Chiến trường Việt Nam - P6: Cuộc nổi dậy năm 1968


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Transcript:
BATTLEFIELD VIETNAM
The Tet Offensive
In April 1967...
North Vietnamese Army units opened their biggest offensive of the Vietnam war.
Their role was to draw American forces into the remotest parts of South Vietnam,
...far away from the populated areas.
The hope was that the main attacks, scheduled for early 1968
would find the Americans deployed in all the wrong places.
Fighting began at the end of March when a strategic Marine patrol
...ran into an ambush near one of the strategic hills...
...that lay between the fire bases of Khe Sanh and Con Thien.
Dozens of Marines were killed during this first brief and unforeseen combat.
The North Vietnamese had by then assembled nearly 2,000 men...
...near the base at Con Thien and almost every day they hit the Marines...
...with artillery, rockets and mortars.
In the rugged countryside around there were savage battles...
...as patrols from each side clashed...
...into what became known as the hill fights.
During these battles, 160 Marines were killed and 700 wounded.
The NVA resisted with such courage that as a mark of respect
he Marines who usually called the Vietcong “Charlie”...
...rechristened them “Mr. Cong”.
But in the end, it was the sheer weight of American firepower...
...that turned the tables at Con Thien.
Repeated NVA assaults were broken,
and more than 900 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed by Marine artillery,
massive bombing, and the guns of naval vessels offshore.
After the battles at Con Thien, the next clashes were...
...near the border with Cambodia in the South.
At Song Be in late October 1967 a South Vietnamese Army battalion...
...was attacked by the North Vietnamese 88th Regiment.
The attackers were driven off with help from heavy American airstrikes.
Two days earlier, Loc Ninh, another provincial capital, had been stormed...
...by the elite 273rd regiment of the 9th Vietcong division,
supported by the 65th regiment of the NVA.
Reinforcements from the South Vietnamese 5th Division and the American 1st
...fought for several days and shattered the NVA regiment...
...leaving over 850 NVA and NLF dead.
The fiercest of all the border battles was near an American camp...
...at Dak To in the Central Highlands which had been massively reinforced...
...following a tip off from an NVA deserter.
By November 1967, the 1st NVA division, reinforced by two independent regiments,
faced the American 4th infantry Division, the 173rd Airborne brigade
and a mechanized task force.
Bloody battles would rage around Dak To for the whole month.
Of all the desperate encounters of the battle of Dak To,
the most costly for both sides was the fight for hill 875.
In the Highlands, whoever controlled the hills...
...could rain down mortar and artillery fire on the valleys.
The task of taking hill 875 fell to two American battalions,
one airborne, and one from the 4th infantry division.
Supporting them were fighters, B-52 bombers, and artillery...
...blasting the enemy defenses with high explosives and napalm.
170,000 artillery shells were fired on the enemy during this battle,
and the fighter-bombers flew 2,100 missions.
The North Vietnamese defenders were so well dug in and so determined...
...that the Americans were forced to launch repeated assaults,
...punctuated by yet more air strikes...
...before they could reach the crest of the hill.
It was a desperate and often nightmarish battle.
It took a full week to capture hill 875.
The assaults cost more than 150 dead and 400 wounded
bringing American casualties at Dak To to almost 350...
...with just under 1,000 wounded.
The North Vietnamese Army had lost 1,200 men.
In December 1967 the dry season had just begun in the Southern provinces.
Every year that was the signal for intense Vietcong activity...
as the guerrillas moved troops and supplies into place for the next offensive.
At the headquarters of Military Assistance Command Vietnam,
near Saigon, General Westmoreland and his senior officers ran...
a series of studies to try and predict where the enemy would strike in 1968.
The enemy's Tet offensive, though it had been predicted,
took the US command by surprise.
They suspected the Vietcong would concentrate their efforts...
...on the Northern part of the country.
The North Vietnamese Army would use up to 5 divisions...
to try and capture South Vietnam's two Northernmost provinces.
Other attacks on the Highlands and near Saigon could provide the diversion.
To counter the expected Northern thrust the Americans decided...
...to send up their most mobile reaction force, the 1st Air Cavalry Division.
In early January 1968 the division began the massive task...
of moving North together with other US and South Vietnamese troops.
By now, three quarters of American battalions in the South of Vietnam...
were deployed deep in the interior near the Cambodian border.
