The Battle of Khe Sanh, 1968
In late 1967, U.S. commander General William Westmoreland and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) commander General Vo Nguyen Giap deployed the forces under their commands to Khe Sanh. Giap's and Westmoreland's own tactical and strategic goals, combined with their perceptions of each other's intentions, led them into combat at this particular time and place.
The controversy surrounding this battle has lasted long after the silencing of the guns. Westmoreland was convinced that the Communists were attempting a repetition of their triumph over the French at Dien Bien Phu. Giap, on the other hand, claimed that Khe Sanh itself was not of importance, but only a diversion to draw U.S. forces away from the populated areas of South Vietnam. Both sides claimed victory at Khe Sanh, fueling a debate that continues today--was Khe Sanh a territorial imperative or a bait and switch?
It was Indochina's geography that made Khe Sanh important. The Ho Chi Minh Trail had been used as a communications link between North and South since the fighting began between the French and Viet Minh in the First Indochina War.1 This series of trails and roads began in North Vietnam and entered Laos through various mountain passes. Several branches of the Trail penetrated South Vietnam while other branches continued into Cambodia. Khe Sanh was located where North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos came together. For the Communists the region around