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AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. MEDIA COVE RAGE OF THE TET OFFENSIVE AND ITS EFFECT ON PUBLIC OPIN ION ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR By GEORGE PAVLIDAKEY Jr. A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Barbara Hicks Sarasota, Florida April 2012
iAcknowledgements I thank my advisor and thesis sponsor Barbara Hicks for her help on my thesis and throughout my studies at New College. I thank my family for their support.
iiTable of Contents Acknowledgements i Table of Contents ii List of Illustrations and Tables iii Abbreviations iv Abstract v Introduction 1 Chapter I: Media and Democracy 5 Media History 7 Modern Macro Media 9 Professional Standards 10 Media Structure and Incentives 11 Media Flaws 17 Chapter II: The Tet Offensive 22 Tet Chronology 22 Communist Intelligence 27 U.S. Intelligence 30 The Korean Precedent 35 Johnsons Outlook 36 Conclusion 38 Chapter III: The Media and the Tet Offensive 39 Nature and Themes of Media Coverage 39 Battle of Khe Sanh Coverage 46 Media Perception 48 Enemy Collusion 50 Walter Cronkite 51 Administration Deliberation and Re sponse to Press Coverage 54 Public Opinion on the War 64 Demographic Breakdown 68 Aftermath of the Tet Offensive 71 The My Lai Massacre 71 Escalating Economic Costs 74 The Pentagon Papers 75 The Vietnam Syndrome in Post-War Foreign Policy 79 Conclusion 80 Chapter IV: Conclusion 81 Appendix 86 Bibliography 89
iiiList of Illustrations and Tables Table 3.1 Dien Bien Phu/Khe Sanh Comparison Table 3.2 Public Opinion in Support of Troop Escalation Table 3.3 President Johnsons Approval, War Approval, and Hawkishness Table 3.4 War Support by Age Table 3.5 Support for Withdrawal or Escalation by Race Table 3.6 War Support by Sex Figure 3.1 Decline in Public Sup port for Troop Escalation Figure 3.2 Preference for Withdrawal and Escalation Figure 3.3 War Support by Age
ivAbbreviations ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam CCP Chinese Communist Party CIA Central Intelligence Agency COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) DMZ Demilitarized Zone DRV Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation GVN Government of South Vietnam JCS Joint Chiefs of Staff MACV Military Assistance Command, Vietnam NLF National Liberation Front NSC National Security Counsel NVA North Vietnamese Army SVN South Vietnam VC Viet Cong
v AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. MEDIA COVE RAGE OF THE TET OFFENSIVE AND ITS EFFECT ON PUBLIC OPIN ION ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR George Pavlidakey Jr. New College of Florida, 2011 Abstract The Tet Offensive was a surprise military campaign conduced by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army in early 1968 that re sulted in simultaneous battles stretching from towns to cities to 27 U.S. military instal lations. It was a military victory for the U.S. and a political victory for the communist opposition. The medias role in framing the battle was substantial. Despite winning the battle, the U.S. military saw support for the war weaken, and the U.S. lost the war. Antiwar democratic presidential candidates Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy were strengthened by the Tet Offensive, and President Johnson announced at the end of March that he would not run for reelection in 1968. Media mismanagement by the U.S. government resulted in a political victory for Hanoi. While many journalistic erro rs were beyond the control of individual journalists, many flaws were avoi dable. The widespread journa listic errors show a virtual abandonment by the press in its role as the f ourth estate. The dist orted reporting on the Tet Offensive harmed U.S. support for the war and helped hasten U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Dr. Barbara Hicks Division of Social Sciences
1 Introduction The Tet Offensive was a turning point, if not the turning point, in the Vietnam War (1945-1975), which was a turning point for the Cold War (1945-1990). Begun at three oclock on the morning of January 31, 1968, the Tet Offensive was a surprise military campaign initiated by about 84,000 Vi et Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops that resulted in simultane ous battles stretching from town s to cities to rice paddies to hilltops to 27 U.S. military installations, including the U.S. embassy in Saigon, South Vietnams capital. The fighting, the heaviest and most sustained of the Vietnam War, coincided with the Lunar New Year, or Tet, and it has been called the Tet offensive ever since (Wedel 1988, 2). Tet was a holiday a nd an annual period of ceasefire. Roughly half of the South Vietnamese forces were on leave. Despite the initial advantage to the communists from the surprise attacks, th e U.S. achieved military victory while the communists achieved a political victory. The Tet Offensive was a major battle with paradoxical results: the U.S. won the battle, but lost the war. The battle shoc ked the Johnson administration and the U.S. military into reality: prior optimistic asse ssments and predictions were wrong. Congress was in an uproar, victory seemed furthe r away, and Johnsons likelihood for reelection dwindled. The media coverage of the Tet Offensive was far more graphic than the coverage that had preceded it. Many images from the Tet Offensive were seared into the public mind. For example, about 30 Vietcong, disguised in South Vietnamese uniforms, took over the American Embassy for the first six hours of the offensive (Wedel 1988, 2). This
2 act was a powerful symbol: if the U.S. emba ssy is not safe, then nowhere is. Another example is General Nguy n Ng c Loan, the South Vietnamese Chief of National Police, who was filmed by NBC cameraman and Asso ciated Press photographer Eddie Adams executing handcuffed prisoner Nguy n V n Lm, a Viet Cong soldier, on February 1 (Adams 1968). After executing the prisoner, he told nearby reporters, They killed many Americans and many of my men. Buddha will understand. Do you? (quoted in Johnson and Tierney 2006, A.23). This image strengthen ed the anti-war movement in the United States. Eddie Adams argued that The general killed the Viet Cong; I ki lled the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipula tion. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three Ameri can soldiers?" (Adams 1998) The public saw what Adams saw, but that was insufficient for understanding the situation. Political scientists Dominic Johns on and Dominic Tier ney, authors of Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and De feat in International Politics argued that divergence between percepti on and reality is common in wartime, when peoples beliefs about which side wins and which loses are often driven by psychological factors that have nothing to do with events on the battlefield The Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster for the co mmunists. Despite the advantages of surprise, the South Vietnamese insurgen ts, the Vietcong, failed to hold on to a single target in South Vietnam and suffered staggering losses. Of the 80,000 attackers, as many as half were killed in the first month alone, and the Vietcong never recovered. The United States had clearly won this round of the war. (Johnson and Tierney 2006, A.23) While the U.S. won the round, 4,000 Americans had died during the Tet Offensive. President Richard Nixon said, No event in Am erican history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misr eported then, and it is mi sremembered now (quoted in
3 Barber 2000). Was the American public misled by the media? What about the optimistic reports the government regularly released to the public? James H. Willbanks, the director of the military history department at the United States Army Command and Genera l Staff College and author of The Tet Offensive: A Concise History said that the Johnson administration promoted false expectations about U.S. prospects in Vietnam and this optimis tic lens cracked during the Tet Offensive leading to the credibility gap betw een the administration and the public. A tactical victory became a strategic def eat and led to the virtual abdication of President Johnson. General Tran Do of North Vietnam acknowledged that the offensive failed to achieve its objectives, but noted that the pub lic reaction in the United States was a fortunate result. (Willbanks 2008, A.23) Johnson and Tierney concurred that before th e Tet Offensive, the Johnson administration had begun a progress campaign to convince th e public that victory was near. Statistics showing higher enemy casualties and lowe r infiltration rates helped boost public confidence (Johnson and Tierney 2006, A.23). However, [t]he scale and surprise of the offensiv e sent a shock wave through the American psyche. As Johnsons former aide, Robert Koner, later recalle d, Boom, 40 towns get attacked, and they didnt believe us anymore. Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of the Ameri can forces in Vietnam, held a press conference at the embassy to announce that Tet was an American victory. But behind the general, dead Vietcong were still being dragged away from the bloodspattered lawn. Reporters could scarcely believe what they were hearing. Said one: Westmoreland was standing in the ruins and saying everything was great. (Johnson and Tierney 2006, A.23) CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite expresse d the thoughts of many Americans when he said in response to the first reports of th e Tet Offensive: What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning the war! (quoted in Schmitz 2005, 99). The U.S. military victory was neither immediate nor cheap (in lives and money) nor good public relations.
4 Westmoreland may have been right, but afte r regularly hearing w ere winning, there was little credibility left. How did all this happen? Briefly, the U.S. government oversold its military prospects and the U.S. media misrepresented th e Tet Offensive to the point that the actual military victor, the U.S., was perceived as the loser. This misperception contributed to declining U.S. support for military involvement and eventual withdrawal from Vietnam. This study examines the disjuncture between the events of the Tet Offensive and coverage of it in the U.S. media and then reviews public opinion polls to determine whether the Tet Offensive could have been the turning point in public perception. Chapter 1 will explore the role of the medi a in democracy. Chapter 2 will review the course of the Tet Offensive and discuss seve ral factors influenci ng events on the ground and actors interpretations of them. Chapter 3 will cover how the media reported the Tet Offensive and how that affected political de cisionmaking and public opinion. Survey data suggests that the Tet Offensive did indeed turn public opinion agains t the war. Chapter 4 will review the key findings of the study, noting both understandable deficiencies and avoidable misrepresentation in coverage of the Tet Offensive and, more generally, the Vietnam War. Given the impact of these s hortcomings on public opinion and, arguably, administration policy, the need for a particular ly cautious approach to reporting on war in a democracy is clear. Yet, reflection on a coupl e parallels to media coverage of the Iraq War suggests that the fourth estate still has work to do to meet the expectations of its role in a democracy.
5 Chapter 1: Media and Democracy A well-functioning democracy re quires true information to be contextualized and distributed, which makes the role of a free a nd vital media central to democracy. Because of this central role, media methods and sour ces should be transparent so they can be independently audited by experts and laypersons. While journalism is a business with obliga tions to advertisers and shareholders, journalists top prior ity should be the public interest. They should report impartially as doing so is moral and beneficial to the reputations of news establishments. Most of all, the publics understanding of its interests is shaped by the coverage determined by journalists, so they have a duty to not di senfranchise people by ignoring them or misrepresenting events and views. Political scientists Barr and Barr (1998) ar gue that the press fulfills four functions: economic, entertainment, information, and infl uence. Economically, the press serves as an advertiser, a forum to unite buyers and sell ers. Hence, the advertisements in print, radio, television, and online news. One way to circumvent commercialization is for partial or complete government financing of media. Government financing, however, can have a range of effects. The British Broad casting Corporation (BBC) is a highly regarded news agency, whereas the official Soviet newspaper Pravda was not internationally respected. The media also entertains its audience. For examples, print media includes comics, humor columns, crossword puzzles, and sports coverage. The journalistic ideal of just the facts is insufficien t to hold an audience, so addi tional material is provided to hold their attention.
6 The basic media function for democracy is to provide information. One possible effect of this role is cultural homogenization: Italy, for example, was a country with two different populations, a wealthy, metropolitan north and a poor, rural South. They even spoke different dialects. Within a few years of the advent of TV in 1954 Italy became a more homogeneous nation. They saw the same th ings, heard the same things, learned from the same sources. (Barr and Barr, 1998) Cultural homogenization can st rengthen democracy, but in the modern era of extensive media diversity, heterogeneity is and will probably remain the norm. Finally, the media influences. Changing public opinion is difficu lt, and advocating a different position on a controversial issue (like abortion or the deat h penalty) is not like ly to change minds. Where influence is more powerful is in areas about which the public does not know much. The notorious example was the 1898 Spanish-American War, where biased journalism combined with the unexplained expl osion of a U.S. vessel, plunged the U.S. into a war. However, the most notorious media influence is advertising. The color, slogans, music, all of it is meant to sell, se ll, and sell. Advertising appeals to our needs and wants, such as wanting to be accepted (b etter use the right toothpaste), to be more attractive and sexy (better buy the right kind of jeans), to be su ccessful (better buy a prestigious car), and to our th irst and hunger (better get that sparkling, sizzling soft drink trickling over shimmering ice cubes) (Barr and Barr, 1998). From this discussion, it is clear that a ma jor media function is socialization of the citizenry. If media consumers can confuse elect oral coverage with th e half-time show at the Super Bowl, that will affect the quality of public discussion and policymaking. If all that is expected of citizens from the medi a are periodic get-out-the-vote campaigns, that will affect democracy, not necessarily in a good way. Citizens need to be exposed to
7 news that isnt just hyperlocal or speaks to their unique perspectives (Polgreen 2010). One emerging aspect of modern media is th e attempt by news consumers to only select outlets that will reaffirm thei r beliefs. If voters can construct media bubbles that just reinforce their views, then there is not a public dialogue, but just public echo chambers. MEDIA HISTORY In Athenian democracy, communication wa s fast, circumventing the need for media. Political participation was widespread. Political administrati on, military service, jury service, religious activi ties, law formation, and festival s were all events in which citizens participated, a degree of participa tion that far exceeds the bare minimum of voting exhibited in some modern democracies. Officials and citizens were accountable to the assembly, the military was under civilian control, and there were extensive public debates and mass meetings (Held 2006, 12). However, these achievements came with costs. Athenian citizenship was limited in size, complexity, and heterogeneity. A pa triarchal body politic com posed strictly of free adult men of Athenian descent over the age of 20 is very different from modern democracies. Athenian unity and particip ation was enhanced by such restricted citizenship. In an Athenian democracy, one likely knew ones ne ighbors. In modern democracy, one may be as likely to know ones neighbor as to have daily online discussions with someone on the opposite part of the planet. In the 19th century, communication to voters was simpler. U.S. nationwide political campaigns relied on party machines that had structures on the state and local levels. Campaigners would go door-to-door for a politician. Forms of public entertainment like torch-light parades and pi cnics were used to garner support. Most
8 newspapers were party-affiliated. To publishi ng giants like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (who got a journalism aw ard named after him despite his shady journalism), blatant partisanship was more a scared duty than a cause for embarrassment and it was not a duty that was shirked a ny more in the news columns than on the editorial pages (Zaller 1 999, 11). After the advent of muckraking (investigative) journalism, there was a shift to more professiona l journalism, but the degree of the shift is arguable since there has been no shortage of media critics, academic or layperson. In 1969, after President Lyndon Johnson finish ed his term, he was asked by a TV journalist how politics had changed since he came to Washington: "You guys," [Johnson replied], without even reflecting. "All you guys in the media. All of politics has changed because of you. You've broken all the [party] machines and the ties between us in th e Congress and the city machines. You've given us a new kind of people." A cert ain disdain passed over his face. "Teddy, Tunney.1 They're your creations, your puppets. No machine could ever create a Teddy Kennedy. Only you guys. They're all yours. Your product." (Zaller 1999, 2) In the past, political issues were resolved in secret deals headed by party leaders. As Senate Majority Leader in th e 1950s, Johnson was skilled at this political structure, but he was less skilled in the era of mass media where political i ssues were fought with press conferences, press releases, phot o opportunities, and news le aks in the court of public opinion. Sometimes, radio and televi sion advertisements were used. This change marked the start of modern media politics, which now was part of the broader political culture consis ting of legislative politics, bu reaucratic politics, judicial politics, and, as already suggested, party polit ics. Within each of these domains, one can identify key roles, diverse interests, routin e rules of behavior, a nd stable patterns of 1 The references were to Massachuset ts Senator Ted Kennedy and California Representative John V. Tunney.
