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Those latter two assignments were held during the Vietnam War, the war in Southeast Asia, and I think I had a chance to see the system operate under combat conditions, which is my primary concern with any emphasis on reorganization today. How is it going to affect the conduct of the war and the man who has the job?
I left the assignment of Director of the Joint Staff to go directly to Vietnam, to become the commander of the 7th Air Force, the air commander in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and also to be the Deputy MACV. This is the first time we had an air officer, actually the deputy to the commander, in the overall theater. So I saw the war from two perspectives, the conduct of the war in the air, which in that phase, incidentally, was essentially the main combat involvement of the United States—from 1972 on. And I also had a chance to work the problem from the ground.
I subsequently became the Commander in Chief, Pacific Air Forces, and then later the Commander in Chief, European Air Forces, and the first commander of the Allied Air Forces, Central Europe, a new command organization intended to oversee the air war in Central Europe, if and when it should develop. I was the first commander of it.
I was not asked to testify on the portions of your work involving the reorganization of the JCS. I wish I had been given that opportunity, because I think I could have given you a few insights that might have been useful. But I do welcome the opportunity to talk today about the relationships of the commanders from the JCS level on down, the organization of the field, and how best we can organize to fight a war.
Mr. NICHOLS. General, let me interrupt you and say we haven't completed our deliberations here. We welcome your testimony.
General Vogt. Fine, sir. I would like to just relate a few experiences that occurred to me, because I think they will have some bearing on the problem as you look at it and address it. I was sitting in my office as Director of the Joint Staff in March and early April 1973. We were faced now with a totally different war in Vietnam. The enemy had embarked on a new campaign.
They had gone out of the guerrilla phase and were now in main forces operations. They launched the Easter offensive, which was an assault ultimately involving some 15 divisions of the North Vietnamese Army's regular forces. Units were now equipped to fight on large-scale basis, not the hit-and-run raid type of thing they had been doing previously.
They employed the most modern weapons available to any Communist nation. These included, of course, the surface-to-air missiles, of which we had none on our side, the antitank SAGR, antitank wire-guided missiles—for the first time anywhere in the world—the Strella surface-to-air missile, which was employed for the first time, a shoulder-held missile that wreaked great havoc with our air units in the north, and large artillery pieces, the .130 millimeter gun, for example, which was brought into the battle of Quang Tri, and also, on a large scale, heavy tanks, T-54's, supplied by the Soviets. This was a different war.
I was sitting at my office pondering all these problems one day when the phone rang and it was the White House calling, and they were saying that I was to see the President of the United States that afternoon, involving a matter of some importance. I went over to the White House. This was on April 6, 1972. I was informed by the President that I was to go down to become the new Air Commander of Vietnam, the Deputy MACV Commander. We had a meeting, virtually one-on-one. There was only one other man present in the room. That was Dr. Kissinger.
The President said, “I want to explain the situation as I see it before I send you down there, so that I can get from you the kind of work effort that is going to be required."
The President said, “We are going to continue to pull our ground forces out of Vietnam. I made this promise to the American public. We are going to continue to do this. There will be virtually no U.S. ground forces in contact with the enemy within the next month or two. You are going to have to do the job of turning back the enemy assault in this new campaign that he has now launched, with U.S. airpower and the little guy on the ground, the Vietnamese forces themselves."
He said, “I appreciate this is a difficult challenge. We have 500,000 U.S. troops down there and the Air Force. Now we are going to ask you to do it with 500,000 less troops, U.S. troops, and I am going to ask you what you need to do this job, General.” He said, "I want you to be imaginative. I want you to think in terms of Pattons and not in terms of the guys who have been down there sitting on their hands."
