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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Johnson Administration > Volume VI
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VI, Vietnam, January-August 1968
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 32-49

January 30-February 8: The Tet Offensive

32. Editorial Note

The U.S. intelligence community provided some forewarning of the coming general offensive in South Vietnam, although not comprehensive details. An interim report, entitled "Intelligence Warning of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam," April 8, 1968, was prepared by a working group of officers from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, National Security Agency, and Joint Staff. Representatives of the group visited Vietnam March 16-23 to collect documents, receive briefings, and conduct interviews.

The working group report indicates that Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms informed the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in February that there had been evidence in January that attacks in the Highlands might be conducted during the Tet holiday. By late January some targets had been identified, and the intelligence had been communicated to senior military and political leaders in both Saigon and Washington. The report continues: "Despite enemy security measures, communications intelligence was able to provide clear warning that attacks, probably on a larger scale than ever before, were in the offing. Considerable numbers of medium- and low-grade enciphered enemy messages were read. . . . They included references to impending attacks, more widespread and numerous than seen before. Moreover, they indicated a sense of urgency, along with an emphasis on thorough planning and secrecy not previously seen in such communications. These messages, taken with such nontextual indicators as increased message volumes and radio direction finding, served both to validate information from other sources in the hands of local authorities and to provide warning to senior officials."The report concluded, however, that the evidence was "not sufficient to predict the exact timing of the attack." This report is in Central Intelligence Agency Files; it is also available on the Internet at <www.foia.cia.gov>.

Individual intelligence reports are in the National Security Agency, Center for Cryptologic History. [text not declassified] Additional reports of enemy preparations and a memorandum entitled "Vietnam Reporting Prior to Tet 1968 Offensive, September 17, 1975, which reviews the pre-Tet intelligence collection are in the Central Intelligence Agency, DO/EA Files, Job 80-0088A, Vietnam Reporting on Tet 1968 Offensive.

 

33. Editorial Note

Following attacks that took place in parts of I and II Corps on January 30, 1968, a force numbering initially 58,000 and quickly rising to approximately 84,000 Viet Cong (VC) cadre and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars launched an extensive series of coordinated assaults on most of the urban centers of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist leadership in Hanoi had infiltrated forces into these areas over the preceding weeks. The offensive sought to instigate a mass uprising against the Americans and the government in Saigon, generate instability and a loss of security in the South, draw strength away from Khe Sanh, and position North Vietnam favorably in any future peace talks. The insurgents rose up in the capital, the six largest cities of South Vietnam, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, 64 of 242 district centers, and numerous other smaller villages and hamlets. The tactical surprise the NVA/VC achieved was evidenced in the audacious nature of their attacks, which included penetrations by VC sapper teams of the U.S. Embassy compound, the Presidential Palace, and Ton Son Nhut airport in Saigon; damage to ships in Cam Ranh Bay; the seizure of the U.S. military billet in the center of Dalat; and the fall of the ancient imperial capital of Hue to NVA/VC units after an assault lasting only a few hours. A summary of the situation broken down by corps tactical zones in the immediate aftermath of the Tet offensive is in Intelligence Note No. 89, February 1. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

The impact of the Tet offensive on the American public was immense. Press reports stressed that the NVA/VC forces had achieved a strategic victory. In retrospect, it became clear that they had suffered a devastating tactical defeat, with the eradication of nearly 70 percent of NVA/VC cadres in the South. In the immediate aftermath, however, public opinion polls reflected that the American public turned sharply against supporting a continuation of President Lyndon Johnson's effort in Vietnam. For literature describing Tet as the major turning point of the war, see James J. Wirtz, The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Ronnie E. Ford, Tet 1968: Understanding the Surprise (London: Frank Cass, 1995); Peter Braestrup, Big Story (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977); Don Oberdorfer, Tet! (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971); Bruce Palmer, Jr., The 25-Year War: America's Role in Vietnam (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985); Eric Hammel, Fire in the Streets: The Battle for Hue--Tet 1968 (New York: Dell, 1992); Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson's War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989); Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore, MD: The Johnson Hopkins University Press, 1986); Herbert Y. Schandler, The Unmaking of a President: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977); William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Dell, 1976); Samuel Zaffiri, Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland (New York: William Morrow, 1994); William J. Duiker, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981); Douglas Pike, War, Peace, and the Viet Cong (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969); Peter Macdonald, Giap: The Victor in Vietnam (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993); and Cecil B. Currey, Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's General Vo Nguyen Giap (Washington: Brassey's, 1997).

 

34. Telegram From the Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Forces (Sharp) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)/1/

Saigon, January 30, 1968, 1255Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 2, Tabs A-Z and AA-AA. Secret; Eyes Only. Notations on the telegram indicate that Wheeler forwarded it to Rusk, Helms, and McCafferty of the White House staff.

MAC 01438. The events of the past 18 hours have been replete with enemy attacks against certain of our key installations in the I and II CTZs. The heaviest attacks were launched against Danang, Kontum, Pleiku, Nha Trang, Ban Me Thuot, and Tan Canh in the Dak To area. Lesser attacks were made on Qui Nhon and Tuy Hoa. Although enemy activity in III and IV CTZs was comparatively light during this period, we are alert to attempts by the enemy to attack significant targets in these areas. Repeated attempts can also be expected in the I and II CTZs. While our operations reports to your headquarters have covered these attacks in some detail, I felt it would be helpful to give you a wrap-up on the situation as it stands now.

It is significant that in I CTZ none of these attacks were directed against our installations north of the Ai Van Pass, perhaps because of the thickening of US forces in that area. Danang was the prime target and was attacked beginning at 20 minutes past midnight. The facilities at Marble Mountain and the Danang air base were mortared and rocketed with a number of aircraft receiving damage, to include five jet aircraft destroyed. The rocket site was immediately located and brought under fire with unknown results at this time. Simultaneously, the ARVN Corps Headquarters came under enemy mortar and ground attack by an estimated reinforced enemy company. An attempt was made against the Danang bridge by underwater swimmers. It was thwarted with three enemy KIA and one captured. Timely warning of the attacks plus rapid reaction by US/ARVN/ROK forces has brought the situation in the Danang area under control at this time. Casualties so far list 89 enemy KIA and 7 friendly KIA. Noteworthy among the counteractions launched in the early morning hours was that of the ROK Marines, who, in response to an enemy ground attack in the Hoi An area, inserted a force by helicopter, engaged the enemy, killing 21 with no friendly casualties.

The II CTZ received the bulk and intensity of the enemy attacks. In the Kontum area, in excess of 500 enemy attacked from the north in the vicinity of the airfield, and were engaged by elements of the 4th U.S. Division and assorted Vietnamese units. The area is now under control with artillery and air strikes being employed against an estimated two enemy battalions. Seven U.S. were killed in this action, with 165 NVA KIA. Vietnamese casualties are unknown. In Tan Canh of Kontum Province, contact is sporadic with elements of the 3/42 ARVN regiment opposing an unknown size enemy force. Four friendly have been killed and five NVA. In Pleiku, contact continues with an enemy of unknown size in the city, with friendly forces attempting to cut off the enemy forces trying to escape. The 4th Inf Div captured 220 enemy in the vicinity of Pleiku. Of these, 20 had North Vietnamese money on their person. The vast majority are Montagnards believed to be pressed into service. Average age appears to be 18 to 30. 58 claim to be Hoi Chanhs. ARVN forces are in the city (Pleiku). Seven friendly have been killed as against 103 enemy. In Nha Trang, sporadic fighting continues in the city. Friendly lost 21 KIA; enemy 60 KIA. Fighting continues against the enemy attempting to withdraw. City fighting continues in Ban Me Thuot with enemy still in the vicinity. Casualties are reported to be 7 friendly KIA and 131 enemy KIA. In addition, 36 enemy have been killed in the Tuy Hoa area and 11 NVA KIA in the Ninh Hoa area. In Qui Nhon, the enemy holds the radio station and the maintenance area but has lost 50 KIA. The ROKs have the radio station surrounded but have not attacked, since the enemy is holding three hostages.

In III CTZ in Binh Dinh Duong Province, southwest of Ben Cat, units of the 25th U.S. Division made a significant contact with an enemy force, resulting in 66 enemy killed, with eight friendly killed and 14 wounded. IV CTZ had one significant encounter in the Vinh Long area, where gunships and tactical support aircraft engaged a cleared target of sampans in a canal area, killing 80 enemy, destroying 124 sampans, with three secondary explosions.

During the course of the day we had a maximum air effort, which was reported to be extremely effective.

The current outlook depicts a situation similar to my foregoing account.

In summary, the enemy has displayed what appears to be desperation tactics, using NVA troops to terrorize populated areas. He attempted to achieve surprise by attacking during the truce period. The reaction of Vietnamese, US and free world forces to the situation has been generally good. Since the enemy has exposed himself, he has suffered many casualties. As of now, they add up to almost 700. When the dust settles, there will probably be more. All my subordinate commanders report the situation well in hand.

 

35. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, January 30, 1968, 8:30-10:06 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the White House. Those attending the meeting were the President, the Vice President, McCormack, Albert, Boggs, Mansfield, Long, Fulbright, Sparkman, Byrd, Representative Thomas Morgan, Rusk, McNamara, Wheeler, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, O'Brien, Rostow, Sanders, Califano, Manatos, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING
WITH THE
DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP

[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Senator Byrd: Thank you very much for the briefing. I think the actions which have been taken are prudent and wise. On another matter, I am very concerned about the build up at Khesanh. I have been told that we have 5,000 troops there compared with 40,000 enemy troops. Are we prepared for this attack?

The President: This has been a matter of great concern to me. I met with the Joint Chiefs yesterday. I went around the table and got their answers to these questions. In addition, I have it in writing that they are prepared.

