Rules of Engagement
During the Vietnam conflict, the Rules of Engagement provided distinct limitations on what military forces could and could not do. It is worth considering how the Rules of Engagement for Vietnam -- and the rationale behind them -- affected the progress of the military action there, and reflected the ideology behind it. An examination of six different points on the military's chain of command -- from the level of individual soldiers all the way up to that of the Commander in Chief -- during Vietnam will yield some understanding of how Rules of Engagement can affect a prolonged military campaign.
From the perspective of individual soldiers, the Rules of Engagement placed limitations on what was and was not permissible during combat. After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution expanded America's military support in the Vietnamese conflict, the Rules of Engagement were amended accordingly. The post-Tonkin ROE declared:
Hostile forces which initiate unprovoked attacks against our forces whether on the high seas or ashore should not be afforded sanctuary from which they can repeat the attack. The best way to preclude repeated attacks is to pursue and destroy the attackers. Such action is not punitive per se but primarily defensive. For self-protection, U.S. forces should be authorized immediate...
(Pentagon Papers 3, 517-8)
In other words, the individual soldiers were permitted more or less to shoot only after being shot at. If Vietnam was seen as a war with a morale problem, these limitations might have had some cause.
From the perspective of battalion commanders, however, there were further restrictions which hampered their activity. Although battalion commanders to a degree operated under less micromanagerial supervision from Washington -- their job being to implement their superiors' strategy -- they nevertheless were hamstrung by the counterinsurgency nature of the conflict. For example the ROE did not permit any incursion into neutral neighboring countries like Cambodia and Laos: during a guerilla warfare, this meant that even the permission to pursue those who shot first had to be curtailed if they retreated across a seemingly arbitrary national boundary.
From the perspective of division commanders, though, the Rules of Engagement must have been particularly frustrating because they reflected the limitations placed upon their direct ability to strategize. Because the Rules of Engagement were known to the enemy -- who, being supplied and aided by larger Communist nations -- the enemy was free to strategize around that. Because America's stated goal was to provide support to the South Vietnamese, rather than declare war on North Vietnam, a certain charade had to be maintained that was reflected in the ROE.…
South Vietnam, it believed, could be a base for the desired ability to mount military and economic operations throughout the globe and regardless of the insidious presence of communist influence, a premise which stood in direct contrast to Ho Chi Minh's dream. Indeed, as an official policy, leaders in Washington considered that the fall of South Vietnam to communism would be a pathway to the prevalence of communism in other
ROE Vietnam Within the context of war fighting, the idea of limited war and the rules of engagement within that paradigm can often conflict if not counter act each other. The purpose of this essay is to correlate the understanding the rules of engagement (ROE) with limited war ideology as seen through the perspective and experiences of different levels of the chain of command. Individual Soldiers The Vietnam War was mosty a guerilla
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