Expendable Warriors – The Battle Of Khe Sanh And The Vietnam War by Bruce B.G. Clarke

(Praeger Security International, 2007; 192 pp., $49.95 – ISBN 9780275994808)

Presented here in graphic detail is an autographical account of the preliminary battle of Khe Sanh, the opener for the Tet Offensive of 1968, by the genuine American hero who commanded the American and South Vietnamese side. This under reported and close fought preliminary battle was engaged well outside of the famous Khe Sanh siege perimeter. As such, the work is both a primary historical source and interesting reading material for its own sake.

Initially, I picked up the book because then Lieutenant Clarke was my unforgettable commanding officer when I was a paratrooper stationed with a cavalry unit in Germany in 1966-67. (The infamous 60s had come to U.S. forces in Germany by then, and I witnessed him single-handedly put down a riot at Coleman Barracks.) Col. Clarke maintains a sense of objectivity throughout the text by writing in the third person, referring to himself at the time as “Captain Clarke.” Also, the text reproduces segments of numerous letters by the various participants and includes U.S. and North Vietnamese documents, as well as relevant photos and maps in the appendices.

However, beyond first-hand description of close combat and the history of the scene, Col. Clarke offers a number of criticisms of the way the whole Viet-Nam War was fought. First, the lack of unity of command often made unity of purpose practically impossible: the Army, Marines and the South Vietnamese sometimes did not even communicate with each other. Second, the misguided attempt to measure victory by body count was based upon the assumption that we could win a war of attrition, whereas, the North Vietnamese were fighting for public opinion. Finally, there is the more general problem of not coordinating war aims and political goals, the advice that goes back to Clausewitz.

Col. Clarke’s overall purpose in writing is to keep us from repeating the mistakes of Viet-Nam in the present day. No more Pyrrhic victories! Professional and amateur historians will appreciate this text and so will political and military scientists.