I asked, "Have we done all we should do?" They said yes. I asked, "Are we convinced our forces are adequate?" They said yes.

I asked should we withdraw from Korea. They said no, that Khesanh is important to us militarily and psychologically.

[Omitted here is discussion relating to Korea.]

The President: Russell, if you will just listen a minute you will see that we are taking the action we believe to be right. There are 700 enemy dead now as a result of our actions in Vietnam. That is not soft.

Walt Rostow: During the first day of Tet the enemy attacked in 10 places in Vietnam. Six were substantial attacks.

At 6:00 a.m. today General Westmoreland said the enemy suffered the highest killed in one day of the war. They counted 700 enemy dead. The ratio of enemy killed to U.S. killed runs about 5 to 1.

The enemy is trying to terrorize the people. Reports said the ARVN performed very well. Khesanh's air field is open.

General Wheeler: On the matter of your question, Senator Byrd, about 5,000 U.S. troops versus 40,000 enemy troops. Khesanh is in very rugged areas. There are 5,900 U.S. troops in the Khesanh Garrison. These are support troops including 26th Marines and a battalion of the ARVN. In support of this there are 105 millimeter, 155 millimeter and 8 inch guns.

There are 175 millimeter guns operating from the nearby "rockpile." There are 14 more 175 millimeter guns 14 miles east.

Off the coast, there is a force of cruisers and destroyers which can target on the enemy.

There are 4 North Vietnam divisions at Khesanh. We have available the 1st U.S. Infantry Division. We have one additional ARVN Division available with units which can be dispatched quickly. There are 39,968 friendly forces versus 38,590 enemy forces. Roughly, there are 40,000 allied troops to match the 40,000 enemy. We think we are ready to take on any contingency.

In addition, there are 40 B-52 sorties and 500 tactical air sorties in the area Niagara each day hitting the enemy.

I talked with General Westmoreland yesterday. He had been in the area and conferred with senior field commanders. He placed the entire field operation under his deputy General Abrams. He has as his air deputy General Momyer.

General Westmoreland is confident he can hold the position. To abandon it would be to step backward. The Joint Chiefs agree with General Westmoreland. The Joint Chiefs believe that he can hold and that he should hold.

General Westmoreland considers it an opportunity to inflict heavy casualties on North Vietnam. We have 6,000 men there, and 34,000 available. It is 40,000 versus 40,000.

[Omitted here is Part II, discussion of unrelated Congressional legislation.]

 

36. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, January 30, 1968, 1:08-2:50 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Top Secret.

THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE
Secretary Rusk
Secretary McNamara
Clark Clifford
CIA Director Helms
Walt Rostow
George Christian
Tom Johnson

[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis, printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XXIX, Part 1, Document 248.]

The President: What about Buttercup?/2/

/2/See Document 6.

Secretary Rusk: The last Buttercup messenger turned around because of particularly heavy activity around Hanoi. On his last report the message was not very clear. Ambassador Bunker wants it authenticated. Their people think we should release four additional prisoners. I think we should leave the details of this with Ambassador Bunker to work out with Thieu.

The President: What about Packers?/3/

/3/See Document 18.

Secretary Rusk: Our man is expected in Bucharest on February 1. I think Hanoi is waiting to see how they come out in this offensive.

The President: General Wheeler, will you give us the most up to date information about Khesanh.

General Wheeler: First reports indicate 700 enemy killed. U.S. and Vietnamese casualties are light. There have been rockets and mortars to hit Da Nang. The city of Da Nang was also attacked. Pleiku was attacked by a couple of hundred men. They terrorized the city and struck at the Pleiku air base. There have been at least two other acts, one against the 4th Infantry and one at Nha Trong and Kontum.

At Khesanh the situation is quiet and the weather is good. At 9:00 a. m. today EST General Westmoreland said that he had talked with his Commander at Khesanh and the situation is well in hand. At Tet it is customary for many people from the countryside to come into town. It is easy for the Viet Cong to infiltrate these groups. They can bring in a mortar and a rocket easily. They assemble it at a prearranged time and attack these installations. We caught four trying to blow up a bridge. The enemy has lost quite heavily. The 4th Infantry captured 200 Viet Cong, most of whom were Montagnard Tribesmen. Twenty of them had North Vietnamese money.

Secretary McNamara: There are three military actions we would like to bring up at this time. Two of them will require the President's approval, and one is for the President's information.

General Wheeler: We would like approval of the Talos anti-aircraft missile for use south of the 20 degree south latitude. We have noticed recently that the MIG's are carrying wing tanks which give them greater range. They will be going after the B-52's in South Vietnam. They have been trying to shoot down a B-52 for psychological purposes for some time. (The President approved this action upon the recommendation of General Wheeler, Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara.)

The second item on which the President's approval is requested is the use of patrols in the DMZ. These patrols would be used to check on the disposition of supplies, troops and other developments inside the DMZ. Intelligence indicates a thickening of forces around Khesanh with a thinning in the Eastern end of the DMZ. As an alternative to use of U.S. patrols, we would suggest use of ARVN patrols with U.S. advisers.

Secretary Rusk: We will lose some men this way, but there is no political problem.

Secretary McNamara: I have no problem because of the Khesanh build-up. It is natural that we will want to know what is going on in the DMZ, particularly with Khesanh shaping up the way it is.

Secretary McNamara: The third action we proposed is to organize and mount a feint of a full scale landing above the DMZ. This would involve mounting naval gun fire, making air strikes along the coast and moving amphibious shipping north into the area.

The President: Is this about the same as the proposal I have heard once before?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir. There are some disadvantages. If we made such a feint, North Vietnam would claim a victory, but we request the President's approval to go ahead and prepare a plan. This plan would be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to the President for approval. We would pretend we were going to make a landing and we would let it leak to the South Vietnamese to make sure that the North Vietnamese would learn of it. We would use naval gunfire and marshal the shipping as though we were going to load troops. The objective of this would be to make them believe that we were about to have a major landing. This would, if its purpose is realized, get them to move troops and lessen the pressure in the Khesanh area.

One advantage of this is that if it does break publicly, we have never made such a move.

Secretary McNamara: We would plan this on the basis that it would be brought to the attention of the North Vietnamese and not to the American public.

CIA Director Helms: It is a great thing if you can keep it out of the hands of the press.

Secretary McNamara: I agree.

Walt Rostow: I would not leak it to the ARVN. Once you do it will become known to the press. I would make the cover through the use of the most sophisticated electronic equipment we have.

Clark Clifford: Here is my uninformed reaction. If we go ahead and plan on this and it should become known, people would say we used this as an excuse for the real thing.

The President: Go ahead and plan it. I want to give weight to the Field Commanders recommendation in this case.

[Omitted here is continuing discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Walt Rostow: What are we going to do about Ted Kennedy's report?

Secretary Rusk: He has used figures we cannot legitimately attack. Corruption is a tough one to deal with.

Secretary McNamara: There is no excuse for the Vietnamese not lowering their draft age to below 20.

The President: We should sit down with these people who have been to Vietnam and talk to them before they are turned loose on an unsuspecting public.

(At 2:35 Walt Rostow returned from a call he had taken from Bromley Smith. He reported to the meeting that "we have just been informed we are being heavily mortared in Saigon. The Presidential Palace, our BOQ's, the Embassy and the city itself have been hit. This flash was just received from the NMCC.)/4/

/4/During a meeting with Dirksen and Ford later that day, the President discussed the attack on the Embassy compound and other areas. The record of the meeting, "Notes of the President's Meeting with Senator Dirksen and Congressman Ford," January 30, is in the Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meeting.

The President: This could be very bad.

Secretary Rusk: Yes, I hope it is not Ambassador Bunker's residence.

The President: What can we do to shake them from this?

This looks like where we came in. Remember it was at Pleiku that they hit our barracks and that we began to strike them in the north.

What comes to mind in the way of retaliation?

General Wheeler: It was the same type of thing before. You will remember that during the inauguration that the MACV headquarters was hit. In a city like Saigon people can infiltrate easily. They carry in rounds of ammunition and mortars. They fire and run.

It is impossible to stop this in its entirety. This is about as tough to stop as it is to protect against an individual mugging in Washington, D.C.

We have got to pacify all of this area and get rid of the Viet Cong infrastructure.

They are making a major effort to mount a series of these actions to make a big splurge at Tet.

Secretary McNamara: I have two recommendations. This is a public relations problem not a military one. We need to keep General Loan in charge of the Saigon police. He should not be removed as some of our people in the State Department are suggesting. At least not until we find somebody better.

CIA Director Helms: I agree completely.

Secretary McNamara: He is the best security chief since Diem's time. He has cleaned up Saigon well.

Secretary Rusk: He is a good police chief, but he has been rather uncooperative with some of our people.

Secretary McNamara: The answer to the mortar attacks is success at Khesanh. We must get our story across. Phil Goulding called General Sidle this morning in Saigon. We are inflicting very heavy casualties on the enemy and we are not unprepared for the encounter.

[Omitted here is discussion of clearing the Suez Canal.]

 

37. Editorial Note

Beginning at 7:24 a.m. on January 31, 1968, President Johnson conferred by telephone with Secretary of Defense McNamara. Among the topics of conversation was the Tet offensive in Vietnam. In response to the President's request that McNamara evaluate the situation in Vietnam, the following exchange occurred:

McNamara: Well, I think it shows two things, Mr. President. First, that they have more power than some credit them with. I don't think it's a last gasp action. I do think that it represents a maximum effort in the sense that they've poured out all of their assets and my guess is that we will inflict very heavy losses on them both in terms of personnel and matériel and this will set them back some, but that after they absorb the losses, they will remain a substantial force. I don't anticipate that we will hit them so hard that they'll be knocked out for an extended period or forced to drop way back in level of effort against us. I do think that it is such a well-coordinated, such an obviously advance-planned operation that it probably relates to negotiations in some way. I would expect that were they successful here, they would then move forward more forcefully on the negotiation front, thinking that they have a stronger position from which to bargain. I don't believe they're going to be successful. I think that in the case we're going to have the real military engagement, I believe we'll deal them a heavy defeat. I think in the other areas it's largely a propaganda effort and publicity effort and I think they'll gain that way. I imagine our people across the country this morning will feel that they're much stronger than they had previously anticipated they were, and in that sense I think they gain.

