Book Review: Mercenaries and Lyndon Johnson’s “More Flags” (Robert M. Blackburn) : VN

8/12/2001 • Lyndon B. Johnson, Vietnam Book Reviews

Mercenaries and Lyndon Johnson’s “More Flags,” by Robert M.Blackburn, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, N.C., $28.50.

A significant portion of the allied presence in Vietnam came from the “Free World Military Forces,” military units out of Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. Vietnam veteran Robert M. Blackburn, now an assistant professor of history at Texas College in Tyler, Texas, analyzes how that allied contribution came about.

He begins with an examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “more flags” program, which began in the spring of 1964 to “serve as a visible symbol of free world support for his Vietnam policies.” The original objective of pursuing only noncombat related aid for South Vietnam soon expanded, however, “to allow for the procurement of free world troops to fight, and die, in Southeast Asia.”

With the exception of the Australian and New Zealand forces, which “accepted no payment from the United States for their service in Vietnam,” Blackburn labels the remainder of these Free World Military Forces as “mercenaries” who had “full knowledge of its strong, even inflammatory implications.” Separate chapters explore the Korean commitment (which totaled some 50,000 soldiers at its height), the Philippine commitment and the Thai commitment, laying out the price paid for the “hiring” of these troops.

It is well to remember, however, that it was “the politicians who made the deals that sold the collective services of their soldiers” who deserve the stigma attached to mercenary. The Korean, Filipino and Thai soldiers themselves “shared the same dangers, the same hardships, the same fears as any Americans there,” and 5,241 of these brave men died as a result.

Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr.