Raw Footage of Khe Sanh and the overall Tet Offensive
I would also look at the Korean war for some understanding. As you mentioned: "The commies were willing to sacrifice all those people for political maneuvering"
Originally Posted by ferguson
In Korea the Communist forces did not mind throwing large number of people into the grinder. Also we have the battle of Pork Chop Hill, a reminder that for them war was fought more for political victories. I think How NATO fought in Korea reflected how the Communists believed they would fight in Viet-Nam. I agree with you that Tet was not so much for "Kicking the US out" but more for political gains on a much larger scale. The Paris Peace Talks started in 1967?
There is always the issue, what was their original goals of Tet '68 and what did they claim after it was all said and done. I don't think N Viet-Nam would ever tell us.
The NVA attitudes to the VC and what the VC wanted is probably left to speculation. I think, as you said, one of the goals of the NVA was to eliminate the VC as a military and political force that they would have to give part of the prize too.
One aspect of the Viet-Nam war that became very clear, The effectiveness of propaganda and that the West would not be united, that political infighting in the west would aid in the promoting anti-west propaganda themes. Just like today, propaganda is the most effective weapons against any Western country. The anti-War force, political opponents of those support the war, etc would by their own natural self interests aid the enemies of the West.
Just like the propaganda war surrounding Gitmo. When Bush was president it was a serious blemish against the West, it would be closed under the new administration. The D's made it a big issue, knowing that Bush could not close it for solids reasons. When Obama D, was elected, for those same solid reasons Bush could not close Gitmo, Obama has not closed Gitmo. Our enemies know that our worse enemy is our own partisan political process. As Pogo said in the '60's, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
The thing i wonder is that if those political gains are really planned/though before the operations. I mean the Tet offensive seemed poorly planned. It is obvious that if it had succeeded from a military pov, the political gain would ensue. But nevertheless even if the offensive failed the NV got a huge political gain. I don't think that this political gain was clearly foreseen. It was more an opportunity to seize due to the reaction of the US MSM and civil society. Had it been more resilient, with the failure of the military offensive, nothing would have been obtained from a political pov.
As such i agree that the enemy here was within the US society
This is our worse (and also best under some conditions) weakness because we are (i am talking about the West) democracies
As for what we read today on NVA and VC veterans' diaries (including senior officers), Tet '68 was more of a political operation rather than a true militaristic one. It combined two main purposes: to drive out a major victory in defeating the strength and morale of ARVN (not the US) and to support US and the world anti-war movement's attitude that this war was going to be a dead end for the Americans. Some said that the VC hoped that there would be an uprising by South Vietnamese people who were against their government, but most officials (both NVA and VC) knew that it was too much to ask for at that moment.
Originally Posted by Hollis
So the VC did achieve one of their 2 purposes: defeated Americans' morale. The first one was failed because there was harder resistance by the ARVN than the VC expected.
I don't think your idea about NVA tried to eliminate the VC officials is right, Hollis. Most VC officials were ex-Viet Minh, who stayed behind the lines under Ho and Giap' orders. They belonged to the same side, theoretically and practically. If the NVA wanted to get rid of VC, they could simply cut off the vital supplies of weapons through the HCM trails to the South and the VC would be defeated without a fight. I'm sure you agree that without AKs, RPGs, mines and their ammo, nothing could stand off American superior firepower.
Interesting points Los Disablos. Maybe that all goes with the theme, that military actions are only for political purposes and not necessary a military purpose as over riding goal.
I still tend to think the VC got screwed by the North. Look what happened to them after the war. There was also Viet-Minh that switch sides, so to speak. The other aspect is the difference in dialect and culture of the North. Another member mentioned that in a earlier post, on the attitudes of Southern Viet-Namese to the Northern Viet-Namese living in the South. While there was nationalist unity, there was also some divisions. As a whole, I think the South and North was not as united as most people think. The NVA was not going to loose fighting resource by not supplying them. The other aspect, I don't know how far South the NVA went, or when they did. I know they made it South of Da Nang in '67(?).