Unknown to them, elements of the NLF's 9th, 7th and 5th Divisions...
along with other units were already heading towards the capital for the Tet offensive.
The Americans, suspicious of increased NLF radio traffic behind them...
and the lack of activity in the border areas,
began a rapid redeployment back towards Saigon.
American forces were pulled back from the border areas with astonishing speed.
Such incredible mobility was something the Vietcong had never expected.
The ploy to use the battles on the borders to draw the Americans away...
...from the real targets of the Tet offensive had failed...
although it had allowed NLF forces to get closer to Saigon.
It was Lieutenant General Frederick Weyand...
...the commander of the US II Field Force,
that had requested the American redeployment.
Soon more than half his battalions were again at bases close to Saigon.
Weyand ordered a series of sweeps to try and find the Vietcong units...
...that were surely somewhere within reach.
The Americans were now convinced that a major offensive was coming soon.
However no one imagined that the Vietcong were planning...
...coordinated attacks across the whole country.
Neither did anyone guess that they meant to break...
...the traditional Tet new year truce.
As a precaution, the Americans did ask the South Vietnamese government...
...to call off the truce and cancel army leave,
but for political reasons, the request was refused.
TET!
By the last week in January 1968, the Vietcong had almost completed
the massive task of deploying 84,000 guerrillas for the Tet offensive.
Most of the movement of troops and supplies...
had successfully been kept secret.
Even villagers who didn't support the Vietcong stayed neutral
and few reports of guerrilla activity...
...reached the government's intelligence agencies.
The traditional Vietcong base areas around Saigon,
districts like the Iron Triangle, played a vital part...
...in the Vietcong 's preparations.
Even the huge tunnel complex at Cu Chi,
which the Americans had long believed had been completely destroyed,
was still an important staging area and command center.
Nearer the city, the growing crowds of travelers arriving for the Tet celebrations
covered the infiltration of guerrillas and their weapons.
As Tet grew closer, General Giap,
the North Vietnamese commander and architect of the offensive,
began to worry that his forces might not be in place on time.
As it happened, dozens of attacks were launched a full day too soon.
The North was still using the old calendar,
...that gave Tet as the 31st of January.
In the South, the official new year was the 30th of January.
The wave of Vietcong assaults in the early morning of January 30th 1968
confirmed to the Americans that the suspected offensive was underway.
General Westmoreland ordered all his forces to be on maximum alert.
At the same time, the South Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Van Thieu...
announce that the Tet truce was over and cancelled the army's leave.
36 of the 44 provincial capitals were attacked...
...as were five of the nation's cities.
The premature attacks should have been a disaster for General Giap's plan,
but in fact they were a great success,
and Giap still had at least some elements of tactical surprise.
American attention remained fixed on the northern border,
where Westmoreland expected the real offensive to come.
There, the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh had already been under siege for ten days.
In the rest of the country, although headquarters had sent out warnings,
alerts happened all the time and there was no real sense of urgency.
Half the South Vietnamese troops were still away from their units on leave.
Even in the capital Saigon, the Vietcong 's most important objective,
government forces were scattered and under strength.
In the days leading up to Tet, eleven Vietcong battalions,
mostly local units, had assembled for the main assaults inside Saigon.
The spearhead force was the C-10 local sapper commando battalion.
Outside the city, elements of the 5th, 7th and 9th Vietcong Divisions...
and two independent battalions were positioned to attack American bases,
block roads, and reinforce the city units.
The government forces responsible for the defense of Saigon
were the South Vietnamese Army's 5th Ranger group, three regional militia units,
and two Military Police battalions.
However, two elite airborne battalions were also in the city,
at Tan Son Nhut airport, on their way North.
The only American units inside Saigon were the 716th US Army Military Police Battalion,
and a Marine Security Guard Detachment.
The Vietcong plans for the attacks inside Saigon...
...had been worked out to the last detail.
Most of the assaults were to be carried out by units of C-10.
The Independence Palace, the offices of the South Vietnamese president,
would be hit first.
Next on the list was the Joint General Staff headquarters...
of the South Vietnamese Army, near to the American's main headquarters in Vietnam.
Tan Son Nhut airbase was to be seized...
along with the South Vietnamese Navy headquarters and the American Embassy,
the main symbol of U.S. power in Vietnam.
The government radio station would also be occupied.
After the initial assaults by C-10, the main Vietcong battalions...
were to sweep into the city from all sides to support the offensive.
