The Tet Offensive

By Marc Jason Gilbert; William Head | Go to book overview

vastly different from that of the United States. Unable to accept the Vietnamese, whether as hosts, opponents, or uncommitted middle, as nothing more than round eyes with a fondness for rice and nunc mam, senior U.S. officials engaged in never-ending exercises of mirror imaging.

Yet another limitation was that of U.S. military doctrine which, as repeatedly shown by the intelligence and other components of the system, was massively irrelevant to the realities that emerged on the ground in Vietnam. As a consequence, American strategic and operational implementation modalities served both to transform the character of the war and to invite a second, hostile intervenor, North Vietnam, into the conflict. While all governments' foreign policy are affected by inducements and constraints placed upon them by domestic political imperatives and by the dictates of various institutions that are exogenous and often injurious of the policy goals at stake, the U.S. government demonstrated less skill than its opponents in Hanoi in subordinating these to the requirements of successful politico-military struggle. Linking all of these is cognitive dissonance: an ability to see only what one wishes to see or to justify the dismissal of information or perspectives that run counter to one's desires.

This phenomenon was rampant throughout the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and reached a high point in the fall of 1967 when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, having again reviewed all of the evaluations regarding the war and its intellectual architecture came to the conclusion that the U.S. course of action for three and a half years had been wrong and needed to be severely modified. This assessment could not have come at a worse time for the Johnson administration, which had been engaged in a prolonged full-court press of public relations in an attempt to calm and reassure an increasingly restive American citizenry that the United States was achieving its goals in South Vietnam and would not have to stay the course much longer. Given this context, it is no surprise that indications of a Viet Cong urban spectacular were not welcome.

There was no intelligence failure involved in the Tet Urban Offensives or in the siege of Khe Sanh. Rather, the failure was one of strategic conceptualization, which in turn was the product of the polluted policy process. The willful absence of an appropriate intellectual matrix for that process, exacerbated by the dearth of comprehensive evaluation systems that properly integrated the products of the intelligence community with the internal assessment mechanisms of the military services and the foreign policy bureaucracies, assured that decision makers and military commanders would assume the role of patsy.


NOTES
1.
It should be noted that slightly over 425 primary source documents from a variety of archives and holdings, most declassified since 1990, were used directly in the preparation of this article. Due to space and sensitivity limitations, only brief

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The Tet Offensive
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • Notes 15
  • 2 - The Tet Offensive 17
  • Notes 43
  • 3 - The Tet Offensive and Sino-Vietnamese Relations 45
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - The Nlf and the Tet Offensive 63
  • Notes 69
  • 5 - Giap and Tet Mau Than 1968: The Year of the Monkey 73
  • Notes 85
  • 6 - The Tet Offensive and Its Aftermath 89
  • Notes 119
  • 7 - My Recollections of the Tet Offensive 125
  • Notes 134
  • 8 - The Tet Offensive and Middletown: A Study in Contradiction 135
  • Notes 141
  • 9 - The Warning That Left Something to Chance: Intelligence at Tet 143
  • Notes 163
  • 10 - Don't Bother Me with the Facts; I've Made Up My Mind: The Tet Offensive in The Context of Intelligence and U.S. Strategy 167
  • Notes 179
  • 11 - Tet Beyond the Wire: TCK/TKN, the General Offensive/General Uprising 181
  • Notes 189
  • 12 - The Battle of Khe Sanh, 1968 191
  • Notes 210
  • 13 - President Johnson and the Decision To Curtail Rolling Thunder 215
  • Notes 228
  • 14 - The Myth of Tet: American Failure and The Politics of War 231
  • Notes 249
  • Selected Bibliography 259
  • Index 269
  • About the Authors and Editors 283
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