Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972

Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972

Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972

Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972

Synopsis

When General Creighton W. Abrams left his position as commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), to become Army Chief of Staff in 1972, he took with him certain highly classified material relating to his service in Vietnam. In 1994, with government and military approval and support, Lewis Sorley gained access to General Abrams's material and began the transcription and analysis of the more than 455 tape recordings made at Headquarters MACV during the four years Abrams was in command. From the twenty-year-old reel-to-reel tapes and Sorley's transcriptions of them, written by hand through a laborious, time-consuming process, emerges a picture of the senior U.S. commander in Vietnam and his associates working to prosecute a complex and challenging military campaign in an equally complex and difficult political context. The concept of the nature of the war and the way it was conducted changed during General Abrams's command. The progressive buildup of U.S. forces was reversed, and Abrams became responsible for turning the war back to the South Vietnamese. The edited transcriptions in this volume clearly reflect those changes in strategy and tactics. They include not only the briefings called the Weekly Intelligence Estimate Updates, but also presentations to and discussions with such visitors as the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander-in-chief, Pacific, and other high-ranking government and military officials of the time. In Vietnam Chronicles we see, for the first time, the detail of the difficult task that Creighton Abrams accomplished with tact and skill.

Excerpt

The long years of American involvement in the Vietnam War began with an advisory role, supplemented by the provision of logistical, communications, and intelligence assistance to the South Vietnamese. Then, responding to a battlefield crisis and commencing in the spring of 1965, U.S. ground forces in rapidly increasing numbers were introduced into the war. During his tenure, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who served during 1964–1968 as Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, made repeated requests for additional forces, requests that were for several years almost routinely approved and resulted in a buildup to an authorization of 549,500 U.S. troops for South Vietnam and actual deployments there that peaked at 543,400 in April 1969.

A major accomplishment of the earlier years of American involvement was massive upgrading of South Vietnam’s infrastructure to enable it to support deployment of forces of such magnitude. Indeed, in many respects the logistical base lagged the troop buildup. In his memoirs General Westmoreland acknowledged his “gamble” in bringing in troops before he had developed the logistical system needed to support them. As the base system evolved, however, it was an impressive feat that also contributed to South Vietnam’s economic well-being in important ways. Using a combination of military and contractor capabilities, Westmoreland recalled, MACV oversaw upgrading of Saigon’s deep-draft port and construction of six others, increasing the number of jet-capable airfields from 3 to 8 and adding 84 tactical airstrips and countless helicopter landing pads, building millions of square feet of covered and cold-storage facilities, putting up a nationwide grid of radio and telephone communications, dredging canals, and building or upgrading innumerable roads and bridges. The construction also included establishment of fairly elaborate “base camps” housing the major units deployed, controversial in that they necessitated use of many troops for their own operation and security. The bulk of what Westmoreland called this “convulsive” construction effort was completed in about two and a half years and constituted, as he justifiably described it, “one of the more remarkable accomplishments of American forces in Vietnam.”

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