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Wiring Vietnam: The Electronic Wall

by Anthony J. Tambini. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md., 2007, softcover $60.00.

During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) established supply networks in Cambodia and Laos to support its forces in South Vietnam. This network was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The U.S., less willing to violate Cambodian and Laotian neutrality, devised a plan to monitor the trail electronically and attack enemy troops and supplies with aircraft. Anthony Tambini was a participant in the efforts he describes.

Based in Thailand, his unit dropped sensors on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. His book includes details on sensors delivered by aircraft, including acoustic, seismic, engine detection and magnetic detection sensors. Sensor technology became more complex and effective over the years. Although described as “the story can now be told” and “classified until only recently,” most of the author’s research is based on material that has long been available.

Tambini strays from the narrow topic implicit in the title. In addition to a wealth of technical details on the electronic battlefield, he offers a conservative political critique of how the United States waged war. He asserts that the U.S. military could have won the war had its hands not been tied by civilians, and that the war could have been won had the Americans dropped more bombs on more and better targets. The tenacity of the North Vietnamese or the ineptitude of the South Vietnamese government are not mentioned.

Tambini claims the sensor program was a success—a bold claim, given that we ultimately lost the war. He even goes so far as to claim that without sensors, the Marine base at Khe Sanh would have fallen to the enemy. By contrast, the base commander merely says that without sensors, casualties would have been significantly higher.

The strength of this book is the wealth of technical details (including photos) on the aircraft and sensors that made up the anti-infiltration system in Vietnam. It will appeal to anyone interested in the evolution of this type of warfare.


Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.