Destroy and Build - Pacification in Phuoc Thuy, 1966–1972 by Thomas Richardson - Book Review

Here is another well-produced volume in the Australian Army History series. Each one of these books- there are now eighteen – is characterised by a high standard of scholarship, excellent presentation, good indexes and well-chosen maps and illustrations.
In this book Thomas Richardson looks at the practice and degree of success of the pacification process in the province of South Vietnam that was assigned as the operational area of Australia’s task force. It goes well beyond the scope of the official histories because it integrates the detail of the interaction of US authorities (both military and civil) and Vietnamese officials with the Australian military presence.

[Australian Army History Series] Cambridge University Press 2017 Hardback 296pp RRP: $59.95

[Australian Army History Series]
Cambridge University Press 2017
Hardback 296pp RRP: $59.95

The interplay of Government of (South) Vietnam officials, American military advisors, American Pacification officials, Vietnamese regular, regional, and popular forces with the First Australian Task Force is closely examined by good use of documentary sources. What is clear is that the Australian forces could not achieve either pacification or military victory in isolation from these sometimes-competing elements.

Good use is also made of Việt cộng sources, though some would view them with more skepticism.

The author also makes valuable comparisons between the differing approaches taken by successive Task Force commanders in Phước Tuy. Perhaps these could have been supplemented by the somewhat differing approaches of battalion commanders. In some segments of the book the examples seem to be drawn from a single unit, perhaps guided by one of Richardson’s thesis supervisors.

It is a pity that Vietnamese diacritical marks (such as those in Phước) are almost entirely omitted. Their omission amounts to a venial sin of cultural imperialism. Would one mention French place names without accents?

In a reunified Vietnam what is now Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province is peaceful, prosperous and welcoming to Australian visitors. Richardson’s book goes a long way to explain the apparent failure of the Australian effort in its assigned province and the sacrifice of lives that went with it.

Reviewed by Mike O’Brien for RUSIV August 2017

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