Edward N. Luttwak's article (Opinion, March 24), "The U.S. and War: Form Fights Function," purports to be different from the usual articles attempting to draw lessons from America's defeat in Vietnam. But it too does what all of the others do. It fails to confront the real reason why we lost, and why if we are involved again in trying to suppress guerrilla wars in Third World countries, we will again be defeated.
Luttwak states that guerrilla wars are primarily "political with a military aspect; victory is usually achieved by altering political conditions--through reform--not by defeating enemy troops in battle." America needs a military grouping, he feels, that can "adapt to a foreign cultural milieu," training and leading local forces against the guerrillas and presumably also helping to carry through the "reforms" necessary to alleviate the underlying political and (as he conspicuously leaves out) economic conditions that led to the guerrilla insurgency in the first place.
This is precisely the problem. Since when have the dinosaurs that make our foreign policy ever systematically worked in the Third World to deal with the poverty and exploitation that is the breeding ground of guerrilla conflict?
On the contrary, our policy-makers support the most reactionary dictatorial leaders because these are the people who will insure that American business can continue to obtain cheap raw materials, cheap labor and a favorable climate for their continued one-sided dominance of the economies of these countries.
In Vietnam we supported and then replaced French colonialism. In Central America we supported and armed oligarchs such as the Somoza family in Nicaragua. In El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson and his Arena Party thwart every attempt at land reform. What do the peasants of El Salvador care that Jose Napoleon Duarte is "democratic" when their basic means of subsistence are being denied to them?
Luttwak is flailing around in the dark with his bureaucratic idea that a more "independent" Special Forces can successfully stop guerrilla wars, because American leaders seem incapable of satisfying the legitimate demands of the millions of poor peasants and workers in the developing counties everywhere. To do so, they would have to recognize and support these people's efforts to obtain a significant share of the lands and wealth of their own countries now being engrossed by foreign corporations and local landlords. Instead, they side with these elements and attempt to drown in blood the people's movements for social justice.