Abrams represented change in military thinking that has carried over, belatedly again, into the contemporary Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But not in the beginning. Shock and Awe was the order of the day at first in Iraq; search and destroy with armor and airpower won the day to Baghdad. Of course the enemy waited and watched, and invented the roadside bomb. General David Petraeus was brought in when old techniques were found lacking. He had read the Book of Abrams, and paid attention.
From supposedly reliable intelligence, Abrams was able to follow the progress of troops and supplies south, and judge where and when the North planned to attack over the border into Vietnam. To paraphrase from A Better War, Lewis Sorley: Troops advanced south in waves 500 to 600, moving at 12.2 kilometers per day, mostly by foot, the trucks saved for supplies and ammunition. We were able to move perhaps 60 Kilometers on the unimproved section, partly because our load was not on our feet, but on our bicycle, and partly because we had no backup supplies; we had to get out of that jungle in short order.
Because of our most recent travels in Asia on our tandem bicycle, I have developed a new interest in the Vietnam War, really the Indochina War of my youth. My draft board called me in 1964. I presented myself, got on a bus and taken for a physical and mental evaluation. I was just out of hospital for a bleeding ulcer. They didn’t know how to cure ulcers in those days, and they knew military food would kill me: 4F. I have always had some survivor’s guilt, partly because I have seen the toll that particular war took on many of the surviving draftees. The vets I have shared this feeling with have said I didn’t miss anything, and to let it go. I think I have. Maybe traveling there, seeing the land and the people involved has had something to do with my coming to terms with those feelings. My appreciation for anyone who fought there is deep. It was one helluva place to have to fight a war.
Our risk was nothing compared to the average Laotian farmer, wandering children, firewood gathering women, who know their next footstep can mean death, or for some worse, maiming, in a poor country where everyone must contribute.
Some facts: 270 million of these bombies were dropped on a country the size of Utah. Of the more than 50,000 people killed or maimed by the bombings, 20,000 have occurred after the end of the war. An average of one person a day is killed or maimed in Laos now, nearly 40 years later.