Cover: Some Lessons from Failure in Vietnam

Some Lessons from Failure in Vietnam

Published 1969

by Daniel Ellsberg

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Remarks at a June 1968 conference on lessons and mis-lessons from Vietnam. Our 1965 escalation followed not from a theory of limited war but from the American way of war, reliant on bombing and shelling. The lesson is, a nation that pleads for U.S. military support in a conflict is inviting great destruction of its territory and society. Public revulsion to the Vietnam war is not a result of cyclical change in American attitudes toward war in general, but rather is a response to this war: to the way we entered it, the way we are conducting it, and our evident lack of progress or prospect of success. The American bureaucracy must bear substantial responsibility for our failure in Vietnam. Initially there was great ignorance about the society and problems of Vietnam, which the bureaucracy has not corrected. Moreover, we persist in denying and disguising our failures there. This suggests the folly of U.S. intervention in areas and problems of which we know little. It is essential to study the governmental and military learning process to discern its limits and ways to speed it up.

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