Friday, April 22, 2005

Xuan Loc

We are rapidly approaching the 30th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam. Many of the decisions that led America to commit over 500,000 troops to that country in pursuit of an ill-defined strategy of attrition are open to question. Regardless, the vast majority of soldiers who went to Vietnam did their duty with courage and skill, and deserve the gratitude of our nation.

One of the most popular themes among critics of the anti-communist side of the Vietnam War is that the very existence of South Vietnam was somehow illegitimate. The fact of that country's defeat is taken as prima facie evidence of its artificial, unpopular nature. This argument ignores several facts. One is that it took a conventional invasion by 17 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) divisions awash in Soviet-bloc weapons and equipment to overrun South Vietnam. By this standard, Poland in 1939 and France in 1940 were equally illegitimate entities.

Those who question South Vietnam's right to have existed also point to the fanatical determination of the NVA, and contrast this to the supposed cowardice of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Unfortunately, this belief is a dual caricature. While the NVA was a formidable opponent, its soldiers were far from being communist supermen. A former North Vietnamese soldier named Bao Ninh has written in his memoirs that "(d)esertion was rife throughout the regiment, as though soldiers were being vomited out, emptying the insides of whole platoons." On the other hand, the ARVN certainly had its problems, yet between the years of 1965-1972 three times as many South Vietnamese soldiers died than Americans.

The best example of the ARVN's courage and willingness to fight came in April 1975 at a place called Xuan Loc, a strategically important town on the approaches to Saigon. The ARVN 18th Division, with some supporting units, was assigned to defend this vital position. Beginning on April 9, Xuan Loc was attacked by 3 NVA divisions with armor and heavy artillery support. For two whole weeks, against overwhelming odds, as their country fell apart around them, the men of the 18th stood and fought heroically, Finally, on April 22nd the 18th Division withdrew, having suffered 30% casualties while killing over 5,000 of the enemy. In the words of General Phillip B. Davidson:

In this final epic stand ARVN demonstrated for the last time that, when properly led, it had the "right stuff."

South Vietnam was not perfect. Like Poland in 1939 and South Korea in 1950, the country was far from democratic. Compared to the communist alternative, however, the Republic of Vietnam was a virtual paradise. No one took to the South China Sea in leaky rafts in order to escape the Thieu-Ky regime. After the North Vietnamese conquest, by contrast, over one million people fled the former South Vietnam by sea. In addition, it has been estimated that about 100,000 South Vietnamese were executed after the communist victory, and another 2.5 million sent to "reeducation" camps.

The heroes of Xuan Loc battled valiantly against overwhelming odds to defend their country's freedom. They deserve to be remembered with honor.


Post a Comment

<< Home