9 interaction that, taken altogether, define a di stinctive form of polit ical struggle (Zaller 1999, 2). The key actors in news media are po liticians, journalists, and the public. Politicians seek to use the mass media to acquire public support for their election and passage of their policies. Journalists seek big audiences and to establish their own independent role lest they be viewed as the unofficial press secretaries for whomever they are covering. Citizens seek to monitor politics. Media history intertwines with techno logical history. Reuters news agency founder Paul Reuter used car rier pigeons to transport stock market quotes between London and Paris in 1851. The pigeons beat tr ain-carried news by seven hours, but as technology improved, so did the speed of ne ws. Electromagnetic signals sent through underwater cables replaced the pigeons. Then came radio waves and the internet. Today, if the company, now called Thomson Reuters, were to bring back the pigeons, each could clutch a 256-gigabyte flash drive hol ding roughly eight million times the amount of information that one of the original Reuter s pigeons could comfortably haul (Waldman 2011, 8). MODERN MACRO MEDIA The print media, the oldest media, is composed of journals, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and so forth. While old in its technology, print media often leads the way in reporting. U.S. newspapers such as the The New York Times The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times still have great influence. The broadcast media is composed of radio and television. The main broadcast networks that dominated television news until the late 20th century (ABC, CBS, and
10 NBC) all have nightly newscasts. In the 1980s, cable news channels CNN and MSNBC edged into their market share. Since cable news channels are 24/7 operations, if people want the news now, they just tune in. In th e 1990s, the cable news channels were joined by the Fox News Network. Before all of this television coverage, which started in the 1950s, radio broadcasts were the news source fo r most Americans. Americans still listen to radio broadcasts, especially Americans who commute to and from work. Radio news provides commuters local weather, tra ffic, and other hometown information. Television, a visual media, relies more on imagery and sound effects that better express emotion than mere words. By c ontrast, print media typically contains substantially greater detail than a telecast. PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS Most, if not all, news organizations ha ve stated moral principles for their employees; likely the most eloquent and respected of all these is the Principles of Journalism by the Pew Research Center s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). Its principles are: 1. Journalism's first oblig ation is to the truth 2. Its first loyalty is to citizens 3. Its essence is a discipline of verification 4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover 5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power 6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise 7. It must strive to make the si gnificant interes ting and relevant 8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional 9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience (Pew) While reporting the truth is a basic func tion of journalism, truth determination requires methodical verification. Journalists may never be wholly objective, but their method should be objective. Seeking out multip le witnesses, disclosing as much as
11 possible about sources, or asking various side s for comment, all signal such standards. This discipline of verification is what se parates journalism fr om other modes of communication, such as propaganda fiction or entertainment (Pew). Journalists should be independent. They should also be polite so as to avoid any tendency to stray into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism (P ew), all of which can harm objectivity and the trust of the public in journalism. Journalists should be watchdogs, not la pdogs. They should critically report, not repeat press releases. The U.S. Bill of Right s protects the media and this protection has been upheld in courts. Citizens depend on it, for without it they would be uninformed or misinformed, leading to a dysfunctional democr acy at best or something scarier (like a dictatorship) at worst. Journalism also needs to be a form of storytelling. Bored viewers and readers do not remain viewers and readers for long. Howeve r, the effort to stimulate an audience should not be the primary goal, since j ournalism overwhelmed by trivia and false significance ultimately engenders a trivial societ y (Pew) and that turns journalism into a disguised form of entertainment. When te lling a story, details matter, but so does proportionality. Unfortunately, proportionality is often skewed. For example, if a famous person dies, the story become s breaking news, then developing news, and then ongoing news, while every other story is deprioritiz ed sometimes to the point of never being reported. MEDIA STRUCTURE AND INCENTIVES The institutional structure of journalism explains why quality can be so lacking. News financing, dependence on sources, and ratings competition keep news
12 organizations looking primarily at the bottom line, not journalistic ideals they learned in school years ago. The news coverage is dete rmined by such factor s as the journalist's knowledge, predefined news formats, dead lines, the authority of sources, and the possibility of obtaining good pictures (F og 2004, 9). Journalist Dan Rather said: Reporting is hard. The substitute for reporting far too often has become let's just ring up an expert. Let's see. These are e xperts on international armaments. And I'll just go down the list here and check Rich ard Perle This is journalism on the cheap if it's journalism at all. Just pi ck up the phone, call an expert, bring an expert into the studio. Easy. Not time cons uming. Doesn't take resources. And if you're lucky and good with your list of peopl e, you get an articulate person who will kind of spark up the broadcast. (Quoted in Moyers 2007) The media has been criticized for being t oo trivial, but political scientist Pippa Norris disagrees. Instead of continual quality deterioration, she beli eves that the news industry has diversified, notably wi th the rise of infotainment: Endless Senate debates shown on C-Span coexist today with endless debates about sex and personal relationships on the Jerry Springer Show The Sun sits on the same newsstands as The Economist News.bbc.co.uk is as easily available as Amsterdam pornography sites. Diversificat ion does not mean that the whole of society is being progressive ly dumbed down by trends in the news media. By focusing only on excesses in the popular end of the market, such as the wasteland of endless punditry on American cable TV talk shows or if it bleeds it leads on local American TV news, we overlook dram atic changes such as the ability to watch live legislative debate s, to witness Kosovo refugees at the moment they crossed the border, or to find online info rmation about local government services. (Norris 2000, 9) Contrary to the view that the news has just diversified, political scientist Agner Fog believes the market model in which th e news media operates leads to quality deterioration. Fear sells (jour nalistic slang: if it bleeds, it leads). By making the world appear dangerous, justly or not, the media influences the democratic process significantly in the direction of authoritaria nism and intolerance (Fog 2004, 1). Political coverage emphasizes personalities, not ideologi es, electoral strategi es, not policy details.
13 [S]ocial problems are often fram ed with a focus on people rather than principles, single events rather than themes, and easily understa ndable proximate causes rather than deeper and more complex causes (Fog 2004, 13). Th e policy consequences of this slipshod journalism are vast. For example, in crime reporting, a sobbing victim has good emotional appeal. That image can elicit f eelings of vengeance in the audience and political support for getting tough on crime, no matter whether tougher penalties deter or solve crime (Fog 2004, 13). The media hunt fo r scandals in the private lives of politicians and their families, but ignore much more serious consequences of their policies (Fog 2004, 2). Contrary to Norriss claim of mere news diversity, there is blurriness of news and entertainment, fact and opinion. Stories are selected for profitability rather than relevance (Fog 2004, 7). Everyone can stop to see a car crash, but that is not necessarily the most im portant news topic. This problem with proportionality extends across almost all topics. At the start of the 21st century, the news media ran scare stories about shar ks. Journalist John Stossel said: Instead of putting risks in pr oportion, we [reporters] hype interesting ones. Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, and countless ot hers called 2001 the "summer of the shark." Some beachgoers were so frightened, they wouldnt go in the water. They were in far greater danger of drowning, or dying in a car accident on the way to the beach, but that wasnt very interes ting. In truth, there wasn't a remarkable surge in shark attacks in 2001. There we re about as many in 1995 and 2000, but 1995 was the year of the O.J. Simpson trial, and 2000 was an election year. The summer of 2001 was a little dull, so reporters focused on sharks. (Stossel 2004, 75) In 2003, the Florida Museum of Natural Hist ory (FMNH) showed that more people die annually from heart disease, cancer, stroke hospital infections, the flu, car accidents, suicide, accidental poisoning, MRSA (resistant bacteria), fa lls, drowning, bike accidents,
14 air/space accidents, excessive cold, sun/heat exposure, and lightning than shark attacks (FMNH 2003). Profit can supersede journalis tic principle. Newspapers want shocking headlines to sell papers. Radio and TV news based on advertising have incentiv es not to shock the audience so much that they are unwilli ng to buy products, but this does not help journalistic quality. TV news ha s to be somewhat entertaini ng lest viewers change the channel during the commercial break. Todays media world is not one of only three news networks with comparable coverage. It ha s many more news competitors and many more non-news competitors that al l seek audience attention. What the media chooses to cover can de termine what is important in public discussion and what is not. A topic is news worthy because the news companies say so. This accurately explains much news coverage of the Tet Offensive and likely many other news stories. The news can make and break presidents. As will be shown, it helped break the Johnson administration. Another example is when President George H.W. Bush lost popularity in the 1992 U.S. presidential electi on because the media changed its focus from how the president handled the U.S. vi ctory in the First Gulf War to how the president was handling the economic recession (Fog 2004, 12). Evaluating news media is difficult because what matters is not just what is reported, but what is omitted. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are so me things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -the ones we don't know we don't know (U.S. Defense Department 2002). This idea of unknown unknowns also applies to the media-democracy
15 relationship. Since no one can read minds, im portant aspects of public life or specific issues could be overlooked, but one does not know what they are if they even exist. Even if one learns relevant information was omitted, what was the reason? Deadline time pressure? Editor revision? Space limita tions? Bias, intent ional or not? News media is particularly important in a democracy because political incentives lead most voters to not know much about the political process. Public opinion specialist John Zaller said: citizens are busy people, and they are sensible enough to appreciate that, as individual voters, their chances to aff ect election outcomes are minuscule Voters are more likely to be mugged on the way to the polls than to actually affect an election or other political outcome for most citizens most of the time it is individually rational to be ignorant about politics Ye t the little at tention voters do pay may be very important to politician s and journalists, since their livelihoods depend on the response of the mass audien ce to political news (Zaller 1999, 4) These structural disincentives to care he lp explain widespread political ignorance. Newsweek reported that it gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test--38 percent failed, and that Seventy-three percent coul dnt correctly say w hy we fought the Cold War (Romano 2011). Civic ignorance is an enduring tradition. One more example: In 1992, after nearly four decades of continuous Democratic control of the House of Representatives, only about half knew which pa rty controlled the House. It is easy to multiply such examples of citizen ignoran ce (Zaller 1999, 20-21). Since voters are not guarding democracy, the job is le ft journalists, but there is only so much they can do. Ignorance is easy to point out, but what should people know? Humans cannot handle all the information that is generate d daily. So news producers and consumers select which information will be viewed. Fog, Norris, and Zaller agre e that [t]he public is not simply passively responding to politic al communications being presented to them,
16 in a naive stimulus-response model, instea d they are critically and actively sifting, discarding and interpreting th e available information (Norris 2000, 10). Information is not a form of objective trut h. There is framing, a lens through which the news is processed. A news report on nuclear weaponr y could be framed as technological progress, as part of military strategy (balance of power between nations or arms race vs. disarmament), or as a potential source of health hazards (Fog 2004, 12). The frame of the news can affect the way the issue is percei ved. One frame is not necessarily wrong, but it is not the whole picture. All information is susceptible to framing. Another example was the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Senator John Cornyn argued against gay marriage to protect children, wh ereas Senator Patrick Leahy said the issue was about states rights. Leahy knew public op inion was against him, so he phrased the debate in terms of states ri ghts, part of federalism usua lly supported by conservatives. Not wanting to be seen as attacking an oppr essed minority seeking the same benefits as other citizens, Cornyn phrased the debate as about protecting children (Baumgartner 1999, 166). Distinguishing between the frames of the media and the audience and weighing the respective merits of each is difficult. [T]he public can neither grasp the many topics, nor penetrate sufficiently deep into a particular topic to fu lfill the role that they are s upposed to, according to the norms of democracy (Fog 2004, 17). The democratic ideal of an informed citizenry could lead to information overload for individuals. Is a voter supposed to study fiscal policy, monetary policy, immigrati on policy, foreign policy, en ergy policy, healthcare policy, and so on? With one vote meaning so little the citizenry does not have incentives to study these topics. Even citizens who enga ge in more active forms of political
17 participation cannot keep up with every issue or field. Democracy is further strained by citizens who care more about be nefits than about duties: The average citizen typically recognizes as duties no more than to obey the law (including payment of taxes), and possi bly, though decreasing ly, to vote. In voting, political rationality is defined in terms of pursuing self-interest. Successive elections in indus trialized countries show th at citizens are increasingly likely to be politically segmented al ong cultural, economic, and geographical lines. Without a commitment to some common interests, willingness even to obey laws and pay taxes come under strain. (Honohan 2002, 149) It is far easier to campaign on promising goodi es to voters than to campaign asking for sacrifices. This is evident in the 1960s when one military consideration during the Vietnam War was how many army units woul d be needed to enforce civil rights legislation and to intervene in race riots. Wh en President Johnson proposed the idea of a war tax after the Tet Offensive, the idea wa s dead on arrival. Public opinion about the war was split demographically. The first and most powerful Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director John Edgar Hoover used the FB I as a counter-revolutionary instrument via Counter Intelligence Pr ogram (COINTELPRO) w hose many activities were reminiscent of CIA covert operations. It targeted civil rights organization, anti-war groups, and many others under the name of fi ghting communism (Wolf 2006). Journalists can report the truth all day, but if the public has a short memory, does not vote, or otherwise participate politically, democracy weakens. MEDIA FLAWS Watchdog or investigative journalism was reborn in the Watergate scandal. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Be rnstein investigated allegations of presidential misconduct leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew. This watchdog journa lism continued with not able cases such as
18 the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s and the Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s. Watchdog journalism can be prestigious and sh ow the media fulfilling its role to protect the public, but not all see it th at way. If taken to an extreme, watchdog journalism can become attack journalism: targeting a promin ent person for self-interest or the medias own sake, not the public good. The Lewinsky sca ndal is a case in point: was it watchdog journalism or attack journalism? There was truth to the sexual allegations, but was it important? How people evaluated that s candal was divided on partisan lines. Another emerging issue is that media is so high-tech that it is customizable to individual consumer preferences: For instance, the Texas Tribune, a news st artup in Austin, Texas, offers online readers the ability to sort through data about Texas lawmakers, prisoners, and public employees. Readers can set the para meters as they wish, based on their particular interestssay, information a bout their particular townand the gizmo tailors the results to them. (Waldman 2011, 15) The problem is that such tailoring can se verely limit public discussion. Jamieson and Cappella (2010) believe a conservative media bubble is harming U.S. democracy: Rush Limbaugh's talk radio program, Fox News, and the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal create a self-prot ective enclave hospitable to conservative beliefs. The safe haven provided by the country's most popular political talk show, its most watched cable network, a nd the second most read paper in the country, reinforces the views of likeminded audience members, helps them maintain conservative values and dis positions, holds Republican candidates and leaders accountable to conservative ideals, tightens their audience's ties to the Republican Party, and distances listeners, readers, and viewers from liberals, in general, and Democrats, in particular. It also enwraps them in a world in which facts supportive of Democratic claims are discredited and those consistent with conservative ones championed. (Jamieson and Cappella 2010) While one can pick a news organization to support ones views, sometimes the media itself creates an echo chamber that covers ne arly all news outlets. For example, in the 2007 PBS documentary Buying The War journalist Bill Moyers examined pre-Iraq war
19 media coverage. He discovered a media bubble that the U.S. press mostly imposed on itself. Consider Moyers interview of 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon: BOB SIMON: From overseas we had a clea rer view. I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washi ngton press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. BILL MOYERS: Absurdity. The Washingt on press corps cannot question an absurdity? BOB SIMON: Well maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn't as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washi ngton press corps travels, it travels with the president or with th e Secretary of State. BILL MOYERS: In a bubble. BOB SIMON: Yeah in a bubble. Where as we who've spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situa tions in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not. (Moyers 2007) Any critic can find incidents of deviati ons from the journalistic ideal. What matters is how in critical moments, like war, these deviations can have severe consequences. This study is about the media and the Tet Offensive, but the media and its effect on war neither started nor ende d there. For example, in April 2008, The New York Times reported: To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and ra dio as military analysts whose long service has equipped them to give aut horitative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the pos t-Sept. 11 world. Hidden behind that appearance of objectiv ity, though, is a Pentagon inform ation apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to ge nerate favorable news coverage of the administrations wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found. The effort, which began with th e buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideologi cal and military allegi ances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the anal ysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they ar e asked to assess on air. (Barstow 2008) Liberal media watchdog group Media Matters fo r America reported how the mainstream media repeatedly declined to acknowledge their role.
20 ABC, CBS, and NBC have still not re ported on any of their news programs The New York Times revelations about the hidden ties between media military analysts and the Pentagon. Further, the major broadcast networks and cable news networks all reportedly declined to di scuss the issue for an NPR report; the networks similarly report edly declined to participate in an April 24 PBS NewsHour segment on the issue. (M edia Matters May 2, 2008) There have even been fake press conferen ces where government employees have posed as journalists questioning their bosses. Media Matters reported on October 30, 2007: News outlets including CNN, the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times uncritically qu oted White House spokeswoman Dana Perino's response to a question about an October 23 Federal Emergency Management Agency press conf erence, in which the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. Pe rino said of the c onference, "It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House an d we certainly don't condone it." But these news outlets failed to note previous Bush administration scandals involving "fake" reporti ng. (Media Matters October 30, 2007) These are not Saturday Night Live sketch es. These are deliber ate distortions of viewer perception. These incident s make the 1997 black comedy film Wag the Dog seem more like a documentary than satire, and th ey are not only a modern occurrence. They stretch all the way back to the Tet Offensiv e and possibly further. Of all the notable moments of the Tet Offensive, the My Lai Ma ssacre, the mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by the U.S. military, wa s possibly the grisliest reported, but the U.S. news media did not heroically uncover the truth. The whole story is more complicated. Journalist Jeff Cohen said: My Lai would later be cited as pr oof of a mainstream press bent on sensationalizing U.S. atrocities in Viet nam. The reality was just the opposite. Beginning months after My Lai, evidence of the massacre was presented to top national news media by Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour and others, but not one outlet would touch the story. It wasn't unt il November 1969, more than a year and a half after the My Lai slaughter, that th e story was finally published by the small, alternative Dispatch News Service a nd dogged investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. (Cohen 2001)
21 One lesson the U.S. government learned from Vietnam was how to better manage the news. For example, the Associated Press reported in 2009 that the Pentagon may have violated federal law by promo ting propaganda domestically: An Associated Press investigation found th at over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion th is year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That's almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanist an between 2004 and 2006. This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations -almost as many as the to tal 30,000-person work force in the State Department. (Associated Press 2009) Given the structure and incentives of the me dia, coverage of the Tet Offensive is somewhat predictable, but the truth of the matter is more complex. The pivotal role of the Tet Offensive in domestic debates about Viet nam has also raised questions about how media coverage shaped public opinion and ma ybe ultimately U.S. policy in Vietnam. Before embarking on an analysis of the me dia coverage of the Tet Offensive, some background on the run-up to and fighting duri ng the Tet Offensive will contextualize what happened.
