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National Observer Home > No. 49 - Winter 2001 > Book Review

There to the Bitter End: Ted Serong in Vietnam

by Anne Blair

Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2001, pages 298 and index.

The Vietnam War, and especially the reasons for its loss, from both military and political standpoints, will continue to be a matter of importance for those who are concerned with the survival of democracies. Much has been written on political considerations, but military questions have been more neglected. Hence this book, which examines the role of Brigadier Ted Serong in the conflict, will be of great interest to a variety of readers.

Anne Blair is a research associate with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University. Her interest in Serong is well-based. He had a central role in the development of military strategy and tactics, although to a large extent his views conflicted with those ultimately applied by the United States. Early during his time in Vietnam Serong concluded that the American forces were not properly directed, and that the South Vietnamese Army also should have directed its efforts in different ways. He was involved in the development of the Police Field Force (P.F.F.), with the aim of destroying the structures of the Vietnamese Communists in the rural and mountain areas, and also the networks by which guerrillas obtained weapons, food, information and recruits.

Serong's concept (which is particularly persuasive in retrospect) was that the P.F.F. would clear areas of Viet Cong influence, thus freeing the South Vietnamese Army (the A.V.R.N.) for combat against the North Vietnamese regiments that were operating in the border areas. Unfortunately the United States forces showed a lack of patience, and were not prepared to support adequately the gradual advance of the programme.

The P.F.F. was absorbed by other U.S. mission programmes in 1966-67, but Serong himself remained invaluable and was consulted constantly by government advisers and by military commanders at the highest level. At all times his perceptions of the strategic position were sound. For example, he was one of the first to appreciate that the Tet Offensive constituted, contrary to media reports, a militarily disastrous loss by the Communists.

This book is very valuable. It is well researched. The author had the advan-tage of numerous conversations with Serong, and her account is expressed carefully, with much detail and appropriate references. It is impossible to read it without concluding that Serong is a great Australian, and a great man in any context, a figure of enormous impor-tance whose advice, had it been fol-lowed properly, would probably have led to a different result in Vietnam. It is therefore a book which, in addition to its general readership, should be studied closely by military strategists and tacticians, and by the various academics, think-tanks and institutes which are so influential in the application of political and military policy.

I. C. F. Spry

National Observer No. 49 - Winter 2001