The first thing I addressed was the problem that you are dealing here with today, the problem of organization. I said, “Mr. President, I would like to make a few suggestions for a revised command and control system so that I can effectively do the job you want done.” He said, “Well, what is wrong with the present one?" I said, “What is wrong is that the present Air Commander answers to some seven or eight bosses, each giving conflicting orders and guidance." He said, "I have never heard of this. Who are they?" I started ticking them off. I said: He answers to the Commander in Chief, Pacific, up in Honolulu who is responsible for the war beyond the DMZ and up in the north. He answers to the MACV Commander who is responsible for the war in-country in Vietnam. He answers to the dictates of the component commander in Honolulu, the Air Force component of the Unified Commander, who gives him guidance and directions on how to employ the forces. And he answers to the direct guidance and orders of the various ambassadors in the various countries in which we are fighting the war. To wit, when we go to Cambodia the U.S. Ambassador in Cambodia establishes the ground rules, the rules of engagement, the targets you can hit, and the general manner in which you can conduct your operations. The same thing applies in Laos. And the Ambassador, incidentally, in Vietnam, has a great deal to say about how the war is conducted.
When you add all this up, you find a man sitting there with all kinds of orders and guidance flowing to him daily, some of them conflicting, and he has got to sort it out in the midst of trying to run the war.
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Well, having spent many years in the JCS organization and having heard the Chiefs talk about command and control and how we should be organized, I understand fully how it works. Everybody, of course, is concerned about how he is going to wind up in what position of responsibility and authority. The State Department is very concerned about its prerogatives in ensuring that the political guidance is followed in areas where they have responsibility. And when you get all through putting all this mishmash together, these conflicting ideas and views, you wind up with what at best becomes a compromise.
Now, I must say that the matter could have been resolved very easily at the Commander in Chief level, by the President of the United States, and that is precisely what I was proposing to himthat he designate one man to give me my orders. I said I was not concerned about who that might be, so long as it was a clear chain from him down to me in the field without a lot of dilution and a lot of intervening views, ideas and contradictions.
And he turned to me and he said, "General, you have got it. We are going to clean this thing up immediately.” He turned to Kissinger and said, “Get this thing, squared away so this man responds to the orders of one individual.
Well, I got to Vietnam a few days later, and discovered that they had never heard of the order from the President. Nothing was changed, and I fought the war like my predecessors did, on a daily basis, negotiating, quibling, hassling, and attempting to get the kind of concerted guidance that I needed to do the job properly. It never happened.
I don't think it takes a law to get this kind of thing cleared up. It takes decisive leadership at the top levels. A Secretary of Defense could have said back in those days, “we are going to clean up this command arrangement, so that when the orders come out of Washington, you are going to get them undiluted.
Now, I notice in your bill, and in the efforts of some of the reformers, a tendency to suggest that by strengthening the CINCs we can, in fact, improve the situation that I have just described, and I am afraid it is not that simple. Part of my problem was the CINC, the Commander in Chief Pacific in Honolulu who was sending conflicting guidance, guidance that conflicted with word that I was getting directly from Washington. I will give you one individual illustration of this.
After the war in Vietnam ended, I took the remnants of the MACV staff over to Thailand. We established a new headquarters which was responsible for the conduct of the war in Laos and Cambodia until the cease-fire there. While I was conducting those operations, a cease-fire was arranged in Laos. This cease-fire was ultimately agreed to by several nations at a joint meeting in Geneva. We became a party to it.
The cease-fire, in effect, said everybody will stop right where he is. Neither side will attempt to change relative positions on the ground. The U.S. Air Force will stop all bombing operations
in Laos. The enemy will cease all activities down through the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and the Pathet Lao will hold their current postions and make no attempts to gain advantage or to alter the ground situation.
That agreement was finally signed. The cease-fire was agreed to, and my intelligence people reported to me that the Pathet Lao were preparing to break the agreement, were going to seize a major military objective. This was an objective they had been attempting to seize for many, many months without success. We had been effective in holding them back, but now in the absence of U.S. air they thought they could do this and get away with it.
I asked for clarification up through the chain of command to the Commander in Chief Pacific. What should I do in the event this happens? I talked to the U.S. ambassador in Laos. The general response to all this was forget it. They aren't going to violate the cease-fire. That would be silly for them to do. This is an internationally agree-to cease-fire. What could they gain by taking a simple objective after they have achieved international recognition for their position as it exists today. So I got no answers.
