The Tet Offensive Did Not Destroy the Vietcong

From 1968 until his death in 2005, General William C. Westmoreland maintained that the Tet Offensive had been a major Communist defeat. He based his argument on the enemy’s purported high personnel losses during the offensive. According to Westmoreland, the U.S. won at Tet because it killed tens of thousands of Vietcong and North Vietnamese. If the war had been strictly a war of attrition divorced from any political context, and the number of dead on each side determined the victor from the vanquished, Westmoreland’s argument would have held some merit.

But the Vietnam War was if anything complex. It was far more than a contest over who racked up the highest body count. It contained elements of a political and economic struggle between a privileged urban minority and an oppressed rural majority. It was also a sectarian conflict between Buddhists on one hand and Catholics on the other.  The war also pitted Communist Internationalists against Capitalist Internationalists and Communist Nationalists against Liberal-Democratic Nationalists. Interjected into the struggles amongst the Vietnamese was the larger great power rivalry between the United States, the Soviet Union and Communist China. And yet, even if the war had been exclusively a war of attrition, Westmoreland’s claims of victory at Tet would have still been untrue. There were two reasons for this. First, Westmoreland miscalculated the number of Communist military dead. And second, the Communists rapidly replaced their Tet losses. Continue Reading »

The Real Reason Westmoreland Asked for Reinforcements During the Tet Offensive

“…the country would have been lost to the enemy if it weren’t for American actions.”[1] Edward Lansdale, referring to the Communist Tet Offensive

During the Tet Offensive, few individuals outside of the upper echelons of the U.S. government knew just how close the Government of South Vietnam (GVN) and the South Vietnamese Armed Forces (RVNAF) came to total collapse. The reason for the public’s ignorance of the actual situation prevailing in South Vietnam had a lot to do with the misinformation fed to the media by top U.S. officials, especially U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker and General William C. Westmoreland.

Ellsworth Bunker stated in an interview on February 19, 1968, that the South Vietnamese government and military “turned in an excellent performance in the recent fighting.” He then made the absurd claim that “…the Vietcong had also pulled into the cities from the countryside, weakening their positions in the hamlets and villages.”[2] Bunker’s disassembling made sense from a military standpoint. He could not come out and acknowledge that America’s South Vietnamese ally was actually on the ropes and perilously close to defeat. If he had done so, his words may have encouraged the enemy to launch a second-Tet-sized offensive that would deliver the coup de grace to the GVN and RVNAF. Nevertheless, Bunker’s statement had another important consequence, it deceived the U.S. public and members of Congress about the true state of affairs in South Vietnam. In trumpeting the “excellent performance” of the RVNAF and GVN, Bunker created the impression that the United States, working with an apparently strong South Vietnamese partner, could still achieve its political and military objectives in South Vietnam. Continue Reading »

The Tet Offensive and the Popular Uprising

During the Tet Offensive, popular uprisings occurred across South Vietnam.  A Communist POW, when asked later whether he considered Tet a Communist victory remarked, “Of course it was a success. We attacked Saigon and several other cities…People in some areas did revolt to overthrow their local government.”[1] Another Communist POW, who fought during Tet recounted, “When we returned to our unit’s station area, the cadre said that the people had had a general uprising in many big cities, but they were suppressed by enemy airplanes.”[2] Continue Reading »

Tet and the Popular Uprising at Hue

When the Tet Offensive erupted, American and international media attention focused on the spectacular Vietcong attacks in Saigon. On January 31, millions of American television viewers watched as U.S. military police attempted to root out and kill the Vietcong still holed up in the U.S. embassy grounds. The viewing public also saw in vivid techno-color Vietcong sappers, who had barricaded themselves inside the Saigon radio station, detonate a massive explosive charge, killing themselves and destroying the communications facility. In the most memorable incident of the entire Tet Offensive, photographer Eddie Adams and a NBC camera crew captured on film the moment Chief of the South Vietnamese National Police General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed Vietcong prisoner Nguyen Van Lem with a single pistol shot to the head. Notwithstanding the visual impact of those television images, and their influence on public perceptions of the war, the militarily significant attacks, and the ones that indicated that the Vietcong had successfully orchestrated a series of popular uprisings, occurred elsewhere. Continue Reading »

Terrorizing the Vietcong: The Rand Corporation and the U.S. Air Campaign in South Vietnam