The question in my mind is how to respond to this. Is there anything we could be doing that we're not doing? I've talked to the Chiefs about some kind of reciprocal action in retaliation for their attack on our Embassy or in retaliation for their attack across the country. There just isn't anything they've come up with that is worth a damn. They talk about an area bombing attack over Hanoi. The weather is terrible--you can't get in there with pinpoint targeting. The only way you could bomb it at all at the present time is area bombing, and I wouldn't recommend that to you under any circumstances. They just haven't been able to think of retaliation that means anything. My own feeling is that we ought to depend upon our ability to inflict very heavy casualties on them as our proper response and as the message we give to our people.

President: I think that one thing we ought to do is try to keep Westmoreland in the news out there, twice a day--

McNamara: Yes, I quite agree. I asked Phil [Goulding] to talk yesterday to our people there and have Westy make--I said once a day, but I'll make it twice a day. You're quite right.

President: I think you ought to too. I don't think they get enough information. I think you've become sensitive and we all pulled in. I meet with them once every 2 or 3 months--you meet with them once a month if there's something big. But if you'll remember, you used to see them almost daily, and I think it shows the difference, and I think in this campaign year, the other crowd has got two or three committees grinding out things. Their only interest is to find something wrong. People look for something wrong unless you've got so much choking them that is happening. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, January 31, 1968, 7:53 a.m., Tape F68.02, PNO 1; transcript prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume)

 

38. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific Forces (Sharp) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)/1/

Honolulu, January 31, 1968, 0707Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 2, Tabs A-Z and AA-ZZ. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Wheeler forwarded the telegram to the other JCS members and to Rusk, Helms, and Rostow at 1253Z. It was received in the White House at 2:02 p.m.

1. I have just talked with Westy by telephone. He provided me an assessment of the situation as of now by secure telephone and filled in the complete details which follow.

2. The situation is still confused but it is apparent that the enemy has taken advantage of the general state of relaxation existing during Tet. His forces infiltrated into Saigon in civilian clothes. They are moving throughout the city against government buildings and in a general campaign to terrorize and kill civilians. Their campaign has been well planned and obviously formed over a long period of time.

3. The expected attack against Khe Sanh or across the DMZ has not materialized, but it could come momentarily and we must be ready for it. It is possible that the massive air attacks conducted in I CTZ and along the DMZ may have thrown him off his time table but the threat of his attack still remains.

4. In the Capital District one of the most dramatic attacks took place against the U.S. Embassy. The enemy blew a hole in the wall and attempted to enter across the compound. A detachment of the 101st Airborne landed on the roof and joined Marine guards and MPs in repelling the attack. Westy had just returned from the Embassy where he viewed 19 VC bodies on the ground outside the Embassy building. Westy states that no VC actually entered the building. This changes many conflicting reports which we had received earlier in the day indicating that enemy troops were actually inside the Embassy. One Marine was KIA, and 4-5 Army MPs were killed at the Embassy. The building was partially defaced but there is no structural damage. There is minor damage in the lobby downstairs but nothing that cannot be repaired.

5. The enemy has been unsuccessful in getting into Tan Son Nhut and a friendly battalion is now sweeping the field. Two troops of cavalry have arrived at TSN and one company is engaging the enemy in the race track area. There is a big fight now in process there. Rockets from U.S. gun ships could be heard overhead while General Westmoreland made this report. He advised that the impact was approximately 1000 yards away.

6. An ordnance depot in Gia Dinh Province has been penetrated by the VC and they are now being engaged by ARVN Rangers. A VC captain has been captured and claims that 30 VC battalions are in the environs of Saigon. Another POW states that 21 battalions have infiltrated the city. Both reports are unconfirmed but it is obvious that infiltration is widespread, that the enemy can be expected in any kind of uniform, and that he is well equipped and armed with automatic weapons. Attacks have taken place against the palace, several of our BOQs and generally throughout the city.

7. Bien Hoa is closed to jets but the VNAF is taking off on an open runway. There is rocket fire now taking place there, with a battalion sweeping the area. The enemy has attacked the POW camp at Hien Hoa but has not penetrated. II Field Force headquarters has been infiltrated and mortared with one friendly KIA. 199th Brigade has been in an intense fire fight with the enemy in a village northeast of Bien Hoa. First reports indicate that upwards of 500 enemy KIA might be anticipated, but Westy does not attach too much reliability to this first report. Our casualties have been light in the 199th.

8. Note: Deliver during duty hours.

 

39. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, January 31, 1968, 8:40-10:15 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the White House. Those attending the meeting were the President, Rusk, McNamara, Clifford, Helms, Wheeler, Taylor, Rostow, Christian, Tom Johnson, Senators John Stennis, Margaret Chase Smith, Carl Hayden, and Milton Young, and Representatives George Mahon, Frank Bow, and William Bates. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S
BREAKFAST MEETING
WITH
CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS
AND
POLICY ADVISORS

The President: I appreciate your coming here. I hope Senator Russell can be out of the hospital as quickly as possible.

Our people have talked with General Eisenhower. In addition, we have talked with Senator Russell, McGeorge Bundy, George Ball, Henry Cabot Lodge and General Taylor. I have discussed this matter with my senior foreign policy advisors and with many of the men I have mentioned who are outside of government. I intend to ask General Ridgway to come in to discuss this with me.

I want to review the problems of the Nation with you. There is not [now?] a war spirit in the country, but we do have more sympathizers and "agents of the enemy" in this country working against us.

I have always felt that man's judgment is no better than his information. We have spent a great deal of time on this situation. I have received reports from 90 ambassadors. I asked Clark Clifford, George Ball, Henry Cabot Lodge, and General Taylor to come in Sunday and go over this. We are calling on men like Mark Clark and Admiral McDonald to look at it. We have talked to Senator Smith, Senator Stennis and Senator Russell.

A desperate attack is being launched against us in Vietnam. At the same time the number of incidents has changed from 57 to more than 570 during the past year in and around the DMZ in Korea. This Pueblo seizure was well planned.

The JCS reviewed the military plans and have told me they have done everything we can for Westmoreland. Everything he has requested we have granted. All of them believe he is prepared to handle the situation in Vietnam.

General Wheeler: I will read to you excerpts received at 4:18 this morning from General Westmoreland./2/

/2/See Document 38.

In it he reports on the country-wide attacks throughout South Vietnam. There were heavy attacks in Saigon. The DMZ and Khesanh are quiet.

We have inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy. At Kontum 300 enemy were killed.

We estimate the enemy has lost 3,000 men killed in action in the last two days. This compares with about 300 allied losses, including 100 U.S. We know they are prepared for a major offensive at Khesanh.

The President: We still face a big challenge at Khesanh. At home many people want to destroy confidence in your leaders and in the South Vietnamese government. I ask you to measure your statements before you make them. The greatest source of Communist propaganda statements is our own statements.

We are going to stand up out there. We are not about to return to the enclave theories.

President Eisenhower said, what I want most for the President is for him to win the war.

(A copy of the telephone conversation with General Eisenhower is attached as Appendix A.)/3/

/3/No record of this conversation has been found.

The enemy has about 40,000 men around Khesanh. You won't hear much in the press about how bad the enemy's bombing in Saigon was last night. You won't hear many speeches about the North Koreans' attempt to cut off President Park's head and to kill the American Ambassador. All we hear about is how bad our bombing is.

We see both of these actions in Vietnam and in Korea as a coordinated challenge.

[Omitted here are a briefing by Wheeler on the Pueblo crisis and subsequent discussion by Congressional leaders and Johnson administration officials.]

[CIA Director Helms:] There is not much doubt that there is a connection between the incursion along the DMZ and the seizure of the Pueblo. The reasons for these actions are to divert attention from the attacks in Vietnam and to keep South Korea from sending more troops to South Vietnam.

There has been no movement of Chinese.

General Wheeler: After going over all the evidence for several days I have nothing really useful to suggest that has not been mentioned.

The mission of the ship was essential. We could not prevent the capture of it under the circumstances.

The time and space factor would not permit it. It is undesirable for these ships to have escorts. If they did, they would not be able to get the information.

We cannot afford a military diversion. We cannot have a split with South Korea. They are our strongest allies.

And we cannot let the Pueblo be a dividing factor with us.

The President then read a cable from Ambassador Bunker which ended with a quote by Thomas Paine beginning, "These are the times that try men's souls."

The text of that cable is attached as Appendix C./4/

/4/Not found.

These have been trying times. We have had the incident along the Cambodian border. The B-52 craft with A bombs aboard. There was increased infiltration and the assassination attempt in South Korea. The Pueblo was seized. We are being attacked heavily in Saigon and in South Vietnam. We are going to get our most experienced men and get their advice. We will be talking with you more. Meanwhile the Joint Chiefs will get us any information you need.

I want you to provide leadership. Senator Stennis did an excellent job in speaking on this matter on TV Sunday.

If somebody launches a tirade against our people I hope you will tell them to be responsible. We may have to extend enlistments. We may have to have 100 million dollars for Korea. We may need further call-ups.

But if you have further ideas, I hope you come and talk to me.

