapons alone cannot render a decision,” writes General Mark A. Milley, 39th Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. “[T]hat the promise of short wars is often elusive; that the ends, ways, and means must be in balance; that our Army must understand the type of war we are engaged with in order to adapt as necessary; that decisions in war occur on the ground in the mud and dirt; and that timeless factors such as human agency, chance, and an enemy’s conviction, all shape а war’s outcome.”


The United States Army War College (USAWC) Iraq Report was presented to the American public as a compendium of lessons learned about the Iraq War, from the successes of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to the messy, bloody aftermath.


The successful destruction of the Hussein regime was a demonstration of the positive aspects of the American way of war. In the conventional phase, a combination of massive firepower with brigades and divisions maneuvering with close air support exhibited overpowering capabilities, albeit, against a less than first rate enemy.


However, the aftermath consequently demonstrated the shortcomings of the American way of war as the conflict disintegrated into a three-sided civil war, fought in mostly urban areas against militias and terrorists. Massive firepower was often counter-productive, bringing to mind Lt. Col. John Paul Vann’s pronouncement on the Vietnam War:


“This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing … The best weapon for killing would be the knife, but I’m afraid we can’t do it that way. The worst is the airplane. The next worst is the artillery. Barring a knife the best is a rifle … you know who you are killing.”…

Read on.