22 Chapter 2: The Tet Offensive The battle plans, policymaker assumptions, military intelligence, perceptions, and reactions as well as other variables affected the outcome of the Tet Offensive. The fog of detail, the unknown information, and the exceedingly optimistic and pessimistic declarations make understanding the Tet O ffensive rather difficult. Nearly any interpretation can be justifie d with a quote from this offici al or that one. To understand what occurred, what follows is a summary of the battle of the Tet Offensive, and then examination of the factors which led up to and influenced it. TET CHRONOLOGY Before the Tet Offensive, the communists were smuggling weaponry and troops across South Vietnam. U.S. military officials received some warnings about this, but most of this covert activity went undetected. While the start of the Tet Offensive (January 1968) is most famous, the enemy attacks had second and third phases. The second phase (May 4th to June) was a general attack against smaller cities and towns. The third phase (August to September) was U.S. repulsion of enemies from areas they had captured. The Tet Offensive started in the nort hwest of South Vietnam. Three North Vietnamese Army divisions (units cont aining usually 10,000-20,000 troops) gathered around a Marine base at Khe Sanh. While the Battle of Khe Sanh (January 21-April 7, 1968) was one the largest battles in the Tet Offe nsive, it was meant to distract the U.S. by influencing it to reallocate troops away fr om other areas. The communist abortive attacks on Khe Sanhs outposts in late Ja nuary and early February and their one push at the main
23 perimeter on February 29 were the worst of their attacks. Despite enemy shelling, the Marine base held out and was regularly re supplied. The U.S. losses at Khe Sanh were much smaller compared to losses experienced by U.S. units elsewhere. In fact, the communist siege gave the U.S. military a rare chance to use B-52 bombers on a small area delivering heavy damage (Braestrup 1977, 256-257). Communist attacks were, with little ex aggeration, everywhere. Thirty-six of 44 provincial capitals and 64 of 242 district to wns were attacked, as well as 5 of South Vietnam's 6 autonomous cities, among them Hue and Saigon (U.S. Army 2001, 673). Radio Hanoi, the propaganda arm of the North Vietnamese Army, announced its intent to overthrow South Vietnamese President N guyen Van Thieu. He responded by declaring martial law. Fighting was so intense in some places that U.S. military personnel that normally did not fight (cooks, radio operato rs, clerks, etc.) participated in armed resistance. Army helicopter gunships were airborne nearly 24/7 as they scrambled to deal with simultaneous combat situations. The most inte nse combat likely occurred in Hue city, the ancient Vietnamese capital. It was urban warfare: firefights were house-to-house and street-to-street. The U.S. took three weeks to recapture the city, afte r which it had to be rebuilt from being destroyed. The Battle of Hue (January 30 March 3, 1968) maybe best showed communist strategic error. Hue was the one city most likely considered to rise up against the United States. After th at did not happen, the communists should have retreated, but instead, they chose to defend te rritory they seized. The problem with that strategy was that they gave up their primary strength, mobility, to engage the primary allied strength, firepower. They were pinned down, outnumbered and outgunned. The
24 city was effectively surrounded, if not seal ed, and the Communists could not expect to receive the stream of reinforcements and suppl ies they would need to make their defense tenable (Robbins 2010, 193). In the jungle, they had booby trap s, an extensive tunnel system, and camouflage. These advantag es did not extend to urban warfare. Another big battle, which ended in less than 24 hours, was at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, the primary airfield for Saigon and th e core of U.S. milit ary presence in South Vietnam. The MACV [Military Assist ance Command, Vietnam] headquarters, known as Pentagon East, was located there, along with the 7th Air Force headquarters, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff co mplex, and South Vietnamese officers had homes there or nearby, and the complex was a critical target for the VC [Viet Cong] (Robbins 2010, 137). The attack on the airbase was wellplanned. Communist Colonel Nam Thuyen visited the base during a Christmas truce, posing as a student. A nearby graveyard was used as an ammunition reposito ry. Weapons were smuggled in coffins and buried before the attack. Three VC battalions (3001,200 so ldiers per battalion) held position right across from the air base, inside the Vinate xco textile mill. High-ranking U.S. and South Vietnamese officers were identified before the attack and targeted during the attack. The battle started on the morning of January 31. The enemy burst through Gate 51 into the airbase. The only defende rs were the U.S. Air Force 377th Security Police Squadron, the MACV headquarter guards, and so me South Vietnamese forces. Five days earlier, a plan to defend the base against such an attack was rehearsed, but the communist attack was on a greater scale. The battle was tipped in U.S. favor by the presence of the 8th Army of the Republic of Vi etnam (ARVN) Airborne Batt alion which was due to be
25 transported elsewhere. Those paratroopers fought communist forces on the tarmac, sometimes in hand-to-hand comb at. Within minutes, the communist attack was halted. The enemy was slaughtered, notably by helicopter gunships. While not a major battle, the communist sapper group assault on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon got the most media attenti on at the start of the Tet Offensive. The embassy, six buildings enclosed by an eight-f oot wall, was about half a mile from the news bureaus. The night before the Tet Offens ive, the sappers entered through a hole they blew in a wall, killed two U.S. military police, and attacked multiple parts of the embassy with bazooka rounds. Upset by incoming reports, Washington officials told Westmoreland to recapture the embassy imme diately. U.S. reinforcements arrived and engaged in a six-hour hide-and-seek battle in darkness. A helicopter came to evacuate the wounded, but it was driven away by enemy fire One by one, the sappers were killed. The fight ended by sunrise. The embassy attack did not become a top military priority until the media covered it, making it a symbol of the Tet Offensive (Braestrup 1977, 75). General Bruce C. Clark said the foe t ook the battle down around the Caravelle Hotel [where the media was located] and, so, from the standpoint of the average reporter over there, it was the acorn that fell on the chicken s head and it said The sky is falling! (Braestrup 1977, 121). This jour nalistic reaction was likely due to shock, since Saigon was not a battlefield for most of the war. Washington Post reporter Peter Braestrup said: Fires, destruction, crowded hospitals, and schools turned into refugee camps, all could be seen firsthand without much dangerand dominated much of the early reporting the sudden destruction and new sense of danger shook up many newsmen, including this writer, accustomed to thinking of Saigon as a privileged sanctuary from the war. (Braestrup 1977, 177)
26 Media accounts described the embassy attacker s as a suicide squad, which they were not. That phrase recalled Japanese kamikazes The phrase also falsified the communist objective. They sought to seize and hold the embassy, not to be killed. Killing suicide attackers is less noteworthy th an killing attackers seeking to hold territory (Robbins 2010, 133). Besides misreporting enemy intentions, the media made stuff up. There were reports about blood-stained carpets. White House aid John Roche spoke to Embassy Political Counselor John Archibald Cal houn, who was in his ground floor office during the attack. Roche said, There were no rugs It was all linoleum. But who cares about little points like that? (Robbins 2010, 135). Presumably, journalists. By the end of the first week most Comm unist assault troops were either on the defensive, surrounded, driven off, or destroyed. They had failed to reach their military objectivities in almost all of their attacks, many of them fa iling in the first few hours. In broad terms, the Tet Offensive was a military catastrophe (Robbins 2010, 165). Militarily, continuing to directly challe nge the U.S. was foolish, but politically it was wise. By lengthening the battle, Hanoi lengthened bad media coverage for the U.S., which strengthened Hanois bargaining position. Phase II (May 4th to June) was informally known as Mini-Tet due to its sm aller scale. Many of the same locations (like Saigon) were attacked again by Hanoi and the communists were defeated again. Their only military achievement was winning the Battle of Kham Duc (May 1012, 1968). Kham Duc was a small camp, cut off from friendly support. U.S. personnel were evacuated by aircraft while under fire. Phase III (August to September) was so insignificant that it was not called Mini-Tet. It started with some attacks on border
27 towns and was quickly ended by U.S. military ac tion. In short, the U. S. militarily won all phases of the Tet Offensive. COMMUNIST INTELLIGENCE The communist plan for the Tet Offensiv e has never been fully published, but pieces of it are available, and the pieces seem contradictory. On one hand, a goal of the Tet Offensive was to inspire an uprising am ong the South Vietnamese civilians, but on the other hand the North Vietnamese co mmunists slaughtered South Vietnamese civilians, in what one Vietc ong official called revolutiona ry justice (Wedel 1988, 2). Support us and let us kill you is a mixed message, at minimum. After the SinoVietnamese War (1979), al so called the Third Indochina War, China and Vietnam published various documents explaining their relationship since the 1940s. Then, after the Soviet Union dissolve d, its archives partia lly opened revealing more information, including de tails of the communist planni ng of the Tet Offensive. General Nguyen Chi Thanh proposed the Tet Offensive. He went to Hanoi to explain it. After various di scussions and meetings, on Ju ly 6, 1967, Thanh died from drinking too much at a farewe ll party (Guan 1998, 346). Thanhs plan was still retained, but preparations were delayed due to his death. Finding a replacement was likely not easy and the Political Bureau and the Military Ce ntral Commission had to carry out a major reshuffle in the Southern communist l eadership (Guan 1998, 346). Thanhs successor was V Nguyn Gip. U.S. intelligence reports may have overemphasized Gips disagreement with Thanhs strategy for a fast victory and his preference for an exhaustthe-enemy strategy. Gip carried out Thanhs Te t Offensive, but what changes were made
28 to the overall plan are not fully known due to communist documents being withheld to this day. One question is how did North Vietnam acquire and distribute so many resources so many months in advance, when the U.S. was dropping more bombs on Vietnam than it did during World War II? Aid from China a nd Russia played a role. The U.S. Defense Department estimated Chinese aid in 1967 at $250 million and Soviet aid at $750 million (Guan 1998, 350). China supported North Vietnam s continuance of the war, whereas the Soviet Union preferred a nego tiated settlement. Being the dominant aid provider to North Vietnam, the Soviet Union could have used its aid as a bargaining tool with North Vietnam, but after the Sino-Soviet split, doi ng so could have led No rth Vietnam to ally with China against the Soviet Union. L Du n, the second most powerful person in North Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh, issued a letter on January 18, 1968, to communi st allies in South Vietnam, explaining North Vietnams thinking: (1) the U.S. war effort climaxed and stalemated and the communists had the opportunity to achieve a de cisive victory, (2) all outcomes of the Tet Offensive would benefit the communists to varying degrees, (3) the offensives primary goal was to psychologically harm the U.S. l eading it to de-escalate the war, (4) the communists would regain control of the countryside, and (5) the communists would celebrate their victory by ha ving a welcome parade for Ho Chi Minh in South Vietnam (Guan 1998, 351). North Vietnamese General Tran Van Tr a, who oversaw attacks on Saigon during the Tet Offensive and who managed the final assault on Saigon in 1975, published, in 1982, Vietnam: A History of the Bulwark B-2 Theater his account of how the Hanoi
29 Politburo made military mistakes. Disliking cr iticism, party leaders expelled him from the party, and he lived under house arrest unt il his death. He said that the communists failed to accurately assess U.S. military strength: we did not base ourselves on scientific calculation or a careful weighing of all factors, but in part on an illusion based on our subjective desires. For that reason, although that decision was wise, inge nious, and timely, and although its implementation was well organized and bold, there was excellent coordination on all battlefields, everyone acted very bravely, sacrificed their lives, and there was created a significant strategi c turning point in Vietnam and Indochina, we suffered large sacrifices and losses with regard to manpower and materiel, especially cadres at the various echelons, whic h clearly weakened us. (Tra 1982, 35) The same year, VC Provisional Revolutionary Government Justice Minister Truong Nhu Tang said, The Tet Offensive proved catastrophic to our plans. It is a major irony of the Vietnam War that our propaganda transformed this debacle into a brilliant victory. The truth was that Tet cost us half our forces Our losses were so immense that we were unable to replace them with ne w recruits (Robbins 2010, 297). One problem with the communist plan was one that likely no one foresaw. On August 8, 1967, Hanoi changed its calendar from traditional China Standard Time (UTC +8) to Indochina Time (UTC +7). South Vietnam remained on China Standard Time. This time shift meant different communist uni ts attacked at different times due to different calendars (Robbins 2010, 120). This di screpancy ruined the element of surprise, giving ARVN and U.S. forces time to respond. A bad plan combined with bad timing was a recipe for disaster. After the first few attack s, Lieutenant General Phillip Davidson told General Westmoreland to expect more assau lts. Westmoreland agreed and put all U.S. forces on high alert. He told President Thieu, who recalled ARVN forces on leave. Before the next day, the New Year, the Tet truce was cancelled throughout South Vietnam and anticommunist for ces were preparing for further attacks. Before the main
30 attacks began, the anticommunist forces were anticipating them. The element of surprise was wasted through the calendar miscalculation (Robbins 2010, 121). U.S. INTELLIGENCE Director of Central Intelligence (the head of the CIA) Richard Helms (19661973), who was the primary presidential intell igence advisor, said evidence was found in January of possible attacks during the Te t holiday. Targets were identified. The information was sent to senior officials in Saigon and Washington. One intelligence report noted that: Despite enemy security measures, communications intelligence was able to provide clear warning that attacks, proba bly on a larger scale than ever before, were in the offing. Consid erable numbers of mediumand low-grade enciphered enemy messages were read. They included references to impending attacks, more widespread and numerous than s een before. Moreover, they indicated a sense of urgency, along with an emphas is on thorough planning and secrecy not previously seen in such communicati ons. These messages, taken with such nontextual indicators as increased messa ge volumes and radio direction finding, served both to validate information from other sources in the hands of local authorities and to provide warning to se nior officials. The report concluded, however, that the evidence was not suffici ent to predict the exact timing of the attack. (U.S. State Department 1968 A) How could such a warning go ignored? It was part of a general pattern of dismissing intelligence that was not what superiors want ed to hear. CIA intelligence analyst Harold P. Ford said that since the first decade of U.S. involvement, starting from the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, polic ymakers sought good news. They downplayed, ignored, and criticized less optimistic reports: The bliss of ignorance had several times co st the US war effort dearly, but worse was in store at the end of January 1968, when a misreading of the enemy's intentions and a calculated understating of his strength left the nation and its political leaders wide open to the sh ock of the Communists' unprecedentedly massive spring military campaign, the "Tet (Spring) Offensive." (Ford 1998, 85)
31 Communist forces were hard to classify. Some were pa rt-time local militia, support personnel, and political official s. Others were forced to aid the communists. Some were pro-South Vietnam at day and pro-communist at night. Quantifying numbers, location, combat readiness, combat effectiveness, a nd political significance was difficult (Robbins 2010, 38). Ford said that CIA estimates of co mmunist capabilities were more accurate than those of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), that the CIAs Saigon Station warned of Tet-like attacks, that CI A central command declined to share this prediction, and that superior policymakers dismissed the CIAs assessment of enemy strength and of a future massive attack. Pub lic statements by the White House relied on the more optimistic data coming from MACV Besides the various methodological issues faced by MACV, Ford believes the major reason for use of this questionable information was the fact that General Westmorela nd and his immediate staff were under a strong obligation to keep demonstrating "p rogress" against th e Communist forces in Vietnam. After years of escalating US investments of lives, equipment, and money, of monthly increases in MACV's ta lly of enemy casualties, and of vague but constant predictions of impending victory, it would be politically disastrous, they felt, suddenly to admit, even on the ba sis of new or better evidence, that the enemy's strength was in fact substantially greater than MACV's original or current estimates. (Ford 1998, 87) Beyond the desire to only want to hear good news, the U.S. was distracted by multiple foreign military incidents in 1968 like the cap ture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, North Korean infiltration of South Kor ean President Chung Hees residence, South Koreas insistence on allowing it to withdraw so me of its military units from Vietnam, the communist capture of a U.S. outpost in Laos, tension with Soviet aircraft over the West Berlin air corridor, and the crash of U.S. aircraft ca rrying nuclear weapons. Despite all these other issues, Ford believes a pervasive and probably more important
32 contribution to the failure was Lyndon J ohnson's preoccupation, as the presidential election year approached, with demonstra ting success in Vietnam in the face of the sharply rising tide of public opposit ion to the war (Ford 1998, 106). A we are winning consensus pretty much permeated the Saigon-Washington command circuit; intelligence reports and anal yses that deviated from it tended to be discounted. The growing uneasiness a bout the course of the war expressed sporadically by a handful of senior statesmen had little dampening impact on the pre-Tet convictions and pronouncements of the dominant administration officials. (Ford 1998, 108) South Vietnam collected intelligence of a ma ssive attack a few hours before it happened. On January 29, 1968, an intelligence report was se nt to South Vietnamese tactical zone commanders that communist forces would at tack during the Tet Holiday. On January 30, a captured communist soldier cl aimed that communist forces were going to attack Saigon and other places at 0300 hours the next day, which is precisely what happened (Ford 1998, 113). The reports were too little, too late Most South Vietnamese intelligence was scattered and vague. Within 24 hours of the offensive, reports came in of upcoming enemy activity, but nothing was solid enough to act on. South Vietnamese security chief Col. Lung said that most South Vietnamese commanders doubted the possibility of a massive upcoming attack. Lung also said the intelligence gathered by South Vietnamese units was not shared (Ford 1998, 114). Another issue with the pre-Tet intelligen ce was that the Tet Offensive was absurd from the viewpoint of milita ry strategy. Urban warfare woul d reduce the effectiveness of communist guerrilla warfare. The number of attacks seemed too large to be effective since they would divide enemy forces, maki ng victory anywhere li kely impossible while simultaneously depleting troop reserves. The only way the strategy could succeed was if
33 the communists inspired a general uprisi ng, which was unlikely. Lieutenant General Phillip Davidson said, Even had I known exactly what was to take place, it was so preposterous that I probably would have b een unable to sell it (Robbins 2010, 112). The Tet Offensive was a suicidal plan, but the co mmunists did not think so. By rejecting the idea that the enemy was about to do somethi ng stunningly stupid, the U.S. was not well prepared for the Tet Offensive, ev en though it did defeat the enemy. In the beginning, pre-Tet intelligence did not seem wholly wrong. A DecemberJanuary MACV war game concluded that a larg e attack in the north was the best move by Hanoi. Khe Sanh was 14 miles from the Nort hern border and seven miles from enemy strongholds Laos. The short s upply routes made Khe Sanh an ideal target, thought U.S. intelligence analysts. When the North Vietnamese opened the attack on Khe Sanh on January 21, the action seemed to validate both the assumptions of the timing of the attack (shortly before Tet) and its locat ion (in the north) (Robbins 2010, 116). In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, U.S. intelligence was questioned, gently in Fords view. The general conclusion of the ex amination of U.S. inte lligence about the Tet Offensive was that: The urgency felt in Saigon [by U.S. intelligence] was not, however, fully felt in Washington in the immediate preattack pe riod. As a result, finished intelligence disseminated in Washington did not contain the atmosphere of crisis prevalent in Saigon. We do not believe this repres ents a failure on anyone's part. The information available was transmitted and fully analyzed, but atmosphere is not readily passed over a teletype circuit. Although senior officials in Washington received warnings in the period 25-30 Ja nuary, they did not receive the full sense of immediacy and intensity which was pres ent in Saigon. On the other hand, with Saigon alerted, virtually nothi ng further could be done in Washington that late in the game which could affect the outcome. (Ford 1998, 118) True, said Ford, little could have been done in Washington to affect the outcome in Saigon and elsewhere in Vietnam, but an al erted Johnson administra tion could at least
