Until mid- 1967, polls had shown that 80 percent of the American people backed the Johnson administrations' effort to halt Communist aggression in Southeast Asia. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, much of the homefront began looking at the war as hopeless, with no victory in sight. Concerned by the loss of popular support at home, Lyndon Johnson launched a sophisticated public-relations campaign to convince Americans that great progress had been made toward achieving U.S. goals.
Called the Success Offensive, the promotion was spearheaded by Walt W. Rostow, a Johnson confidant, an old hand on the Washington political scene, and chief of the White House Psychological Strategy Committee. Media were peppered with press releases, speech transcripts, statistics, graphs, charts, and official statements--all with the theme, "We are winning the struggle in Vietnam."
Even Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a dedicated dove, spoke out. Appearing on NBC's Today show, Humphrey observed enthusiastically, "Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress."
Then the superstars of the Success Offensive took center stage: General William Westmoreland and Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker were brought back to Washington. While the television cameras whirred, Westmoreland emphasized in a speech at the National Press Club: "We have reached an important point where the end begins to come into view."
The Success Offensive seemed to be attaining its objective. The We-Are- Winning bandwagon was rolling. Then, suddenly, in January 1968, a wheel came off the bandwagon: The Communists launched their surprise Tet offensive.
Although Tet had been a battlefield disaster for the Communists, it reaped huge rewards for them. In the United States, much of the major media portrayed Tet as an American debacle. So large numbers of the populace, not just the "peaceniks" and campus agitators, soured on the war. Even if U.S. victory were possible, was it worth the cost of blood of young Americans?