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A Noble Cause

A Noble Cause

American Battlefield Victories in Vietnam

Douglas Niles

Caliber, New York, 2015, 336 pages

Book Review published on: May 5, 2017

A Noble Cause was published in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War, and Douglas Niles has done an excellent job of commemorating the sacrifices and largely forgotten or overlooked American tactical victories in Vietnam. He begins with the first major ground maneuver forces’ battles in 1965 and then follows major tactical actions chronologically throughout the war in an interesting progression. This book is exceedingly readable and very interesting.

Many generation X and millennial soldiers know little-to-nothing of their fathers’ or grandfathers’ war in Vietnam. Even “baby boomers” of the Vietnam generation seem to have a deficit of knowledge. Subjected to revisionists—the anti-American history in schools by those who propagate stereotypical views of what happened in Vietnam based on movies such as Apocalypse Now or Platoon—most people have no true understanding of the tremendous job done by our forces. Niles attempts to set the record straight with examples of substantive tactical battles in which the U.S. military repeatedly trounced the communist forces. Niles fairly points out that there were some “close calls” due to faulty decisions or planning by U.S. leaders but with the hindsight of fifty years and access to some enemy records, the U.S. forces are discovered to have succeeded beyond their contemporaneous assessments.

Niles’s work is very commendable in telling the story of U.S. tactical victories. However, as with many military histories, his book is seriously deficient in good maps. The maps that exist make a good start in understanding the actions, but more maps would substantially increase the quality of this work. As descriptive as the troop movements are, without maps they largely do not make sense. Although I consider myself extremely familiar with our war in Vietnam, having taught it as a subcourse at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, I found it difficult to follow the actions described without better maps or schematics to show unit dispositions. The flyleaf alludes to the book being a tribute to “allied forces in Vietnam,” but there is no mention of the Korean Army units or the Australians who made significant contributions. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (or South Vietnamese Army) is mentioned, but their actions are not significant to the text, which is perfectly fine since the book is about American battlefield victories.

Several editing errors could have been prevented by an editor with military experience. For example, the Gatling guns on aircraft are misnamed “Ruff Puffs.” This odd mistake confuses the slang nickname for South Vietnamese “Regional/Popular Forces” who were known as “Ruff Puffs.” The M42 “Duster” tracked antiaircraft guns are not 20mm, but actually 40mm. Finally, the Army was operating under the Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS) during Vietnam. The Army units in the book are mislabeled using the U.S. Marine Corps regimental designations and several battalions were redundantly called battalions even though their numerical designation showed they were battalions. These are relatively minor errors, but they are distractors to military readers.

Niles does a service to our military history by ensuring that our victories in Vietnam are recorded for posterity. This is a worthwhile book for professional military officers that adds much balance to the history of our war in Vietnam, bringing honor to those who fought there.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Edwin Kennedy Jr, U.S. Army, Retired, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama