Ask any student or aficionado of the Vietnam War (1965-1972) for a top ten list of artifacts “unique” to the war, and chances are the phenomenon of “body counts” as a tool for measuring success in the field will come up. Indeed, the use of casualty metrics, while not the sole means of calculating progress in this unconventional war, was one of the Army’s most heralded – and subsequently, most criticized – assessment tools. Taking its place alongside more esoteric metrics, such as gauging security on the basis of population resettlement, calculating the denial of strategic space by measuring raw acreage of defoliated land, and estimating anticipated casualties on the basis of ordnance tonnage expended on a defined area, body counts became the most visibly broken method employed by the Pentagon during the war. Even now, nearly fifty years after the war began, historians continue to debate the effectiveness of such metrics, and how they did or did not accurately portray the course of the conflict.
Gregory A. Daddis’ new book, No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War (Oxford University Press, 2011), takes direct aim at the questions of how a technologically-advanced army measures its progress and success in an asymmetrical conflict. Recognizing that data collection efforts frequently overwhelmed any effort at proper and judicial analysis, Daddis considers how the quest for reliable metrics of success affected the conduct of operations in the field. No Sure Victory is a critical addition to the historiography of the Vietnam War, and presents a valuable addendum for students and practitioners of unconventional war alike.