34 have prepared the public for the sudden turn of events (Ford 1998, 118). In a February 2, 1968 presidential news conferen ce, President Johnson said: We have known for several months, now, that the Communists planned a massive winter-spring offensive. The biggest fact is that the stated purposes of the general uprising have failed. when the American people know the facts, when the world knows the facts and when the results are laid out for them to examine, I do not believe they will achieve a ps ychological victory. (Quoted in Ford 1998, 123) But his credibility was stretched to the break ing point. On February 6, 1968, humorist Art Buchwald said: Gen. George Custer said today in an ex clusive interview with this correspondent that the Battle of Little Big Horn had ju st turned the corner and he could now see the light at the end of the tunnel. "W e have the Sioux on the run Of course we will have some cleaning up to do, but the Redskins are hurting badly and it will only be a matter of time before they give in." (Quoted in Ford 1998, 123) Johnson lost the battle to control perception of the Tet Offensive. Looking back, the U.S. army interprets the Tet Offensive as coming from a position of weakness. South Vietnam was becoming politically a nd militarily stronger, while the Viet Cong's grip over the rural population erode d. Hanoi's leaders suspected that the United States, frustrated by the slow pace of progress, might intensify its military operations against the North. (Indeed, We stmoreland had broached plans for an invasion of the North when he appealed for additional forces in 1967.) The Tet offensive was a brilliant stroke of strate gy by Hanoi, designed to change the arena of war from the battlefield to the negotia ting table, and from a strategy of military confrontation to one of talking and fighting. (U.S. Army 2001, 327) North Vietnams plan was perceived as mo re psychologically based. The perception of North Vietnam undermining the morale of South Vietnamese fo rces, on hurting South Vietnamese public confidence in Saigons abil ity to provide securi ty, and hurting U.S. public confidence in Americas ally, was inte rpreted by the U.S. Army as the primary
35 purpose of the Tet Offensive. The U.S. Army said that the Tet Offensive had the opposite effect of its intention: Stunned by the attacks, civilian support for the Thieu government coalesced instead of weakening. Many Vietnamese for whom the war had been an unpleasant abstraction were outraged. Ca pitalizing on the new feeling, South Vietnam's leaders for the first time da red to enact genera l mobilization. The change from grudging toleration of the Viet Cong to active resistance provided an opportunity to create new local defens e organizations and to attack the Communist infrastructure. S purred by American advisers, the Vietnamese began to revitalize pacification. Most important the Viet Cong suffered a major military defeat, losing thousands of experienced co mbatants and seasoned political cadres, seriously weakening the in surgent base in the S outh. (U.S. Army 2001, 673) While U.S. military leaders saw an opening to deal a strong blow to the enemy, the Johnson administration lacked the confiden ce to do so. Johnson announced that the bombing of North Vietnam would cease above the 20th parallel and placed a limit on U.S. troops in South Vietnam. Johnson also attempted to set parameters for peace talks, but it would be several more years before th ese came to fruition (U.S. State Department 1968 B). THE KOREAN PRECEDENT Before the Tet Offensive was even con ceived, the U.S. had been fighting in Vietnam for many years, but it was fighting a limited war, whereas Hanoi was fighting an unlimited war. Why? The fear of another Korean War. The Korean War (1950-1953) influenced U.S. military strategy in Vietna m. Both conflicts involved an Asian state divided into a communist north backed by China and the Soviet Union and a noncommunist south backed by the United St ates. The Korean War was fought to a stalemate, a bad memory for U.S. military o fficials who did not want a repeat of what occurred. Military l eaders who opposed limited land wars in Asia were called the Never
36 Again Club by journalists (Robbins 2010, 24). Their beliefs helped restrain U.S. assistance to the French fight against the Vi et Minh and restrain U.S. aid to South Vietnams Diem regime to anything more than advisors and supplies. After the U.S. forces were fighting a ground war, the Korea experience still influenced U.S. strategy. There was the f ear that if the U.S. waged war across the demilitarized zone (DMZ), that China would become directly (as opposed to only covertly) involved and the bloody stalemate of the Korean War would repeat. After the Korean War, China became a nuclear power on October 16, 1964 and the Soviet nuclear arsenal was larger, so thr eatening the communists with nuclear weapons was less effective than during the Korean War. However, the Chinese view on the Korean War was different from the U.S. view. Mao was encouraged by Stalin to intervene in the Korean War. While Mao sought to use guerrilla warfare as the means to unifying Korea under communism, Stalin advocated a conventional conflict (Robbins 2010, 25). Mao went along and was only aided by Soviet diplomacy and supplies, while Chinese forces did most of the fighting. The armistice that ended the war gave China the same Korean buf fer zone that it could have achieved if it had used guerrilla warfare. Losing a million communists to achieve nothing was not an experience China sought to repeat (Robbins 2010, 26). JOHNSONS OUTLOOK In 1964, President Johnsons focus was primarily divided on three issues: the fall of Khrushchev and the advent of new and untested Soviet leaders; Communist China's nucl ear detonation; and, most important, a coming presidential election campaign in which Mr. Johnson's conduct of the war would have to be seen as neither too soft nor too reckless. (Ford 1996)
37 U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg said: [Johnson] worried, not only in 1964 but over the next four years, that if he laid out candidly just how difficult, costly and unpr omising the conflict was expected to be, the public would overwhelmingly want escalation on a scale that promised to win the war [which would risk a wider wa r that Johnson sought to avoid] But Johnson didn't want to get out either Johnson couldn't face being accused of losing a war. Instead, he stayed in and lie d about the prospects. And that made for a prolonged war, an escalating war and e ssentially a hopeless war. (Ellsberg 2001, A.23) In his 1964 State of the Union address, Presid ent Johnson said, It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won (Johnson 1964). He was refere ncing the War on Poverty, not the Vietnam War. Johnsons priority was to not let the Vietnam War interfere with his domestic agenda, known as the Great Society, which cons isted of civil rights in itiatives, Medicare and Medicaid, education reform, funding th e arts, the War on Poverty, job retraining programs, and other programs. Johnson did not understand who he wa s fighting in Vietnam. This was exemplified when he tried to bribe Ha noi in his April 1965 Peace Without Conquest speech where he offered Hanoi a billion-dolla r aid program to develop North Vietnam if they ended the conflict. He ba sically promised to export th e Great Society. So convinced he could buy off the communists, after the spee ch, he told one of his assistant, Old Ho [Chi Minh] cant turn that down. Old Ho cant turn that down (quoted in Robbins 2010, 28). The communists immediately and fully reje cted the deal. They sought Vietnamese unification under Hanoi rule, period. White House aide John Roche said: I tried to explain in that memo that Ho Chi Minh was not a Mayor Daley who was waiting to be bought. Johnson didnt have an ideological bone in his body and he was convinced that everybody had a butt on Johnson kept saying, What does
38 he want? What does he want?, as if, you know, three post offices, a new municipal sewer system, or something like that would do it. I said, He wants to win. (Quoted in Robbins 2010, 29) Ho Chi Minh was a battle-hardened communist who had been fighting for Vietnamese unification for 50 years. Hos political e xperience was with bombs and bullets, not money and votes. From the 1954 Geneva ag reement that divided Vietnam into communist north and noncommunist south to Ho Chi Minhs death, his primary objective was communist unifica tion of Vietnam. CONCLUSION Through strategic miscalculation, timing erro r, and refusal to change strategy, the Tet Offensive was a military defeat for the communists. While flawed, U.S. intelligence was far better than communist intelligence. The bad memories of the Korean War and President Johnsons misunderstand ing of Hanoi, however, combined to put the U.S. at a disadvantage. To summarize, the U.S. a nd North Vietnamese approached the war differently: The U.S. conflict was akin to a chess match, with planned moves in a defined battle space, an assumed perfect kno wledge of the enemys strength on the ground, and established rule s that the Americans be lieved both sides understood and accepted. The enemy was playing poker, a game in which psychological factors are as important as what cards each side holds, in which bluff and luck can play a decisive role, and in which it is possible to win with a losing hand. And while the Americans were playing chess in a complex manner that sought to force a draw, the North Vietnamese wanted to end their game holding all of the chips. (Robbins 2010, 40) For these reasons, the U.S. grasped political de feat from the jaws of military victory, and Hanoi turned devastating military losses into a political victory that arguably turned the course of the war.
39 Chapter 3: The Media and the Tet Offensive The American Civil War was the first photographed combat in U.S. history. World War II news was reported by newsreels. The Vietnam War (also called the Second Indochina War) was reported on te levision. This chapter will argue that the new medium of communication strongly aff ected war coverage with its use of images and immediate assessments that presented negative aspects of the war and often misrepresented the situation on the ground. Some coverage shows j ournalistic malpractice. More important than the nature of the coverage itself we re the effects that media coverage had on domestic politics in the U.S. surrounding the war. The media dimmed public enthusiasm for the war, but the publics foreign policy pr eferences were more complex for most of the war. Although the media provided criticis m of the war, it did not hold the government accountable because it mostly was ignorant or misinformed about what was happening. Journalisms ability to compel accountabi lity came only in flashes, as with the 1971 disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. Overall, me dia coverage did affect the policies of the war, but its role was far from the ideal to which we hold a free press in a democracy. NATURE AND THEMES OF MEDIA COVERAGE The Vietnam War has been called The Living Room War due to it being televised, but combat footage was rare. Pe ter Braestrup, a Korean War veteran, a war reporter in Algeria, and a Wa shington Post reporter duri ng the Tet Offensive, wrote maybe the definitive assessment of media coverage in his 1977 Big Story After reviewing every printed word published by the Associated Press, United Press International, The New York Times The Washington Post Time and Newsweek along
40 with every telecast show n by the three major networ ks (ABC, NBC, and CBS), Braestrups analysis is likely unsurpassed in comprehensiveness. He concluded that: the wire services and the TV people would get out there as close to the action as they could get, and very seldom did th ey get action footage broadcast, partly because when there's an infantry fire fight, everybody gets down and you can't see much. The enemy attacked at night; the al lies did their sweeps in daylight. As Professor Lawrence Lichty of Northweste rn [University] has found, most of the combat footage was aftermath footage, where you saw the troops moving around, their wounded being taken to the helicopt ers, and the reporter telling you that there had been a fight and this is wh at happened in the fight. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (LBJL&M) 1982, 7) While live combat footage was rare, Braestrup found the war easy to cover, especially for major news organizations, because of the access to a variety of military officials. However, most reporters remained close to Sa igon or other major cities, not frequently venturing out for too long. There was only a small handful--I estimated the number in late 1967 as about sixty--out of the severa l hundred of people accr edited, who spent onefourth to one-third of their time in the field (LBJL&M 1982, 5). Braestrups narrative is the de facto gold standard on the Tet Offensive. His Big Story received a good reception except from the far left and far right: My response was that if ther e was an ideological bias [in coverage], how come it didn't show up in 1972, where even the head of Army Information, and the head of JUSPAO [Joint United Stat es Public Affairs Office] in factit wasn't called JUSPAO anymore, but whatever it was calle d--in Saigon told me he really didn't have too much of a complaint about th e Easter offensive coverage. (LBJL&M 1982, 46) Foreign Affairs magazine book reviewer Gaddis Smith called The Big Story [a] staggeringly detailed analysis of American press coverage of the Tet offensive (Smith 1977). Former Army Colonel Ha rry G. Summers called the Big Story the best book on the Tet Offensive (Summers 2001). Former International Military Encyclopedia editor J.R. Dunn called the Big Story one of those rare volumes th at actually does a service, by
41 identifying a malady, giving its origins, and listing it symptoms (Dunn 2005). James H. Willbanks, the director of the military history department at the United States Army Command and General Staff College and author of The Tet Offensive: A Concise History called The Big Story [p]erhaps the most in-depth examin ation of the role of the media in the Tet Offensive (Willbanks 2006, 113). Braestrups view is not that the media st abbed the U.S. military in the back, but that it, through a variet y of factors, misled the public, to varying de grees. It made the Tet Offensive a critical turning point due to the media-created perception of U.S. defeat. Braestrup said that, for the first month of th e Tet Offensive, one could not determine who was winning or losing, but that, even if one c ould, that was not one s journalistic role: what many journalists in effect were doi ng was calling it a disaster somehow for us. I mean that was the general tilt of th e news coverage, through sins of omission and commission, and the TV was much worse. TV was always worse. The emotive demands of the medium and the commercial demands of holding an audience just worked against calm, dispas sionate reporting I shared a house in Saigon with Murray Fromson of CBS, a very able guy who'd been in [the military newspaper] Stars and Stripes in Korea, and a print guy origina lly. He was an old Asia hand. But his experience didn't ma tter a bit, all they wanted was good dramatic film and a good dramatic voice-over. He was even told he was not good on camera because his eye sockets were too deep and caused shadows. There were very few television guys who qualif ied, in my book, as serious journalists. There were a few, but damn few. It was show business. (LBJL&M 1982, 14) How often do we hear 500 planes landed safe ly today versus there was a plane crash? Which fact is more likely to be covered a nd how does that skew perception of reality? While as a print journalist, Peter Braestrup is likely a biased critic of television journalism, his study provides several concrete examples of the pressures and practices that distorted televisions a nd, often, all types of covera ge of the Tet Offensive. Incomplete information and pressure to get ratings contributed to questionable journalism, but what is worse is how years later the same mispercep tion can continue. For
42 example, The New York Times said, in its 2005 obituary for U.S. general William Westmoreland, that he presided over a vast buildup from 16,000 troops when he arrived to more than 500,000 in 1968, when a devastating Communist offensive caused President Lyndon B. Johnson to lose confidence in the strategy and replace the general (Whitney 2005, A.20). Apparently, there was no devasta ting counteroffensive. Another example is how the Guardian said, Westmoreland was permanen tly tainted as the commander of what became the worst military defeat ever suffered by the US (Palling 2005). The U.S. militarily won the Tet Offensive. That such a fact can be denied decades later speaks volumes about the flawed perceptio n created by past media coverage. Media coverage was so bad because it was not the top priority: The quarterly Bulletins of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in 1965-68 reflected executives' concern ove r proper reporting of elections and domestic issues such as civil rights and ghetto disturba nces, but published no comment on Vietnam coverage. The annua l Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) convention summary in 1967 barely mentioned Vietnam, despite AP's relatively strong manpower commitment there. The quarterly Columbia Journalism Review [sic] published no majo r examination of Vietnam prior to Tet. The Nieman Reports held off until 1969. Editor and Publisher only on occasion printed interviews with returning Vietnam reporters. (Braestrup 1977, 8) While lack of interest in Vietnam played a role in journalism quality, the war itself was also hard to cover. Even if Braestrups cl aims about the ease of most assumptions hold true, the Vietnam War was complex, without a front line with which to measure progress: It was a war of trends wh ich Administration officials, seeking to dispel the ambiguities, described statistically in such terms as kill-ratios, North Vietnamese infiltration rates, weapons seized and lost, hamlets pacified to varying degrees, or population under govern ment control. (Braestrup 1977, 21) Vietnam coverage was also repetitive. The same names on the same maps were being fought over. The same statistical measures we re being cited The stories had fallen into a form letter (Robbins 2010, 245-246). Vietnam was not a c onventional war that
43 had clear-cut events like def eating the enemy, seizing their territory, and occupying their capital. Counterinsurgency vict ory is defined by training secu rity forces, reconstruction, political stability, and other long-term goals that lack the drama of fast wars. Besides coverage difficulty, journalists were on tight deadlines, espe cially the most quoted ones, the wire services journalists. The 24-hour wire services, th e Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (U PI) are heavily relied upon by other news organizations. Their 50to 600-word dispatches, edited and rewritten in New York headquarters, then rewritten again by anonymous networ k news writers, became the scripts for the nonfilm reports of Walter Cronkite and other TV anchormen Under deadline pressure, the wire services, gear ed to serving a.m. and p.m. cycles, across four time zones in the United States had little time to spend analyzing or evaluating stories; what checking was po ssible had to be done fast. Hence, in swift-moving events, first bulletins were sometimes in error. The wire services were also sometimes wrong on late-breaking Saigon stories, when even rudimentary checking was difficult. AP and UPI could not wait until the fog of war cleared and this was to be the case in the early hours of the Tet attacks on Saigon. (Braestrup 1977, 29-30) So, institutionally, journalism quality was not a top priority, the war was hard to report, and deadlines made fact-checking a luxury. Still the media is not exonerated by ins titutional constraints and circumstances. Many journalists blended fact with opinion, re placed certainty with probability, or chose sensationalism over dry statistics. For ex ample, below is the transcript of CBS correspondent Morley Safer on Cam Ne with his opinion italici zed by Braestrup: The days operation wounded thr ee women, killed one baby, wounded one Marine, and netted these four prisoners Four old men who could not answer questions put to them in English. Four ol d men who had no idea what an I.D. card was. Todays operation is the frustration of Vietnam in miniature There is little doubt that American firepower can win a military victory But to a Vietnamese peasant whose home means a lifetime of back-breaking labor-it will take more than Presidential promises to convince him that we are on his side. (Braestrup 1977, 39)
44 While many examples of journalists mixing f act and opinion can be given, consider one more. Below is the February 1st transcript of NBC correspondent Robert Goralski with his opinion italicized by Braestrup: Even the American military most gr udgingly admired what the Vietcong were able to do and what they had seized. The perfectly timed attacks again will be remembered a lot longer than the less dr amatic but hard-fought victories of late. Pentagon officials believe the Vietcong pa id dearly for their acts of rampant terrorism, but surely the communist leaders must feel they were worth it They do not appear to be final acts of despera tion The communists may not be winning the war, as the Pentagon claims, but they dont seem to be losing it either. (Braestrup 1977, 132) How does Goralski know the attacks were per fectly timed? What gets remembered is strongly affected by the media, so Gorlaski is skewing the public memory with his commentary. Also, how does he read the minds of communist leaders to know their intentions? Interesting how his last sentence uses the noncommittal words may and seem to disguise the fact he does not know who is winning militaril y, yet he apparently has enough military expertise to know the attack s were perfectly timed and he can read the minds of the communists. Braestrup overwhelms the reader with ex amples of journalists who generalized their incomplete information, thereby creati ng a false perception for the viewers. Air Force Captain Donald Bishop asked: Who can criticize the press for short ro tations and ignorance of Vietnamese culture when the same flaws characterized our military effort? What writer of officer efficiency reports can carp about the abuse of words by reporters? What military officer has not formed opinions and advocated programs based on incomplete facts, or facts interpreted to support a predetermined solution? (Bishop 1978) While the military or government may lack the moral authority to credibly condemn the media, the public can condemn the media for misinforming it and for abdicating its role
45 as the fourth estate when it is most needed : during wartime. Thus, an accounting of what occurred is morally relevant. Shortly after the start of the Tet Offens ive, Joint United States Public Affairs Office leader Barry Zorthian he ld a news briefing to info rm the U.S. media about the situation. Zorthian recalled he held a February 3rd briefing in the embassy with U.S. Ambassador Bunker. Bunkers message was: Yes, the Vietcong achieved a considerable psychological impact both in Vietnam and the United States, but they did not at tain their own self-proclaimed goals (as described to us by captive Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers)collapse of the Vietnamese government; wholesale su rrender and collapse of the ARVN; a general uprising and welcome from the peopl e, particularly in urban areas; and military footholds in urban centers. If thes e were their goals, said Bunker, they failed, though we recognize th at they may have achieved other objectives, such as an impact on American public opinion It was interpreted as excessively optimistic at worst, unrealistic at best I think the judgment was unduly harsh. I think perhaps we might have given more emphasis to their psychological success [in the United States] but we were sitting in Saigon, not Washington, and I think (even now with hindsight) that th e evaluation we provided was essentially sound. I worked with the Ambassador on this one and felt we had both balance and perspective. The corresponde nts did not. (Braestrup 1977, 125) While the media would not believe Zorthians assessment, even though he had access to more information than the news media a nd had a better understanding of the broader conflict, they were eager to believe bad news by an anonymous U.S. major in Ben Tre, capital of Kien Hoa province, on February 7, 1968 who said, It became necessary to destroy the town to save it. That quotation spread like wildfire, showing the power of cherry-picking information.
