Rules of Engagement - Essay Example

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Rules of Engagement
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The Understanding of the Rules of Engagement (ROEs), the limited war ideology and the assumptions as seen through different perspectives along the chain of command:
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This paper discusses the understanding of the Rules of Engagement employed during the Vietnam War at different levels of the chain of command. It analyses the lack of rapport between the civilian government and the military that existed then, and the frustration of the military personnel at the restrictions imposed on them during the war. It was felt at the time that rules of engagement were designed more to serve a political purpose and thwart Soviet and Chinese intervention rather than to win the war. Indeed many believe that the ROEs extended the war unnecessarily.
According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, ‘In military or police operations, rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where and how force shall be used.’ The rules of engagement are designed so as to ensure that uncontrolled violence is prevented, civilian casualties are minimized and the conflict does not escalate. However, restrictive rules of engagement undermine the ability of the military or police to resolve a conflict, as, according to many critics of the war, was the case in the US invasion of Vietnam (1959).
The US president at the time, Lyndon Johnson, in order to contain the conflict set down strict rules of engagement that hindered the forces from striking or utilizing force in certain areas. This was done in order to thwart the perceived threat of Soviet or Chinese intervention and to gain support at home. President Johnson wanted the conflict to be restricted to South Vietnam, although aerial bombings in North Vietnam were allowed at certain point in the war. He believed the war was a counter-insurgency battle and the rules of engagement thus were justified.
The Secretary of Defense, Robert Mcnamara, authored the rules of engagement. He saw the Vietnamese invasion as a ground war and thus saw little use of the US air force. Thus, the rules of engagement he designed restricted the aerial fighting the most. Mcnamara too saw the entire conflict as a counter-insurgency battle and thus tailored the rules of engagement to be such that most military strategies and moves were to be self-defensive. It was not until the Gulf of Tonkin incident in the August of 1964 that U.S. air strikes were allowed to be more aggressive.
It is no surprise that the rules of engagement set down by the civilian suits in the government were not very popular with the military strategists. General William Westmoreland was a key architect of the military strategy. In order to avoid further disaster, he forbade any unit smaller then 750 men from executing military operations. Shortly after he was given command of all US forces in Vietnam, he employed an aggressive search-and-destroy policy with the National Liberation Front. He believed that the NLF could be defeated through large scale use of artillery, air-power and large-unit battles. This strategy was successful enough for a while for Westmoreland to believe that the end of the war was in sight. The Tet offensive of 1967 discredited Westmoreland’s claims when NLF forces supported by the North Vietnamese army launched attacks on cities across South Vietnam and proved their ability to carry out such large-scale attacks.
The individual soldiers on the field, as mentioned before in this paper, expressed discontent with the rules of engagement. They felt the restrictions had tied their hands and limited their capacity for effective warfare. The rules of engagement were in blatant violation of all military principles, and were catering more to political reasons than military. However, according to Major Mark S. Martins in his thesis presented to The Judge Advocate General’s School, ‘few senior leaders believed that soldiers understood ROE well before the My Lai massacre, and even fewer believed that soldiers adhered carefully to the ROE’.
The Battalion Commanders too were not very happy with the suppressive rules of engagement. They felt that they hindered them from rooting out the enemy. Because of the restrictions of the ROE, an average time span of two weeks passed between the identification of a target area and permission to bomb it. It was a widely accepted belief that the Rules of Engagement limited the military operations much more than the international laws of armed conflict.
The Division Commanders, like all other military personnel, believed that more lax rules of engagement and increased aerial strikes would have lead to an early end to the war. The rules of engagement prevented them from striking at the vulnerable locations and from stopping movement along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was used to move supplies to the Viet Cong. They felt they lacked the training for counter-insurgency warfare and the restrictions only obstructed the fighting, while negating the technological superiority the US had over the enemy, and placing the enemy at an obvious advantage.
The difference in the war ideologies and the lack of understanding between the civilian government and the military made the rules of engagement a problem that has been the subject of many debates to this day. Many claim that the ROEs were one of the main reasons for the failure of the Vietnam War.
Rules of Engagement (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from
Martins, Mark S. (1994). Rules Of Engagement From Land Forces: Matter Of Training, Not Lawyering. Retrieved from
Marek, Edward S. (2007). The case of General “Jack” Lavelle, the suits double-crossed him. Talking Proud. Retrieved from
Hickman, Kennedy. Vietnam War: General William Westmoreland., Military History. Retrieved from
Rosenberg, Jennifer. Vietnam War., 20th Century History. Retrieved from
Dorschel, Matthew J. (1995). The Effects of Restrictive ROEs on the Rolling Thunder Air
Campaign. Retrieved from Read More
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