One of the first uses of U.S. airpower in South Vietnam involved its deployment as a terror weapon against the Vietcong. Terror had long been an instrument of U.S. military policy. During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force regularly targeted German and Japanese civilians. In just one bombing raid at Tokyo in March 1945, American planes, loaded with incendiary bombs, killed an estimated one hundred thousand civilians. By the end of World War II, U.S. aircraft had devastated nearly every major urban area in Japan. Striking civilian targets was, and remains, by definition terrorism. But American civilian and military leaders, including presidents Roosevelt and Truman, believed killing civilians weakened enemy morale and hastened the end of the Second World War. Surveys conducted by the U.S. government after the war proved otherwise. Bombing civilians had had the reverse effect, it convinced the German and Japanese people of American barbarity and stiffened their will to resist, possibly prolonging the conflicts in Europe and Asia. Continue Reading »

“Not A Word of Warning From Anyone:” The Tet Offensive, the Vietcong, and South Vietnam’s Peasantry

Millions of South Vietnamese peasants assisted the Vietcong in its preparations for the Tet Offensive.  Sympathetic villagers provided the guerrillas with intelligence on Allied troop movements, gave the Vietcong food and money, and hid the infiltrators in their rural homes. Refugees, many of whom lived on the edges of American bases or on the fringes of South Vietnam’s major cities, allowed the Vietcong to use their shantytowns and slums as jumping-off points for Communist attacks on Allied military targets.  South Vietnamese Tet travellers furnished the infiltrators with a degree of civilian cover, making it impossible for the South Vietnamese police to weed out the guerrillas from the general population.

Only hours before the launch of the offensive, Vietcong units succeeded in bypassing hundreds of Allied foot patrols then taking place across rural South Vietnam; the guerrillas even breached the tight security cordons, with their manned watchtowers, pillboxes, and check points, that stood alongside the roads leading into South Vietnam’s towns and cities.  None of these Vietcong movements could have been accomplished without the assistance, or acquiescence, of large numbers of South Vietnamese peasants. Continue Reading »

TET ’68 and the Failure of the American Intelligence Community

Since 1968, historians and former U.S. military and government officials have debated whether the North Vietnamese and Vietcong surprised the Americans and South Vietnamese with the initial Tet attacks and whether, as a result, Tet represented a major U.S. intelligence failure. General William C. Westmoreland, as well as the Director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms, claimed then, and later, that the vast U.S. intelligence bureaucracy did not fail in the weeks before Tet.  According to these two men, both of whom had strong personal and professional reasons for downplaying any intelligence failure, the United States had anticipated the offensive.

Despite the assertions of Westmoreland and Helms, the historical record indicates that the U.S. intelligence community failed to predict the Tet Offensive.  Consequently, when the offensive began across South Vietnam on January 30-31, 1968, top U.S. officials, including the President, expressed astonishment at the size and intensity of the Communist military effort. Continue Reading »

5 Myths About the Missouri River

5 Myths About the Missouri River – Debunked

1) Dead men are entombed in one or more of the Missouri’s dams.

The Truth: When the Army Corps of Engineers built the earthen dams across the Missouri, construction crews laid down soil and concrete in thin layers, making it impossible for anyone to be buried alive.  Nevertheless, a landslide at Fort Peck Dam in 1938 killed eight men, six of whom were never found.  Their bodies may or may not be in the dam.

2) Lewis and Clark were the first to explore the Missouri River.

The Truth: Centuries before Lewis and Clark, Native Americans explored the river and its tributaries.  Furthermore, during the 18th Century, French and Spanish traders explored the Missouri River at least as far as the Mandan villages near today’s Bismarck, North Dakota. Continue Reading »

LBJ and the Deescalation of the Ground War in Vietnam

ARCWHYContrary to popular belief, the decision to cap U.S. troop levels in Vietnam came months before the Tet Offensive of 1968.

On April 27, 1967, General William C. Westmoreland met in the White House with President Lyndon Baines Johnson to discuss future American troop levels in South Vietnam.  During the course of their discussions, Westmoreland told the president that the current authorized troop level of 470,000 men, scheduled for deployment by the end of 1967, would not be enough to attain U.S. goals in South Vietnam.  Specifically, those troops would neither bleed the enemy dry nor break his will to resist.  Westmoreland noted, “With the present program of 470,000 men, we would be setting up a meat grinder [in South Vietnam].  We would do a little better than hold our own.”[1]  In other words, with almost half a million U.S. troops in South Vietnam, the U.S. risked being stuck in a ground war that showed little progress or might even devolve into an indecisive stalemate. Continue Reading »

The Gravest Threat to Democracy – Corporate Authoritarianism

wallstreetIf “We the People” are going to preserve American democracy we need to clearly identify who threatens it.  At this crucial moment in history, the gravest threat to U.S. democracy is coming from corporate authoritarians, including members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, Fox News, right-wing talk radio, Silicon Valley, the oil, coal, and gas industries, and America’s arms manufacturers. Continue Reading »

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