Consequences and Causation
A Review of W. R. ‘Bob’ Baker’s Break in the Chain – Intelligence Ignored.
By David Hanna
If not for the US Army’s strict visual acuity standards for chopper pilots, Bob Baker’s ‘office’ in South Vietnam would almost certainly have been the cockpit of a Bell UH-1 Huey. Instead, he trained and qualified as an intelligence/Order of Battle analyst and served with the 571st Military Intelligence Detachment (MID) in Da Nang. As the only intelligence analyst in the detachment, Baker worked within the close-knit comradery of a unit which correctly anticipated the North Vietnamese Army (NVA)’s massive Easter Offensive of 1972. To his undying chagrin, the work of the 571st MID’s agents in the field, the painstaking analysis of the intelligence they supplied, and the vital reports derived it went unheeded by those with the authority to take decisive action. Even as the NVA’s Soviet‑supplied tanks rumbled out of the DMZ and into South Vietnam, the 571st continued to analyse and report with similarly frustrating results.
The story of these disturbing events and the 1972 Easter Offensive in general is trenchantly related in Bob Baker’s Break in the Chain – Intelligence Ignored. Written with the authority of an intelligence professional whose experience of the Offensive is augmented with years of intensive research, Break in the Chain delivers a stinging condemnation of the historical tendency of senior military officers to privilege intelligence supporting their preferred interpretation of the battlefield reality. The tragic aftermath is often and self‑servingly referred to as a ‘failure of intelligence’ as opposed to a failure to respond to readily available intelligence objectively.
While the initial successes of the NVA’s Easter Offensive were due in no small part to intelligence ignored, Break in the Chain also exposes the manifest deficiencies of the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), particularly in the matter of its culture and leadership. It does this, however, within the context of a ‘Vietnamization’ process driven by US domestic politics, implemented several years too late, and effected too rapidly for the ARVN to re-invent itself after a decade of US military paternalism. Baker alerts his readers to the surreal politico‑military reality that as North Vietnam engaged for the first time in full scale conventional warfare, the most powerful conventional military power in the world was past the point of no return in its withdrawal from South Vietnam, with ultimately tragic results which Baker categorically declares as a national disgrace!
US airpower and – lest we forget – the sacrifice of over 8,000 South Vietnamese soldiers killed in action would, eventually, stem the tide of North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive and even substantially reverse it. Break in the Chain, therefore,is not only a searching exposition and a warning re the consequences and causation of ‘intelligence ignored’, it is also a blistering affirmation of Wellington’s assertion that ‘nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.’
David Hanna served with the British Army in Northern Ireland from 1971-1972 and holds a BA in English Literature. A retired secondary school teacher with an abiding interest in literary and historical representations of the Second Indochina War, Mr Hanna is also a (non‑veteran) member of the organisation, Vietnam Veterans for Factual History (VVFH).