 

40. Memorandum From the Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency (Carver) to the President's Special Assistant (Rostow)/1/

Washington, January 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 58. Secret; Sensitive. Copies were sent to Rusk, McNamara, and Wheeler. In an attached covering note to the President, January 31, 4:45 p.m., Rostow wrote: "I have marked the key passages in this interesting report from the CIA Station in Saigon. It indicates clearly the task ahead for Thieu and Bunker in regaining confidence after the shock of these attacks."

SUBJECT
31 January Telephone Conversation with Saigon Station

1. At 31/0433Z I was in telephonic communication with our Saigon Station. The circuit was bad: I could hear Saigon but they could not understand me. The Station reported that the situation was generally stabilizing and the press greatly exaggerating the seriousness of the penetration of the Embassy. The Chancery was not actually penetrated, though Viet Cong did get into the compound. There were no U.S. civilian casualties in Saigon known as of that time.

2. After the phone conversation I transmitted the following specific questions to Mr. Lapham through the open teletype link, explaining that these were the points I had hoped to raise over the phone.

a. What does the countrywide situation look like?

b. What do regional officers report?

c. Was attempt made against Thieu, Ky or other senior GVN officials?

d. Did Saigon attack seem primarily aimed at American targets?

e. Was there any local intelligence or other warning of these attacks (in Saigon or elsewhere)?

f. What do you expect in Saigon and countrywide within next 24-48 hours?

g. Any indication of effect attacks had on mood or attitudes of Vietnamese population?

h. Your general preliminary comments on meaning and import current countrywide spate of VC activity.

i. How is VC surge likely to affect GVN standing and stability?

3. At 31/0710Z, Mr. Lapham replied. The text of his reply is given below. I am passing it to the recipients of this memorandum in the belief that you may find it useful. You will understand, of course, that these are Mr. Lapham's initial reactions in a very fluid situation, the full dimensions and details of which were not known to him at that time.

For Mr. Carver From Mr. Lapham:

1. Appreciate your need for rapid coverage of events and assure you we are doing everything possible to comply. It has been extremely difficult during the morning hours to obtain any hard information on the events of the night since police are fully occupied in mopping up operations in various sectors of the city. For example, the VC continued to be holed up in a house across from the Palace and apparently in houses in the area of Tan Son Nhut. Contrary to earlier reports, Embassy employees have been instructed not to report to work this afternoon.

2. You will shortly receive dissem concerning police report we have received re enemy plans for this evening.

3. Mr. Carver's telecon just received. As you can see from above, announcement premature that situation was calm enough to permit return of personnel to work. At this moment, it is impossible to estimate how long it will take to mop up VC who are holed up around town. If intelligence referred to above is accurate, we may have a busy night again this evening.

4. Will be filing report shortly on countrywide situation (TDCS 314/01647-68). Regional officers are preparing sitreps for direct transmission. An FVS has been filed re Loan's comments./2/ President Thieu was in My Tho yesterday and requested MACV assistance in returning to Saigon this morning. Although American facilities received their share of attention, other targets were Korean and Philippine Embassies, Palace and Saigon radio station. During the last few days, Station has diligently pursued all available sources for intelligence that might have given us warning of these attacks. The police had a few spotty reports but nothing which appeared to be very hard. They were unquestionably not prepared for this attack on the opening day of Tet, when large numbers of them were celebrating with their families. At this point, we anticipate that countrywide attacks will continue tonight. However, we lacking intelligence from the regions which would give us an accurate read-out. Your telecon questions, para 2g, h, and i will be dealt with separately.

/2/Not found.

5. COS and EXO will spend night in Station, with a backup commo command post in another area of the city. We are establishing additional commo links with various police posts. Every possible precaution being taken to assure security of personnel and classified facilities.

6. Re your telecon questions g, h and i:

a. You will appreciate the difficulty we have in even beginning an answer to these questions which will be of great importance when the security situation settles down.

b. We are not today in contact with many elements in the Vietnamese population to discern their attitudes and moods. A circling airplane with loudspeakers told the people to stay off the streets and in their homes. VC have reportedly made specific threats to persons living in certain areas to vacate homes at risk of death. Most Saigonese have indeed stayed at home and we assume that they will follow VC orders as well. The mood is very tense.

c. The meaning and import of current activity can be extracted from VC stated intentions regarding the winter-spring campaign, their calls for general uprising, and their obvious drive toward a major victory for propaganda and morale purposes. While we may be undergoing a major multiple harassment without lasting military significance, the ultimate import will depend on their degree of success on the ground and the impact on American and South Vietnamese willingness to rebound. The boost to VC/NVA morale is in any case certain to be substantial.

d. Regardless of what happens tonight or during the next few days, the degree of success already achieved in Saigon and around the country will adversely affect the image of the GVN (and its powerful American allies as well) in the eyes of the people. All Vietnamese, both those who are sympathetic and those who are critical, hope and expect for protection from their government and the relative lack of VC activity in Saigon during recent months created a presumption of GVN and police strength in this area at any rate. Those who believe that security situation (not the political) is paramount will deduce that only a tough, efficient, no-nonsense government run by the military can meet the sheer physical thrust of the Viet Cong. Those who cannot stomach such a government will be moved further toward the temptation of negotiations and coalition government.

e. We would hope to be permitted to delay additional analysis and prediction until we have provided for the necessary security of our installations and personnel and can begin to move about the city to communicate with sources able to provide authoritative reactions and ideas. In meantime, hope above will be helpful.

George A. Carver, Jr.

 

41. Intelligence Memorandum/1/

SC No. 01909/68

Washington, January 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DO Files, IMSC 01909/68. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. A note on the first page reads: "This memorandum was produced solely by CIA. It was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs."

THE COMMUNIST TET OFFENSIVE

Summary

The current series of coordinated enemy attacks in South Vietnam appears designed for maximum psychological impact and to demonstrate the Communists' continued power despite the presence of strong US forces. The Communists clearly have made careful preparations for the offensive. These preparations point to a major assault in the Khe Sanh area possibly in conjunction with a drive throughout the northern I Corps area, and widespread attacks against US installations may be preparatory to or in support of such action. The enemy probably hopes to score some major battlefield successes during their campaign. Their military actions appear related to Hanoi's recent offer to open talks, but it is questionable that the Communists are making a final desperate bid before suing for peace.

1. The current coordinated series of enemy attacks in South Vietnam, so far targeted primarily against population centers and US installations from I Corps to the delta, appears primarily designed for maximum psychological impact. The Communists appear to be trying to demonstrate to the South Vietnamese, to US and world opinion and probably to their own forces that, almost three years after the intervention of US forces, they can still enter major towns and bases, threaten the US Embassy itself, and seriously disrupt the country, if only temporarily.

2. Extensive harassment of US airfields, logistical centers, and command and communications centers appears--in addition to its shock effect--partly designed to inhibit immediate allied reaction and retaliation. It may be preparatory to or intended to support further impending enemy actions in the Khe Sanh/DMZ/northern Quang Tri area. So far this area has been relatively quiet during the latest round of attacks, but the enemy concentration in this area remains the most ominous in the country.

3. Evidence has been building up for the past several weeks that the Communists intended a major nationwide offensive in connection with the Tet season. Enemy propaganda, however, had stressed an intention to honor a seven-day cease-fire regardless of the period of the allied standdown. This line may have been intended to enhance the surprise factor of attacks on the day of Tet itself. It may also be that the Communist timetable--in past years calling for stepped up action just prior to and immediately following the Tet truce--was sufficiently flexible to call for action during the Tet if the allies could be put in the position of apparently bearing the onus. In any event, Communist propagandists were clearly ready with the line that the enemy attacks were "punishment" for allied violations.

4. It is clear that the Communists made careful and, most recently, urgent preparations for the current offensive. These preparations seem to point, in coming days or weeks, to a major assault around Khe Sanh, possibly in conjunction with a campaign throughout the northern I Corps area. The Communists probably hope, in addition to psychological gains, to score some dramatic battlefield successes, ideally (from their standpoint) the overrunning of Khe Sanh or a US withdrawal from this or some other key garrison. In launching a series of bold actions, they incur the risk of serious defeats or retaliation, with possible repercussions on their own forces. Nonetheless, they probably hope to gain the strategic initiative and to pin down substantial numbers of allied troops over wide areas in which the Communists hold some military advantages. A major objective of the entire Communist "winter-spring" campaign since autumn appears to be to draw off US forces while the VC attempt to erode the pacification effort through guerrilla-type actions. Furthermore, the Communists certainly hope to make political mileage out of heightened US casualty rates and a demonstration of continued VC strength./2/

/2/In Intelligence Note No. 84 to Rusk, January 31, Hughes wrote: "Unusual and unanticipated as the urban attacks are, we do not believe that the Communists have chosen to mount them as a substitute for a major military thrust from one or more of the areas in which they have been massing. Rather, we regard these urban forays (which must have required considerable advance planning) as complementary to their main force attacks. That they were mounted in advance of the main force attacks--preparations for which they must have known could not go undetected--suggests that the Communists hope, by opening their campaign with a series of surprise, low-cost spectaculars, to lessen the subsequent impact of the heavy casualties and inconclusive military results that mark major engagements with U. S. forces." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

5. There seems to be little question that the present Communist offensive activity bears a relation to Hanoi's recent offer to open talks. Foremost, the Communists probably hope to improve their political and military image in the event that any negotiations are initiated in coming months. Prior to the initiation of the "winter-spring" campaign, Communist forces throughout the country were intensively indoctrinated on the importance of the campaign. At least in some areas, the campaign itself was linked, directly or by implication, to the possibility of a political settlement. Some of this indoctrination may have been propaganda intended to instill a victory psychology among troops possibly discouraged by hardships and talk of "protracted war." Although the current surge of Communist activity involves both a military and political gamble, it is highly questionable that the Communists are making a final desperate effort for a show of strength prior to suing for peace. Despite evident problems of manpower and supply, enemy forces continued to display improved fire-power, flexibility of tactics, and a considerable degree of resiliency. Their current offensive is probably intended to convey the impression that despite VC problems and despite half a million US troops, the Communists are still powerful and capable of waging war./3/

/3/A memorandum entitled "The Current VC Campaign," February 10, which was prepared by the staff of the SAVA office and sent by Allen to Helms, noted: "The Tet Offensive represents the beginning of the spring phase--which our adversaries have described as the decisive phase of the war. There is abundant evidence to demonstrate that this phase aims at a 'general offensive' combined with a 'general uprising.' The VC hope that this offensive will inflict major defeats on U.S. forces, disintegrate the Vietnamese forces, and collapse the GVN. The Communists evidently believe that major successes along these lines will create irresistible international and domestic pressures on the U.S. to open negotiations on Communist terms." (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80-R01284A, I-ER Files--Special Material 01 Jan-28 Feb 1968)

 

42. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, January 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 7, Meeting Notes. Confidential.

