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Vietnam

The Model Soldier

At a fundamental level, the "red-expert" debate concerned Vietnam's military ethos, the basic qualities and virtues of the model soldier. The prototypical, or composite, PAVN soldier in the 1970s and 1980s was twenty-three years old, had been born and raised in a village, was a member of the ban co class (poor for many generations), was unmarried, and had less than five years' formal education. His rural, agrarian background was the dominant influence in his thinking. He was one of five children and had lived his pre-army life in an extended family that included several generations of his immediate family as well as collateral relatives. He tended to resent outsiders as well as city people. His limited schooling made it difficult for him to cope with certain aspects of army life, for example, technical duties. He was raised as a nominal Buddhist but had always been subject to many direct and indirect Confucianist and Taoist influences. He was uninformed about the outside world, even other parts of Vietnam. He firmly believed in the importance and collective strength of the ho or extended family, and seldom questioned its demands on him, an attitude that served him well in his military career.

At the age of nine, the model future soldier joined the Ho Chi Minh Young Pioneers and spent much time involved in its activities. At sixteen, if he impressed his elders as being worthy, or if his family had influence, he became one of four youths (on an average) in his village to join the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League, participation in which led more or less automatically to admittance to the party as an adult. At twenty or twenty-one he was drafted, received two months' basic training, and was assigned to a unit. He did not particularly want to enter the army, nor did his parents wish it. However, he was obedient and accepted discipline easily. He had faith that PAVN and the state would treat him in a generally fair manner, which chiefly meant to him that they would assist him or his family if he was disabled or killed in battle. He was nonmaterialistic, got along easily on the bare necessities of life, and regarded simplicity as a great virtue--a fortunate coincidence as he received little material reward; his pay per month averaged the price of a dozen bottles of beer. Despite extensive indoctrination by the party, the soldier was not politically conscious. Much of what he knew about politics consisted of slogans he had been obliged to memorize, the meanings of which he only dimly comprehended. Beyond his brief basic training he received little military training, but, if he was illiterate, he was taught to read. He was a survival-oriented, tough, disciplined combat fighter, who persevered with stubborn determination, often against hopeless odds. He could be stubbornly hostile, even rebellious on occasion, without regard to consequences. He knew little about strategy or tactics, but believed that warfare consisted largely of careful planning, meticulous preparation, and then sustained, intensive mass attack.

The party's contribution to this ethos of the model Vietnamese soldier was ideological. To his innate virtues of courage, tenacity, boldness, and cleverness, the party sought to add a commitment to revolutionary ideals. The party thus stimulated an ongoing debate, encompassing sociological, philosophical, psychological, and technological arguments over the fundamental relationship of ideology to technology in modern warfare, an understanding of which was the key to understanding the mind of the Vietnamese soldier. Over the years, the party debate pitted the revolutionary model, that is, the peasant soldier--perhaps ill-equipped but nevertheless infused with revolutionary zeal--against the expert model, the superbly trained but ideologically neutral military technician. The revolutionary model always dominated the debate and found many allies , some transient and some permanent, both inside and outside PAVN. Supporting the expert model, on the other hand, was a small, shifting collection of technologically minded military professionals and civilians. In late 1987, the "experts" in PAVN's general officer corps remained outnumbered, but they had gained the support of a powerful ally--the Soviet military advisers in Vietnam. In reality, the debate between preserving the revolutionary character of PAVN and building a thoroughly modern professional armed force was overtaken by the imperatives of military technology, and the issue became obsolete.

Finally, there were the PAVN-party vested-interest conflicts, in which what was best for the party was not always interpreted as best for PAVN. Subjects of conflict included party and state security controls over PAVN personnel, party use of the military for economic and other nonmilitary tasks, party use of political criteria in selecting generals and senior staff officers who planned grand strategy or directed major military campaigns in the field, the role of the paramilitary, officer-enlisted relations and command authority of the militia within PAVN, and intermilitary and military-civilian relations.

Data as of December 1987

Vietnam - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • National Security

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