One aspect of studying history that is both pro and con, is the time element. Living in their future we see what happened that is a pro. The Con is we often miss the actual reasons why they initiated action or event. Example, terrible blunder turned into a victory, one can say it was planned that way. After all, when a person looks back, it is natural to put a positive spin on ones actions. Plus, I think it is a human need, to feel they have control over the future. As a general once said, the first casualty of any battle is the battle plan. I think some of this might better answered by Viet-Namese historians, who can obtain information form the NVA military records.
As Ferguson pointed out, the NVA did not move their divisions against Khe Sanh randomly or with out a desired goal. There was purpose in their movement. It could be as you said, to change public opinion in the states to force a end to the war. It still took about another 4 years for that to happen. So, the Tet offensive was not as successful as the goal to change US public opinion. It added to it, but so did other factors. The blundering at the Paris Peace conference by the US negotiators added to it. If the view that the NVA was going to discuss peace terms after Tet in Paris is true, the real failure was in the US to fully understood the outcome of the Tet Offensive. As I mentioned, IIRC, once the NVA realize that the US negotiators did realize the real out come, they played hard ball and dropped the idea of discussing terms for peace.
BTW, you do know the NVA only lacked air power, they had tanks, artillery, large motors, rockets all the stuff that any conventional military had? They where generally well equipped. The smallest fighting force was the VC guerrillas, which some how gets a lot of credit for fighting the war. VC regulars and NVA did all the heavy fighting. The VC guerrillas where becoming less and less effective as the time went by.
Khe Sanh, at first, was definitely a diversion, as in my opinion. Giap wasn't foolish to think that he could take out an entire Marine base while USAF still provide superior air support that he had little way to resist. It just a gamle to draw MACV's attention to Khe Sanh, therefore less defensive actions could be taken inside Southern provinces themselves when Tet offensive broke up. However, when the fight went on, it looked, in some way, the same like Dien Bien Phu, with NVA mortars and artillery stroke the base everyday, and I think that was when NVA officers thought they could overrun the base just like in '54. There were two things different: American superior air power (the French didn't have any bombers to pound on the Viet Minh) and resistance of the Marines. So at first it was a diversion, then time went by and it became a real operation to take out the base.
Originally Posted by Hollis
Now, as you said, it would take another 4 years for the war to be over. However, I think it was only because Nixon took over. He was a Republican and had no intention of losing the fight for sure. Meanwhile, I read that his opponent in '68 presidential race, Humphrey, clearly stated in his campaign that he would withdraw from Vietnam immediately if he won. Nixon won by 1% votes, and could you imagine what that 1% could bring after Tet '68 if it was for Humphrey and he won the election? Then the VC did successfully gain their goal, right?
VC regular and NVA units operated in the South rarely showed themselves in big battles. They usually broke up in small squads and played hide and seek with the Americans in S&D operations. Most US casualties in S&D operations caused by mines, boo.by traps and snipers, which were all resulted from VC guerrillas' activities. I think that was why the guerrillas were higher respected than regular units, at least in GI's opinion and also anti-war States people, who fantasized VC as farmers fighting for freedom rather than armed rebels.
Mu opinion is that Khe Sanh was not a diversion. One aspect the NVA soldeirs where pretty pumped up at the time that it would be another Dien Bien Phu. Also have upto 4 divisions tied up, where some could have been used elsewhere in the Tet Offensive points to my opinion too. The third point was Giap did his best to distance himself from the the Khe Sanh "failure". That is probably the most important point. If it was a diversion as you think, then it would have been a success and Giap would have taken credit for it or share in the credit.
On Humphrey.......... let say it could have been like Obama and Gitmo. Nixon foreign policy was peace through trade. He was open to China. I think people read the reason for Tet '68 differently because it is viewed after the event. I do not think the NVA knew what the impact in the states would have been. I think they were trying to do what they did to the French. Force a pull out by a over whelming defeat of US forces in Viet-Nam. They failed, but a unexpected turn for the good, was the public reaction to high casualties of Tet. There was nothing in the US history to clue any one into the public reaction. Viet-Nam is used to day, to predict the Americans reaction to a protracted war. There is way to much hind sighting and false credit being given to the NLF planners, Giap knew it was a failure.
