Introduction to a Great Book about the Vietnam War and Phoenix Program
Stalking the Vietcong: Inside Operation Phoenix by Stuart A. Herrington is certainly an interesting book on the Vietnam War. Unlike Phase Line Green, which took place during the 1960s and the Tet Offensive, Stalking the Vietcong takes place in the 1970s, when Vietnamization was taking place, American casualties were dipping, and most of the fighting was not as severe. Additionally, Herrington was an adviser, not an infantryman or pilot, so the experience he had was very different from the one that many other Vietnam veterans had.
That novel viewpoint, Herrington’s insightful comments about the Vietnam War, the Phoenix program, and why they went the way they did, and his excellent writing style make Stalking the Vietcong a very interesting and enlightening book to read.
Summary of Stalking the Vietcong
One of the most interesting operations of the Vietnam War, in my opinion, was the Phoenix Program. A combination of Army intelligence officers, CIA operatives, South Vietnamese militiamen, and former Vietcong worked together to ferret out and destroy the Vietcong. They decimated its local infrastructure, killed tens of thousands of Vietcong terrorists, and were the only thing that many in the VC feared. That operation is what Stalking the Vietcong is about; Herrington was one of those Army intelligence officers.
Sent to a Vietcong infested area of South Vietnam between Saigon and the Cambodian border as a Phoenix Program officer, Herrington faced many of the familiar challenges we’ve all heard American soldiers relate about the Vietnam War. A corrupt government in Saigon, overbearing and cowardly officers, corrupt local police, cowardly ARVN troops, NVA and Vietcong brutality, and, of course, mosquitoes.
However, other than those aspects of his war, what Herrington describes in Stalking the Vietcong is far different than what you will read in many other books about the Vietnam War. He respected many of his local militia counterparts, saw little evidence of torture or abuse of Vietcong or NVA POWs, and was able to form a working relationship with the South Vietnamese that he worked with. Additionally, as part of the Phoenix Program, he primarily focused on gathering intelligence and turning prisoners into assets, not marching through the jungle and getting ambushed. That makes Stalking the Vietcong a unique book that helps shed new perspectives on the Vietnam War.
Even more interesting than his experiences with the Phoenix Program, Herrington devotes an entire chapter to why the Republic of Vietnam couldn’t stand. Based on his observations of ARVN troops, South Vietnamese government officials, and especially the notoriously corrupt South Vietnamese police, Herrington wasn’t surprised that the North eventually won.
In his eyes, although there were many brave soldiers in South Vietnam, they were hamstrung by the American abandonment of them under President Ford and their own government’s corruption and incompetence. I thought that his insightful analysis of the issues at play in the Vietnam War was by far the best part of Stalking the Vietcong.
Analysis of Stalking the Vietcong
Although I enjoy reading about the military technology involved during the Vietnam War, I often dislike reading the memoirs of soldiers themselves. Too many books about the Vietnam War, especially ones from the late 1960s, are full of defeatism that is unbefitting of American soldiers. Phase Line Green, for example, although an excellent book. is not an enjoyable read. The author is too defeatist. Ditto that for the portions of The Best and the Brightest that are about why we lost in Vietnam.
Stalking the Vietcong, on the other hand, is far better. It’s not that Herrington is more positive; he fully explains the issues at play and how the war was basically unwinnable because of the endemic corruption in South Vietnam. But, he addresses those issues clearly and with a tone that makes it sound like they could have been fixed and would have been fixed has America not abandoned the Republic of Vietnam. He knows we lost, but isn’t a defeatist. Most memoirs of the war in Vietnam are defeatist in tone.
That was my main takeaway from Stalking the Vietcong. The details on the Phoenix Program, the tales of victorious battles against the communists, and the details on how to turn prisoners into assets were all interesting and enjoyable to read. But the patriotic, pro-America and pro-victory tone of Stalking the Vietcong is what makes it a stand out book about the Vietnam War.
American’s have been betrayed by myths about the Vietnam War for far too long. Just as we’ve been misled about other aspects of the fight against communism, as Diana West wrote about in American Betrayal, our elites lied about why the Vietnam War ended in defeat for the forces of freedom and victory for the forces of socialist evil. We weren’t defeated honorably, we were stabbed in the back by hippies and a weak president who gave up on supporting a nation that just needed a bit more help to stay on its feet.
According to Herrington in Stalking the Vietcong, the ARVN fought well during the Easter Offensive of 1972 and won because of its own bravery and tenacity, not just air support. Similarly, the militiamen under his command fought well as long as their Vietnamese officers weren’t corrupt or cowardly. Freedom could have won. The Phoenix Program could have finished decimating the Vietcong and the ARVN could have held off the NVA regulars. All they needed was a small amount of continued support.
Instead, President Ford, Congress, and the American left betrayed those soldiers of freedom and cast Vietnam into the communist camp. Today, we could have a capitalist and thriving Vietnam. Instead, we just have a socialist hellhole and a record of lives lost in a wasted struggle. That should be a lesson. We can’t give up on the fight against evil too soon. Instead, we must keep fighting, especially when we’re on the brink of victory.
By: Gen Z Conservative