46 Battle of Khe Sanh Coverage The Battle of Khe Sanh, a 77-day siege at a U.S. Marine base in the mountainous northwest corner of South Vietnam, was: the subject, during the 60-day period of February-March 196 8, of: (1) 25 percent of all Vietnam film reports on weekday TV evening network shows (for CBS the figure was 50 percent); (2) the lead pa ragraphs and headlines of New York Times war wrap-ups (written in Saigon) on 17 of the 60 days, of the Post on 13 days, and of AP on 12 days; (3) 18 percen t of all Vietnam pictures in the Post and Times ; and (4) 38 percent of all AP Vietnam stories filed with datelines outside Saigon. (Braestrup 1977, 256-257) As the longest battle of the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Khe Sanh was an easy story to report for journalists, but its news prominence diminished combat elsewhere in Vietnam. Also, journalists were better protected at Khe Sanh than if they followed U.S. patrols into contested territory. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the final battle of the French Indochina War where the communists defeated France, was freque ntly invoked in discussion of the Battle of Khe Sanh. The possibility that Khe Sanh could be a last-stand for the U.S. was dramatic, great for selling a story, and dead wrong. Tabl e 3.1 shows facts, known at the time, which demonstrated that this comparison was flawed: Table 3.1 Dien Bien Phu/Khe Sanh Comparison Factors Dien Bien Phu Khe Sanh Distance from friendly bases 100 m iles plus 12 miles (Rock Pile) Airfield status Unusable Usable (for C-123s) External artillery support None 175 mm. guns (Rock Pile, Camp Carroll) Available daily tactical aircraft 100 1,500 Average incoming rounds (daily) 2,000 plus 150 Aircraft losses 62 6-7 (exc luding helicopters), with 18 damaged Aerial resupply (daily) 100 tons 161 tons plus (excluding helicopter support)
47 How replacements arrived Parachute Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft Evacuation of wounded None Helicopter Enemy efforts after first ground action Continuous Four assaults through March 1, then probes Average air combat sorties (daily) 22 300 Average heavy bomber sorties (daily) None 45-50 Passengers air-landed/evacuated via cargo aircraft 0/0 2,676/1,574 (not including helicopter passengers) Reprinted from (Braestrup 1977, 263264) There was also speculation that, no matter how many communists were killed, in the end, it did not matter. The communists held Hue city for three weeks until displaced by this U.S. military. They did not mount repeated human-wave ground attacks heedless of cost. Khe Sanh was no exception. And assaults on U.S. firebases or base camps elsewhere were rare at Tet. This caution wa s a marked departure from costly Vietminh offensive tactics during the latter years of the war with the French (Braestrup 1977, 123). This undue pessimism about Khe Sanh helped lead to media commentary like Saigon Time bureau chief William Rademaekers February 8 comment that, the communist victory may be classe d as Pyrrhic (Braestrup 1977, 139). Newsweek ran the pessimistic Agony of Khe Sanh as the main story for a mid-March issue, calling for a negotiated peace. In The Washington Post historian Arthur Schles inger, Jr. advocated the evacuation of all the Marines by air (which was tactically impossible). Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy used Khe Sanh as a sign of U.S. foolishness in Vietnam. The most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite, said, Khe Sanh seems to be a microcosm of the whole war (Braes trup 1977, 295). While he may have been the most trusted journalist, he was not the most informed. If the communists had infiltrated the U.S. media as part of the Tet Offensiv e and used it to demoralize the U.S. public,
48 could they have done a better job than the U.S. media itself did? One wonders. The Battle of Khe Sanh seemed like a simple, easily defined stor y: more than 5,000 isolated Marines (and 300 South Vietnamese Rangers), surr ounded by large concealed members of North Vietnamese troops, bombarded as ne ver before in Vietnam by rockets and artillery, dependent on airlift for supply, bedeviled by bad weather, seemingly at the mercy of hidden enemy artillery obser vers in the surrounding mountains-the eyes of General Giap, the victor of Dienbienphu, who, it was rumored (and widely reported), had taken personal co mmand of the siege. What an ominous predicament for U.S. forces (and, ab ove all, for Lyndon Johnson), already surprised by the Tet attacks against the cities! If enemy initiative had faded elsewhere, Hanoi certainly had the i nitiative at Khe Sanh. (Braestrup 1977, 256257) In his Battle of Khe Sanh media cove rage summary, Braestrup said that only The Washington Post and Newsweek cared much about enemy performance. The New York Times usually reprinted Hanois statements w ithout analysis. Sometimes it, along with AP and television networks, compared the ARVN to the Vietcong in a manner critical to the former. The overall portrayal was of U.S. failures and communist victories (Braestrup 1977, 176). Battle of Khe Sanh coverage was symptomatic of Tet Offensive coverage: zero in on certain details to the exclusion of other relevant facts and submit the slipshod report to the U.S. for public consumption. Media Perception What the U.S. media did not say explici tly, it said implicitl y, especially through images. All the imagery of bombings, corpse s, shootings, fires, and other destruction gave the appearance that all of Vietnam was in flames or being battered into ruins, and all Vietnamese civilians were homeless refugees (Braestrup 1977, 179). Even when journalists knew otherwise, they were overruled. On February 10, JUSPAO used a helicopter to escort journa lists over Saigon. AP Photogra pher John Nance said, Roughly
49 95 percent of the city appear s relatively unharmed, but his story was not used on TV or by The Washington Post (Braestrup 1977, 190). New York Times reporter Charles Mohr said, From the ground this area seems like the flattened German city of Dresden, destroyed in World War II. From the air, however, the devastated area appears to measure about 500 to 700 yards square (B raestrup 1977, 190). If you never heard this, you can credit the media for its disp roportional emphasis on the negative: The Americans, by their heavy use of firepower in a few cities, were implicitly depicted as callously dest roying all Vietnam in order in the phrase that became common to save it; while the Vietcongs indiscriminate use of their own firepower, as well as the Hue killings, were largely overlooked. When individual newsmen, notably Mohr and Nance, provide d a concise measure of the extent of the damage, their reports in contrast to other reports and to still-photo and TV film disaster treatment got little play. (Braestrup 1977, 216) Besides creating a misperception by downplay ing relevant photos, the news media themselves did not know why numerous battles were not being covered by their reporters. One example is the Battle of Hue city. After it was recaptured on February 24-25, reporting on it declined, but conflicts between U.S. batta lions and the communists in other areas continued as indicated in sparse reports. However, these were difficult, costly battles as indicated by the casualty figures Some news editors in the U.S. were wondering how there could be such fighting, but a dearth of incoming journalism reports on it: The Post for example, queried [in all capit alized letters] its Saigon bureau on March 15: NOTE CASUALTIES THIS WEEK OVER 500 FOR THIRD WEEK IN ROW AND FRANKLY WE SK EPTICAL EXPLANATION THESE CASUALTIES RESULTING FROM MINOR BUT FREQUENT ENGAGEMENTS. IS THIS NOT WORTH PURSUING PAST OFFICIAL STATEMENTS SO FAR MADE? The answer of course, was not that fraud was being deliberately perpetrated by MACV. Rather, the Post editors, among others, were not getting a clear pictur e of the battlefield either from their own reporters or from the wire-service wrap-ups. (Braestrup 1977, 248-249)
50 Like its fellow news organi zations, it did not let the public know its coverage was misleading, and this problem extended to covera ge of the war in general. Media critic Norman Solomon called The Washington Post : and eventually reached the man who had been the chief diplomatic correspondent for the paper at the time, Murrey Marder, and I said, Mr. Marder, has there ever been a retraction by the Wash ington Post [sic] of its fallacious reporting on the Gulf of Tonkin? And he said, I can assure you it never happened. There was never any retraction. And I asked why. A nd he said, Well, if the news media were going to retract its re porting on the Gulf of Tonkin, it would have to retract its reporting on virtually the enti re Vietnam War. (Alper 2007) Enemy Collusion There was widespread speculation about a reciprocal relati onship between the communists and South Vietnamese civilians. The Washington Post reported that, The population which almost certainly [emphasis added] knew of enemy troop movements into Saigon, had not told th e allied authorities (Br aestrup 1977, 372). Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy said, The Vietcong are clearly getting protection from the population, and th e so-called pacificati on program must be largely a sham (Braestrup 1977, 373). Newsweek reported It was obvious [emphasis added] that the Vietcong could not have done what they had unless much of the South Vietnamese population whether out of fear, apathy, or some genuine sympathy had lent at least passive support [emphasis added] (Braestrup 1977, 373). On February 16, Peter Kalischer spoke w ith U.S. Ambassador Bunker on CBSs Face the Nation: Kalischer: The thing that we would like to get to is the fact that the man on the corner, in the corner shop, the little fellow in the thatched house outside the village who noticed 300, 400 strangers and you cant hide those people who are preparing to filter in he never went around to the corner cop and said, Hey, there are strangers here.
51 Bunker: Well, you dont know what they move d. They moved mostly at night, of course, they moved in dis guise, in their infrastructure, the VC infrastructure throughout the country, in all the cities, and it is not surprising to me that there was an element of surprise, given the timing of this thing. (Braestrup 1977, 373374) Kalischer did not understand Vietcong tactic s and Bunkers answer, while correct, was incomplete. All the canals, swamps, and woods around Saigon allowed Vietcong to bypass anticommunist outposts and patrols. The Vietcong did not move 300 or 400 troops. Vietcong troop movements were much smaller. After movement, they had safe houses. Moreover, any field-experienced correspondent knew that a peasant who informed on Vietcong activities would not be protected because there was no corner cop in hamlets (Braestrup 1977, 373-374). Enemy collusion was a concern before the Tet Offensive. For example, the Phoenix Program, a CIA-led counterinsur gency plan to destroy the Viet Cong infrastructure (VCI), included targeting enem y colluders, but to suppose that most South Vietnamese were colluders was unproven. Walter Cronkite The most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkites commentary on the Tet Offensive on February 27, 1968, viewed by nine million people (Willbanks 2006, 112), was one of the most memorable moments of the Tet Offensive. Below is an excerpt of his speech: We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washingt on, to have faith any longe r in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They ma y be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would al so require our realization, that we should have had
52 all along, that any negotiations must be that -negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. Th is summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiati ons or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear wea pons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or th ree hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yi eld to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, ye t unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his la st big gasp before negotiations. But it is increas ingly clear to this reporte r that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as vi ctors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could. This is Walter Cronkite. Good night (Cronkite 1968, 581-582) The importance of Cronkites speech is la rgely based on its effect on LBJ. After Cronkites speech, LBJ allegedly said, If Iv e lost Cronkite, Ive lost middle America. One problem with this quote, besides the lack of original sourcing fo r it, is that LBJ was not viewing television that night. On Febr uary 27, 1968, he was giving a speech at the birthday dinner for Texas Governor J ohn Connally (Johnson 1968). Even if LBJ saw Cronkites speech on videotape, there is stil l no evidence that he used Cronkite as a public opinion gauge. Moreover, Cronkites vi ew of the war had been proffered seven months earlier in an August 1967 New York Times front page news analysis entitled: Vietnam: The Signs of Stalemate (Apple 1967, 1). While Cronkites speech did not contain new information, his remarks, seen by millions on the evening news, had great on the public, thereby demonstrating the influen ce of the TV medium compared to print media. Having previously reported the govern ment line on Vietnam, Cronkites public break with the government, enhanced his credibility.
