The Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN
, (we usually refer to the Republic of Vietnam
as South Vietnam
- the guys on America's side) numbered around 500,000 when the first American combat troops rolled onto the shores of Indochina in World War II
era troop ships.. The mission of these American troops was just to protect American bases - they were not to engage in actual combat. The only American troops actively engaged in the war were the military advisory force
- actual advisors and helicopter pilots. The helicopter pilots were not supposed to engage in actual combat, but they frequently did "with relish".
On the 5th of June, 1965, the ARVN was in danger of collapse due to a series of recent defeats. Suddenly American troops needed to be comitted to more active roles - and hence the "big buildup" began. General William Westmoreland requested an extra 200,000 troops. This was surely better for the ARVN - they had hundreds of thousands of highly-trained foreign Marines and Paratroopers to help them.
However, where the GIs went, their lifestyle went with them. The Americans brought with them such a lifestyle and amount of money as to be a major corrupting factor on the Vietnamese in general, and the ARVN. The average soldier in the ARVN got paid one sixteenth of the GIs. In quoting Daniel Ellsberg, Special Liaison Officer at MACV -
"The burdens of war on our Vietnamese were extremely bad. How did we get anyone to fight in that army at all - as little as we paid them; as miserable as their shelters were in which their families would live near their posts? Their alternative in that war was to go into the jungles and join what they saw as the patriots, whether they liked them or not."
During the Vietnam War, desertions in the ARVN ground force were 21% per year - about 125,000 troops. The ARVN forces were without motivation - the peasants had little reason to fight to protect the ruling elite - their officers - who would rarely help them in dangerous situations. Corruption meant that the soldiers of the ARVN rarely had enough ammo or hand grenades.
An American view of the actual quality of the ARVN soldier was not damning, although not entirely praising - General William Westmoreland said they 'performed very well when they had good leadership', but that there was a shortage of this because of their policy of taking leaders from the educated elite, who were not always best for the positions.
Criticism of the American handling of the South Vietnamese forces came from both sides, however - Jim Webb, a marine and author, feels that the American army "emasculated" the ARVN by always jumping into the major engagements themselves and denying the South Vietnamese the chance to prove themselves. General Edward Landsdale agrees.
Whatever the reasons, one million ARVN soldiers died during the Vietnam War.