MY GOODNESS, I can’t make correcting Matthew Yglesias a full-time job, because it would be a full-time job. But claiming that the South Vietnamese Army was “a joke” is hardly fair. In fact, in 1972 the South Vietnamese Army, with only air support from American forces, beat back a full-scale North Vietnamese invasion.
As the offensive petered out, the North Vietnam government and military had to take stock of what their effort had won them and what it had cost them. Analysts estimate that between 50,000 and 75,000 NVA died as a result of Operation Nguyen Hue. As many or more were wounded, and massive materiel losses included more than 700 tanks.
American air support was important, but this is not the response of a “joke.” Now when the North Vietnamese tried again in 3 years, against a South Vietnam lacking either air support or materiel support — while the North Vietnamese retained the backing of the Soviet Union — it was a different story.