Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, a significant number of historians and commentators have asked not ‘what if’ but lamented ‘if only’, arguing that certain courses of action on the part of the United States and the Republic of Vietnam would have succeeded in preserving an independent South Vietnam. In Australia, some commentators have taken up this mantle, suggesting that a widespread adoption of Australian methods in jungle warfare and counterinsurgency could have saved South Vietnam. This paper will argue the reality was more complex, and that the experience of 1 Australian Task Force in conducting pacification in Phuoc Tuy shows there was no overlooked path to victory. Instead, pacification created a series of dilemmas for Australian, Vietnamese and American commanders and advisers in Phuoc Tuy that continued until the end of the war.
Dr Tom Richardson is a historian and lecturer at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He completed his doctorate, ‘As if we’d never really been there? Pacification in Phuoc Tuy Province, Republic of Vietnam, 1966-1972 at UNSW in 2014. He previously attended Monash University, where he received a first class honours degree in 2009. His research interests include Australian military history, the Vietnam War and counterinsurgency.