53 Besides the allegation that Cronkite demo ralized LBJ, the content of his speech should be fact checked. Contrary to Cronkite s suggestion that negotiating peace would be a new approach, that avenue was repeatedly tried. Sometimes the U.S. would pause its bombing to provide an incentive for peace ne gotiations. There were 16 bombing pauses and 70 peace initiatives betw een 1964 and 1968, all of which had no visible effect on Hanoi. In his memoir The Vantage Point Johnson lists the bombing pause dates, their duration, their type, and the associated peace in itiatives. All were met with rejection by Hanoi. Apparently, the White House did not get the message that Hanoi was not interested in compromise (R obbins 2010, 35), at least not for awhile. The White House did get the message eventually. President J ohnson said, Ill tell you what the signals from Hanoi are saying: F**k you, Lyndon Johnson (Robbins 2010, 93). In fact, this lets-negotia te-with-hardcore-communists approach backfired: Hanoi saw it as weakness. The U.S. saw its bombing pa uses as a sign it was restraining its great power, but Hanoi saw it as proof it could withstand a fight with the most powerful military in history. Due to U.S. bombing risi ng gradually in intensity, it taught the enemy to endure. A senior Air Force officer sai d, We taught the bastards to cope (Robbins 2010, 35). Of the many lessons of history, the le ssons of strategic bombing seem to have been ignored, if they were ever learned. Lesson one: bombing causes enemy retrenchment and builds public support for the enemy. It happened during the German Blitz on Britain and during the Allied raids on Germany. Former North Vietnamese colonel and Peoples Daily editor Bui Tin said North Vietnam stood surprisingly firm in contending with the bombers of Rolling Thunder operations Factories collapsed, bri dges were broken, roads torn to bits, schools and hospitals razed to the ground. But all this only raised the level of bitterness and hatred at being attack ed so inhumanely, and conveyed new purpose
54 to our combatants. Our traditional patriotis m was strengthened. It inspired us to affirm our fundamental sense of nationhood. (Quoted in Robbins 2010, 36) In fact, as the communists le arned to endure U.S. bombing, their will not to compromise likely became firmer and firmer making nego tiations less and less worthwhile. President Johnson got the message. Cronkite did not. Media critic Norman Solomon sa id that Cronkites commentary: was presented as not only a turning point, quite often, but also as sort of a moral statement by the journalistic establishment. Well, I would say yes and no. It was an acknowledgement that the United Stat es, contrary to official Washington claims, was not winning the war in Vietna m, and could not win. But it was not a statement that the war was wrong. A problem th ere is that if the critique says this war is bad because its not winnable, then the response is, Oh yeah, well show you it can be winnable, or the next war will be winnable. (Alper 2007) Administration Deliberation and Response to Press Coverage The Johnson administration did not combat this negativity well. When being persistently questioned by reporters on Februa ry 9 about U.S. intelligence in Vietnam, State Secretary Dean Rusk said There gets to be a point when the question is, Whose side are you on, the Secretary told startled newsmen. I dont know why people have to be probing for things that one can bitch about . (Braestrup 1977, 471). In a February 2, 1968 presidential news conferen ce, President Johnson downplayed the Tet Offensive: Our best experts think that they [the communists] had two purposes in mind. First was a military success. That has been a complete failure. That is not to say that they have not disrupted services. It is just like when we have a riot in a town or when we have a very serious strike, or bridges go out, or lights--power failures and things. They have disrupted services. A few bandits can do that in any city in the land. (Johnson 1968 A) The Tet Offensive was a widespread attack on U. S. forces, not a riot isolated to one town. Johnson continued:
55 Now, their second objective, obviously fr om the--what you can see from not only Vietnam but from other Communist capit alseven from some of our unknowing people here at home--is a psychological victory. We have to realize that in moments of tenseness and trial--as we will have today and as we have had in the past days--that there will be a great effort to exploit that and let that substitute for military victory they have not achieved. (Johnson 1968 A) Johnson was likely more prescient than he re alized, but his next few sentences gave up the firm ground he stood on: I do not believe when the American peopl e know the facts, when the world knows the facts, and when the results are laid out for them to examine, I do not believe that they will achieve a psychological vict ory. I do not want to be interpreted as unduly optimistic at all. I would rather wa it and let the facts sp eak for themselves because there are many things that one far removed from the scene cannot anticipate. In all of the battles, there are many disappointments for the commanders and even the commanders in chief. So I think that at this very critical stage I would much prefer to be played lo w key than to give any false assurances. (Johnson 1968 A) Facts do not speak for themselves. They are chosen and interpreted. The Johnson administration cherry-picked information abou t the war to make the public confident. After losing that confidence, the facts did not matter because the messenger was no longer believed. Moreover, near th e end of his presidency, in his final State of the Union address, Johnson gave the false assurance th at, The North Vietnamese know that they cannot achieve their aggressive purposes by fo rce. There may be hard fighting before a settlement is reached; but, I can assure you, it will yield no victory to the Communist cause (Johnson 1969 B). The U.S. lost the Vietnam War so Johnson was proven wrong about five years later, yet he could have foreseen the U.S. defeat. On September 29, 1967, speaking to the National Legislative Conf erence in San Antonio, Texas, President Johnson said: As one Western diplomat reported to me only this week--he had just been in Hanoi--"They believe their staying power is greater than ours and that they can't lose." A visitor from a Communist capital ha d this to say: "They expect the war to
56 be long, and that the Americans in the e nd will be defeated by a breakdown in morale, fatigue, and psychologi cal factors." The Premier of North Vietnam said as far back as 1962: "Americans do not like long, inconclusive war .... Thus we are sure to win in the end." Are the Nort h Vietnamese right about us? (Johnson 1967 C) Johnson did not think so at the time, but he was wrong. He was also wrong about his own administrations history. In the February 2, 1968 presidential news c onference, a reporter asked him: Q. Mr. President, one of the problems people seem to be having in making up their minds on the psychological importance of this goes back to our reports that the Vietcong were really way down in morale, that they were a shattered force. Now people ask: Well, how, then, can they find the people who are so wellmotivated to run these suicide att acks in so many places in such good coordination? Some people say: Well, that proves they know they are licked and this is their dying gasp. And some pe ople say: Well, it proves that we underestimated their morale. How do you feel, sir? THE PRESIDENT. I haven't read those reports about underestimating all their morale, and their being out of it, and no mo re problems, and so forth. That hasn't been the information the Govern ment has received. (Johnson 1968 A) Many of those morale reports came from his administration, sometimes from himself. In November 1964, U.S. Ambassador to Saigon Maxwell D. Taylor said, Not only do the Viet-Cong units have the recuperati ve powers of the phoenix, but they have an amazing ability to maintain morale (Taylor 1964). On Ap ril 26, 1965, President Johnson awarded the Presidentia l Unit Citation to the 514th Tactical Fighter Squadron, a unit of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. He said, The determined and daring attacks launched by the valiant men of the 514th Tact ical Fighter Squadron against the heavily armed and fanatical Communist insurgents in the face of fierce ground fire, had a demoralizing effect upon the enemy (Johnson 1965 D). In a November 5, 1966 presidential news conference, Defens e Secretary Robert McNamara said: I read the most recent report of the in terrogations of enemy prisoners, the North Vietnamese-Vietcong prisoners, that were captured during th e period of June
57 through September. This report showed that the morale of the North Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam and the mora le of the Vietcong soldiers in South Vietnam is being affected by the air and ground operations carried out against them by the United States, the South Viet namese, and the other free world forces. (McNamara 1966) In a March 15, 1967 speech to a joint session of the Tennessee state legislature, President Johnson said: Allied forces have made several successf ul sweeps through territories that were formerly considered Vietcong sanctuaries only a short time ago. These operations not only cost the enemy large numbers of men and weapons, but are very damaging to his morale. (Johnson 1967 E) In retrospect, compiling these inconsistencies is easy. The internet allows quick searches through an archive of speeches. That was not av ailable to reporters at the time, so fact checking was harder. His credibility strained, Johnson repeated ly said that the U.S. was winning, but there was no end in sight. In a March 22, 1968 presidential news c onference, a reporter asked: Q. Mr. President, are we any closer to peace? THE PRESIDENT. I cannot answer that que stion. Peace is a very elusive thing (Johnson 1968 F) In a June 26, 1968 presidential news conference, a reporter asked: Q. Mr. President, there are reports that the North Vietnamese are infiltrating at a larger rate into the S outh. Would you comment on that and comment on the ground situation, as well as repor ts that some offensive on their part is expected? THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think I w ould want to comment on that now. (Johnson 1968 G) Excluding Johnsons optimism which was old news he did not give confidence-inspiring answers to questions.
58 Within the administration there was di vision. Special counsel and presidential speechwriter Harry McPherson said that he asked National Security Advisor Walt Whitman Rostow to explain what was happening in Vietnam and would get from him what almost seem ed hallucinatory before Well, I must say that I mistrusted what he said, because, like millions of other people who had been looking at television the night be fore, I had the feeling that the country had just about had it, that they would si mply not take any more I suppose, from a social-scientist point of view, it is particularly interesting that people like me people who had some responsibility for expressing the Pres idential point of view could be so affected by the media as everyone else was, while downstairs, within 50 yards of my desk, was that e normous panoply of intelligence-gathering devices-tickers, radios, messages coming in from the field. I assume the reason this is so was that like everyone else who had been deeply involved in explaining the policies of the war and tr ying to understand them and render some judgment, I was fed up with the light at the end of the tunnel stuff. I was fed up with the optimism that seemed to fl ow without stopping from Saigon. (Braestrup 1977, 470) National Security Advisor Rostow was quite optimistic. He supported escalating U.S. troop levels. He cited military history to make optimistic comparisons. Rostow said that in past major wars (World War II, World War I, and the Civil War), the losing side used a last-ditch offensive: the Battle of the Bu lge, the 1918 German spring offensive, and the Battle of Atlanta. While the winning side was shocked by these attacks, they served to quicken the wars end. This analysis suggested that there may be a law of human nature that prompts the losing side to take large risks and losses in a last offensive just before its collapse and in the process conceals from the winning side the degree of the enemys desperation and the extent to wh ich, despite tactical success, the enemys offensive has hastened his ultimate de feat. (Quoted in Schmitz 2005, 136-137) While Rostow was optimistic, he was in the minority. Other internal assessments of the war were grim. For example, the Defense Depa rtments Office of International Security concluded:
59 we know that despite a massive influx of 500,000 US troops, 1.2 million tons of bombs a year, 400,000 attack sorties per ye ar, 200,000 enemy KIA in three years, 20,000 US KIA, etc., our control of the c ountryside and the defense of the urban areas is now essentially at pre-August 1965 levels. We have achieved stalemate at a high commitment. (Schmitz 2005, 129) In Hearts and Minds a 1974 anti-war documentary film about the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis, Defense Secretary Clark Cli fford (1968-1969) recalled his discussions at the pentagon during the Tet Offensive: How long do you still think well be in the war? None of them knew. Do you think that th e 206,000 men [requested for deployment] will be enough? Nobody knew. I couldnt get answers ( Hearts and Minds 1974). Clifford sought to know how we explain saying on th e one hand the enemy did not take a victory and yet we are in need of many more troops and possibly an emergency call up (Schmitz 2005, 104). The cost of a massive troop increase was estimated to be an additional $15 billion by Defense Secretary McNamara (R obbins 2010, 268). Tax hikes or spending cuts would be necessary to fund such a military escalation, both of which were politically unacceptable. Moreover, army units were needed in the U.S. to enforce civil rights legislation and to intervene in race riots. With the multiple foreign policy incidents occurring at this time, if there was an emer gency that required U.S. troops, there may not be enough due to the U.S. military being dangerously stretched. Most people likely believe the U.S. Nationa l Guard did not deploy to Vietnam. In the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidenti al elections, there was cont roversy about George W. Bushs military service in the Texas Air Nati onal Guard. Bush said that he joined the National Guard not to avoid service in Vietna m but because he wanted to be a fighter pilot (Lardner 1999, A1). Due to this controversy, the perception arose that the National Guard was a way to avoid combat. However, about 8,700 [National Guards] were
60 deployed to Vietnam (The Na tional Guard). So, if necessa ry, more could have been deployed. In one meeting, McNamara said, This goddamned bombing campaign, its been worth nothing, its done nothing, they ve dropped more bombs than in all of Europe in all of World War Two and it hasnt done a fu cking thing. McNamara then wept nonstop while other advisors in the room watched si lently, shocked at what they were seeing (quoted in Robbins 2010, 269). McNamara was warned about bombing eff ectiveness years earlier. In 1964, an interagency evaluation, led by Robert Johnson of State Departments Policy Planning Staff, concluded that bombing North Viet nam would likely not achieve U.S. goals: Their report held that, contra ry to Rostow's central thes is, the greatest interest of the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietna m, North Vietnam] did not lie in preserving such industrial development as it had achieved but in extending its control to all Vietnam. This being so Hanoi would hang tough and persevere, meeting US escalation with North Vietna mese escalation. Nor would US bombing of the North basically improve South Viet namese morale or effectiveness, and it might cause Saigon to become even more dependent on the United States. (Ford 1996) Under Secretary of State George Ball c ited the bombing report in October 1964 which shocked Defense Secretary Robert McNama ra. He was shocked by the document, less by Balls apostasy than by his rashness in put ting such heretical t houghts on paper, which might be leaked to the press (Ford 1996). In November 1964, a special National Secu rity Counsel (NSC) interagency group (made of officials from the NSC, State Depa rtment, Defense Department, JCS, and CIA), led by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs William P. Bundy, examined U.S. options against North Vietnam. The group concluded
61 (1) that Hanoi's leaders appeared to belie ve that the difficulties facing the United States were so great that US will and ab ility to maintain resistance could be gradually eroded; (2) that because Nort h Vietnam's economy was overwhelmingly agricultural and to a large extent decent ralized in a myriad of more or less economically self-sufficient vi llages, airstrikes would not have a crucial effect on the daily lives of the almost all of Nort h Vietnam's population; (3) that air attacks on industrial targets would not exacerba te existing economic difficulties to the point of creating unmanageable control pr oblems; and, therefore, (4) that North Vietnam "would probably be w illing to suffer some damage to the country in the course of a test of wills with the US ove r the course of events in South Vietnam." (Ford 1996) This report did little to change administ ration policy. JCS group members disagreed with the conclusion. The group principals r ecommended gradual bombing, omitting the panels conclusion about their effectiven ess. The groups fina l report lacked all skepticism over current policy. President Johnson saw the misleading final report on November 19, 1964. Why such a denial of re asonable disagreements? The McCarthy years had decimated senior East Asian expert ise in the USG [United States Government]; latter-day officials would not be eager to risk criticizing East Asian policies or the Asian allies Washington administrations embraced (Ford 1996). The remaining senior officials were not pleased with less-than-optimistic reports from lower-ranking officials. Even dissent from high-ranking officials was not warmly received. Director of Central Intelligence (the head of the CIA) John A. McCone (1961-1965) opposed the gradual bombing plan. He believed for maximum shock effect we should hit the North extremely hard at the outset (Ford 1996). This dissent hurt his access to and relationship with President Johnson. He resigned in late April. There were internal doubts about U.S. po licy in Vietnam for years. For example, in January 1965, U.S. Ambassador to Sai gon Maxwell D. Taylor cabled President Johnson: I do not recall in history a successf ul antiguerrilla campaign with less than a 10
62 to 1 numerical superiority over the guerrillas and without the elim ination of assistance from outside the country (Ford 1996) On February 22, 1965, Taylor said: As I analyze the pros and cons of placing any considerable number of Marines in Danang area beyond those presently assigned, I develop grave rese rvations as to wisdom and necessity of so doing White-faced soldier, armed, equipped and trained as he is not suitable guerrilla fi ghter for Asia forests and jungles. French tried to adapt their forces to this missi on and failed. I doubt that US forces could do much better . Finally, there woul d be the ever-present question of how foreign soldier could distinguish between a VC and friendly Vietnamese farmer. When I view this array of difficulties, I am convinced that we should adhere to our past policy of keeping our ground forces out of dir ect counterinsurgency role. (Ford 1996) An April 1965 Office of National Estimates me morandum expressed a deep concern that we are becoming progressively divorced from reality in Vietnam, that we are proceeding with far more courage than wisdom--t oward unknown ends (Ford 1997). Critical assessments of U.S. policy were often ignored, downplayed, and sometimes edited according to the beliefs of CIA heads McCone Helms, and the CIA Directors Special Assistant for Vietnam Affairs George Alex ander Carver Jr. (Ford 1996). CIA intelligence analyst Harold P. Ford said, the unhappy, eterna l truth [is] that inte lligence is of use to decisionmakers primarily when it accords with their own views, or when they can use that intelligence to help sell their own particular policy arguments (Ford 1996). Perhaps the most startling intelligence report, which you likely never heard about, made a claim that sounded as if it could have been said by an antiwar protestor. In 1964, the Office of National Estimates told the White House that it rejected the domino theory: We do not believe that the loss of South Vietnam and Laos would be followed by the rapid, successive communization of the ot her states of the Far East (Ford 1997). McNamaras 1995 memoir, In Retrospect misrepresented (on pgs 124-125) this report by selective quotation so that it appeared to support the domino theory.
63 Why was the U.S. fighting in Vietnam? The public reasons did not match the private reasons. In 1954, naval admiral and Jo int Chiefs of Staff Chairman Arthur W. Radford said, Indochina is devoid of decisive military objectives, and the allocation of more than token U.S. armed forces to the area would be a serious diversion of limited U.S. capabilities (Ford 1996). In a March 1965 draft memorandum that was part of the Pentagon Papers, U.S. Defense Secretary Assist ant for International Security Affairs John McNaughton defined U.S. aims in Vietnam as: 70% --To avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor). 20%-To keep SVN [South Vietnam] (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands. 10%--To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life. ALSO--To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used. NOT--To "help a friend," although it would be hard to stay in if asked out. (McNaughton 1965) So, the U.S. was fighting because quitting l ooked bad, not because it cared about South Vietnam or that it feared falling communist dominos. That basic U.S. assumptions could be privately disputed while U.S. policy was confidently trumpeted in public showed a gap between rhetoric and reality. Basically, the U.S. military strategy did not seem to make much of a difference and the contradiction in saying we are winni ng, but we may need many more troops, did not get a warm reception from the media, which felt the Johnson administration misled them about U.S. prospects in Vietnam: In most American foreign policy crises since World War II, there have been objective factors that assuag ed journalistic needs and cu rbed journalistic excess. One thinks in particular of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Hanois 1972 offensive, the latter a far stronger military effort than Tet. In both cases, 1962 and 1972, there were perceived forewarnings of trouble, a well-d efined geographical arena, a widely shared sense of the re lative strengths and capabilities of the opposing sides, a conventional confrontation remote from journalistic havens, and a coherent Presidential response. None of these reassuring elements was fully present at Tet-1968. (Braestrup 1977, 501)
64 PUBLIC OPINION ON THE WAR In popular memory, media coverage cha nged public opinion to oppose the war. The truth is more blurry. The war was unpopul ar, but what the U.S. should do divided public opinion. From 1965 to 1971, Gallup polling asked In view of developments since we entered the fighting in Vietnam, do you think the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam? The Gallup data was an alyzed by the Department of History at Houston University. The responses to the Gallu p question, over the course of the war are summarized in Table 3.2 and Figure 3.1: Table 3.2 Public Opinion in Support of Troop Escalation DATE PERCENT WHO SAID NO August 1965 61 March 1966 59 May 1966 49 September 1966 48 November 1966 51 February 1967 52 May 1967 50 July 1967 48 October 1967 44 December 1967 46 February 1968 42 March 1968 41 April 1968 40 August 1968 35 October 1968 37 February 1969 39 October 1969 32 January 1970 33 April 1970 34 May 1970 36 January 1971 31 May 1971 28
65Reprinted from the Department of History at Houston University Figure 3.1 Decline in Public Support for Troop Escalation Reprinted from the Department of History at Houston University The Department of History at Houston Un iversity also analyzed Gallup data on presidential approval, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and Vietnam policy preference. The data supports the view that the Tet Offensiv e soured public opinion on U.S. involvement. U.S. public opinion and the Johnson administra tion lacked the stomach for much more intense combat. President Johnson, whose appr oval ratings were si nking (see Table 3.3), said, if my poll goes where it ha s gone with all the victories, imagine what it would do if we had a major defeat (Schmitz 2005, 89). Table 3.3 President Johnsons Approval, War Approval, and Hawkishness Indicator Pre-TET (1967) Post-TET (1968) Change Approves Johnson's handling of job as president 48% 36% -12 Approves Johnson's handling of Vietnam 39% 26% -13 Regards war in Vietnam as a mistake 45% 49% +4 Proportion classifying themselves as "hawks" 60% 41% -19 Reprinted from the Department of History at Houston University
66 While war was waged abroad, domestic violen ce was national news. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. wa s assassinated on April 4, 1968. That sparked riots in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Maryland, Louisv ille, Kentucky, Kansas City, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. Senator and Democra tic Presidential candida te Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated June 5, 1968. The 1968 Demo cratic National Conve ntion experienced rioters clashing with police and the Nationa l Guard. Vice President Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential no minee, but his defense of the Johnson administrations war policy likely contribute d to his losing the el ection to Republican Richard Nixon. Before the Tet Offensive, the U.S. public mostly did not pay attention to Vietnam. Gallup pollsters William L. Lunch and Peter W. Sperlich said that when the U.S. first intervened in the Vietnamese civil war in 1955 that very few U.S. citizens knew it: Even in 1964, when the United States st ood poised on the verge of major military involvement, with thousands of advisors already in Vietnam and the size of our role there a campaign issue, two-thirds of the American people "said they paid little or no attention to developments in South Vietnam." As long as the administration seems to have foreign affairs in hand, and nothing seems unduly alarming, the vast majority of citizens are content to follow the President's leadership. (Lunch 1979, 20) After public opinion soured on the Vietnam Wa r, why did it continue for years? The public opinion data presented thus far has not accounted for support for withdrawal. Data interpretation can be difficult. The Gallup pollsters said that respondents may have believed U.S. intervention in Vietnam was a mistake, but still s upported presidential policy, even if it entailed military escalation: The question permits no inference about the respondent's own current policy preference. Rising percentages of "yes" responses have been taken to denote opposition to the war, but the equation is not so simple. This was shown by a 1969 study conducted by the Harris polling organization for Time magazine. In
67 that survey, 80 percent of the respondents felt it had been a "mistake" for the United States to become involved in the Vietnam war, but only 36 percent favored immediate withdrawal as a policy. Furt hermore, in a 1968 poll by the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan, it was found that "among those who viewed the war as a mistake almost as many favored escalation as were for withdrawal." (Lunch 1979, 24) Policy preference polling was done by a vari ety of polling organizations over time. Figure 3.1 shows the preferences for withdraw al and escalation as reported in several nationally representative polls. (See Appendi x for a list of polls, questions asked, and results.) Figure 3.2 Preference for Withdrawal or Escalation0 10 20 30 40 50 60Nov-64 Feb-65 May-65 Aug-65 Nov-65 Feb-66 May-66 Aug-66 Nov-66 Feb-67 May-67 Aug-67 Nov-67 Feb-68 May-68 Aug-68 Nov-68 Feb-69 May-69 Aug-69 Nov-69 Feb-70 May-70 Aug-70 Nov-70TimePercentage Withdrawal Escalation Source: Data from polls reported in Lunch 1979, 27-28. The Gallup pollsters speculate that U.S. public opinion pro ceeded through four phases: (1) Innocence phase: 1964 to mid-1965, th e public trusts the administration; (2) Permissive majority phase: mid-1965 to spring 1966; (3) Escalation phase: mid-1966 to late 1967/early 1968, the public supports greater military commitment to win the war; (4) Withdrawal phase: 1968 to 1973, the public has had enough (Lunch 1979, 29). Even the Nixon administration, starting in 1969, began a gr adual withdrawal of U.S. forces from
68 Vietnam. From November 1964 to November 1968, public support for withdrawal never exceeded 19%. From November 1968 to Sept ember 1970, public support for withdrawal grew from 19% to 55%. Demographic Breakdown In popular memory, young people protested against the Vietnam War by shouting hell no, we wont go, by burning their draf t cards, and by protesting. While that was true, statistically, young people were some of the biggest war supporters. Figure 3.3 and Table 3.4 show support for the war by age according to whether the respondent believed U.S. involvement was a mistake. Figure 3.3 War Support By Age0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80Mar-66 Ju n -66 Se p -66 De c -66 Ma r67 Ju n67 S e p-6 7 D e c-6 7 M a r-68 Jun-68 Sep-68 Dec-68 Mar-69 Ju n69 Se p69 De c69 M a r-7 0 Jun-70 Sep-70 Dec-70 Mar-71TimePercentage 21-29 30-49 50+ Source: (Lunch 1979, 32-33)
69 Table 3.4 War Support By Age ("No" responses to the mistaken question) Date 21-29 30-49 50 and over Most Supportive Age Group March 1966 71 63 48 Young May 1966 62 54 39 Young September 1966 53 56 39 middle-aged November 1966 66 55 41 Young May 1967 60 53 42 Young July 1967 62 52 37 Young October 1967 50 50 35 young and middle-aged February 1968 51 44 36 Young March 1968 50 46 35 Young April 1968 54 44 31 Young August 1968 45 39 27 Young October 1968 52 41 26 Young February 1969 47 43 31 Young October 1969 36 37 25 middle-aged January 1970 41 37 25 Young April 1970 43 40 25 Young May 1970 48 41 26 Young January 1971 41 38 20 Young May 1971 34 30 23 Young Source: (Lunch 1979, 32-33) Why would young people, the ones who were likely to be drafted, support the war? The Gallup pollsters specu late that older people live d through at least one World War and the Korean War, thereby making the war deprivations familiar, whereas younger people, being closer to patriotic indoctrination in the schools would be more likely to respond aggressively in a war situation th an their elders. Economists might point out that opport unities for material enrichment by young people have been better during wartime than peacetime in recent American history. Anthropologists coul d note that the American youth culture (especially among boys) emphasizes aggressiveness, competitiveness, courageousness, excitement and adventure and all these elements have been present in popular presentations of war on television, in the cinema, and in journalistic accounts. Political scientists might add that young people have traditiona lly had the weakest attachment to political symbols, such as political party a ffiliation, and might therefore be more subject to government propaganda about war (particularly if it stresses patriotic themes) than older ci tizens who have had time to develop some independent referents and skepticism about such information. It may be that all these explanations are correct to some de gree (or that none of them are). In any
70 case, the striking fact is th at the younger a person was during the Vietnam era, the more likely he or she was to support the war. (Lunch 1979, 34) Public support also divided racially. Th is difference is likely due to more bad experiences felt by blacks than whites. Al so, the idea of fighting to liberate or democratize Vietnam was less appealing to blacks who saw the ongoing struggles of the civil rights movement and th e backlash expressed in the south. Why fight in Southeast Asia for freedom, when one lacks it at hom e? Prominent African-Americans opposed the Vietnam War. In 1966, professional boxer Muha mmad Ali said, I aint got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever calle d me nigger (quoted in Wallace 2000). In 1967, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed the Vietnam War in his Beyond Vietnam speech. Table 3.5 details support fo r escalation and withdrawal by race. Table 3.5 Support for Withdrawal or Escalation by Race % for withdrawal % for escalation Year Black White Percentage Point Difference Black White Percentage Point Difference 1964 17 13 4 26 51 25 1966 16 11 5 33 48 15 1968 37 23 14 20 39 19 1970 57 37 20 10 29 19 Source: (Lunch 1979, 36) Public support also divided by sex. Men consistently supported the Vietnam War more than women who were more dovish. Thus, Table 3.6 shows that hawks and doves were partially divided by sex:
71 Table 3.6 War Support by Sex Support for the war by sex ("No" resp onses to the mistaken question) Year Men Women More Supportive Se x (percentage point difference) 1966 57 47 Men (+10) 1967 52 43 Men (+9) 1968 42 36 Men (+6) 1969 38 33 Men (+5) 1970 37 21 Men (+6) 1970 33 26 Men (+7) Source: (Lunch 1979, 35) AFTERMATH OF THE TET OFFENSIVE After the Tet Offensive, there were many changes. General Creighton Abrams succeeded Westmoreland on June 10, 1968. He implemented Vietnamization, a drawdown of U.S. forces with the expectation for South Vietnam to fill the gap, under the Nixon administration. U.S. troop levels de clined from 535,000 in 1968 to 30,000 by the end of 1972. The My Lai Massacre One year after the Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre (the mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by the U. S. military), which occurred during the Tet Offensive, was disclosed. It caused a political firestorm. The massacre was perpetrated by Charli e Company. It was down to 105 men by mid-March of that year . It had suffe red 28 casualties, including five dead (BBC 1998). While testifying at trial, Lieutenant William Calley, the only person convicted, said: I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. That was my job on that day. That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and thin k in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified the same, and that was the
72 classification that we dealt with, just as enemy soldiers. (University of MissouriKansas City School of Law (UMKC) 1970) This mentality can partially explain why the massacre included gang-rape, beatings, stabbings, and carving victims with the signature C Company (BBC 1998). The massacre was interrupted by Army helicop ter pilot Hugh Thomps on who ordered his gunner and crew chief to shoot on any U.S. sold iers who fired on civilians. He testified in later investigations, but he felt that he was perceived as the guilty party. Id received death threats over the phone, he told th e CBS News program "60 Minutes" in 2004. Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up. So I was not a good guy (Goldstein 2006, C.14). Nearly 30 years after the massacre, he received a commendation from the U.S. Army for his actions. Charlie Company Captain Erne st Medina, who was at My Lai and saw corpses all over the place, minimized casualty reports when questioned by a superior. The minimization was continued in a report by Co lonel Oran K. Henderson. However, rumors of what happened circulated. U.S. soldier Ronald L. Ridenhour learned of the massacre while drinking with Charlie Company memb ers (BBC 1998), a month after it occurred. He disclosed the My Lai massacre in 1969, help ing journalist Seymour Hersh of Dispatch News Service win the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for his exclusive disclosure of the Vietnam War tragedy at the hamlet of My Lai (The Pulitzer Prizes). Afte r Ridenhour returned to the U.S., he wrote a letter to the Presid ent Richard Nixon, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, and various Congresspersons. The le tters led to an Army investigation, indictments, public disclosure of the incide nt, and the conviction of Lieutenant William Calley (Cushman 1998, A.15). Calley, the only person convicted, was sentenced to life imprisonment, but his punishment was reduced to three years under house arrest by order
73 of President Nixon. He led a quiet life after th e massacre, repeatedly declining interview requests. In 2009, he apologized for his role in the incident (Ex-Officer Apologizes 2009). Nearly every U.S. cruelty has been repor ted, but communist brut alities fade from the public memory. The Hue massacre was committed by the communists during the Tet Offensive. This is known because 2,800 bodies were excavated. The dead included businessmen, Catholics, intellectuals, govern ment officials, anyone the communists did not like. Americans tend to remember th e Vietnam War through images depicting the massacre of innocent civilians by American troops, said Dr. Toan Truong, who was a child in South Vietnam and came to the U.S. with the first wave of refugees. What is chiseled in my own mind is footage of Vi etnamese wailing over bodies of loved ones who were buried alive, in huge mass graves by the Viet Cong, during the Tet Offensive in 1968 (Robbins 2010, 196). White House aide J ohn Roche said, Im screaming my head off about this [the Hue massacre] to the press AP, UPI, the Times et al. to go up and take pictures. None of them did The press showed absolutely no interest in this at all (Robbins 2010, 205). In 1973, Aleksandr Solzhen itsyn said, The bestial mass killings in Hue, though reliably proved, were only lightly noticed and almost immediately forgiven because the sympathy of society was on the other side, and the inertia could not be disturbed (quoted in Robbins 2010, 206). As to journalists motiva tions, one journalist still does not know what happened. In 1979, West German correspondent Uwe SiemonNetto said: We knew that, in 1956, close to 50,000 peas ants were executed in North Viet Nam. We knew that after the division of the country nearly one million North Vietnamese had fled to the South Why, for heaven's sake, did we not report about these expressions of deliberate North Vietnamese strategy at least as
74 extensively as of the My Lai massacre and other such isolated incidents that were definitely not part of the U.S. policy in Viet Nam? What prompted us to make our readers believe that the Communists, once in power in all of Viet Nam, would behave benignly? (Elegant 1981, 74-75) My Lai was stopped by U.S. soldiers. Legal pr osecution followed. Forty years later My Lai is taught to officers in professional milita ry education programs as a case study in the failure of ethical leadership (Robbins 2010, 208). The communist killing was not an isolated incident, but the implementation of Hanoi policy. Before the massacre, a VC terrorism campaign went on for years. From 1958 to the first ten months of 1966, the VC killed 11,200 and abducted 39,750 civilians (R obbins 2010, 146). However, the U.S. military also engaged in indiscriminate ki llings. United Press International correspondent Neil Sheehan said: The American command coldbloodedly set about to deprive the Communists of the recruits and other assistance the peasantry could provide by emptying the countryside. Peasant hamlets in Communist -dominated areas were deliberately and relentlessly bombed and shelled. Fr ee Fire Zones -anything that moved, human or animal, could be killed -were redlined on military maps. By 1968, civilian deaths, the great majority from air strikes and artillery, were estimated at about 40,000 a year and seriously wounded at 85,000. (Sheehan 2004, A.21) Escalating Economic Costs The Vietnam War was quite expensive, but that did not stop the Johnson administration from spending away. Asked at a Senate hearing how long the U.S. could afford military involvement in Vietnam, De fense Secretary Robert McNamara said, I think forever [there are] many things, many prices we pay for the war in Vietnam, some heavy prices indeed, but in my opinion one of them is not strain on our economy (Schmitz 2005, 113). By 1967, the war cost over $2 billion a month and the cost was rising without end.
