In their article “War Downsized” (March/April 2012), Carter Malkasian and J. Kael Weston point to the United States’ “long and successful history of deploying advisers to fight insurgencies abroad.” They mention effective operations in the Philippines, El Salvador, and Colombia and suggest that such a strategy be emulated in Afghanistan. 

But the authors conspicuously do not mention Vietnam. The war there started out as a counterinsurgency campaign fought by the government of South Vietnam in tandem with U.S. advisers. But it turned into a major war from which the United States ultimately retreated in ignominy. 

Since I spent ten years with that war in one capacity or another, I can attest that it hinged on the number of casualties each side was willing to sustain. The Tonkinese in North Vietnam were willing to fight to the last man and woman to rebuild their old empire, which included central Vietnam and Cochin China in the South, whereas the United States was not willing to sustain the growing number of casualties the war was exacting. 

The United States was simply lucky in the cases offered by Malkasian and Weston that the other side did not have the resources to oppose the American advisers. Their examples appear to have been chosen selectively to support an argument based on wishful thinking rather than all the available data.

Chevy Chase, Maryland