Then the fateful day came, actually early in the morning one day when we got a report that the enemy was in fact engaged in a military operation to seize this objective. The ambassador called me in great haste from Vientienne saying, "You had better start doing something immediately. Start bombing them. They violated the agreement. They are seizing this objective."
I said I couldn't respond to his order to go bomb because he was not in the military chain of command. But I immediately got on the phone and sent urgent messages to my immediate superior, the Commander in Chief Pacific, who incidentally, as you know at this point, is some eight or nine thousand miles away, and not very much up on the state of affairs, the war in that part of the world. And I asked for an immediate authority to react. I also asked the ambassador to go back through his channels to Washington to alert Washington to the problem. I then took the precaution of getting some airplanes ready to mount the offensive, and I waited for the word to go.
The military situation on the ground got worse. The position was about to be overrun. To make matters worse, the position was held by some volunteer Thai forces. If they had been overrun and captured by the enemy, we would have had a difficult political situation with the Thai Government, or host government, for our forces in Thailand. I waited for this message to come from my Commander in Chief in the Pacific. It finally arrived and it said, “Expect no authority to act for the next 24 hours while we deliberate the problem. Repeat, do nothing for the next 24 hours."
Now, here is a military situation that is going all to hell in a handbasket, and if we don't act immediately, obviously the postion is lost. I did the only thing that I could think of doing. I got on the secure phone via satellite communications with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and told him I had asked for this authority and I had gotten this idiotic response, and were they aware of the fact that we were going to lose a major position in a major violation of the cease-fire if I didn't act. He got to the White House and in a few minutes the response came back over the phone “Bomb them,' which we did immediately.
I want to point out the problem at this point. The commander on the scene has a direct order from his immediate superior in Hono lulu saying "do nothing,” and he has another order from Washington saying "go bomb them.” We bombed them. The enemy drew back. The position was held. The Thais were not overrun. We saved the day. Clearly the right answer to how to react.
They never pulled that again. They never attempted to violate the cease-fire again, demonstrating that if you act forcefully and immediately you get that kind of a response. The day was saved. But the man in Honolulu was far enough away from the program to avoid any understanding of the tactical situation and what was involved.
Now, I submit, sir, that we have fought wars in the past without any appreciation of this fact. When we fought in Korea it wasn't the commander of the Far East Command who was responsible for combat operations. The combat commander was in Korea on the scene. He was also the U.N. commander.
In Vietnam, the commander clearly should have been the man on the scene who at that point in time should have been Gen. Creighton Abrams. We would have acted in concert and in a way that would have decisively brought to bear the full power that we had.
There is a danger in enlarging the responsibilities of the so-called CINCs, who are as remote from the scene of combat as anybody. It is just as fast to get word from Washington as it was from Honolulu, even faster today with our much more advanced communications. I suspect the same problem happened over in the Middle East. We had the problem in Lebanon with a man up in Brussels who was as remote from the scene as anybody back here in Washington; giving him more authority in that situation wouldn't have helped either.
I think the plea I am making here, sir is that when you engage in combat, the combat commander ought to be in a position to get the ungarbled word from the National Military Command authority in Washington, undiluted by a lot of intermediate headquarters. And to the extent that we pad these with intermediate headquarters, with a lot of people who are in the business of writing messages that say “no” or “we can't decide” or “we will tell you 24 hours later," we are in deep trouble.
I think what I am saying is the CINCs are not necessarily the combat commanders, and indeed, in the last two major wars they were, in fact, not the combat commanders.
Now, there is another problem that I don't think is taken up in your bill—I have read it, and there are many good points which you have raised in your bill, things that certainly will help improve the situation-and that is the problem of how we organize to fight with our allies. We never-or have not in the past, at least in the wars that I have been involved in and I have been in World War II and subsequent wars-we have not fought individually. We have fought in alliance form, and in the command structure that presumably should have given us joint control of the forces. Now, we did better in Korea than we did in Vietnam. In Vietnam we botched it up completely.
In Vietnam the Vietnamese forces did not respond to the U.S. commander. One of the first things I learned when I got to Vietnam was that the Vietnam Command in Saigon had very little to say about how the war was being fought out in the provinces. When I got out in the provinces, as I did almost everyday and