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The 1975 Mayaguez Incident: An Analysis of its Historical and Strategic Significance Open Access

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ABSTRACT of "The 1975 Mayaguez Incident: An Analysis of its Historical and Strategic Significance"The 1975 Mayaguez Incident: An Analysis of its Historical and Strategic SignificanceThe 12 May 1975 Cambodian seizure of the American merchant cargo ship, SS Mayaguez began an intense four day international crisis with significant historical ramifications. This crisis was the first direct international military challenge to US power since the end of the Vietnam War and was being faced by President Ford, the first (and only) non-elected president of the United States. It was the first test of the president's role as commander-in-chief since the enactment of the 1973 War Powers Act, which was intended to limit presidential power. The Ford administration's reaction was swift and violent and achieved its stated goals of enhancing US prestige and rescuing the ship and crew. However, an analysis of the events reveals that the end result was largely a matter of extreme good fortune. The two American goals were at times in conflict. The US forces came dangerously close to killing the 40 man Mayaguez crew they had been sent to rescue and the Marines that landed on Koh Tang Island were nearly annihilated by a large Cambodian force on the island that was unexpected by the invading Americans. The analysis presented here reveals the reason for the failure of the correct intelligence to reach the invading American force. It reveals the nature of the good fortune that allowed the US to rescue the ship and crew and boost its prestige. It details the decision-making process from the National Security Council through the operational levels down to the tactical forces. And it shows how this short but intense crisis helped spur the most radical restructuring of the Department of Defense since its inception in 1947.

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