This is a question I’ve often asked myself while designing and developing A Hot Dry Season: Operation Attleboro in War Zone C and researching and planning future operational treatments from the Vietnam War for Campaigns in Vietnam. Why am I doing this? Aside from being fascinated by the history and enjoying the research and the process. I’m weird, I ask these kinds of questions of myself. The answer is: I have always been fascinated by the Vietnam War at the operational-level. But rarely, in game form, have I ever gotten what I wanted. Namely, in-depth operational treatments drawn from the Vietnam War. Why haven’t I ever gotten what I wanted?
The War between the US/South Vietnam and the NLF in Vietnam, as represented in wargaming, has been dominated by politico-military overviews, strategic treatments of varying levels of granularity, and tactical games. Largely influenced by pop culture, general histories and the battle over historical narratives which surround those histories and the war itself. There have been political overviews which sometimes present the politics and broad history as a forgone conclusion. Strategic games have varied; from in-depth strategic treatments to flavor-heavy lighter games emphasizing pop history terminology frequently found in Vietnam action novels popular in the 70s and 80s. There have been many tactical representations, with a few drilling down to the fireteam level. Many of these titles are good, entertaining and engrossing games. But operational-level treatments are few and far between.
Wargaming operational treatments drawn from Vietnam War have generally offered limited variety of subject. The Battle of Ia Drang in 1965 has been dealt with several times, and once, excellently. There are a fair number of secondary sources, notably We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, dealing with the battle and the film of the same name dealing with some of its events. The battle, in its pop culture interpretation, sees a first clash of a technologically advanced US military, overconfident, meeting a North Vietnamese Army proficient in unconventional warfare, similarly overconfident having defeated the French ten years before, with each force getting its comeuppance. This narrative is compelling and allows for a foreshadowing of the American experience in Vietnam. The battle is easily frameable in game form as an attacker versus defender affair in the (relatively) underpopulated central highlands of South Vietnam. A sanitized battle-game, free of a population making things more complicated. An outlier in the War.
The Battle of Hue in 1968 has also received similar attention in wargaming. Again, a plethora of secondary sources are available on this battle and it too is frequently framed as an easily consumable attacker-versus-defender affair. The battle itself is another historical outlier in the Vietnam War, a mini-Stalingrad, easily consumed by gamers raised on repeated representations of the second world war through the life of their wargaming hobby. Again, a great film by a legendary filmmaker has depicted some of its proceedings, and the creation of a game treatment becomes self-evident in its attractiveness due to popular awareness. It has been presented in game form as a solo-friendly affair, usually with attacking “good guys” having a variety of choices in assaulting static “bad guys” in a city strangely bereft of its civilian population.
But does a first clash, steeped in pop historical narratives and foreshadowing, allow for an examination of operational conduct of the Vietnam War? Does an urban battle, sure to recall a Kubrick film, really explore the operational choices available to commanders during the war? There is a strange paucity of operational titles dealing with the War, and limited choice when they are present. In my opinion, this is merely reflective of the popular secondary sources available in the historiography and the resultant lack of general historical awareness amongst the consumers of the hobby regarding most operations and campaigns conducted by both sides during the War. For wargames this creates a self-fulfilling feedback loop within the hobby. A lack of awareness regarding operational-level conduct of the War, which leads to a dearth of treatments, which results in a continued lack of awareness.
Former CIA Director William E. Colby, regarding the state of the historiography of the Vietnam War, wrote in 1995 that, “the historical record given to most Americans is similar to what we would know if histories of World War II stopped before Stalingrad, Operation Torch in North Africa and Guadalcanal in the Pacific.” The same could be said of the state of the “Wargame-ography” in 2020. There is a gap. Campaigns in Vietnam, beginning with A Hot Dry Season: Operation Attleboro in War Zone C, is an attempt to rectify that. For me, anyhow. Because I want to get what I always wanted.
 William E. Colby, “Vietnam After McNamara,” Washington Post (27 April 1995).
1 thought on “Communiqué No. 1: Whither, Vietnam? Whither, Attleboro?”
Pat, I saw a new Vietnam movie on Amazon Prime recently “Danger Close”. Australian (New Zealand?) produced film about the real battle of Long Tan circa 66-67. I highly recommend it as a pretty good depiction of reality.