I find the story fascinating, especially the manipulation of the events and the man (Loan) in order to rectify a particular point of view. In the bigger picture of this one famous event, is the whole situation of Vietnam from 1966 to 1975.
As part of my research, I have tried to read as much information on General Loan and Tet as I can get my hands on. One of the sources of information that has come available are secret document from the CIA and the Administration that are now available online. I recently went to the Johnson Library at UT-Austin and got myself a research pass to look at the documents there. I am going to look at Eddie Adam's journal from 1968 next time I am in town. The Adam's collection is also held at UT-Austin.
I just finished reading a declassified CIA book called "CIA and the Generals: Covert Support to Military Government in South Vietnam."
This, in my opinion, along with the Powell Doctrine should be "must" reading for anyone given the power to commit their nation's blood and treasure to further a goal.
Despite what General Brady (the guy who started me down this path of understanding Vietnam) may think, it was not because, as he puts it:
[o]ur defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.How a Two-Star General can be so clueless on what took place in Vietnam, the country and war he was fighting in, is a perfect example of why we "lost" in Vietnam. In two words, it can be summed up as "The Generals." More precisely, it can be described as the ineptitude of those in charge. And by inept, I mean lacking in the the general suitability for the task at hand, the inability to learn and reason. General Brady is a prime example of this, as were the Generals running South Vietnam in 67 - 75. They may be good at military management where you bark and order and see it get performed, but they lack the ability to understand the dynamics in play when that authority has no bearing on the situation and wisdom and compromise are what is necessary.
One thing you glean from reading this book is that the US understood we were not going to "win" back in late 1967, before Tet, before Walter Cronkite, before John Kerry. We held out hope, but it was doomed because of the ineptitude of the Generals that were the government offed in response to the Communists of the North.
Let me sum it up for you, using the CIA's take on this time and place:
[this book] traces the tortuous course of events in Saigon following the fall of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Ahern strikingly illustrates Saigon Station efforts to work with and understand the various military governments of South Vietnam which followed Diem, and carefully details CIA attempts to stabilize and urge democratization on the changing military regimes in order to save South Vietnam from Communism.Read that section in red. That was our problem, that was why we were doomed to fail or have it drag on and on and on. Same thing with Afghanistan and Iraq. Without a stable government that the people being governed can get behind, no amount of resolve, money, bodies, or non-defeatism will make a difference.
The US was there to "save" the South from Communism. That goal was not of interest to the Vietnamese people:
[t]he essential point as Polgar [CIA Chief of Station (COS)] saw it was that Nguyen Cao Ky and then Nguyen Van Thieu had succeeded where their predecessors failed by establishing security and by offering the fundamentally apolitical peasant the prospect of improved living standards. (page 135)
Polgar's DCOS [Deputy Chief of Station], Conrad LaGueux, was less confident that the massive American investment in the rural economy had produced greater loyalty to the regime: in his retrospective opinion, "the VC had extensive popular support." (page 135)That took place in 1973. You see, while we were "saving" Vietnam, the people - the "apolitical peasants" were wanting Communism. That was a reality and a dynamic in play starting early on in Vietnam. It was in play in the early 60's, 67, 68, 73, and finally to its conclusion in 75. We were saving people from something they could care less about in the first place. We [US] feared Communism. The Generals feared Communism because they would lose their livelihood. But the people - the hearts and minds we needed to make this work - could care less.
"Care", in this case, was a result of their living conditions. The Generals in charge of the South (the Government of Vietnam -GVN) were too inept to fully comprehend this, so the "sweat cancer" of corruption and self-gratification prevailed in the South. The Communists offered something other than the Generals. The Generals, themselves were fractured between northerners (Ky) and southerners (Thieu) and they were all at odds with the Buddhists who resented the Catholics who were put in charge of running the government by the French. South Vietnam was a mess, and there we (US) were trying to make it into something it was not ready or willing to be.
But it was not for lack of trying. 55,000 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Vietnamese can attest to that effort. Our defeat was not at the hands of the media or Berkeley professors, it was inept men who controlled the situation that lacked the wisdom and aptitude to fully comprehend the dynamics and reality in play.
But even at its best, it perpetuated the almost schizoid Agency (and US Government) approach to the political aspect of the conflict. The GVN had to be invigorated and reformed, and the peasantry must be won over to the government side. CIA did indeed recognize the need to 'develop peasant leadership, at least at the local level. But it never questioned the contradictory imperative that this be done without disturbing the social and economic structure bequeathed by the French colonial regime. (page 228)We knew it was a task that relied too much on an oversimplification of human endeavor. We feared Communism so we did what we thought would curtail it. Threw money and bodies at it. But Communism meant nothing to the Vietnamese other than it was non-French and non-US and non-military control.
We knew it was doomed before Tet of 68. We knew but continued down a path deemed appropriate and sound by inept men we put in charge of such decisions.
So I'll close this post with this little bit of behind the scenes information (pages 135 & 136):
One of Polgar's officers in the Indications and Assessment Branch (lAB) remembered the working level as less sanguine even than LaGueux. Robert Vandaveer had run the Station's office in Hue for two years before he came to Saigon in mid-1973 to join IAB.
Explaining the reason for this assignment, Polgar told Vandaveer that the "social democratic" bias of the branch, staffed by DI (Directorate of Intelligence) officers, needed to be balanced by a DO (Directorate of Operations) presence;
Vandaveer took this to mean that Polgar wanted to see more commitment to the government cause and less agonizing about its weaknesses.
The COS did not prohibit reporting bad news, but he did impose strict standards of verification, and a requirement that such reporting be "put into perspective." In practice, this meant that reports of government corruption, individual instances of which were hard to confirm, were seldom disseminated. And when a village headquarters, for example, was lost to a Communist landgrabbing operation after the Paris agreement, the report had to specify the much greater number of villages remaining under Saigon's control.
The requirement for "perspective" did not apply to good news, and Vandaveer thought that when retired Major General Timmes made his periodic tours to debrief his ARVN contacts on the Station's behalf, Polgar accepted his usually upbeat reporting at face value.
As Vandaveer saw it, the divergent views of management and the working level reflected a Mission-wide phenomenon, with the Mission Council clinging to an optimistic, "get with the program" mentality that echoed the style of the now-departed US combat forces. Station analysts, on the other hand, looked at the reporting of Hanoi's infiltration of men and supplies in a "mood of foreboding," and many street case officers were entirely cynical about the integrity of the South Vietnamese political process.That's not coming from General Brady's "dishonest media" that's what the CIA has described about the attitude of those in charge of "winning."
"Get with the program" is always shorthand for ignore the reality and accept an inept leader's magical thinking.