Not sure if the guerrillas where more respected. The Army was with the Marines at the battle of Dai Do, the NVA did impress the Army as a conventional fighting force to respect over their dealing with the guerrillas in the South. I have not paid a lot of attention to the war in the Southern parts of RVN. I just feel there is a lot of mis-analysis about this conflict for a number of reasons. Most comes from self serving needs.
BTW, thanks for the interesting points. I have changed my opinion about this conflict several times.
I just wanted to give my point that Khe Sanh was actually a diversion at first, then through time it became a real siege operation, a challenged prize for NVA planners with their dream that if the base could be wiped out, it would create a major victory just like DBP. I don't know much about Giap's response after the siege, but you probably right.
Originally Posted by Hollis
You're a veteran, aren't you? Then I surely respect your opinion, since I am only an young guy who interested in studying history of wars from a neutral point of view. But the battle of Dai Do is just one of few battles, for instance Ia Drang, where the NVA fought in big units, and it happened in '68. Before that, from '64-'67, most NVA and VC activities were small and followed guerrilla tactics. Of course Vietnamese soldiers were good fighters, but since they learned what damage the American air and artillery support could do to their conventional units, I think they tried to avoid face-to-face battles, which lead to US S&D operations to search for VC main forces. That was probably why guerrillas' activities seemed to be more popular and gained more MACV's attention in the South's Mekong Delta.
Originally Posted by los_diablos
I see what you are saying, Battle for Khe Sanh started about 9 days before Tet. Very possible.
I have a friend who as in 2/4 at Dai Do. He has a DVD of the battle and has discussed that battle with me. He retired a Sgt Major. One aspect of that battle was how the Army fought and how the Marines fought. There was a difference.
The sad part of the NVA soldiers, where that some of their leaders were not worthy of them, they squander many of their lives for ?? The other aspect, one did not want to become a POW to them. They were brutal.
I've been reading your recent exchanges, Hollis and los diablos, with a lot of interest. Although I generally tend to agree with Hollis' perspective on this, this discussion highlights, in my view, the key issues of interpretation for Tet, the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War generally. A few of my own comments to add to the discussion:
-I couldn't agree more, Hollis, with your comment that "[*******#3E3E3E]that military actions are only for political purposes and not necessarily a military purpose as over riding goal." [/COLOR][*******#3E3E3E]Some musings,[/COLOR][*******#3E3E3E] though:
1) Who Realizes this Clausewitzian Reality?
In the context of Vietnam, my own view is that, ironically, it was the American body politic (the political leadership and the people) who lost sight of this bedrock principle. The political leadership's cardinal sin, IMHO, was in creating an unresolvable mismatch between the stated political goal (a South Vietnam free of immediate North Vietnamese military threat) with the strategic and tactical boundaries within which the military had to operate.
In the rear-view mirror of hindsight, only an offensive strategy, one that took the fighting into North Vietnamese territory, would have secured that stated political goal in any permanent sense. There is evidence from the actual events. North Vietnam agreement to return to the negotiating table in 1972 coincided with concentrated strategic bombing campaigns that did significant damage to North Vietnam's economic and military infrastructure (and so effectively destroyed Hanoi's air defenses, among the heaviest and most sophisticated in the world at the time, that Hanoi was basically ***** to further air attack). IMO, this was not coincidence. The North Vietnamese, in fact, made participation in peace talks explicitly contingent upon the cessation of bombings.
If major ground offensives into Vietnam by US forces were deemed politically unpalatable (the risks of far higher casualties, as well as worries of an escalation of direct involvement by China and the Soviet Union), and we assume that South Vietnamese forces were incapable of such operations themselves, then there were, broadly speaking (and IMHO, of course), only two ways that the stated political goal could be achieved:
The first way would have been effective destruction or closure of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Without this logistical lifeline, NVA and VC forces in South Vietnamese territory would have withered on the vine. That we could never achieve this was, in my view, due to political choices that overrode military realities. Pres. Johnson made the decision that major ground operations into neighboring countries (Laos in particular) would not be an option, again, believing that this would escalate the scope of the war. American airpower by itself could not accomplish this, given the realities of terrain.
