Willbanks, James H. 1947-

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Willbanks, James H. 1947-


Born 1947, in Hot Springs, AR. Education: Texas A&M University, B.A., 1969; University of Central Texas, M.S., 1979; U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, M.M.A.S., 1984; University of Kansas, M.A., 1992, Ph.D., 1998.


Home—Kansas. E-mail—[email protected].


U.S. Army, Infantry, career officer, 1969-1992, retired as lieutenant colonel; served in continental United States, Vietnam, Germany, Japan, and Panama; served as instructor at Department of Joint and Multinational Operations; U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, instructor, 1992-1996, professor of national security affairs, 1998—. Infantry doctrine writer for Royal Saudi Land Forces, Saudi Arabia, 1996-1998; Kansas City Kansas Community College, Kansas City, Kansas, adjunct faculty member, 1992-1996, 1998—; University of Kansas, Lawrence, adjunct faculty, 2001—. Also held adjunct faculty positions at St. Mary College, Leavenworth, Kansas, and University of Maryland, European Division (Middle East Office), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Member of Army Historical Foundation, United States Commission on Military History, Council on America's Past, National Strategy Forum, George Bush School of Public Service Foundation, Texas A&M University; and Friends of the Vietnam Center, Texas Tech University.


Society for Military History, Phi Alpha Theta, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Southwestern History Association, American Popular Culture Association, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.


Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with "V" and Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Two Silver Stars, and Combat Infantryman's Badge; Superior Service Award, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995; Outstanding Employee, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1995; Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, research grant, 1995; Mosher Institute for Strategic Studies, Texas A&M University, research fellow, 1992—; Instructor of the Year, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1999-2000.


Thiet Giap! The Battle of An Loc, April 1972, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (Fort Leavenworth, KS), 1993, published as The Battle of An Loc, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2005.

Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2004.

Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact, ABC-Clio (Santa Barbara, CA), 2004.

(Editor) The Vietnam War, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2006.

The Tet Offensive: A Concise History, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of essays to books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Military History, Encyclopedia of Naval History, Encyclopedia of Airpower, Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army, Encyclopedia of the Korean War, Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, and American National Biography; contributor of articles to magazines, including Special Warfare and World War II. Member of editorial review board, Vietnam magazine.


Historian and retired Army officer James H. Willbanks has written extensively about his specialty, the Vietnam War. He brings a personal as well as a scholarly perspective to this subject, having served in that conflict at An Loc during North Vietnam's Easter Offensive in 1972. South Vietnamese troops, with air support from American forces, defended An Loc against a three-month artillery siege, ultimately winning the battle and halting North Vietnam's advance toward the South's capital, Saigon. Willbanks tells the story of the battle in Thiet Giap! The Battle of An Loc, April 1972. Reviewing the book in Parameters, Lieutenant Colonel Gregory A. Daddis wrote that Willbanks "has succeeded in offering an insightful version of what General Ngo Quang Truong called ‘the longest and bloodiest siege of the war.’" Daddis praised Willbanks's ability to communicate the drama and "angst" of combat, as well as his insights about the battle's larger lessons. As Daddis observed, The Battle of An Loc "warns that while battles may be necessary in war, they are not always sufficient in attaining political objectives. While the fighting in Binh Long province may have saved Saigon from North Vietnamese occupation in 1972, it nevertheless did little to wean uneven ARVN forces from their reliance on U.S. support. More important, as Willbanks properly argues, the ‘Nixon administration used the South Vietnamese victory … to declare the President's Vietnamization policy a success,’ thus providing clear evidence that the United States could fully disengage from Vietnam." Military Review contributor Robert M. Cassidy deemed the book a "well-researched and solid history" that gives an account "of the successful use of regular and auxiliary local forces with U.S. advisers and air power."