75 From 1965 to 1975, the U.S. spent $111 b illion (adjusted for inflation by 2010, $738 billion) on the Vietnam War, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) (Daggett 2010, 5). However, the CRS estimate is of the costs of military operations only and do not reflect costs of ve terans benefits, interest on war-related debt, or assistance to allies. The Vietnam War CRS estimate is also based on the costs of war-related activities over and above the regular, non-wartime costs of defense. In addition to these qualifiers, the CRS estimate omits pre-1965 U.S. spending. After World War II, France sought to reclaim its Vietnamese colony that was occupied by Japan. It was financially aided by the Un ited States during the First Indochina War (19461954). By 1954, the United States had given 300,000 small arms and machine guns, enough to equip the entire French army in Indochina, and $1 billion; all together, the U.S. was financing 80 percent of the French war effort (Zinn 1980, 471). The Pentagon Papers On June 13, 1971, The New York Times published parts of United States Vietnam Relations, 19451967: A Study Prepar ed by the Department of Defense a 7,000-page classified report bette r known as the Pentagon Pape rs that revealed deception about the war extending back to the Truman administration. At first, the Pentagon Papers did not attract much attention. Time magazine said the Pentagon Papers were: deliberately low-key prose and column af ter gray column of official cables, memorandums and position papers. The mass of material seemed to repel readers and even other newsmen. Nearly a day went by before the networks and wire services took note. The first White Hous e reaction was to refrain from comment so as not to give the series any grea ter "exposure." But when Attorney General John Mitchell charged that the Times's [sic] disclosures would cause "irreparable injury to the defense of the United Stat es" and obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the series after three installments, worldwide attention was inevitably assured. ( Time 1971)
76 The U.S. government got a court order forbidding The New York Times from publishing further. Other newspapers publ ished excerpts of the Pentagon Papers, but they too were restricted by court order. Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Geor ge Wilson defeated the Nixon administrations attempt to prevent Pentagon Pa pers publication in an appellate court. In the court, National Security Adviser Noel Gayler gave J udge David Bazelon a top-secret sealed letter that said, in 1971, the U.S. was still interc epting North Vietnamese radio messages. One intercepted message, alleged to be in the Pentagon Papers, if published, would harm U.S. intelligence and endanger U.S. lives, argued Gayler. The letter, read by the judge, passed to the prosecutors then to The Washington Post lawyers and then to George Wilson. Wilson recalled reading the le tter before, so he knew it could not be classified. Judge Bazelon gave the de fense little time to respond. Wilson said: Under all that pressure, my mind showed me a page from the [Senator J. William] Fulbright hearings that th e Pentagon had cleared for public release. I saw the message in my mind. I also saw in my mind that it had been printed on page 34 in a hearing book cleared by the Pentagon itself. Best of all, I had the right hearing book with the printed intercep t displayed on page 34, left hand side, with me. I opened the hearing book and showed the pr inted intercept to [William] Glendon [, The Washington Posts lead lawyer]. He hit a home run with it, shouting out to the assemblage in Bazelon's chambers: "H ow dare the United States government accuse The Washington Post of endangering the nation by printing something the Pentagon itself has cleared for publication?" (Wilson 2011) In retrospect, the Pentagon Papers were g rossly overclassified a nd they did not harm national security, although they could have, according to Air Force Magazine contributing editor John T. Correll: The Pentagon Papers gave the North Viet namese rich insights into early US objectives, strategies, uncertainties, and degrees of commitment. However, the documents were several years old by the time of publication so the insights, to considerable extent, had been overcome by events. (Correll 2007)
77 The Pentagon Papers dispute was resolved on June 30, 1971, at the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 vote decided that publication could continue. New York Times journalist Max Frankel said that the Times was accused of violating the Espionage Act in wartime, endangering intelligence sources, harming efforts to end the war, and supporting theft of government property. In just two weeks, the case reached the Supreme Court, which decided, with nine separate opinions, that the Government fa iled to meet its "heavy burden" of proof. As the prosecutors of the case confesse d decades later, no damage was done. No military battles were lost. The national security bureaucracy had fought not to protect information from aliens but to en large its authority to deny information to Americans. (Frankel 1996) New York Times journalist A. M. Rosenthal sa id the Pentagon Papers made The New York Times publisher, reporters, and editors confront a series of questions: The meaning of patriotism and national interest, the purpose of journalism, the boundaries of constitutional freedom, the reputation of th e newspaper around which their lives were built, and their own careers (Rosenthal 1991). News media of the Tet Offensive was gentle to the government compared to coverage of the Pentagon Papers. For example, on June 17, 1971, The Washington Post editorialized that the Pentagon Papers: is not new in its essencethe calculated misleading of the pu blic, the purposeful manipulation of public opinion, the stunning discrepancies between public pronouncements and private planswe had b its and pieces of all that before. But not in such incredibly damning form, not with such irrefutable documentation. (Correll 2007) On June 28, 1971, Time magazine said the Pentagon Papers: demolished any lingering faith that the na tion's weightiest decisions are made by deliberative men, calmly examining all th e implications of a policy and then carefully laying out their reasoning in depth. The proliferation of papers, the cabled requests for clarification, the bris kness of language but not of logic,
78 convey an impression of harassed men, th inking and writing too quickly and sometimes being mystified at the enemy's refusal to conform to official projections. ( Time 1971) The Pentagon Papers, created by order of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, were disclosed by U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, a hawk-turned-dove. The Pentagon Papers were created without using interviews, input from military branches, or any feedback from other federal agencies in or der to keep them a secret from President Johnson. According to Defense Deputy Morton H. Halperin the secrecy was meant to keep national security advisor Walt W. Rostow from learning about the project, telling Lyndon Johnson, and getting it canceled (Correll 2007). Pentagon Papers Director Leslie H. Gelb said: The project did not start as a history. It started in 1967 after Robert McNamara, then Defense Secretary, asked for classi fied answers to about 100 what I would call ''dirty questions.'' These questions had little to do with history. They were the kind of questions that would be asked at a heated press conference: Are our data on pacification accurate? Are we lying about the number killed in action? Can we win this war? Are the services lying to the civilian leaders? Are the civilian leaders lying to the American people? There were about ei ght or so questions that were directly historical: Could Ho Chi Minh have been an Asian Tito? Did the United States violate the Geneva Accords of 1955? (Gelb 2001, A.23) Daniel Ellsberg said: A generation of presidents, believing that the course they were following was in the best interests of the country, nevertheless chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was, what alternatives were being pressed on them from within the government, and the pessimi stic predictions they were receiving about the prospects of their chosen c ourse. Why the lies and concealment? And why, starting in 1969, did I risk prison to reveal the documen tary record? I can give a definite answer to the second questio n: I believed that th e pattern of secret threats and escalation needed to be expos ed because it was being repeated under a new president. About the first question, I can still only speculate. (Ellsberg 2001, A.23)
79 Upset at this leak, the Ni xon administration created the Plumbers unit whose function was to fix leaks. This led to the Watergat e scandal, the end of the Nixon administration, and the pardon of Nixon by his former Vice Pr esident-turned President Gerald Ford. The Vietnam Syndrome in Post-War Foreign Policy After the 1975 fall of Saigon to communi st North Vietnam, U.S.-Vietnamese interaction was minimal until di plomatic relations were esta blished in 1995, which led to cooperation, most recently in 2010 between the Obama administration and Vietnam opposing perceived Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea (Manyin 2011, 2). The Vietnam War was the first war in U.S. history that the U.S. lost. The U.S. lost, in President Johnsons words, to a r aggedy-ass little four th-rate country (Kalb 2011, SR8). In the aftermath of U.S. defeat, a new term arose: Vietnam syndrome, the common belief after the bloody and protracted conflict in Vietnam that the American public no longer had the stomach for war unl ess guaranteed swift, easy and decisive victory (Alper 2007). Vietnam syndrome de scribed U.S. hesitancy over military engagement as a disease to be cured, ma king it a metaphorical disease created by prointerventionists. When first campaigning fo r president in 1980, R onald Reagan, said, For too long, we have lived with the V ietnam Syndrome (Reagan 1980). After U.S. victory in the Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush said, The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula (Bush 1991), and on a separate occasion, he said, And, by God, we 've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all (Bush 1991). According to the 2007 documentary film War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death :
80 Public support for the Second World War never fell below 77%, according to opinion polls. But during the Vietnam War, public support fell to about 30%, and within a couple of years of the US o ccupation of Iraq public support was down to almost 30% among the US population. So wh ats the difference? In one case, WWII, the US public never felt that the war was fundamentally based on deception. But if it emerges that the war cant be won quickly, and that the war was based on deceptions, then people have turned against the war. (Alper 2007) Pentagon Papers Director Leslie H. Gelb believed that Vietnam Syndrome, like other foreign policy phrases, oversimplified reality: Americans transform every success and ev ery failure in foreign affairs into a policy doctrine and a political cudgel. We refuse to rest until we possess one lens through which to view the world and one answer for all challenges. We are forever brushing off small but important le ssons in the quest for great and single truths. Ours is a short and tumultuous hi story of taking largely unique events -the fall of Eastern Europe and China to Communism, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam -and eleva ting their purported lessons into policy dogmas, be they Truman Doctrines, Ke nnedy Corollaries or Vietnam Syndromes. (Gelb 1991, A.17) CONCLUSION Overall, journalism failed the U.S. public in its Tet Offensive coverage. Print and television journalism gave the illusion of co mprehensive coverage while, in reality, the public was seeing the war through a keyhole. Pre-Te t lack of journalistic interest, lack of a front line with which to measure progress, repetitive coverage, a nd tight deadlines do excuse journalists for not being experts. Howe ver, some journalists made stuff up that is still believed to this day despite being false. Specific Tet Offensive journalistic flaws like the unjustified fear mongering about the Batt le of Khe Sanh, the photos without context, news organizations withholding the inform ation that they did not know what was happening, the unsupported enemy collusion cla im, and the influential Cronkite speech, all show a media that was bett er at cherry-picking inform ation than understanding the big picture.
81 Chapter 4: Conclusion The Tet Offensive is a mystery at first sight: Despite the widespread surprise attack, the U.S. used its strength firepower to defeat an enemy that forwent its strength mobility. The U.S. won the battle milita rily, but lost the battle politically. Numerous errors by journalists and an ove rconfident Johnson administration explain how that misperception occurred. The image of Ge neral Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner lacked context, the media misrepresented th e communist attack on the U.S. embassy, the Battle of Khe Sanh coverage was unjustifiably pessimistic, photos that provided context about the damage to cities were not given mu ch play, internal news memos showed that news organizations withheld information showing that they did not know what was happening, the unsupported enemy collusion alle gation was weakly challenged by U.S. Ambassador Bunker, Walter Cronkite s influential speech provided little insi ght into the conflict and omitted key facts about it, and th e overconfident U.S. government lost the trust of the public, which resulted in a pol itical victory for Hanoi. The Tet Offensive aftermath of the My Lai Massacre and the Pentagon Papers certainly did not inspire confidence in the U.S. government. Gallup pollsters William L. Lunch and Peter W. Sperlich (Lunch 1979) believe that afte r the Tet Offensive, U.S. public opinion supporting the war weakened while desire for U.S. withdrawal rose, indicating that Tet dimmed public desire for continued intervention. ABC News journalist Ho ward K. Smith resigned over Vietnam coverage, claiming that the media was contributing to the confusion and frustration now damaging the American spirit. For example, regard ing the image of Gene ral Loan executing a
82 communist, Smith said that no one made even a perfunctory acknowledgement of the fact that such executions, en masse, are the Viet Cong way of war (quoted in Willbanks 2006, 112). Due to their constraints, journalists ca nnot often get the story perfectly. If one sees tanks in the streets, ai rcraft bombing in residential neighborhoods, and all businesses closed, except coffin makers, then for a reporter to believe th e war is not going well is an understandable conclusion (Willbanks 2006, 111). Simultaneous battles across Vietnam made getting the big picture difficult. Howeve r, journalistic misc onduct is unacceptable. In 2004, Daniel Okrent, the public editor of The New York Times described flaws in the papers reporting of the Iraq War. One fl aw is applicable to the Tet Offensive and journalism generally: The hunger for scoops -Even in the quietes t of times, newspaper people live to be first. When a story as momentous as this one comes into view, when caution and doubt could not be more necessary, they can instead be drowned in a flood of adrenalin. One old Times hand recently told me there was a period in the not-toodistant past when editors stressed the maxi m ''Don't get it first, get it right.'' That soon mutated into ''Get it first and get it right.'' The next devolution was an obvious one. War requires an extra standard of care, not a le sser one. (Okrent 2004) This is not breaking news, but governments d eceive whether by lying, omitting facts, or making improbable predictions. Journalists co uld have asked tougher questions about the Vietnam War. There are many questions that j ournalists should have asked: If the U.S. is fighting in Vietnam for democracy, then w hy is it supporting a government that cancelled the scheduled 1956 elections? Does the U.S. support democratic governments or friendly ones? How much money and how many lives can be sacrificed before you consider the possibility that the alleged democracy goa l is too expensive to pursue? How can
83 President Diems minority Catholic government win public confidence when the public is mostly Buddhist? In a December 1962 interview, President Kennedy said: there is a terrific disadvant age not having the abrasive qua lity of the press applied to you daily, to an administration, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn't write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn't any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press. (Kennedy 1962) In 1995, twenty years after the Vietnam War ended, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara coauthored with historian Brian VanDeMark In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam which basically admitted the Vietnam War was a disaster, McNamara knew it at the time, he should have changed course but did not, and he was sorry. Too little, too late. In Retrospect is 576 pages of national security failure. The New York Times published a scathing editorial that McNamara in the fullness of time grasped realities that seemed readily appare nt to millions of Americans throughout the Vietnam War. At the time, he appeared to be helping an obsessed President prosecute a war of no real consequence to the security of the United States. Millions of loyal citizens concluded that the war was a militarily unnecessary and politically futile effort to prop up a corrupt Government that could neither reform nor defend itself. Through all the bloody years, those were the facts as they appe ared on the surface. Therefore, only one argument could be advanced to clear President Johnson and Mr. McNamara, his Secretary of Defens e, of the charge of wasting lives atrociously. That was the theory that they possessed superior knowledge, not available to the public, that the collapse of South Vietnam woul d lead to regional and perhaps world domination by the Co mmunists; and moreover, that their superior knowledge was so compelli ng it rendered unreliable and untrue the apparent facts available to even th e most expert opponents of the war. With a few throwaway lines in his ne w book, "In Retrospect," Mr. McNamara admits that such knowledge never existed. Indeed, as they made the fateful first steps toward heavier fighting in late 1963 and 1964, Mr. Johnson and his Cabinet "had not truly investigated what was essent ially at stake and im portant to us." As for testing their public position that only a wider war would avail in the circumstances, "We never stopped to e xplore fully whether there were other routes to our destination." he wants us to grant that his delicate sense of prot ocol excused him from any obligation to join the na tional debate over whether American troops should
84 continue to die at the rate of hundreds per week in a war he knew to be futile. Mr. McNamara believes that retired cabi net members should not criticize the Presidents they served no matter how much the American people need to know the truth. In Mr. McNamara's view, the President can never become so steeped in a misguided war that patriotic duty would compel a statement. Perhaps the only value of "In Retrospect" is to remind us never to forget that these were men who in the full hubristic glow of their power would not listen to logical warning or ethical appeal. When senior figures talked sense to Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNamara, they were ignored or dismissed from government. When young people in the ranks brought that messag e, they were court-martialed. When young people in the streets shouted it, they were hounded from the country. It is important to remember how fate dispensed rewards and punishment for Mr. McNamara's thousands of days of error. Three million Vietnamese died. Fiftyeight thousand Americans got to come home in body bags. Mr. McNamara, while tormented by his role in the war, got a si necure at the World Bank and summers at the Vineyard. (Raines 1995, A.24) There is a legal maxim Justice delayed is justice denied. There should be a journalistic equivalent: News delayed is news denied. Co nsider this excerpt from War Made Easy : Norman Solomon: News media, down the ro ad, will point out that there were lies about the Gulf of Tonkin or about w eapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [CNN Journalist] Christiane Amanpour: I m sorry to say, but certainly television, and perhaps to an extent my station, wa s intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at FOX News. [CNN anchor] Wolf Blitzer: We s hould have been more skeptical. Norman Solomon: But that doesn't bring back any of the people who have died, who were killed in their own country or sent over by the President of the United States to kill in that country. So, after th e fact, it's all well and good to say, Well, the system worked or The truth come s out. But when it comes to life and death, the truth comes out too late. (Alper 2007) A misinformed public cannot give informed consent to foreign policy decisions. A misinformed citizenry turns democracy into a caricature at best and a puppet show at worst. In an eye-opening Face the Nation debate, Chicago Daily News Washington bureau chief Peter Lisagor argued with Sena tor Wayne Morse about U.S. foreign policy and the role of the public:
85 Peter Lisagor: You know, Sena tor, that the American people cannot formulate and execute foreign policy -Senator Wayne Morse: Why youre a man of little faith in democracy if you make that kind of comment. I have complete faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you give them, and my charge against my government is that were not giving the American people the facts. (Alper 2007) Ironically, the U.S. public was given the facts about the Tet Offensive, but they did not matter. The public could not easily distinguis h the facts from the fictions that were reported. It relied on trus t which was betrayed. In the aftermath of critical media coverage in the end stages of the Vietnam War, the government learned to better manage the press. In the 2007 documentary Buying the War Bill Moyers examined journalism in the run-up to the Iraq War and found it to be very negligent. An extensive examination of journalism coverage of U.S. involvement in wars after the Vietnam War is beyond this study s scope. However, that such journalistic deficiency continues poses a grave threat to democracy.
86 Appendix Data Sources for Figure 3.2 Date Withdrawal Escalation Question Wording Source November 1964 13 46 "Which of the following do you think we should do now in Vietnam? 1. Pull out entirely. 2. Keep our soldiers in Vietnam but try to end the fighting. 3. Take a stronger stand even if it means invading North Vietnam." University of Michigan Survey Research Center Election Year Survey. April 1965 17 31 Respondents were asked which of five possible alternatives they preferred: 1. Withdrawal. 2. Stop the fighting and negotiate. 3. Continue as now. 4. Step up military efforts. 5. Go all out and declare war. George Gallup, The Gallup Poll, Vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1972), p. 1934. May 1965 13 23 Same question as above. Ibid., p. 1939. June 1965 12 21 Same question as above. Ibid., p. 1943. February 1966 19 23 Respondents were offered three alternatives: 1. Major war. 2. Continuing the present situation. 3. Withdrawal. Sidney Verba et al, "Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam," American Political Science Review 61 (June 1967): 328. November 1966 10 36 Same question as in November 1964. SRC Election Year Survey. February 1967 6 43 Respondents were offered four alternatives: 1. Move United States troops out. 2. Both sides withdraw under United Nations. 3. Get neutralist South Vietnam. 4. Win total military victory. Reported in the Washington Post, May 16, 1967. May 1967 6 47 Same question as above. Ibid. November 1967 10 55 "In your opinion, what would you like to see the United States do next about Vietnam? 1. Gallup poll reported in the
87Withdraw completely. 2. Start negotiations, decrease fighting. 3. Continue present policy. 4. Step up present efforts. 5. Go all out, declare war, use nuclear weapons." New York Times, November 11, 1967. November 1968 19 34 Same question as in November 1964. SRC Election Year Survey. March 1969 26 32 Respondents were asked the same question as in November, 1967, then offered the following alternatives: 1. Withdraw completely. 2. Continue present policy. 3. Go all out, escalate. 4. End as soon as possible. Gallup poll reported in the New York Times, March 28, 1969. June 1969 29 N/A "Some U.S. Senators are saying that we should withdraw all our troops from Vietnam immediately. Would you favor or oppose this?" Gallup Opinion Index, #57, March 1970, p. 10. September 1969 36 N/A "Do you favor immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam ?" Harris poll, Time, October 31, 1969, p. 13. November 1969 21 N/A Same question as in June 1969. Gallup Opinion Index, #57, March 1970, p. 10. February 1970 35 N/A Same question as in June 1969. Ibid., p. 10. September 1970 55 N/A "A proposal has been made in Congress to require the U.S. government to bring home all U.S. troops before the end of the year. Would you like your Congressman to vote for or against this proposal?" Gallup Opinion Index, #69, March 1971, p. 11. November 1970 40 26 Same question as in November 1964. SRC Election Year Survey. January 1971 72 N/A Same question as in September 1970. Gallup Opinion Index, #69, March 1971, p. 11. February 1971 66 N/A Same question as in September 1970. Gallup Opinion Index, #71, May 1971. p. 4. May 1971 68 N/A Same question as in September 1970. Ibid., p. 4. April 1972 73 N/A "A Senate committee has voted to force the withdrawal of U.S. Gallup Opinion
88troops from Indochina by cutting off money after December 31st, provided North Vietnam first agrees to return all American prisoners. Do you favor or oppose this?" Index, #83, May 1972, p. 22. August 1972 62 N/A "Which of the two statements A or B, would you vote for? A: The U.S. SHOULD withdraw all troops from Vietnam by the end of the year. B: The U.S. SHOULD NOT withdraw all troops from Vietnam by the end of the year." Gallup Opinion Index, #86, August 1972, p. 20.
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