Under these self-imposed strategic constraints, US military forces were necessarily fighting a defensive war. Further, given the fact that we didn't have enough fingers to plug all the holes in the dike (the Ho Chi Minh Trail), the US itself made this into a war of time and attrition. In that type of war, and with the North Vietnamese in no danger of running out of supplies, depth of commitment becomes the single most important asset, and its asymmetry between North Vietnam and the US came into stark relief in the latter stages of the conflict.
The only other possibility for strategic victory (accomplishment of the stated political objective) under these conditions would have been for the North Vietnamese to commit a critical fraction of its strength to open battle, and lose badly. This was exactly what the North Vietnamese did in the Tet offensive and Khe Sanh. Total KIA for the US/ARVN were around 4,500, as compared to 45,000 for the NVA/VC. Comparison of total casualties is problematic, as estimates for the NVA/VC are hard to come by, but if the 10-1 ratio holds, then they might have suffered in the neighborhood of 150,000+ casualties vs. approximately 16,000 for the US/ARVN. http://www.rjsmith.com/kia_tbl.html
Even a committed combatant has limits, and the military results of Tet represented, I believe, one such gut-check for the North Vietnamese. As Hollis points out, the North Vietnamese agreement to peace talks after Tet was a sign of their feelings of vulnerability at that point. What followed was a classic case of the American public looking a gift horse in the mouth.
So, why did the American public view Tet as a military disaster? My views:
a) The Johnson Administration did not provide to the American public an accurate strategic portrayal of the war (i.e. that under the chosen strategic limitations, this was a long-term war of attrition). Given the Administration's portrayal that victory was near, that the enemy in the South was nearly beaten, the media, were shocked by the scope and bloodiness of the fighting into suspicion of all Administration decisions and claims, which then influenced American public opinion.
b) the Administration itself, and even parts of the US military leadership, may have believed their own claims that the political objective of the war could be achieved in a very finite period, despite the self-imposed strategic constraints (overestimation of one's tactical capabilities and an underestimation of the enemy's). The Tet offensive was therefore equally a shock to the US leadership, causing great uncertainty as to how to respond both militarily and publicly. Some would even argue that it was this perception of directionless policy, rather than the fighting itself, that caused the increasingly negative poll numbers (with regard to both Johnson and Vietnam) in the early months of 1968 (over 60% still strongly supported the war in February of that year, at the height of Tet).
c) a vocal minority of the American public were already tired of/against the war, and were primed to jump onto any reason (even a clear and potentially decisive military victory) to discontinue involvement.
Ultimately, and ironically, the problem was not that there was no military solution for the political objective. It was that no one, not Johnson and his advisers, not the military command, not the American public, had wanted to recognize that military victory was in fact the only dispositive solution, but one that (without the removal of the strategic constraints) entailed the willingness to accept further time of involvement and casualties.
2) What Did the North Vietnamese Know, and When Did They Know It?
There is a very persistent line of interpretation that the North Vietnamese strategy from the get-go was to fight a lengthy guerrilla war, in order to grind down the American will to fight and force final withdrawal. This is only partially true. The North Vietnamese did indeed employ guerrilla tactics for much of the conflict, but I would argue that this was not their initial intention. The guerrilla strategy was a result of their initial encounters with US forces in 1965. After the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, in which the NVA regiments were decimated by a much smaller but technologically and tactically more capable US force, the North Vietnamese command concluded that they were not prepared to offer open battle to their opponents, and changed their methods.
In 1968, after exhaustive preparations, the North Vietnamese believed that they were now ready to try again, on a far larger scale. The operational concept of Tet, however, diverged widely from the conventional military principle of concentration of forces, which in my view was the single most decisive factor in the scale of their losses.
How is such a colossal military blunder to be understood? The only possible explanation, in my view, is the one that North Vietnamese leaders themselves candidly gave after the war: they explicitly expected and planned for the South to join with a general uprising. The Tet offensive cannot be properly understood without understanding that the North Vietnamese leadership actually and strongly believed that the people of South Vietnam were unwilling captives of a hated occupation. As smart and professional as they were, every regime has (at least one) blind spot, and this was theirs. Without such an objective and expectation, the plan made no military sense whatsoever, as actual events unsparingly proved. The vast majority of South Vietnamese didn't join in, and the NVA/VC losses were almost catastrophic.
