Aylesworth on Schlosser, 'The Greene Papers: General Wallace M. Greene Jr. and the Escalation of the Vietnam War'

Nicholas J. Schlosser
John Aylesworth

Nicholas J. Schlosser. The Greene Papers: General Wallace M. Greene Jr. and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. Quantico: History Division, United States Marine Corps, 2015. 404 pp. $59.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-9911588-9-8.

Reviewed by John Aylesworth (Texas Tech University) Published on H-War (April, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=47429

Nicholas J. Schlosser has compiled and edited the papers of US Marine Corps Commandant General Wallace M. Greene Jr. The Greene Papers includes official memoranda from the records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), oral interviews, and personal letters and notes. Through these sources, Schlosser constructs a thorough image of the role played by the JCS and Greene in the Vietnam conflict from January 1964 through March 1965. Throughout the book, the buildup of tensions between the US military and civil leadership and the deployment of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade to Da Nang, South Vietnam, in March 1965 take center stage. The civil-military interaction detailed in the book gives readers an important “point of view: that of a frustrated advisor kept on the outside and forced to look in, observe, and reflect on major military decisions often made without his input or support” (p. 1). Schlosser provides a detailed list of abbreviations and acronyms as well as the key participants who struggled to overcome the difficulties of the administrative policies that blocked some military advice and the men who worked to enhance civil control over military operations outside their experience. The buildup to the Americanization of the war in Vietnam can be traced through the 106 selected documents and interviews included in the book.

President Lyndon B. Johnson retained many of President John F. Kennedy’s advisors and their informal methods of dealing with military matters. Greene points this out in both his personal papers and oral interviews. It becomes clear that both Greene and Schlosser do not lay the faults of the decision-making process completely on civil leadership. Errors made by both military and national leadership had a role in the eventual escalation of the conflict. Marine assessments of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) showed a mixture of trust and confidence at the operational levels and concerns about greater self-interest and corruption at higher command levels, and this mixed assessment added to the complexity of the decision-making process.

The JCS worked to reconcile the differences between the political and military aspects of the growing war. They also worked to formulate a Southeast Asia policy that included Laos and Cambodia in the creation of plans to limit North Vietnamese influence in the region. The focus of the various participants made the formulation of a unified action difficult. The late summer and early fall months of 1964 show the development of tensions that would not be resolved during the war.

The lack of unity makes it appear as if the actions and reactions were being made up as the enemy dictated, not as a sound strategy needed for a strong national policy dealing with foreign nations. Strong, yet flexible, standard operating procedures would help start the decision-making process and allow for military input to resolve conflicts. Highlighting the difficulties faced by the JCS helps to inform readers about the complexity of civil-military relations as well as the involvement in Vietnam itself.

The book is organized chronologically, thereby showing the progression of events clearly. However, this format also leads to some confusion, as some events overlap or are similar. Some separate events tend to bleed together and lose the distinctness that makes each one important. Without a deeper understanding of each event, readers may have difficulty differentiating between them. However, the overall effort to highlight key discussions and contentions that influenced the escalation of the conflict comes to light throughout the book. The documents Schlosser includes clearly point to the complexity of the conflict on all levels of leadership, the lack of cooperation between civil-military leaders, and the lack of a comprehensive strategy.

The ad hoc method of meetings and studies related to the operational aspects of the development of the conflict in Vietnam led to bigger issues the more involved the United States became. The roots of future problems were sown by the administration and its lack of adhering to military advice in an attempt to placate political views and sensitivities. Schlosser helps build an understanding of the difficult situation on both sides of the fence.

Citation: John Aylesworth. Review of Schlosser, Nicholas J., The Greene Papers: General Wallace M. Greene Jr. and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47429

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