In The Tet Offensive: A Concise History, which Military Review contributor John M. Hawkins described as a "short, well-written, and helpful reference" despite evidence of some "institutional bias," Willbanks explains the context, planning, strategies, and aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive. North Vietnam launched this campaign, by far the largest one in the conflict to that point, to undermine American confidence in the progress of the war and to incite civilians in South Vietnam to rise up and overthrow their government. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were unprepared for the attacks, which included a major assault on Saigon, and were shocked by the scope and ferocity of the offensive, which resulted in massive casualties for the North and huge numbers of civilians killed. Though the North was eventually defeated, the Tet Offensive marked the point at which American opinion turned decisively against the war. Hawkins expressed some skepticism of Willbanks's argument that the U.S. media, in the critic's words, "translat[ed] a major tactical defeat of Communist forces into ultimate strategic victory for North Vietnam," but the critic concluded that the book succeeds as an informative and helpful resource for further study.

Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War is perhaps Willbanks's best-known book. As its title indicates, it argues that President Richard M. Nixon's policy of Vietnamization—by which South Vietnam was to take control of its own military needs, thus allowing the United States to remove its forces from the country and end its role in the conflict—was a total failure that led to South Vietnamese defeat in 1975. As Willbanks explained in an interview with Stephen Maxner, the transcript of which is stored in the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University, South Vietnam's success at An Loc showed that victory was possible—but critical military support was withdrawn. "Victory, however you define it, was in sight," Willbanks said. "Unfortunately we gave it away at Paris…. I've always wondered if at that particular point, particularly after the Christmas bombing … we had got a lot more B-52s and a lot more bombs … maybe we could have forced the issue. As it was it was tantamount to leaving North Koreans south of Seoul when we left there and said, ‘Ok, you're on your own,’ and that's essentially what we did. So they were doomed from that point on."

Colonel Stuart A. Herrington observed in a Parameters review that Abandoning Vietnam is a "well-sourced, readable, and sound account of the Vietnamization phase of the war." The critic, who was among U.S. military personnel evacuated from Saigon just before the city fell, added that "Willbanks's conclusion that ‘Vietnamization failed and failed miserably’ should surprise no one." History: Review of New Books contributor Judith R. Johnson, however, felt that the book provides little new information about why the South Vietnamese were unable to prevail against the North. Johnson observed that the book would have been improved had Willbanks expanded on his theory that South Vietnam felt insulted by Vietnamization, and shown more concretely how this circumstance affected the outcome of the war.

In addition to editing The Vietnam War, a collection of twenty-four scholarly essays on the subject published between 1985 and 2004, Willbanks has also written Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. He has contributed to several reference publications, including the Encyclopedia of U.S. Military History, the Encyclopedia of Naval History, the Encyclopedia of Airpower, the Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army, the Encyclopedia of the Korean War, the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, and the American National Biography.



Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March, 2005, W.T. Lindley, review of Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War, p. 1282.

Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2007, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of The Tet Offensive: A Concise History, p. 167.

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, December, 2004, Ginger R. Davis, review of Abandoning Vietnam; November, 2005, Ron Milam, review of The Battle of An Loc.

Journal of American History, September, 2005, Marc Jason Gilbert, review of Abandoning Vietnam, p. 694.

Journal of Military History, January, 2006, John M. Carland, review of Abandoning Vietnam, p. 183.

Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Charles M. Minyard, review of Abandoning Vietnam, p. 154; October 15, 2006, A.O. Edmonds, review of The Tet Offensive, p. 75.

Military Review, May 1, 2006, Robert M. Cassidy, review of The Battle of An Loc, p. 115; May 1, 2007, John M. Hawkins, review of The Tet Offensive, p. 120; July 1, 2007, John M. Hawkins, review of The Tet Offensive, p. 118.

Pacific Historical Review, November, 2006, Christopher T. Jespersen, review of Abandoning Vietnam, p. 686.

Parameters, spring, 2005, Stuart A. Herrington, review of Abandoning Vietnam; spring, 2006, Gregory A. Daddis, review of The Battle of An Loc, p. 152.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of The Vietnam War.

SciTech Book News, September, 2005, review of Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact,

Vietnam, December 2005, Earl Tilford, review of Abandoning Vietnam, p. 53; February, 2006, Carl O. Schuster, review of The Battle of An Loc, p. 50.


James H. Willbanks Home Page,http://jameswillbanks.com (December 3, 2007).

Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University, September 20, 2000, Stephen Maxner, interview with James Willbanks.

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Willbanks, James H. 1947-

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