It is just not plausible that the goal was to somehow score a PR success with the American public. It was Mao, their fellow communist, revolutionary, and the uniter of his own country, who said: "Power grows from the barrel of a gun." From the North Vietnamese perspective, the US was an enemy with hundreds of thousand of troops in the country, who had been there in force for years, and who had already inflicted many hundred of thousands of casualties. In my very strong opinion, the only PR success that the North Vietnamese believed would be effective was military in nature. The North Vietnamese admit as much: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive#Reassessment
[*******#000000][FONT=sans-serif]It was not until after the conclusion of the first phase of the offensive that Hanoi realized that its sacrifices might not have been in vain. General Tran Do, North Vietnamese commander at the battle of Hue, gave some insight into how defeat was translated into victory: "In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the South. Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and this was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intentionóbut it turned out to be a fortunate result."
A question that I often ask myself is: why did the North Vietnamese feel that they needed to launch Tet at all? Why not just continue to grind away at smaller scales, until the US got so sick and tired of it all that they left? My take is: the North Vietnamese were very much feeling the pinch, too. From their perspective, the US was a vastly larger and more powerful nation, both in population and resources. Up to that time, after years of fighting, there was no clearly visible sign that America was ready to quit (in polls, the majority of Americans supported the war).
[/FONT][/FONT][/FONT][/COLOR][*******#000000][FONT=verdana]It must be said, however, that the Vietnamese were quick to recognize that they could take advantage of the cracks that had developed in American opinion following Tet, and it became an overt part of their strategic thinking thereafter. But by this time, the outcome had already been decided (as a result of Tet, Johnson had already taken the first steps toward disengagement. Johnson's announcement not to seek re-election and Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy merely confirmed what was already widely known).[/FONT][/COLOR][*******#000000][FONT=sans-serif][FONT=arial][FONT=verdana]
Vietnam may have felt like a guy in a long poker session with a much smaller stack (I guess I'm partial to game metaphors [/FONT][/FONT][/FONT][/COLOR])[*******#000000][FONT=sans-serif][FONT=arial][FONT=verdana]. As willing as it may have been to keep pushing in the chips, and take unequal losses, the fact of the matter was that the US had more, and war, like poker, is a game in which the player with the bigger stack almost always wins a contest of attrition. In my view, the North Vietnamese leadership was thinking in terms of objective military probabilities (except, as mentioned, for their ideological belief in South Vietnamese solidarity) just as much as the US did, and felt that a game changer was necessary. They made a huge bet. They lost, but we were beginning to find the size of the pots unattractive. What we didn't realize is that, in all probability, the North Vietnamese felt the same way.
3) Can Democracies Maintain a Poker Face?
That's my final question for discussion. There are arguably many advantages that democracies possess in the waging of war. Is one of the disadvantages that we are unable to maintain a "poker face" in close contests? Like a guy whose wife is sitting beside him while he's in the middle of a game, and everyone within earshot can hear their running arguments about whether they can afford it, and isn't that risking the kid's college fund, why is he playing at all, and shouldn't he just stop after the next hand, etc. Any thoughts?
For the aspect of NVA officers threw their soldiers into meat grinders, I think it need to be looked like this: most VC and NVA field officers (NCOs) who stayed in the South are practically untrained. They didn't go to any military school and learn modern tactics, only the senior officers did, but those senior never went to the South and fought themselves. So with those experiences, the VC confronted the Americans without enough knowledge of both US tactics and firepower (which was surely much more coordinated and destructive than of the French). Once they realized what a group of Phantoms or B-52 could do, they adopted guerrilla tactics. Of course the US was always had superior firepower, therefore in every big firefights and battles, American losses were always much lower than the VC (usually a ratio of 10 to 1). So with all that disadvantages, I don't think anyone could do anything else different from the VC and NVA officers, at least in terms of making offensive operations against the Army and Marine.
