Autopsy of an Unwinnable War


Col. William C. Haponski (Ret)

A compelling and informed narrative of the war in Vietnam 1945-75, seeking to answer why America "lost" the war in Vietnam.
Date Published :
March 2019
Publisher :
Contributor(s) :
Col. Jerry J. Burcham (Ret), Lt. Gen. Dave R. Palmer (Ret)
Illustration :
20 photographs, 6 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612007199
Pages : 288
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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A compelling and informed narrative of the war in Vietnam 1945-75, seeking to answer why America "lost" the war in Vietnam.

Since the fall of Saigon in 1975 there have been many books published on why (and whether) America lost the war in Vietnam. The senior American commander in charge of prosecuting the war during its buildup and peak of fighting, Admiral U.S.G. Sharp, concluded his memoir, saying: “The real tragedy of Vietnam is that this war was not won by the other side, by Hanoi or Moscow or Peiping. It was lost in Washington, D. C.” This remains an all too common belief. The stark facts, though, are that the Vietnam War was lost before the first American shot was fired. In fact, it was lost before the first French Expeditionary Corps shot, almost two decades earlier, and was finally lost when the South Vietnamese fought partly, then entirely, on their own.

Offering an informed and nuanced narrative of the entire 30-year war in Vietnam, this book seeks to explain why. It is written by a combatant not only in six violent, large battles and many smaller firefights, but a leader with a full range of pacification duties, a commander who lost 43 wonderful young men killed and many more wounded, men who were doing what their country asked of them. This story is the result of a quest for answers by one who, after decades of wondering what it was about – what was it all about? – turned to a years-long search of French, American, and Vietnamese sources. It is a story of success on the one hand, defeat on the other, and the ingredients of both, inspirational or sordid as they may be.

It is a story mostly lived and revealed by the people inside Vietnam who were directly involved in the war: from leaders in high positions, down to the jungle boots and sandals level of the fighters, and among the Vietnamese people who were living the war. Because of what was happening inside Vietnam itself, no matter what policies and directives came out of Paris or Washington, or the influences in Moscow or Beijing, it is about a Vietnamese idea which would eventually triumph over bullets.

About The Author

Bill Haponski is a 1956 graduate of West Point, commissioned in the armor branch. He served in a tank battalion in Europe during the Cold War. In 1967 he received a doctorate in English language and literature from Cornell University while also teaching full-time at West Point.

Arriving in Vietnam in 1968 as a lieutenant colonel, he first was the senior staff officer in 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, then served as commander of the Task Force 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division. The task force was engaged in everything from pacification to contacts with small enemy units to fierce day-and-night battles against battalions and a regiment. Down in the jungle, night and day, he directed the battles in close combat along with his men.

After Vietnam he returned to West Point and became Professor of Military Studies, first at University of Vermont, then at Fordham University. After retiring from the Army, he held further academic positions and wrote several books.


Foreword by LtGen Dave R. Palmer
Part One: The French War - The Idea, and Bullets
Part Two: The American War - Many More Bullets
Part Three: The Vietnamese War - The Result
Selective Bibliography


Unlike the breast-beating mea culpas of many Vietnam accounts, the author rationally dissects the strategies and mindsets on both sides to try to figure where, and how, the American military went wrong. Haponski asserts that the war’s fate was settled centuries before this nation got involved, and that no amount of second-guessing was likely to have changed the outcome.

- New York Journal of Books

"Followers of Vietnam War history would do well to consult Autopsy of an Unwinnable War above most others: its ability to synthesize the extent of political, social, military, and personal experience for a clearer, bigger picture of why Vietnam was an impossible conflict all along makes it a winning, engrossing study that should be on the shelves of any definitive Vietnam War collection."

- Midwest Book Review

"...others may find the book’s readability and trenchant observations a useful addition to a larger reading course."

- Journal of Military History

“This highly researched book provides a detailed look at the history of the Vietnamese culture. After reading this you'll discover why the author calls this an "unwinnable war". He continues on describing his own experiences in Vietnam. The maps provided enable the reader to track his own adventures to various areas.”

- Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) John J. Charlton

"Haponski's adroit comparison and analysis of tactics and strategies employed by all combatants are lessons for soldiers planning and operating at strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. This work clearly belongs on reading lists of intermediate and senior service college courses examining insurgency warfare."

- On Point: The Journal of Army History

“A book of this magnitude should offer guidance for the future—at least a warning to wake up members of Congress. Otherwise, America could become entangled in another misdirected war, one lasting perhaps as long as nineteen years. Autopsy of an Unwinnable War: Vietnam provides a challenging thesis that stirs the mind.”

- The VVA Veteran

"This important book provides the answer to George Santayana’s famous dictum that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'.”

- Washington Times

"...highly recommended, for all those who wish to understand the Vietnam War, and the critical importance to consider social and cultural realities when going to war."

- The Journal of America's Military Past

‘'The Vietnam War had already been lost long before the US became involved, says Haponski, himself a commander in that conflict. The involvement of third parties, whether the French, the Americans, the Soviets or the Chinese, was always secondary to the Vietnamese idea that ultimately triumphed...''

- Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

“Bill Haponski has done an excellent autopsy and contributed greatly to history. As a veteran of the Indochina war and former Chief of Staff, French Army, I agree totally with him.”

- General of the Army Jean Delaunay

“Haponski posits that the defining idea of a free and unified Vietnam had endowed North Vietnam with an irrepressible will to persevere however long it took and at whatever cost. A sparkling narrative both unique in approach and rare in lucidity.”

- Lieutenant General (Ret) Dave R. Palmer, author of Summons of the Trumpet: U.S.—Vietnam in Perspective

“In this engrossing study, Colonel Haponski combines meticulous research with his wartime experiences to analyze French, U.S. and Vietnamese involvement in the Vietnam War and to conclude that ‘… no French or American or South Vietnamese general could have gained a victory in Vietnam.’ The author adopts a lively tone that focuses on social, political and military events that occurred within Vietnam as the principal factors influencing the war’s outcome. Autopsy of an Unwinnable War: Vietnam deserves a place high on the list of the definitive histories of that war.”

- D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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