Home » Vietnam War » Part 6 “Things fall apart”

Part 6 “Things fall apart”

September 24, 2017

This episode covers the time period from January to July 1968.There are really two parts of the episode:

  1. The Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.
  2. The political turmoil in the United States linked to the war, the death of Martin Luthur King and to some extent the death of Bobby Kennedy.

The brutal battles of the Tet offensive occurred just two months after Gen. William Westmoreland had assured the press that the North Vietnamese are “unable to mount a major offensive,” The presentation argues that American forces were surprised by the scale and scope of a coordinated series of attacks. However, it also quotes several sources as saying that they saw something coming but had not pieced the information together.

The attacks on the eve of the Tet holiday in late January 1968, were intended to cause the ARVN to fall apart and the civilians to turn to support the communists, The surprise attacks on cities and military bases throughout the south, caused the VC and NVA to endure devastating losses but casted grave doubt on President Lyndon Johnson’s promise that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”  The focus is on the political loss of credibility.

It is interesting to hear President Johnson talk about the lies and misreporting of the main street press.  Sound familiar?  The press focus was on Saigon.  The picture of the Police Chief executing a VC who had just kille3d a soldier and his wife and 4 children dominated the news coverage.  (Of course the atrocities committed by the VC are never mentioned.)  One of the VC survivors is quoted as saying that they paid a high price for that picture.

The brutality of the Communist Tet Offensive unfolds DAILY on television, increasing opposition to the war. The episode notes that Tet failed Although it fails from a military standpoint but it had a  devastating effect on American opinion about Vietnam involvement. We see the entire comme3ntary from CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, known as “the most trusted man in America,” when he expresses his opinion that the war is hopelessly deadlock. “If I’ve lost Cronkite,” Johnson reportedly says, “I’ve lost middle America.”

What is missing from this entire episode is any discussion of the ‘agony of Khe Sanh”.  Khe Sanh is treated as a secondary battle in comparison to the Tet offensive.  I have heard this argument before and have tried to put it into perspective using the NVA’s own strategy in my book Expendable Warriors: The Battle of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War.(Pages 135-136).  .I spend over a page debunking the side show assertion of the episode. In the  conclusion I question the side show assertion by noting that 5000 Marines, Soldier, ARN and Brou Montagnards tied down and ultimately destroyed 2 divisions that could have been used elsewhere.  Secondly assert that victory at Khe Sanh or victory in the cities during Tet would have been victory.  Finally, I debunk the assertion that Khe Sanh was a diversion by noting that over two divisions were drawn to the Northern Corps and thus were available to counter the attacks on Hue and Quang Tri.  These forces did not get involved in Khe Sanh until after the destruction of the Tet offensive communist force and thus the diversion argument fails in the shadow of military reality.

On 31 March President Johnson stunneds the nation by announcing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

I argue that it is at this point that the war in Vietnam was lost politically.  Johnson had forgone a military victory.  Interestingly on the next day, Major Paul Schwartz briefed Major General John Tolson, Commander of the forces that were about to relieve the Khe Sanh Combat base, about the 1st Cavalry Division’s next mission to attack the remnants of the NVA who had escaped Hue in the Aschau Valley about 40 kilometers or so south of Khe Sanh.  Major Schwartz’s concept was to use the Corps sized force that was relieving Khe Sanh and continue west into Laos, turn south on the Ho Chi Minh trail and enter the Aschau valley from the west rather than the east.  This would have done several things:.

  1. Achieved tactical and possibly strategic surprise
  2. Cut the Ho Chi Minh trail, and
  3. Used the 90 days of supply that were at Khe Sanh

Tolson interrupted the briefing by saying: “Didn’t you hear the President last night? What you are proposing is politically impossible.”

The war was to run on for 7 more years when it was virtually won at that point in history.


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