Vietnam Table of Contents
PAVN's officer corps and its underlying concept of command have changed significantly since the first officer corps was formed in the 1930s. The initial leaders were a few dozen individuals chosen primarily for their ability to mobilize villagers and motivate troops, rather than for their tactical knowledge. As the corps developed, its lack of trained and experienced battlefield commanders was made the best of, and a premium was placed on collective military decision making (the dual command system) and on a military strategy that did not require a large number of military tacticians. Hierarchy among officers was played down, and the concept of "officer" was not applied. Leaders were cadres, and were required to guide the revolution, but it was not necessary that leaders be distinguished from one another, only from those they led (combatants). Cadres were either military, nonmilitary, or a mix of the two--it did not matter which; only cadre status was important. Gradually, military cadres evolved into PAVN officers, a trend that was intensified following the Second Indochina War when PAVN moved to develop a military structure to conform with other armed forces around the world. The influence of Soviet advisers and the growing importance of military technology accelerated the trend. Military professionalism, as a result, became one of the chief characteristics of the PAVN officer and soon distinguished him from military cadre, such as the political officer.
Although the exact size of the PAVN officer corps was not known in 1987, various estimates suggested it comprised about 180,000 officers, or roughly 15 percent of a force of approximately 1.2 million. In 1955 the officer corps reportedly had accounted for only 9.5 percent of a force of about 210,000.
The general officer corps in 1987 included the ranks of senior general, colonel general, lieutenant general, major general, and, in some cases, senior colonel, depending on the command held. The number of general officers totaled at least 450. The central feature of their interaction with one another was based on the Chinese political custom of bung di or faction-bashing, which highlighted factional infighting and reflected a broader power struggle within the party and within the system as a whole. Senior generals, colonel generals, and some lieutenant generals had their own constituencies, which in part they controlled and which in part controlled them. There were political alliances, some permanent and some temporary, as well as relations based on familial ties, past associations, common interests, and personalities.
The end of the Second Indochina War found the PAVN officer corps seriously debilitated. Its ranks had been thinned by battle casualties, and the remaining officers were for the most part overaged and undereducated. An ambitious officer development program was launched as part of the "Great Campaign" (see History , this ch.). The officer training system was overhauled, modernized, and greatly expanded with the assistance of Soviet military advisers. The curriculum in officer-training schools was revised to introduce new leadership methods, modern managerial techniques, and greater use of technology in administering the armed forces. The age bulge was addressed by encouraging retirements, and, for the first time, specific retirement ages were established: for company-grade officers the age was set at thirty-eight; for majors, forty-three; for lieutenant colonels, forty-eight; for colonels, fifty-five; and for senior colonels and general officers, sixty. Modern military administration and management methods were introduced, especially in personnel matters, and greater attention was directed toward such concerns as officers' pay, benefits, career development, uniforms, commendations, and intangible honors.
PAVN leaders were commonly believed to be men of implacable determination, indifferent to reverses and failures, enormously self-confident, and confident in their chosen strategy and their cause. If there was a weakness in the ability of the individual PAVN officer, it was compensated for by the collective decisionmaking process that put several minds to work on a single problem. The net effect was a military leadership that could mobilize the Vietnamese soldier and instill in him the necessary discipline to fight repeatedly against overwhelming odds.
Data as of December 1987
Vietnam Table of Contents