Short Title

A Distinction Without A Difference: Vietnam, Sir Robert Thompson, and the Policing Failures of Vietnam

Document Type



The scholarship analyzing the failure of the American involvement in Vietnam began even before the war finished. Whether the Orthodox School which considered the war unwinnable or the revisionist which argued there was a path to victory for the Americans, there have been libraries of tomes arguing who or what was to blame for the American defeat. An increased amount of scholarship recently has been written regarding the influence of British officer Sir Robert Thompson and his attempt to advise both the South Vietnamese and American war efforts.

Thompson, who gained fame as one of the key leaders for the British victory over the Communist insurgency during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), became a prominent author and military strategist writing several books on counterinsurgency of which the principles are still used in modern warfare.

The question this paper asks is exploring further in the Thompsonian scholarship as regards why America was unsuccessful in the Vietnam Conflict. While many have declared Thompson as an ignored military savior in answering this question, there has been little focus on Thompson’s stressing constabulary or colonial policing as the main effort in the counterinsurgency fight. Malaya, as a British colony, had a strong and effective colonial police force which was instrumental in defeating the Communist insurgency. While Vietnam was also a former colony, they had lost the French gendarmerie forces prior to independence. This paper explores the failure of France, the United States, and even Thompson himself in developing a proper constabulary type police force to stop the Vietnamese Communist insurgency. While France had their colonial police dismantled and neglected through World War II and post-colonial independence, the Americans were simply ignorant of understanding the purpose of a constabulary force, creating either a civilian type police force or infantry units. Thompson, despite writing books stressing the importance of paramilitary policing could not convince the Americans that counterinsurgency is won through an effective paramilitary police force. This paper argues Thompsonian Vietnam analysis needs more focus on the failures of the South Vietnam policing strategy.

Cover Page Footnote

Thank you to: Dr. W. Taylor Fain, Seminar Advisor Stephanie Crowe, MA. Randall Library History Advisor Sarah Patton - Hoover Institue Archivist Rothermel family for patience and support.



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