You made a quite long discussion, my man. I alone cannot give you the answer to all of that, but I'll take one point from your post to discuss: the NVA's intention to push up Tet Offensive
In my opinion, the North Vietnam's authority didn't sure about American's intention for the war. They feared that sooner or later the US would, in order to protect the South, invaded the North by ground forces. They were also unknown about Chinese's willingness to support them if US invasion happened (this is a very interesting point, because I studied a book written by Nguyen Phu Duc, National Security Advisor of Nguyen Van Thieu, ex-President of RVN. In this book, he indicated that since 1963, the Chinese had clearly stated that they wouldn't do anything unless the US invaded Chinese territories itself, which meant they wouldn't help North Vietnam if it were attacked. The Chinese even wanted to stabilize the status of Vietnam: divided in two, just like in Korea; so they did pressure North Vietnam's authorities to not widening the war in the South. If it was true, then it was against everything the American had thought, that if they attacked the North, China would response agressively. Duc was a highly-ranked official in RVN government, so I think his indication is somehow worth to consider). So, I guess North Vietnamese leaders also knew something about China's real intention. Therefore, they rather pushed up a total offensive coordinating with (in their hope) an uprising of Southerners to drive off the pro-US government in Southern territories than waited for an unknown US invasion (which they didn't know it wouldn't happen). That, along with other objectives (to create a major militaristic victory which would bring them advantages in the Paris Peace Talks), is not entirely make no senses at all.
Originally Posted by juxtapose
Los Diablos, when I mentioned leaders, I should have clarified it, to those not in the field. Example would be Giap. Also I think, the Paris Peace Talks had a important role as you pointed out. IMHO, that may have been their main goal, much similar to the talks in Korea. Pattering their actions after a known event, makes a lot more sense than playing some very wild card based on a complete unknown at the time.
China also need to be view, there is a general distrust of the Chinese by the Viet-Namese. (for good reasons). While Chi-com forces supplied North Viet-Nam, it was not on the best of terms or friendship. Some times when people mention the Communist International as some very binding unity between the communist countries, I have to laugh. While they were allies, it was tenuous at times and not on the best of terms. Such as the Sino-Soviet wars.
Another good read by General Walt. According to him, Khe Sanh was Westmoreland setting a trap for the NVA who fell for it. Once the NVA caught on, they continued to make it seem like Westmoreland's plan was working to cover the NVA and NLF movement in preparation for Tet '68.
I highlighted the first two parts, because when all was said and done, the NVA/VC lost 1.1 million guys. So there were obviously some big battles. The ***** down south in the Mekong, around Ca Mau and that area, was a very different war than up there near the DMZ. In the south they would hit and run you, up north they threw everything they had at you.
Originally Posted by los_diablos
My point being, Ia Drang, Dai Do, Tet, Khe Sanh... they seem like the only big battles of the Vietnam War, but there are actually a ton. Not a few. Dong Xoai, various battles in Quang Tri, Pleiku had it's share of fun, the whole road between Pleiku and Kontum was a constant battle for years. We didn't lose 48,000 in combat to ****y traps and snipers.
And if they had truly LEARNED what overwhelming American firepower could do, then they wouldn't have been suckered into Khe Sanh, or planned Tet. They thought they could beat us. And they KNEW they could beat the ARVN. And in, what was it, 1979? They beat back the Chinese.
All that being said, this may be the most interesting, well thought out, and enlightening thread I have seen here on the mpnet in all my years here. Thank you for starting it, and thanks for all the insights. I learned something new from each of you guys.
Like Hollis said, I've changed my mind about this war 25 hundred times. (Hollis doesn't know what he's talking about though, he spent Vietnam trying to keep his socks dry. )
Last edited by clean; 04-24-2012 at 04:17 AM.
I took a day trip to Khe Sahn Combat base last year, during my two week stay in Vietnam. Very interesting to actually be there. Sadly, all the other people were like "WTF is this place?" including a bunch of drunken danish students. I pretended to be a dutch student and talked only english to them LOL.
THUMBNAILS! Click on them to enlarge them!
Khe Sahn Coffee!!!!