Herewith a rough working outline of the headings for the Presidential speech about which we talked.

1. The Setting. A widespread, desperate and dangerous Communist effort along the whole front in Asia to divert us from Viet Nam, upset the progress made in Viet Nam, and discourage and split the American people.

2. Elements in Communist thrust:

--the Pueblo: why we were there; what we propose to do about it.

--mounting attacks across the 38th parallel, including the attack directed against President Park;

--the extension of the war in Laos and Cambodia;

--the VC raids throughout South Viet Nam during Tet; the build-up at Khe Sanh and the DMZ.

3. Peace proposals.

--The San Antonio formula--as far as any American President can go: rock bottom./2/

/2/In a January 27 memorandum to the President, McPherson suggested eliminating the use of the term "San Antonio Formula." He argued that "it might be hard for us if we had to accept a 'Haiphong Formula' or a 'Vinh Formula.'" The President noted on the memorandum: "Harry, That's fine. Bear that in mind in writing." (Ibid., Office Files of Harry McPherson, Memoranda for the President (1968) [3 of 3])

--a serious intermediary has been trying to find out if the other side is prepared to accept it. I must conclude that they have not. Let us stop talking about a bombing cessation and keep clearly in our minds the bombings in Saigon, Danang, and all over South Viet Nam. When they are ready to talk about peace, they know where to get us. We shall be ready.

4. What are we seeking in Asia?/3/

/3/A marginal note in an unknown hand referring to the next three paragraphs reads: "This is WWR not LBJ."

We seek an end to a double standard:

--where we obey the laws of the sea, and the other side feels free to behave as pirates;

--where we defend the 38th parallel, and the other side feels free to attack;

--where we keep our ground forces out of North Viet Nam, and they feel free to send them across in defiance of the 1954 parallel;

--where we honor the Geneva Accords of 1962, and they feel free to violate them and to violate Cambodia as well;

--where they ask us to stop our bombing for the privilege of talking to them, while continuing to bomb throughout South Viet Nam.

5. We want an Asia in which both sides obey the law, both sides honor international agreements, and the nations in the area turn to their development in cooperation.

6. Actions.

In order to meet the pressures against us, and demonstrate the unity and will of the American people at this critical time, I am asking the Congress to do the following:

--help protect the dollar by passing a tax bill immediately;

--lift the gold cover immediately;

--allocate funds for the Price Stabilization Board and, through voluntary means, make sure wages are properly related to productivity and prices are kept as low as possible;

--freeing of the exchange stabilization fund to defend the dollar;

--give the President the right to extend tours of duty and call up individuals with special technical qualifications;

--add an extra $200 million to our funds for military aid, most of which would go to support Korea.

7. Call for unity and responsibility in the face of this Communist challenge despite an election year.

W

 

43. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)/1/

Saigon, February 1, 1968, 0132Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, William C. Westmoreland Papers, #29 History File, 1-29 Feb 68 [1]. Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to Admiral Sharp and Ambassador Bunker.

MAC 01464. At 0545 hours, General Wheeler called me on the secure telephone and directed that I call Mr. Rostow at the White House and provide answers on behalf of Ambassador Bunker and myself to six questions. At 0650 hours, I contacted on the secure telephone General Binsberg. The following is a transcript of my oral report.

This is General Westmoreland speaking.

I was instructed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to call the White House and ask for Mr. Rostow.

Six questions have been posed. I will read these as I interpret them and will give you our answers. I am speaking for Ambassador Bunker and myself--I have covered with Ambassador Bunker all these matters on the telephone.

Question number 1: Our estimate of friendly and enemy casualties.

Answer: From the beginning of the truce period--1800 hours, 29 January--the following casualties have been suffered by us or inflicted on the enemy in accordance with our best estimates. KIA, friendly, 421, which includes 189 US, 3 Free World, and remainder--229--Vietnamese. Enemy 4320 KIA, 1181 detainees, a number of whom are prisoners of war.

Question number 2: How long do we estimate the present campaign will continue?

Answer: We see this as a three-phase campaign. The first involved preparation, build-up, sporadic attacks, and a well-orchestrated psy war program. We are now in the second phase, which is an all-out military effort in South Vietnam, excepting the two northern provinces. The enemy has achieved some local successes, but there is evidence that the initiative is turning against him. However, we feel he has the capability of continuing this phase for perhaps several more days, at great risk to himself. The third phase involves a massive attack in Quang Tri and Thien Provinces. The enemy is now poised for this phase, which he considers his decisive campaign. Our air strikes may have blunted this attack, but we still give him the capability to strike at any time with large forces supported by an abundance of artillery and rockets.

Question number 3: Do we believe there is a relationship between activities in South Vietnam and those in Korea?

Answer: It would seem to us that there is a relationship.

Question number 4: The French press allege that there is an impasse in South Vietnam. What is our comment?

Answer: We do not consider the situation an impasse, since the initiative is turning in the favor of the government and her allies and the enemy is suffering unprecedented casualties.

Question 5: Is the enemy holding any towns in South Vietnam?

Answer: The enemy does not control any single town in South Vietnam. However, he has some degree of control in several towns. Specifically, he has forces in Quang Tri, Hue, Duyxuan, Kontum City, Chau Phu and Ben Tre, he has scattered elements in Saigon. Repeat, he does not control any single town. In those towns he has troops, they are confronted by Vietnamese troops and fighting is continuous.

Question number 6: What political problems do we anticipate as a result of this enemy activity? Will it have a psychological impact on the people and affect the stability of government?

Answer: It seems to us that initially there will be some psychological impact on the people and the government. However, if the government handles the matter carefully, they can seize an opportunity to strengthen their position with the people. President Thieu has the opportunity to exercise real leadership. The National Assembly has the opportunity to be more constructive. The President has declared martial law, but this will have to be approved by the Assembly after 12 days, in accordance with the Constitution. The situation should not slow down (for a prolonged period) major programs. It may well harden the government's position on negotiations with the Front. It may tend to set back civilianization of the government. Military successes should give the ARVN and its leadership self-confidence and encourage the acceleration of their improvement.

End of statement./2/

/2/In his History Notes for the month of February, Westmoreland wrote: "On Thursday, February 1, there was great consternation in Washington. Frequent messages and telephone calls assisted in bringing balance to the real situation. However, this was more than off-set by the alarming headlines and the gloom-and-doom type editorials that proceeded to propagandize the limited successes by the VC. One received the impression that the press were gleeful that the VC had finally accomplished something significant and the U.S. and South Vietnamese were in an awkward position. In order to make known my assessment of the situation and try to bring about a certain balance in attitude and perspective, I held, at the suggestion of Washington, an on-the-record press conference at 1645 in the JUSPAO auditorium. I outlined the general situation, my assessment of the enemy's strategy, and pointed out that this was a major, go-for-broke offensive but that I anticipated that the enemy would shortly run out of steam. I was asked if I thought that the offensive had anything to do with negotiations, to which I made a noncommittal reply. I was, however, decidedly under the private and personal impression at the time that there was definitely such an association in the mind of the enemy. I had made this view privately but was in no position to do so publicly." (Ibid.) A copy of Westmoreland's remarks and his responses to press queries is ibid.

 

44. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency/1/

Washington, February 2, 1968.

/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (Helms) Files, Job 80-M01044A, 282. SHOCK. Secret. In the February 2 covering memorandum transmitting this memorandum to Katzenbach, Nitze, Wheeler, and Rostow, Helms wrote: "A number of officers of this Agency who have been concerned over the years with Vietnam have put together the attached memorandum suggesting a possible course of action for the United States at this time. I pass it to you for your consideration in light of some other factors bearing on the problem."

SUBJECT
Vietnam--Operation Shock

1. The Viet Cong Tet offensive is a clear indication of continued Viet Cong power which calls for a new look in our approach to the Vietnam war and to the Government of Vietnam. Over the years the current leaders of Vietnam have developed a complacent assurance that American support is immutable. Consequently, they have felt free to approach the war in terms of gradualism, favoritism among the limited circle of personalities at the top and only a casual attention to mobilizing popular support and engaging the population actively in the war. This gentle treatment of the members of the Establishment has worked to exclude from positions of responsibility younger, more dynamic and modern-minded leaders. The Tet offensive can be utilized in a frontal attack on these attitudes and habits, since it has forcefully demonstrated that the present GVN lacks some of the principal attributes of sovereignty. It cannot defend its frontiers without a half million U.S. troops and cannot even enable the American Ambassador to utilize his Embassy. In this frontal attack, the United States must insist on standards of performance and American participation in decision making during an emergency effort. While this would temporarily suspend the long-standing policy that the Vietnamese be encouraged and allowed to carry an increasing load of initiative and decision, the objective would be to remake the power structure to permit the emergence of new and more dynamic leadership to whom this role could be passed. This frontal attack would be thoroughly consistent with our long-standing public position that the U.S. effort in Vietnam is only to help the Vietnamese help themselves, not to carry the fight for them. These points should be expressed in an early urgent interview between Ambassador Bunker, accompanied by General Westmoreland, and President Thieu and Vice President Ky.

2. In specific terms, the United States should review for President Thieu the serious situation revealed by the Viet Cong offensive in terms of the weakness of Vietnamese security and the lack of popular resolution to contribute to the fight against the Viet Cong, with the implication that the prospects of success along current lines and current programs are insufficient. The point should be made that gradualism can no longer be accepted as an approach on our side of the war and it should be stated forcefully that henceforth the GVN must follow U. S. direction in an urgent program to redress the state of the war.

3. As the first point in this program, we should insist that General Nuyen Duc Thang be named Minister of Interior and of Defense, with "full powers" over the military, the police and the administrative structure. He should be assigned the immediate urgent mission of providing for the security of the nation. He should be given full authority over all Vietnamese forces in order to accomplish this and he should be directed to concentrate his efforts on strengthening and purging secure areas outward into less secure areas. He should be advised that Free World forces will be employed against Viet Cong and DRV main force units, through spoiling actions, etc., and in re-enforcement of the Vietnamese forces when needed, and that Vietnamese forces must be 100% committed to an aggressive pacification role. General Cao Van Vien of the Joint General Staff should be specifically instructed that all Vietnamese forces will henceforth be used in direct support of the pacification program commanded by General Thang through such subordinate commanders as Thang may select, including province chiefs. In the course of re-orienting the RVNAF, General Thang should be given full authority to reorganize its command structure and remove officers as necessary to carry out this new mission. Similarly, the Director General of Police, the Minister of Revolutionary Development and all other elements of the GVN which can contribute to pacification should be given the primary mission of direct support to General Thang's pacification program.

4. President Thieu should also be directed to appoint Vice President Ky as his Chief of Staff and Director of Operations. Ky should be given two major missions. The first would be to organize an individual review of the personal files and performance of all Vietnamese military and civilian officers and officials, with immediate purging of all found involved in corruption or other abuses of authority. Upon removal, immediate replacements should be appointed from subordinate levels or from other services. Vice President Ky's second major mission should be to organize a national political vehicle or front outside the government structure, including all non-Communist political elements, to share a massive rallying of the entire population in support of this new program to develop the country and free it of Viet Cong terror.

5. In order to focus the entire nation and government on this program, and still respect the provisions of the Constitution, President Thieu should seek the approval of the National Assembly on an urgent basis of the establishment of a War and Reconstruction Council. The War and Reconstruction Council should consist of President Thieu as Chairman, Vice President Ky as Vice Chairman and Director of Operations, General Thang as Deputy Director of Operations, and appropriate representatives of the Ministries and the Armed Forces as well as the Senate and the Lower House. The War and Reconstruction Council should have counterpart War and Reconstruction Councils at the province and district levels, with similar participation not only of representatives of the Administration but also of provincial and district councils. The function of the Councils would be to review the degree to which the normal operations of government are concentrated in support of this special program and to provide a means for ensuring the participation of all elements of the population in the national effort. These Councils should also be charged with ensuring that the programs initiated in this emergency be developed for the long term benefit of Vietnamese citizens through normal governmental and political structures. The proposal to establish these Councils should be announced to the nation in a Presidential speech within the next ten days, to be given maximum dissemination by all possible media. The National Assembly should be required to accept or reject the proposal within a matter of days in order to avoid legislative wrangling over details and permit full focus on this urgent problem while the implications of the Tet offensive are still fresh.

6. President Thieu should be advised that the United States and all its agencies will support this program to the fullest and will utilize all its officers actively to assist, monitor and participate in the effort at all levels. Should additional financial, logistical, etc. support be necessary, it will be immediately supplied outside normal channels if necessary,

7. President Thieu should be advised that we consider that this program must show obviously positive results within 100 days of Tet (i.e., by early May). If this does not occur or if President Thieu refuses this proposal, he should be advised that the United States will reserve its position with respect to the GVN. In this event, he should be left in some doubt as to whether this implies that the United States might seek an alternate GVN through other leadership or whether it might begin the process of working out some accommodation with the NLF and the DRV at the expense of the GVN. He could be assured that this 100 day showing is essential to the American nation, as if it does not occur there will only be a matter of weeks thereafter before the American nation begins to make its basic political decisions for the next four years. If the GVN is not able to show the kind of progress which makes further U.S. support justifiable, the United States might then have to examine alternative courses of action.

8. The United States options at the end of the 100 days would deliberately be left undefined for President Thieu and Vice President Ky. We might, of course, find that sufficient forward momentum has been achieved to warrant continued U.S. support. Should this not occur, the United States might take one of the following courses of action:

a. Insistence that President Thieu or other GVN leaders resign in favor of individuals who might have proven themselves during the 100 days, who could be duly elected according to Constitutional processes at the election three months after the President resigns.

b. Suspension of the bombing of North Vietnam and the initiation of talks with the DRV. This action could be justified as the result of the GVN's inability to respond to the challenge and consequently an American decision to adjust to this situation. Alternatively it could be utilized as a further stimulus to Vietnamese leadership to take more vigorous action.

c. Development of a dialogue between the United States and the NLF suggesting the possibility of some move toward a coalition government. In this situation, United States assistance could still be provided to some non-Communist Vietnamese elements, continuing our policy of helping resolute Vietnamese fight and help themselves.

 

45. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, February 2, 1968, 1125Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.

17480. 1. After a meeting of the Mission Council this morning, Feb 2, I took up the urgent question of what was needed in the way of action, primarily by the GVN but also by US, to overcome the psychological gains obviously made by the Viet Cong through their terrorist attacks on the population centers. We agreed that the primary thing needed was visible and effective leadership by the GVN, in order to restore confidence and deal with the urgent problems created by the recent events. We agreed that it would be useful to propose to President Thieu that a joint task force be formed, headed on the GVN side by Prime Minister Loc and on the US side by Ambassador Komer. This task force could address itself to the problems across the board, including not only the Saigon area but also the principal provincial centers affected by VC attacks./2/

/2/On February 3 Komer became the designated adviser to Ky for Project Recovery, the name given to the GVN's program to repair the losses suffered during Tet. For additional information, see the Project Recovery action memorandums in the U.S. Army Center for Military History, DepCORDS/MACV Files, Tet/Recovery: Project Recovery.

2. General Westmoreland and I met with President Thieu this afternoon just before he was to record his speech to the nation, which will be televised and broadcast this evening. Thieu reported that he had convened a sort of National Security Council this morning and had included the Presidents of the two houses of the Assembly. The demands of the immediate situation were discussed in some detail. Thieu said that the meeting agreed that it was necessary to maintain the martial law and the curfew for the present, at least until the most urgent security and other problems had been brought under control./3/ Thieu went on to say that in order to assure that this state of martial law was kept within the Constitution, it was agreed that there should be a special joint session of the two houses at which these special measures could be endorsed. He thought this would take place as soon as the two houses could be reconvened. Thieu said he recognized that it was important to avoid the impression that a military regime was being reimposed, and this was why he had invited the Presidents of the two houses to be at the meeting and had asked them, in accordance with the Constitution, to call a special joint session. I agreed with Thieu that it was important that all of these measures be done within a constitutional framework and that there be no impression given that military rule was being reimposed.

/3/Thieu declared martial law on January 31.

3. I then told the President that we recognized that the events of the last few days, while representing a major military defeat for the VC, also brought with them a major psychological gain for the enemy. I said that we must deal with the immediate psychological problem in such a way as to avoid a pyrrhic victory and that I wished to offer whatever support and assistance we could give him and his government for these purposes. I added that if this matter were handled well, it could turn into a psychological victory for the GVN and its allies which could rally popular support and restore confidence. I concluded that the first and most important objective should be to get back to the pre-Tet situation so that the government and the population could resume work and security could be reestablished, with police and other security forces publicly evident. I added that rooting out the VC infrastructure in Saigon and the cities was an urgent part of this program and that mobilizing the population for all of these purposes was essential.

4. Following these comments I said that we had discussed these matters on our side and wanted to suggest for the President's consideration the establishment of a joint US-GVN task force which could plan and order the execution of the necessary measures to get the situation back to normal as quickly as possible. I said that rapid and effective action, supported [possible omission] that the government was on top of the situation. I mentioned a number of urgent objectives which should be met, in addition to restoring security in the cities, such as opening roads and airports, and getting the economic life of the country underway speedily. I added that an active and imaginative psychological warfare campaign was a vital element in this process. I concluded by saying that we wished to assist in any way we could and offered to put the resources we had at the disposal of the government for these purposes. I then asked Westmoreland to outline more specifically some of the needs as he saw them.

5. Westmoreland pointed out that there was much destruction, not only in Saigon, but also in many provincial cities. He said the problems in these areas were serious but manageable and added that they were not very widespread in Saigon. Among the urgent needs are the restoration of proper health and sanitation services, caring for refugees, and the rebuilding of houses, schools, etc. Westmoreland recommended that a top-management group be set up, headed by the Prime Minister and Komer, and reporting to the President. He suggested that the President might want to consider delegating supervision to Vice President Ky. Westmoreland said that on the GVN side, the appropriate Ministries could be instructed by the Prime Minister and on the military side he and General Vien could work closely with Loc and Komer in providing what would be needed. He stressed that this would not be a new organization and would use existing individuals and organizations, but with an effective method for assigning specific tasks promptly from the top and keeping the President informed. Westmoreland concluded that we needed to put the best talents we have to work on both sides in order together to overcome the effects of the VC attacks. He added that there probably should be a separate Saigon task force under the over-all supervision of the Prime Minister and Komer.

6. Thieu said that he recognized there were many and varied problems to be solved, including the opening of main roads, cleaning out the VC, and restoring sanitation and other services. He agreed coordination was desirable and that this effort should be extended to the provinces as well. He suggested a joint meeting on February 3 to discuss these problems and to be briefed by the US side regarding their organizational and other suggestions./4/ He thought that the proposed task force could then work out the necessary programs.

/4/Telegram 17607 from Saigon, February 3, reported on the joint U.S.-GVN task force, during which GVN officials stressed the necessity for a rapid restoration of order in Saigon. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

7. Comment: Although it is apparent that the GVN intends to continue the current state of martial law for a further period of time, I am encouraged to see that the President is very conscious of the need for doing this in a constitutional way and has included the principal representatives of the National Assembly in his deliberations. He also seemed generally responsive to our suggestions for dealing urgently and effectively with the vital problems to be met. We will make every effort to keep up this momentum and to overcome the many wild rumors and reports that are circulating, by restoring confidence in the government and demonstrating that we are working closely with them.

Bunker

 

46. Letter From President Johnson to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)/1/

Washington, February 2, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 E (2), 1/68-2/68, Post-Inaugural Political Activity. No classification marking. The President underlined the words in the letter printed in italics and wrote at the top of the page: "Personal Attention Please." In an attached memorandum to the President, February 1, Charles Zwick, Director of the Bureau of the Budget, advised sending the letter but withholding its public release; the President indicated his concurrence on the memorandum. (Ibid.)

Dear Ellsworth:

I recently directed the Secretary of State and the Budget Director to undertake a program to reduce United States personnel overseas./2/ Because of the special problems you face, Viet Nam was specifically excluded from this program.

/2/In memorandums to the heads of the Executive branch departments and to Rusk and Zwick, both released publicly on January 18, the President directed the reduction of the number of U.S. employees overseas and curtailment of official travel abroad. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book I, pp. 34-35. In a November 6 memorandum to Johnson, Zwick reported on the measures taken along these lines. See Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 4, p. 1579. In a January 31 memorandum to Rusk, McNamara, and Zwick, the President despaired over the international situation: "In general, it appears to be the judgment of our enemies that we are sufficiently weak and uncertain at home, sufficiently stretched in our military dispositions abroad, and sufficiently anxious to end the war in Viet Nam so that we are likely to accept, if not defeat, at least a degree of humiliation," to which he attributed events in Korea and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Thus he recommended that they consider extending tours of duty, a selective call-up of reservists, additional military aid to South Korea and Thailand, and various financial measures including a tax bill and currency exchange stabilization. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 15-1 US/JOHNSON)

I believe very strongly that you and General Westmoreland should have the resources necessary for the difficult tasks before you. But I also believe we must accomplish these tasks with the minimum number of Americans in Viet Nam.

To this end, I want you to develop with General Westmoreland ways to reduce American and other U.S.-financed personnel in Viet Nam, other than those directly associated with combat activities. This will not be an easy job. But it is highly important to the effectiveness of our efforts in Viet Nam.

I am purposely setting no target figure for the civil or military aspects of this exercise. I expect you to take a hard and careful look at what can be done. I want you to report your findings and recommendations to me by June 1. Your efforts will have my complete support.

Sincerely,
Lyndon B. Johnson

 

47. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, February 2, 1968, 4:30-6:02 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Confidential. The meeting was held at the White House. According to a covering memorandum from Johnson to the President, February 3, the attending correspondents and the press organizations which they represented were: Max Frankel, The New York Times; Charles Bailey, Cowles Publications; Richard Saltonstall, Time Magazine; Chalmers Roberts, Newsweek; Frank Reynolds, ABC; Dan Rather, CBS; Ray Scherer, Washington Star; Sid David, Westinghouse Broadcasting; Jack Sutherland, U.S. News and World Report; and Forrest Boyd, Mutual Broadcasting. Rusk, Clifford, Taylor, Rostow, and Tom Johnson also joined the meeting. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S
DISCUSSION
WITH CORRESPONDENTS

Chuck Bailey: How did your discussion go with General Ridgway?/2/

/2/The President met with General Ridgway, the former commander of U.S. forces during the Korean war, at a luncheon lasting from 2:15 to 4 p.m. and attended by Humphrey, Clifford, Rostow, Christian, Tom Johnson, McConnell, Moorer, Harold Johnson, Chapman, and Helms. Among the topics discussed were the war in Vietnam, Kennedy's recent statements, and the Pueblo. (Ibid.) Notes of the meeting have not been found.

The President: We talked about the Pueblo incident and the increase in the number of incidents along the demilitarized zone in Korea. I asked for his advice as I have asked for the advice of many others who have experience in the military and diplomatic field.

Frank Reynolds: What are the North Koreans up to?

The President: It appears to have been an irrational act on their part, perhaps to help their brothers in North Vietnam.

Max Frankel: What is General Giap doing?

The President: I always over-estimate Giap. You see what he did to the French. He is extremely able. I don't know what will happen.

I asked the JCS to give me a letter saying that they were ready for this offensive at Khesanh. They have 40,000 men to our 6,700. We have 40,000 men within 40 miles and we do have air mobility. There are 1,200 B-52 sorties per month going into Vietnam.

Max Frankel: What do you believe Ho is thinking?

The President: I do not know. I felt by February 3 we could have expected the major offensive to begin. What Ho thinks I do not know. I believe he thought that the people would rally with them. They did not. There have been much sporadic activities. The ferocity was not anticipated.

They did not get into the Chancery of the embassy. They sent 19 men. All 19 were killed.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Chuck Roberts: In light of the advance intelligence, were we in a state of sufficient readiness in Vietnam?

The President: Yes, anybody who could count can see that we were.

Chuck Bailey: Were the South Vietnamese prepared and how did they conduct themselves during this?

The President: Yes, the South Vietnamese were ready. I have heard nothing that would indicate any cowardice or lack of responsibility on their part.

The President then read to the group the Thomas Paine quote:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated."

Chuck Roberts asked if there had been any change since the San Antonio formula was given.

The President: We put many long hours and days into the text of the San Antonio speech. We said then and we still believe that that is as far as we can go with honor. We stressed prompt, productive, and "it is assumed."

We do not want another Panmunjon. Sure, there will be some regular resupply. We undoubtedly will send in more planes and food and supplies for our troops. We expect them to do something along the same lines. We haven't hit Hanoi or Haiphong in a couple of days. There is good reason to what we are doing. Clark Clifford said what I stated in San Antonio and said it better./3/ But it all means the same thing.

/3/See Document 27.

The formula still stands, although you will notice I almost withdrew it yesterday at the Medal of Honor ceremony./4/ Anybody who sees what they are doing out there now knows they do not appear very interested in peace talks.

/4/In the ceremony presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Dthlefsen, USAF, the President stated: "Until we have some better signs than what we have had these last few days--that I hope any American can see and read loud and clear--that he [the NVA/VC enemy] will not step up his terrorism; and unless we have some sign that he will not accelerate his aggression if we halt bombing, then we shall continue to give our American men the protection America ought to give them, and that is the best America affords." For the full text of the President's remarks, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book I, pp. 145-147. Earlier that day, the President conferred with the press, noting that U.S. forces in Vietnam were aware of the enemy's offensive in advance. For the text of the President's statement at this conference, see ibid., pp. 155-163.

Jack Horner: Do we have any information that North Korea is planning a massive raid across the DMZ?

The President: We have no information of that type. They are not on an aggressive alert with any evil intentions as far as I know. It just looked like they had a chance to make a contribution that then cost them militarily.

Sid Davis: What is your own gut feeling about Ho? Does he really want to talk this year before the elections?

The President: No, I don't think he wants to talk, but he may have to. I would think he would be better off before the election than after.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Ray Scherer: Do you think there will be a partisan issue made of this by Nixon, Percy and others?

The President: I do not know. I know of a lot of people being worried. I do not say this is the last gasp by the North Vietnamese. It is a kamikaze type thing. They are not getting a good return on their investment.

Ray Scherer: What are the Russians doing?

The President: I think they want to live in this world with us. I do not think they are anxious to have any major confrontation over this.

They won't be too enthusiastic about getting into a war with us.

 

48. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

No. 97

Washington, February 3, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.

SUBJECT
Vietnam: Estimated Communist Strategy in the Coming Months

The events of the last several days suggest that the Communists are well-embarked upon a carefully planned campaign of mutually-supporting military, political, and diplomatic efforts directed toward a massive deterioration in the GVN position and an erosion of the political basis for a US presence in Vietnam. If this were to develop, negotiations could become the seal of success rather than the path to a situation in which, in due course, success could be attained. Meanwhile, they will continue to hold open the possibility of talks.

Intent on Creating Revolutionary Situation. Hanoi's primary intent appears to be to create the revolutionary situation, in towns and countryside alike, which doctrinally must precede final victory in the South. The accelerated effort, dramatically emphasized by recent events, to destroy the authority of the GVN and the credibility of the US/South Vietnamese alliance could be intended to reach the point where war-weariness and defeatism throughout the country become overwhelmingly strong and where non-Communist South Vietnamese political elements might be prepared to join with the Front in the establishment of coalitions at the center and at lower administrative levels. The resulting organization could claim to have supplanted the authority of the GVN and to have assumed the mantle of the "coalition government." If it could be attained, this "coalition government" would become the condition precedent to or simultaneous with negotiations rather than the goal to which negotiations might lead.

Flexing and Applying Military Muscle. To reinforce the political/military effort to destroy the authority of the GVN, Hanoi also appears intent on using the threat of major military victories to manipulate the deployment and redeployment of the allied forces./2/ This effort, by establishing a capacity for set-piece victories in remote locations of the country, appears designed to whipsaw allied forces and to place a heavy strain on allied capabilities to engage in "conventional" war against the main enemy force or to support GVN military efforts against Communist guerrilla and political forces in the countryside. Hanoi may, if the proper opportunity presents itself, also use these build-ups to inflict heavy casualties on US forces and, if possible or appropriate, to attempt to gain spectacular victories. But the main force military threat will be maintained and employed primarily for its political impact and for its diversion and dispersion of allied resources rather than for the attainment of military victories per se.

/2/Hughes reported in Intelligence Note No. 117 to Rusk, February 8, that Hanoi had begun to invoke the memory of Dien Bien Phu for the first time since the Tet offensive began. (Ibid.)

Communists Assess their Position as Strong but Risky. The Communists probably believe that they are operating in the South from a position of considerable strength. They have already demonstrated a three-fold capability--to deploy large forces at various remote points; to carry on simultaneously with these deployments an intensified campaign of harassment in the countryside; and to augment their political effort in the urban areas with an unprecedented wave of coordinated attacks throughout the country without apparently drawing very significantly from their major troop concentrations. They probably recognize also that they have embarked upon a high-risk course. They are clearly exposing themselves to very heavy casualties. By enlarging their campaign, broadening the impact of their attacks, and imposing additional resource requirements on themselves, they risk not only intolerable strains on their own structure but also stronger reactions against them. By moving so rapidly and with so much propaganda and indoctrinational stress on "decisive victories" and the opening of the "revolutionary phase", they risk the creation among the cadres of high expectations of quick results which, if disappointed, could severely affect morale.

They probably expect, however, that they can make tactical adjustments which will compensate for difficulties encountered, a capability they have especially demonstrated during the past two years. They could be counting on going a long way in keeping up morale and willingness to persist by contending that their spectaculars--such as those of recent days--even though they cannot be of long duration or of frequent occurrence, are in themselves "decisive victories" that have moved the war into a new and close to ultimate phase. Heavy as their losses may be as the result of such actions, they may believe that they can recover from them more rapidly than the GVN can recover from the administrative disruption, necessity for redeployment, and loss of confidence and momentum which it has undergone.

The Communists would accept the heavy casualties that result from their major actions believing that the cost of such actions are more than compensated for by heavy strains imposed on the allied side, which, on balance, facilitate the persistent campaign of local harassment, small-scale action, and political organization. It is through these actions that the Communists have long sought to destroy the GVN socio-political framework in the countryside; and they will increasingly seek to do the same in urban areas. They would anticipate also increasing friction within the GVN and between the GVN and the United States which will work to their advantage. While they will undoubtedly attempt to create the impression that they are being increasingly supported by the enthusiastic revolutionary masses, their genuine interest will lie not so much in winning major accretions of mass support as in inducing a widespread conviction that the Communist drive cannot be stopped and must be accommodated to./3/

/3/In Intelligence Note No. 121 to Rusk, February 8, Hughes commented: "Despite heavy casualties, Communist forces retain the capability to launch new attacks against urban centers while the bulk of the North Vietnamese Army main force, still uncommitted, poses the threat of larger-scale assaults in the remote or outlying areas." (Ibid.)

The Talks/Negotiations Posture

While we believe that the Communists have adopted a strategy in the South which they will not quickly alter (that is, within the next month or two), even in the face of particular failures or set-backs, we anticipate that they will continue to hold open the prospect of talks. Though they may not expect to get a bombing pause, they would hope thereby to deter the United States from harsher measures against the North, the resources of which must continue to flow to the South in support of the accelerated campaign there. Anxious as they are for a bombing pause, their campaign in the South will assume precedence in their thinking for the time being. Accordingly, we do not anticipate that Hanoi will be prepared in the near future to promise that it will not "take advantage," though there is a chance that it may haggle on the subject if it believes that some degree of compromise (as a hypothetical example, an understanding not to use the DMZ but no restriction on infiltration rates) can gain a bombing halt.

 

49. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant (Rostow)/1/

Washington, February 3, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 EE (1), 2/2-20/68, Post-Tet Political Activity. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A notation on the memorandum indicates that Rostow saw it.

SUBJECT
Situation in Viet-Nam

This memo contains some reflections on recent events in Viet-Nam and some thoughts on what should be done.

First, it is my opinion that the series of well-coordinated NVA/VC attacks in all parts of the country represents a distinct setback to the Government in Saigon and to us. But it may also offer some opportunities that should not be lost.

I regard these events as a setback because:

--among other things, they reflect probably the worst intelligence failure of the war. If the VC and North Vietnamese can move probably 30,000 men into place for attacks in all parts of the country without detection, something is wrong with the GVN's intelligence network. It would have taken weeks to stockpile the weapons and ammunition used in these attacks. Thousands of Vietnamese must have been used in this process. Many thousands of others must have been aware of movements through or near their villages, and of unusual activity in their neighborhoods in the cities. Yet I have seen no clear evidence that any of these movements were reported or their significance correctly understood. We didn't have one single attack thoroughly anticipated, of the many that occurred. Something is rotten in the Vietnamese CIO, the Military Security Service and the National Police. And what about our intelligence work in the provinces?

--by these attacks, the NVA/VC have demonstrated an ability to hit any urban center they choose, and to carry out a level of coordination in their attacks heretofore unknown in Viet-Nam.

--I believe that the effectiveness of these assaults, despite their short duration in most cases, have severely shaken confidence in the Government's ability to provide security for its people. It is a virtual certainty that thousands of Vietnamese who have felt secure in the urban centers are now telling themselves: if the VC can hit like this once, they can do it again; I better be more careful of what I say and do.

--these events cast serious doubt on any future statements that people in Viet-Nam's urban centers are "under Government control" or "free from VC threat." They clearly are not, if the VC are prepared to pay the price to hit them.

--finally it is clear from intelligence reporting of the last day or two that many Vietnamese are prepared to believe and to spread the wildest rumors about the Americans--that we helped the VC enter Saigon, that we are working with the VC to set up a coalition government, that we are looking for a chance to get out, etc., etc. This means to me that VC propaganda has been exceedingly effective and that our and that of the GVN leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.

I recognize, of course, that the North Vietnamese and VC paid a heavy price for this adventure. Even if the reported losses are inflated--as they may be to some extent--they have sacrificed a lot of people, probably including some of their best sabotage and terror personnel. The effects of these losses should be felt for some time. But I doubt that either the VC or the general Vietnamese population are as impressed as we are by these losses. If the level of VC activity drops dramatically in the weeks ahead, it will indicate how badly they have been hurt.

In any case, it is my deep conviction that the Vietnamese people and the Government itself have been more seriously shaken by the events of this week than we now realize or than they are willing to admit.

This is not without potential benefit. It may cause people in the Government to take a more serious view of their situation and to pull up their socks--in strengthening their military forces and going after the VC with new vigor, in pushing forward programs of reform, in giving the people more protection and a higher stake in the future, in pushing personal rivalries and jealousies into the background.

But I am utterly convinced it will not have this effect unless we provide some strong pushing in the right directions.

I said at the outset that this week offers opportunities. But I would urge that we strike while the iron is hot. The moment can easily be lost.

I would recommend:

--that Bunker have a real heart-to-heart talk with Thieu. It should be private. He should tell Thieu that, in our judgment, the coordinated VC attacks and their extensive propaganda campaign have had a strongly negative effect on both Vietnamese and American opinion. It is of the highest urgency that the GVN act now and act decisively to meet the problem. The time for caution and for slow steps forward is past. We recognize that strong measures will entail mistakes. We can live with those and will not be throwing brickbats. But what we cannot live with is a "business as usual" approach to a grave crisis.

Thieu can count on our support. We will help him in every way possible. But we cannot support inaction and half-measures. We strongly believe that he, Vice President Ky and Prime Minister Loc should be a closely-knit team; that they should be working together and cooperating; that each should have his own clearly defined responsibilities and that each of them can move, knowing he has the support of the others and of the Americans.

We believe that it is urgent that he push ahead rapidly on:

--strengthening the ARVN and getting the most able officers in command positions, eliminating or shelving officers who are up to their necks in corruption;

--shaking up and getting more teamwork in his intelligence serv-ices. It is a disgrace that the VC can mount 30 or 40 simultaneous attacks all over the country and his Government doesn't know a damn thing about it in advance;

--improving the quality and honesty of his provincial and district leaders; the GVN's well-conceived reform program in this area should be pushed with maximum energy;

--a large-scale and effective drive on corruption. The Vietnamese people are sick and tired of sending their sons into the Army to receive $30 a month while they face death, when Vietnamese "operators" and blackmarketeers are making millions a year on shady deals. It may be that the only approach to this knotty problem (given the involvements in deals of so many army officers, their wives, and other officials) is to declare an amnesty for all past dishonesty. But to make it clear that a new deal is now in effect, and the first officer or official who violates the new rules is going to get rapid and strong justice.

It may be the only way to get someone like General Vien (who is himself clean but whose wife has been busy in the marketplace) to take a strong supporting stand. Men like Vien are very worried about the effect of past activities of their friends and families. If they have a clean slate to start from, they can crack down.

Finally, they need to get cracking fast on national political organization to compete with the VC and the Front. My own personal belief here is that Senator Don and his Soldier-Farmer-Worker bloc has the best potential for something useful and we should be thinking about the most effective way of supporting it. They have no solid financial base. They need some kind of revenue-producing establishment whose profits can be fed into their organization. This is a better approach than a "black bag." I wouldn't talk to Thieu about the Don situation, but I would urge him to get together with Ky and begin real organizational work on a pro-government party, broadly based and national in scope. Every day that is lost is a day the VC use to their own advantage.

In sum, I think the time is ripe for a new approach in Viet-Nam. The Vietnamese deeply want a better shake. They do not want to be taken over by the Communists. They want a Government that they think is honest and effective. They want action. And they want it now. I think we should, too.

Otherwise, we are in for a year of trouble and heartbreak.

Bill


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