Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part V

Here is part five of my ongoing series on the Vietnam War.

As missions intensified and more men came home in flag draped coffins, the U.S. Government continued to support its troops and the war as protests against the war became more prevalent. Many times it was the troops themselves who reassured the public about the reasons for the war, and even with the horrors of Vietnam mounting, they still were able to see the silver lining. As Lieutenant Marion Lee Kempner put it, “We were given no choice and we must fight where the confrontation is, despite its cost, infeasibility, and possible illegality and physical and mental toll upon the participants...” Just as so many others had said in similar ways, Kempner saw just cause for the war not because he wanted to, but because he had to in order to give his military service meaning. Unfortunately, Kempner died in Vietnam, for a war he did not wish for, but fought anyway. 

The attitude of doing a job that was potentially meaningless and very harmful, merely out of obligation, is the way a great many soldiers fought the Vietnam War up to and including 1967. Most of the letters from soldiers, and their reflections after the war illustrate that while Vietnam was not the right war for America, it nevertheless had to be fought, despite all the signs that it was not going exactly as planned by the government.

By the end of 1967, it was clear to President Johnson and his staff that General Westmoreland’s new strategy of offensive campaigns were relatively successful, despite costing 15,000 American lives in 1967 alone. The enemy, however, had lost considerably more. In a bloody battle at Dak To in November, 287 American soldiers were killed, but the U.S. military deemed it a victory. Victories like the one at Dak To were becoming routine, and in this war of attrition the U.S. appeared to be winning. What the U.S. did not realize was that battles like Dak To were strengthening the enemy’s resolve, and weakening the determination of their own men. 

Whether this was known to Westmoreland, he did not show it, and said of 1967, “I have never been more encouraged in my four years in Vietnam...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.” 1968 would blur the end from the American view, granting new life to the enemy, and the anti-war movement.
A feeling of foreboding began to creep into the American psyche in January of 1968 as word of a North Vietnamese buildup at Khe Sanh came to General Westmoreland’s attention. Northern troops were creating a stronghold in the Northern part of South Vietnam, presumably to mount a large offensive against U.S. forces. Westmoreland became convinced that during the impending North Vietnamese offensive, Khe Sanh would need to be a primary target for the Americans. Unfortunately for Westmoreland and the Americans, the build up at Khe Sanh was a diversion created by the Viet Cong to draw U.S. troops away from the cities and other areas in the South.

This elaborate ruse on the part of the North Vietnamese would haunt the rest of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The plan was for Viet Cong agents and North Vietnamese soldiers to infiltrate major Southern cities and attack without warning while the major part of the U.S. force was busy surrounding the base at Khe Sanh. The attack came during the Vietnamese holiday of Tet on January 31st. The complete and utter surprise that the Tet Offensive had on American troops once again showed the soldiers and government how unprepared they were to fight this war, and how little they understood their enemy. The attack on the American Embassy in Saigon was not ultimately seen as a North Vietnamese victory, but the destruction of the outer part of the building left a lasting impression on U.S. soldiers who saw that nothing was safe from attack.

No comments:

Post a Comment