Destroy and Build
Pacification in Phuoc Thuy, 1966–72
Australian Army History Series
By Thomas Richardson
Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $59.95 in hardback
This book explores the conduct of ‘pacification’ in the Republic of Vietnam’s Phuoc Tuy province between 1966 and 1972.
In this context pacification means the defeat of the communist-led National Liberation Front insurgency while at the same time winning the allegiance of the populace to the government of the Republic, not just through military action but also by political, economic and social reform.
US leaders, says Richardson, understood the need for a stable indigenous government in South Vietnam that was not dependent on US military power.
In this book Richardson explores the 1st Australian Task Force’s (1ATF) implementation of this policy in Phuoc Tuy between 1966 and 1972.
He laments the lack of focus on pacification in earlier works, pointing to the dominance of veterans’ memoirs and accounts of individual engagements such as Long Tan among published works.
For all the efforts though, the sense of progress and sacrifice squandered after the withdrawal of 1ATF in late 1971 is ‘palpable’, Richardson writes.
Major Adrian Roberts, who had served with 1ATF in 1966, then with AATTV in Phuoc Tuy in 1972, told historian Ian McNeill that by April 1972 ‘things had simply gone back to what they had been like in 1966’.
But as Richardson concludes, success or failure is a matter of interpretation and degrees, set against the backdrop of a society increasingly divided between a wealthy and powerful minority and a poor, disenfranchised, largely rural majority.
In challenging the accepted narrative, Richardson’s detailed and thoughtful analysis exposes the challenges and wisdom of military intervention in an unfamiliar society.
I can’t help thinking that there are contemporary parallels that spring readily to mind. Where we will be left asking the question: what was it all for?