[News] Vietnam Will Win: End of an Illusion

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 29 10:24:00 EDT 2018


https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/29/vietnam-will-win-end-of-an-illusion/ 



  Vietnam Will Win: End of an Illusion

by Wilfred Burchett 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/author/wilfred-burchett/> - March 29, 2018
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When North Korean naval forces boarded, seized and made off with the 
U.S. intelligence ship /Pueblo/, on January 23, 1968 – the first time 
such an indignity had been perpetrated against an American naval vessel 
for 150 years – the world shuddered and awaited the thunderbolts from 
the Pentagon. Minds naturally went back to a much more nebulous incident 
in the Gulf of Tonkin almost four years earlier in which it was claimed, 
but never proven, that torpedoes had been fired at the U.S. destroyer 
/Maddox/. Within 48 hours, North Vietnam’s cities had been bombed in 
retaliation and the U.S. Congress presented President Johnson with a 
“blank check” for carrying out war measures in North and South Vietnam. 
But there was nothing nebulous about what the North Koreans had done. 
They had physically seized and made off with a ship which contained 
everything most secret in electronic espionage instruments and had hit 
the United States in one of its most sensitive spots, the Navy, the very 
heart of the country’s pride and prestige. Nothing since Pearl Harbor 
seemed so “outrageous.”

Secretary of State Dean Rusk denounced the seizure as an “act of war” 
and some senators demanded an ultimatum to the North Korean government 
of Kim II Sung to free the /Pueblo/ within 24 hours “or else.” Others 
suggested the dispatch of a naval task force into Wonsan harbor – where 
the vessel was being held – to free the /Pueblo/ and its crew. South 
Korea’s President Pak Chung Hi demanded the simultaneous bombing of all 
North Korean cities as a preliminary punishment. The U.S. Navy’s 
nuclear-powered aircraft carrier /Enterprise/ headed toward North Korean 
shores. While the world held its breath and waited for the lightning to 
strike, the North Koreans replied that not only would they continue to 
hold ship and crew but that the latter would probably be tried on 
charges of espionage. After a few days of ultimatums and bluster, the 
/Enterprise/ made a 180-degree turn and sailed away from North Korean 
waters. What had happened?

It was the end of an illusion. Senator Fulbright put his finger on it 
within a few hours of the seizure, in what must be considered a model of 
understatement:

“The U.S. commitment in Vietnam,” he is quoted as saying, “caused other 
countries to feel more free than normal from serious retaliation…”[1] 
<#_edn1>

If there was no “gunboat up the Yangtze” follow-up, it did not signify 
any sudden coyness in the Pentagon, but rather that no “gunboats” were 
available. Total U.S. combat air strength in South Korea comprised just 
eight planes, and these were nuclear bombers. There was not a single 
American fighter-bomber in South Korea or anywhere else in the area 
within flying and combat distance of North Korea. It took three days for 
President Johnson to scratch up a total of 36 planes and dispatch them 
to South Korea. Only by calling up Air Force reservists could he get 
enough pilots to fly them and crews to service them. Unlike North 
Vietnam, the DPRK[2] <#_edn2> has mutual defense pacts with both China 
and the Soviet Union. But even without these, as things stood in early 
1968, North Korea was easily capable of standing up to everything – 
short of nuclear weapons – that the U.S. could mobilize in the way of 
air, naval and ground forces in that corner of the world. For ground 
forces, the Pentagon had two divisions (apart from one company of Thai 
troops, all that remained of “United Nations” forces in South Korea). 
But these were down to about half strength because effectives had been 
siphoned off quietly to replace Vietnam battle casualties.

The illusion shattered by the /Pueblo/ affair was that the United States 
with its great military and economic might, could play the role of a 
global super gendarme. One “little war” against an underdeveloped 
country had proved too much. The illusion that U.S. armed forces could 
be whisked around the world to move into every situation where U.S. 
interests, imaginary or otherwise, were threatened, has been destroyed 
by the Vietnamese people and confirmed by the North Korean people.

When emergency measures were taken to shore up the U.S. military posture 
in South Vietnam, necessitated by the NLF’s Lunar New Year offensive, 
the U.S. public perhaps realized for the first time just how deeply the 
war had eaten into U.S. military might, how frail were the reserves. 
Therein lay the real reason for the “soft” reaction to the /Pueblo/ affair.

“In the event of another emergency outside Vietnam, the army would not 
have even one complete infantry division ready for immediate deployment 
overseas,” reported Neil Sheehan of the /New York Times/.[3] <#_edn3> 
Sheehan pointed out that President Johnson’s decision to airlift another 
10,500 Army and Marine troops to South Vietnam had “seriously depleted 
this country’s trained force of active, strategic reserve divisions.” 
After the Dak To battle, the Pentagon had already committed the 
remaining two brigades of the 101st, one of the Pentagon’s two reserve 
airborne divisions, intended for the defense of the United States 
itself. After the Têt offensive, one brigade of the remaining airborne 
division, the 82nd, was also rushed out. This left only two more 
brigades of the 82nd and three other divisions, the 1st and 2nd Armored 
and the 5th Mechanized divisions, inside the United States, none of the 
latter three in any way suitable for the jungle, rice paddy or street 
warfare of South Vietnam. Although on paper there were still three 
Marine divisions available, in fact, after the dispatch of the 27th 
Regiment of the newly formed 5th Marine Division to make up the 
10,500-man emergency force, there existed only a little more than one 
Marine division in the United States. Effectives had been siphoned off 
the 2nd, 5th and even the reserve 4th Marine divisions to replace battle 
casualties and to inflate what were officially only two Marine divisions 
in South Vietnam, but which in terms of effectives (83,000 including the 
27th Regiment) were the equivalent of more than four divisions.

Replacements for the very high ratio of casualties the Marines were 
taking, plus rotation, plus a drastic falling off in volunteers in the 
Marine Corps, had reduced Marine units within the United States to mere 
skeletons. During all of 1967, Marines had been quietly transferred from 
one division to another, from home-based units to combat units to cover 
up the heavy battle losses. The same had been happening inside Army 
divisions, as was revealed when the 82nd Brigade was dispatched. Many of 
the effectives involved were non voluntarily sent on a second tour of 
duty, without the stipulated two years out of a war zone which was 
supposed to follow one year’s service in Vietnam. Many of the 82nd 
Brigade men had just returned from Vietnam service with other units. 
They had hardly time to receive family congratulations on their survival 
than they were off again on another venture in which the risks of non 
survival had sharply increased, the average weekly toll of American 
dead, as officially reported, having doubled from the end of January 
1968. Incidentally, the addition of 10,500 to an existing force of 
500,000 U.S. troops was obviously not going to make any difference to 
fortunes on the battlefield, but it did mean that armed strength within 
the United States itself had been reduced far below the minimum six 
divisions and two brigades the government is supposed to maintain for 
national security.

There was no shortcut out of the dilemma. In the event of another crisis 
in the Caribbean for instance, or the Middle East or anywhere else 
except Europe, there were no trained units, planes or pilots available. 
By early 1968, the United States had become badly “overextended ” The 
situation would not be cured by simply calling up manpower. It takes ten 
months to a year to form, train and equip a combat-ready U.S. infantry 
division.

This situation was also a contributing factor to the American “soft” 
reaction to the Warsaw Pact forces invasion of Czechoslovakia. More 
important even than Johnson’s obsession of letting nothing interfere 
with his plans for a face-to-face meeting with Kosygin on nuclear 
disarmament, was the impotence of the U.S. military posture in Europe, 
at least as far as conventional military affairs were concerned. U.S. 
troops had gradually been siphoned off, if not for direct dispatch to 
Vietnam, at least to replace other units in the United States that had 
been assigned to the bottomless pit of South Vietnam.

These were chilling thoughts for the Pentagon, where the Têt offensive 
had precipitated something of a “revolt” by the “Young Turks,” who 
clamored for a pullout from Vietnam and a return to the old policy of 
“massive retaliation.” They complained that Johnson had destroyed or 
crippled a major part of U.S. armed strength in the Vietnamese 
“meat-grinder” in an adventure having nothing to do with U.S. national 
interests, leaving virtually defenseless vast areas where the “Young 
Turks” believed vital national interests were involved. There must have 
been some other chilling thoughts in the Pentagon as the full-scale U.S. 
commitment dragged into its fourth year.

Air power as a decisive, or even effective, instrument of military 
policy had proven to be a myth. After three years of bombing the North 
at a shattering cost in planes and pilots, the Saigon communiqués still 
listed the same targets as in the first weeks of the attacks: Dong Hoi 
radar installations, Vinh airfield, road and railway bridges in the 
“panhandle,” trucks and barges. And month by month, year by year, the 
Pentagon reported a steady increase instead of a decrease in the volume 
of supplies moving south. Air power could destroy, but used with 
unprecedented force against the North it had demonstrated its impotence 
to halt production or the movement of supplies.

In the South, air power could also destroy but it could not occupy. It 
could influence tactics on the battlefield but it could not produce 
decisive results. And if reflections on the inefficacy of air power in 
the North were sobering for Air Force generals, then what must be the 
reflections of Army generals who speculate about the performance of U.S. 
combat troops if they had to fight without a monopoly of air power, as 
would undoubtedly be the case if they were involved in ground fighting 
in North Korea or in China or against Soviet troops in Europe. If U.S. 
forces were able only to achieve such meager results against “Vietcong” 
in spite of an absolute monopoly of strategic and tactical air power, 
the performance would logically be substantially worse if these 
monopolies were canceled out. Air support has often robbed the NLF 
forces of otherwise clear-cut victories on the battlefield. On the other 
hand, air power has never enabled the U.S.-Saigon forces to win a 
clear-cut victory on the battlefield, nor has it enabled them to occupy 
territory – the real aim of military operations, notwithstanding the 
double talk about “fix, find and destroy,” “search and destroy” and 
other tactical phrases that had been used by Westmoreland to cover up 
his inability to secure and occupy territory.

Specifically, in South Vietnam, the monopoly of airpower used on a scale 
unprecedented in military history has not enabled the American military 
commanders to achieve what was one of their prime strategic objectives – 
establishment of a military front, a definite line behind which they 
could say: “That is ours; a secure, stable rear in which we can 
establish bases, mobilize manpower and resources that will multiply as 
we move our line forward.” Harkins, Maxwell Taylor and Westmoreland all 
were unable to achieve this, and so U.S. bases and military 
installations still remain scattered, isolated islets in a totally 
hostile sea.

Another byproduct of the U.S. inability to occupy territory has been the 
gradual changing of relations of strength, even in air power, between 
North Vietnam and the United States. In August 1964, when the first 
“retaliatory” American raids were made after the Tonkin Gulf “incident,” 
North Vietnam had no air force. It still had none when the regular 
bombing attacks started in February 1965. There was a complete U.S. 
monopoly of air power over the North as there was over the South. But 
after some months, pilots from a fledgling North Vietnamese Air Force 
began to measure their skills against some of America’s finest air aces. 
American air “monopoly” was de-escalated to air “superiority,” although 
U.S. air superiority included the ability to bomb the North’s airfields 
at will. In spite of the immensely superior firepower of America’s 
latest jets compared to the outmoded MIG-17s; and in spite of the 
immeasurably greater experience of American pilots, the young air force 
of the North continued to grow in quantity and quality and by the end of 
1967, more and more MIG-21s were making their appearance. The vigorous, 
young North Vietnamese Air Force had become something that American 
pilots had to take into account.

The DRV Air Force started from scratch like the guerrillas in the South, 
with the same unrelenting process at work, resulting in a steady change 
in the relation of forces in all spheres. Concerning the continued 
growth and activity of the young North Vietnamese Air Force, the 
American press occasionally reported that destruction of the MIGs on the 
ground was being averted by their being flown to “sanctuaries” over the 
border in China and there were rumors of “hot pursuit” into China and 
even the bombing of the Chinese “sanctuaries.” But these rumors quieted 
somewhat when it was pointed out that the United States was using 
“sanctuaries” in Thailand, from where an estimated 80% of bombing 
attacks against North Vietnam and most of the B-52 attacks against the 
South were being mounted. Attacks against “sanctuaries” could work in 
two directions. Any U.S. attacks on real or imaginary “sanctuaries” in 
China would certainly be countered by retaliatory Chinese air attacks 
against the much more venerable American air “sanctuaries” in Thailand. 
Washington was well aware of this and so took another “soft” line toward 
rumors that North Vietnam’s MIGs were flown across the border for 
protection and servicing in China. Three years earlier, when the North 
Vietnamese Air Force was still in gestation, the Pentagon was yearning 
for such rumors to justify “hot pursuit” and “denial of sanctuaries,” 
the official jargon used to camouflage hawkish hopes of hitting China.

In other words, overextension in Vietnam was having a sobering effect on 
Washington’s posture in many areas and at many levels.

Official indignation and public frustration over the /Pueblo/ affair 
were still rankling when the NLF launched its generalized offense 
against the main strongholds of American power in the cities, dealing a 
blow to U.S. prestige which only added to the humiliation of the 
/Pueblo/ incident. The scope of this simultaneous offensive throughout 
the length and breadth of South Vietnam; the complete secrecy with which 
it was prepared and executed; the cooperative or quiescent attitude of 
Saigon military and administrative organs towards the NLF in many 
regions; the catastrophic military and political setbacks inherent in 
the temporary seizure in whole or in part of 140 cities and towns – all 
this gave the lie to the “military progress,” “increasing popular 
support” and “end of the war in sight” myths which had been fed to 
American and world opinion for months preceding the offensive. To many 
people it was clear that the United States could not play the role of a 
world super gendarme and it was extremely conjectural how much longer 
Washington could continue its role of gendarme in South Vietnam.

What, from a military viewpoint, was the significance of the offensive 
against the towns? This was a question I put to Nguyen Van Hieu, former 
secretary-general of the NLF’s Central Committee, released from that 
position to become chief NLF spokesman abroad. At the time I met him he 
was representative of the NLF with ambassadorial status in Phnom Penh, 
Cambodia. As such he was in very close touch with events on the other 
side of the frontier. A round-faced, plump person with a calm, 
reflective expression and a fine analytical mind, Nguyen Van Hieu, a 
former Saigon professor of mathematics, is very typical of the militant 
intellectuals within the top leadership of the NLF.

“If we speak exclusively of military results,” he said, “the Americans 
themselves have admitted that they were forced to withdraw troops 
everywhere from the countryside to try to defend the towns. They and 
their Quislings have been forced to abandon even that small part of the 
countryside they still controlled at the time of our offensive.

“Enormous human and material losses were inflicted on American and 
puppet troops. The Saigon army started to disintegrate. Two hundred 
thousand deserted in the week following our first blow. Some went back 
to their villages. Others came over to our side as units, including one 
unit with its tanks. But one of the most important military results is 
that our forces have secured new bases in and around the cities 
themselves. A new phase in the war has started.”

I pointed out that the second wave of attacks on February 17-18 seemed 
much weaker than the first offensive and was widely interpreted as 
signifying a decline in NLF strength because of losses incurred in the 
earlier action.

“On the contrary,” replied Nguyen Van Hieu, “The second attacks were a 
logical consequence of the success of our first action. Rocket and 
mortar fire was directed with great precision against virtually all the 
most important American military installations from positions our forces 
secured in the first attack. We were able to hit airfields, munitions 
dumps and oil storage depots, port facilities, radar installations and 
transmission and communications facilities, without infantry assaults as 
in the past.

“We will continue to hit such installations from new positions secured 
in our generalized offensive around all U.S. bases and logistics centers 
throughout South Vietnam.”

I then asked Hieu to explain the chief features of the “new phase in the 
war” to which he had referred.

“The war has moved from the countryside into and around the cities and 
American bases,” he said. “Before, the Americans considered the cities 
as their safe rear from which they could launch attacks against our 
forces in the countryside. Now the cities are front line areas. Our 
bases are established in the outskirts of Saigon and other cities and 
will remain there. Our rear is now partly in the cities themselves. In 
other words, our bases in the outskirts are organically linked with our 
rear bases in the jungle and mountains on the one hand, and with the 
urban population in the cities on the other. The jungle and mountains 
and the cities are now united.

“Our first wave of attacks entirely changed each side’s strategic 
situation. Before, it was a big problem for our main forces to approach 
major American bases. Now the problem of approach no longer exists. Our 
forces are there permanently. That is why we can launch rocket and 
mortar attacks against Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airfield even in broad 
daylight. We attacked this super guarded base nine times in the week 
that followed our second round of attacks…

“Such attacks will continue and will grow in intensity, not only around 
Saigon and American installations there, but in and around all other bases.

“American forces are dispersed in fixed positions more than ever. 
Because of our generalized offensive against the cities and subsequent 
actions made possible by this, the American forces have still further 
lost their mobility and capacity for offensive action.

“The United States Army, as an ultramodern army, also requires an 
ultramodern infrastructure, with efficient supply, communications, 
transport and transmission facilities, radar installations and so forth. 
Even with a small interruption in communications and transmission, for 
example, the U.S. army loses much of its efficiency. Much money and time 
were spent building this infrastructure in South Vietnam. Now it is all 
disorganized. Radio and radar installations have been destroyed, all 
strategic roads and the main river ways are controlled by our forces, 
logistic centers including port facilities are in ruins. The result in 
lowered U.S. military efficiency was immediately noticeable… in lack of 
coordination between American and Saigon forces; lack of coordination 
between their own ground units and between ground units and air support; 
and frequently a total absence of support for platoon and company-sized 
units caught in our ambushes. They will replace some of the 
installations, open a road here or there, but for every installation 
they replace we will destroy two or three more from our positions around 
these bases which we consolidated in the first month following the 
offensive, which are now permanent and win be strengthened every day.”

Professor Hieu mentioned another example of the changing relation of 
forces. “At the moment that their communications deteriorate, ours 
improve. We captured many tens of tons of transmission equipment alone, 
not to mention hundreds of trucks. But if we lost all this again, we can 
still go back to our bikes and foot runners, while the Americans have no 
such reserves to fall back on.

“We estimate that in our attacks against 45 airfields in our first two 
big assaults, we destroyed 1,800 planes and helicopters on the ground. 
At many of these airfields, which included 11 of the 14 major American 
air bases, we actually occupied the terrain for hours and even days and 
we were able to destroy all aircraft in the parking lots. This had a 
dramatic effect on American air activities over the whole of South 
Vietnam. Except for attacks around the besieged marine positions south 
of the demilitarized zone and attacks against Saigon, Hué and some other 
cities, the air space over the rest of South Vietnam is free from the 
noise of American planes for the first time in many years. Our troops 
are able to move along roads and river ways in broad daylight without 
even a reconnaissance plane to worry them. They may replace the planes, 
but it will take time and in the meanwhile our forces are consolidating 
their positions around all the air bases to keep them permanently under 
fire.”[4] <#_edn4> About the time Nguyen Van Hieu gave this interview, 
an American officer was telling correspondents in Saigon that to 
establish a security belt around Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airbase, 
sufficiently wide to protect it against “Vietcong” rocket attacks, it 
would require 200,000 U.S. troops in permanent position, with no other 
task than that of guarding the base, because of the seven mile range of 
NLF rockets.

I asked Nguyen Van Hieu to comment on official Washington claims that 
NLF forces did not receive the support they expected from the urban 
population in their initial assaults against the cities.

“Nonsense!” he responded. “We could not possibly have carried out an 
offensive of such tremendous scope without the support of the people in 
the towns. In fact, this support was the decisive factor in our success. 
Even General Westmoreland belatedly admitted that he was caught by 
surprise. ‘Tactical surprise,’ he said, but in reality it was a 
strategic surprise.’ The fact is that we attacked more than 140 towns. 
The Americans claimed we infiltrated eight or nine battalions into 
Saigon alone. Westmoreland also acknowledged that ‘the tactic of 
infiltration into the population centers was used to a far greater 
degree than anticipated…’ What does this mean? Our forces have no modern 
transport, no logistics system as generally understood. It was the local 
population of Saigon and other cities who helped carry supplies; who hid 
our arms and munitions; who protected and fed our troops. Many hundreds 
of thousands of people in the towns all over South Vietnam helped our 
troops for days on end before the attack was launched. And there was no 
betrayal. Absolute secrecy was maintained. It is difficult to imagine 
any greater demonstration of the total support our forces received from 
the local population.”

“How do you evaluate the main political results?” I asked Professor Hieu.

“There are many,” he replicating they are developing very quickly, in 
most varied forms. The collapse of Saigon’s power in the countryside is 
one important result. The destruction of whatever grip the Quisling 
regime still had on the cities is another. This is illustrated by Thieu 
and Ky collaborating with the Americans in ‘destroying cities to save 
them,’ as one American general expressed it. People in the towns, within 
a few hours or days, saw with their own eyes the barbarities that have 
been inflicted on our people in the countryside by the Americans and the 
Saigon regime for years past. Loudspeakers mounted on helicopters 
ordered people out of their homes, shooting them down when they tried to 
flee, while American bombers reduced whole city blocks to rubble. They 
saw with their own eyes the fascist ferocity of the American and 
Quisling troops and the heroism of the NLF forces.

“The fact that Thieu and Ky try to cling to power by calling in American 
tanks and troops in the streets of Saigon, Hué and other cities; by 
American helicopters mowing people down from the rooftops; by American 
bombs, napalm and naval gunfire used to destroy the city of Hué; and the 
fact that the Mekong Delta cities like Ben Tre and My Tho were smashed 
to bits by American bombs and shells – all this has exposed the true 
face of the Saigon Quislings as never before. They will never recover 
from this and eventually win suffer the fate history reserves for such 
traitors.

“The collapse of Saigon’s power is very significant. For the type of 
neocolonialist war the Americans are waging, they need the myth of local 
administration and army; they need the existence of a local power 
structure which they can claim they are there to support. For this they 
needed to maintain a power base in Saigon and the countryside. This was 
one of the imperatives of ‘pacification.’ The base has now collapsed and 
can never be restored. This is a strategic political defeat of primary 
importance for the Americans, which even Washington seems slowly to be 
recognizing.

“The natural remit of the collapse and discrediting of the Saigon 
administration has been the creation of new political and administrative 
organizations. People’s self-management committees sprang up in the 
cities to take care of day-to-day affairs like public health and food 
distribution. Those will continue to exist even if the Thieu-Ky clique 
manage to partially restore administrative services in some places. New 
political forces like the League of National and Peace-loving Forces in 
Saigon[5] <#_edn5> and a similar body in Hué, have emerged with a 
program which coincides with the main points of our political program, 
that is: the overthrow of the Thieu-Ky regime, the withdrawal of 
American and satellite troops, the setting up of a coalition regime with 
the NLF and peace based on the total independence of the country. We 
welcome the formation of such new political forces and support them. The 
extent of the isolation of the Thieu-Ky regime can also be seen by the 
arrests of a number of prominent political, religious and trade union 
personalities, including former members of the Saigon government; these 
arrests are also a measure of the increasing opposition even among 
circles considered close to the regime. The ouster of two of the four 
military zone commanders and the rumored imminent dismissal of the 
remaining two are in the same order of things. Thieu and Ky are badly 
worried about further large-scale revolts and defections within their 
armed forces. All this is a result of our generalized offensive against 
the cities, which succeeded beyond our expectations.”

What also emerged from the conversation with Nguyen Van Hieu was that 
the tactics of exploiting contradictions between dispersal and 
concentration were employed during the attacks on the cities. The case 
of Hué was an example. For prestige reasons Westmoreland concentrated 
all available forces and took 25 days and three battalions of decimated 
Marines to retake what the NLF forces seized in a couple of hours and 
practically without firing a shot. But while the marines were battling 
their way into the Hué citadel and destroying the old Imperial City 
block by block, NLF forces took over the rest of Thua Thien Province of 
which Hué is the capital, including solid positions in the western 
outskirts of the city itself.

In Saigon, diversionary attacks were carried out against the U.S. 
Embassy, the Presidential Palace and other buildings, where the 
U.S.-Saigon Command had to concentrate its forces, while the NLF seized 
priority targets like the munitions depots to get arms and strategic 
points in the outskirts which could be transformed into future bases. 
While the U.S.-Saigon forces concentrated on defending or recapturing 
objectives of prestige value, the main body of NLF forces was busy 
setting up permanent positions in the various city outskirts, around 
airfields and other major U.S. bases and military installations. In the 
past, attacks against these bases were of a “hit and run” type; 
everything was worked out so that approach, attack and withdrawal would 
be effected in the hours of darkness, because by dawn the attacking 
force had to be out of sight of U.S. planes. In the future the bases 
could be hit by day or night, the attackers maneuvering around within 
their permanent spider web complexes of trenches and tunnels, or 
withdrawing temporarily to fade out into the cities in an emergency.

Scores of thousands of arms were seized and distributed to new units 
formed from among the urban youth. From the time of the offensive 
against the cities, new terms appeared in the NLF communiqués. There 
were frequent references, for instance, to actions by the “revolutionary 
armed forces,” a term applied to a combination of NLF armed forces, 
units of the Saigon army which had crossed over to the NLF and new units 
set up from urban workers and students, armed from the huge stores taken 
from captured munitions depots and arsenals. During the attacks around 
Saigon, there were NLF news bulletins with sections like the following: 
“thus in two days the revolutionary armed forces of the 7th ward[6] 
<#_edn6> killed 110 GIs, wounded many more and burned out one M-113 
tank…” Units began to be identified by the city district on which they 
were based. News items often identified city streets in which ambushes 
had taken place. The war had indeed entered a new phase with the cities 
and bases as the focal points of military activity.

In the weeks that followed the offensive, main American efforts, apart 
from trying to retake prestige targets, were directed at trying to 
reopen road and river communications and to clear areas around their 
bases. The question of trying to restore some semblance of a Saigon 
presence-power would not be the appropriate term – in the countryside, 
was admitted by U.S. correspondents on the spot to be a hopeless task 
for a foreseeable future.

“In effect, South Vietnam has temporarily abandoned its own countryside. 
If not dead, the vital pacification program is in a state of 
suspension/…/ Ironically, the Vietcong achieved this setback to the 
important pacification program by directing its offensive not at the 
‘priority pacification areas’ in the country but at South Vietnam’s 
major cities and towns . .” reported Charles Mohr, February 15, in the 
/New York Times/. And the /International Herald Tribune/ (Paris), on 
February 26, after describing the collapse of Saigon power observed that 
“/…/ the enemy has demonstrated with appalling clarity that pre-Têt 
convictions were bunt on sand/…/

“The picture is the same everywhere in Vietnam. Americans are waiting, 
holding defensive positions, stretched thin trying to occupy the ground 
that pacification maps carried as occupied months ago. No troops are 
left to go out and chase the enemy. It has never been more clear that he 
fights when and where he chooses/…/”

All this sounded like a confirmatory postscript to certain analyzes and 
predictions of General Vo Nguyen Giap and President Nguyen Huu Tho 
quoted earlier.

The generalized offensive against the cities and its aftermath with the 
almost continuous hammering of American bases and the political 
bankruptcy in Saigon, represent the most complete application, at the 
time of writing, of the political-military strategies and tactics of the 
Front analyzed in depth in the preceding chapters of this book.

Reactions to all the setbacks in Vietnam by the men in the Pentagon were 
typical of frustrated military men. One headline from /US. News & World 
Report/ sums it up: “The Real Reason Why War Has Dragged On? Big 
Differences Between U.S. Military Men And Their Civilian Superiors.” The 
story that followed was a rehash of the familiar lament of captains of 
war when victory eluded their grasp: “If only civilians and politicians 
had not tied our hands!”

Generals Harking, Maxwell Taylor, Westmoreland and their chiefs in the 
Pentagon, if they were realists, could have taken one grain of comfort. 
No other generals and Pentagon planners would have done less badly! 
Having covered this type of war in Asia for the past 27 years, I am 
convinced this is so.

Only by ridding itself of the illusion that colonialism, neocolonialism 
or anything similar can be re-imposed on the Vietnamese people, or that 
destiny has designated the United States to become the super policeman 
of the world – we had enough of that with Hitler – can Washington put 
itself in the right frame of mind for a realistic and reasonable 
solution. Much more blood will unfortunately be spilled before this 
happens. Once the change of mind comes about, whoever is in the White 
House will find the leaders of the NLF and the DRV surprisingly 
reasonable and generous people to deal with. Pierre Mendès-France, then 
prime minister of France, found this to be true at Geneva in 1954, even 
at the moment of the Vietminh’s greatest triumph at Dien Bien Phu. Mr. 
Harriman could also have discovered it at the Paris talks if Johnson had 
given him the slightest chance to act as a real negotiator, instead of 
making him a postman for the former President’s latest whims. There is 
every indication that Harriman actually discovered just this and made 
recommendations accordingly. But they were rejected by Johnson, who 
preferred to take the advice of hawks like Bunker in Saigon and his 
counterparts in the Pentagon and State Department.

*Notes.*

[1] <#_ednref1> /International Herald Tribune/, Paris, January 24, 1968.

[2] <#_ednref2> Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as distinct from 
the ROK (Republic of Korea) in the South.

[3] <#_ednref3> Published in the /International Herald Tribune/ on Feb. 
16, 1968.

[4] <#_ednref4> Nguyen Van Hieu was obviously speaking of the period 
immediately after the Têt offensive. Within a few months, the 
U.S.-Saigon Command was able to divert considerable air power, 
especially B-52s, from use against the North to carry out bombing raids 
of unprecedented violence against the South, especially in the immediate 
neighborhood of the big cities.

[5] <#_ednref5> Later a single Alliance of National, Democratic and 
Peace Forces was set up on a national level, incorporating the former 
Saigon and Hué organizations. It held its first congress in the 
Saigon-Cholon area on April 20-21, 1968, and a second congress on July 
30-31, 1968, at which a Political Program was approved, similar to but 
not identical with that of the NLF. The formation of the Alliance was 
supported by the NLF and the DRV, as were also the main points of its 
Political Program. Significant for future developments was an NLF 
Communiqué of September 13, 1968. Referring to the fighting in Tay Ninh 
Province, the communiqué mentions /“Les Forces Unifiées Nationales du 
Commandant Huynh Thanh Hung.”/ The latter is a leading figure in the Cao 
Dai sect who recently placed his armed forces at the disposal of the NLF 
and Alliance and undertook decisive military action during the recent 
Tay Ninh offensive in releasing some 200,000 Cao Dai believers from a 
huge camp in which they had been concentrated in starvation conditions 
by the U.S.-Saigon administration. That other sections of the Saigon 
armed forces will rally to the side of the NLF and the Alliance is 
certain. The U.S. Defense Department, in a statement on September 20, 
admitted that desertion rates in the Saigon Army had jumped 25% during 
the first half of 1968.

[6] <#_ednref6> “Arrondissement” in the original of the NLF’s French 
language bulletin of March 3, 1968.

*NEXT: Epilogue*

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