Army of the Republic of Viet Nam motivation

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For more information, see: Army of the Republic of Viet Nam.

In the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, using the term generically to include Marines, Airborne, Lac Luong Dac Biet special forces, and commands, there were issues of motivation, at the fighting level, which were separate from ideology, leadership, or corruption. Effective advisers needed to understand these issues; ARVN units could be far more effective when there was an understanding of how and why the fighting units approached war. Their approach could be quite different both from U.S. military motivation, and that of the Communist troops.

Central to these issues is that many had been fighting for decades, against the Japanese, the French, and some of their own leadership. As do many soldiers, they first fought for one another, not for abstractions. In other cases, the protracted war had them regarding national and personal survival, rather than victory, as that which was reasonably achievable.

A number of American soldiers and journalists, who worked closely with the ARVN, observed that Americans could be more aggressive knowing they would be there only for a year, while the Vietnamese would serve until death, disability, or a distant war's end.

Small unit level

When Anthony Zinni was an adviser to a Vietnamese Marine unit, which truly was elite among the Vietnamese forces, he had urged a competent junior officer to move aggressively against the enemy. The battalion commander, whom Zinni respected, criticized the recommendation.

"Look, my unit is not a U.S. Marine unit. It's smaller and less capable, we don't have a steady stream of replacements flowing into it, and I can't rely on the formidable arsenal of firepower that U.S. units have at their disposal. My troops have fought for years; they will fight for years more; and the enemy will still be there tomorrow. All this means is that I have to carefully choose when and where I take risks that might bring me a disadvantage on the battlefield. This is not a matter of courage, aggressiveness, or fighting spirit, and I hope you've seen enough of those qualities in my Marines to know this was not the issue."[1]

Zinni agreed, and realized that being too aggressive, without extensive support, also could lure one's own side into ambushes. The Vietnamese battalion commander was satisfied that two young lieutenants, one an American and one of his own countrymen, had learned a lesson.

Senior level

In practice, while the Joint General Staff controlled the strategic reserve, national logistics, and some planning, operational control was at the Corps tactical zone level. Senior officers were more often picked for political loyalty than ability.


  1. Clancy, Tom; Tony Zinni & Tony Koltz (2004), Battle Ready, Putnam, p. 50