Success of the Offense

Success of the Offensive

During the second half of 1967 the administration had become alarmed by criticism, both inside and outside the government, and by reports of declining public support for its Vietnam policies.  According to public opinion polls, the percentage of Americans who believed that the U.S. had made a mistake by sending troops to Vietnam had risen from 25 percent in 1965 to 45 percent by December 1967.  This trend was fueled not by a belief that the struggle was not worthwhile, but by mounting casualty figures, rising taxes, and the feeling that there was no end to the war in sight.  A poll taken in November indicated that 55 percent wanted a tougher war policy, exemplified by the public belief that “it was an error for us to have gotten involved in Vietnam in the first place. But now that we’re there, let’s win – or get out.”  This prompted the administration to launch a so-called “Success Offensive”, a concerted effort to alter the widespread public perception that the war had reached a stalemate and to convince the American people that the administration’s policies were succeeding. Under the leadership of National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow, the news media then was inundated by a wave of effusive optimism.  Every statistical indicator of progress, from “kill ratios” and “body counts” to village pacification was fed to the press and to the Congress. “We are beginning to win this struggle” asserted Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey on NBC’s “Today Show” in mid-November.  “We are on the offensive.  Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress.”  At the end of November, the campaign reached its climax when Johnson summoned Westmoreland and the new U.S. Ambassador, Ellsworth Bunker, to Washington, D.C., for what was billed as a “high level policy review”.  Upon their arrival, the two men bolstered the administration’s claims of success.  From Saigon, pacification chief Robert Komer asserted that the “pacification” program in the countryside was succeeding, and that sixty-eight percent of the South Vietnamese population was under the control of Saigon while only seventeen percent was under the control of the Vietcong.  General Bruce Palmer, Jr., one of Westmoreland’s three Field Force commanders, claimed that “the Viet Cong has been defeated” and that “He can’t get food and he can’t recruit.  He has been forced to change his strategy from trying to control the people on the coast to trying to survive in the mountains.”

Westmoreland was even more emphatic in his assertions.  At an address at the National Press Club on 21 November he reported that, as of the end of 1967, the communists were “unable to mount a major offensive…I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing…We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.”  By the end of the year the administration’s approval rating had indeed crept up by eight percent, but an early January Gallup poll indicated that forty-seven percent of the American public still disapproved of the President’s handling of the war.  The American public, “more confused than convinced, more doubtful than despairing…adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude.”  During a discussion with an interviewer from Time magazine, Westmoreland defied the communists to launch an attack: “I hope they try something, because we are looking for a fight.”

SOURCE: Wikipedia

Next – Northern Decisions


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