David and Goliath in Vietnam

General Westmoreland boasted that he was going to bleed the Vietnamese to death with a huge killing machine he was deploying in their country. Superbly trained Army infantry and Marines would outmaneuver the Vietnamese as fleets of “slick ship” transport helicopters shifted them swiftly from one battleground to another with unprecedented mobility. They would be protected as they landed by a second fleet of “gunship” helicopters with electrically controlled, rapid-firing machine guns and pods of air-to-ground 2.75 inch rockets attached to the sides. They carried their artillery with them, 105 millimeter howitzers slung under the boxy CH-47 “Chinook” cargo helicopters the Army had recently developed.

“Westy,” as he liked to be called, was building airfields all over the place. Once on the ground, the troops could summon unlimited strikes by jet fighter bombers stacked overhead, laden with bombs and napalm and white phosphorous, which could burn its way through a man’s flesh. There was no limit to the level of explosives that the United States would use to shatter the Vietnamese. The eight-engine B-52 “Stratofortresses” of the Strategic Air Command, created to devastate the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, would now blast the Vietnamese with the closest equivalent in conventional bombardment — 20 tons of 500-pound bombs dropped from a single aircraft flying at 30,000 feet. When the B-52s struck, the earth trembled for miles in every direction.

The Vietnamese turned to the natural fortress that was their land. In the 1960s the hand of man had hardly touched the mountains of the Annamite chain, which extended from North Vietnam well down into the Central Highlands of the South. The Annamites were then still a primeval place of lonesome peaks and forbidding ridges. Broadleaf evergreen and teak and mahogany rain forest covered all except for the thickets of bamboo and the clearings in the valleys…

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