In the early morning of January 31st 1968,
Vetcong units the length and breadth of South Vietnam searched into action.
In more than 100 cities and towns, shock assaults by Vietcong sapper commandos...
were followed by wave after wave of supporting troops.
In Saigon, as one attack after another had erupted, there was complete confusion.
Neither the South Vietnamese Army nor the Americans...
had a plan to deal with anything like this.
The army's units were under strength and scattered,
while the American MP's of the 716th battalion...
had been left out of the alert issued the day before.
Only 300 Military Police were on duty.
Of the many attacks the Vietcong unleashed in Saigon...
on the morning of January 31st, the assault on the government radio station...
...was the best organized.
The station was captured and the plan was to broadcast a tape...
...of Ho Chi Minh calling for the population to rise up against the government.
Ho's message never was broadcast.
The station's electricity was cut off by the army in the first minutes of the attack.
After a fierce six hour battle, government soldiers...
...including paratroopers brought in from the airport...
...succeeded in forcing out the surviving Vietcong.
Barely a mile away, at the Independence Palace, and the nearby Navy headquarters...
the Vietcong attackers had been driven away from their main targets within minutes.
The sapper team had been forced to hold up in a nearby building.
The fight lasted more than fifteen hours.
In the end nearly all the Vietcong inside were killed.
Although US Military Police were involved in fire fights all over the city,
in fact very few American installations had been targeted in Saigon.
The exception was the American Embassy,
the ultimate symbol of U.S. support for South Vietnam.
The assault on the American Embassy began at 2:30 am on January 31st.
15 sapper commandos blew a hole in the wall of the compound...
...and charged through the breach.
The fighters had killed 4 American Military Police guards and a Marine,
but their own officers had been killed almost at once.
The sappers took cover and waited for reinforcements.
Soon the Vietcong were trapped within the compound under fire from all sides.
The fight for the compound lasted for six hours...
but the effects of the battle would last much longer.
All around the world an abiding image had been created:
That of American troops battling to recapture their own embassy...
...in the very heart of Saigon.
THE COMMAND CENTERS
The Vietcong attack on the American Embassy...
and most other targets in Saigon city center had been launched...
...by the elite sapper commandos of the C-10 battalion.
The plan was that a follow up force of 4,000 would arrive quickly.
But time and time again the main battalions had been bogged down...
...in firefights and house to house battles.
One of the sharpest clashes yet...
...had happened near an American Officers Quarters.
The battle had quickly drawn in Military Police...
...and any other U.S. personnel that could grab a weapon.
During the night, a truck carrying 25 American Military Policemen to the fight
...was hit by a VC rocket head on, and subsequent machine gun fire...
...killed 16 Americans in a narrow street.
Relief attempts had developed into a furious engagement...
...which would go on for 12 hours.
Only a few miles away, Tan Son Nhut airbase...
...was one of the most important centers of American power in Vietnam.
The defenders of Tan Son Nhut were a squadron of US Air Force police,
...two platoons of Army headquarters guards...
and the only two companies of South Vietnamese Army airborne troops...
...not yet committed to battle elsewhere in the city.
On the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut the Vietcong had seized...
several key buildings as springboards for their main assault...
...and attacked the compound containing the villas of Senior Officers...
...of the South Vietnamese General Staff.
The guerrillas meant to hit the base from three sides...
...with more than 1,000 troops.
A large textiles plant was occupied...
...as the base for their heavy machine guns and rockets.
Only the arrival of an armored reconnaissance unit of the 25th Infantry division...
...that had raced to the scene from its base 15 miles away, saved Tan Son Nhut.
The tanks and APC's hit the attackers from behind...
...and in furious fighting had split the Vietcong force.
In the hours that followed, the guerrillas were hammered...
...by American helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers.
The attack on Tan Son Nhut was soon completely broken.
15 miles North of Saigon, was the massive...
American logistical complex at Long Binh.
Nearby was the US base at Bien Hoa,
and between them, the headquarters of II Field Force and 3 Corps...
from which the American and South Vietnamese battles in the Saigon Area...
...were being coordinated.
The main attacking forces were two full regiments of the Vietcong 5th Division.
After a heavy rocket and mortar barrage, the 275th assaulted...
Long Binh from the North side while...
...a local force battalion mounted a diversionary raid,
...and sappers blew up part of a massive ammunition dump outside the main complex.
At the same time the 274th hit Bien Hoa...
...and a local battalion tried to seize 3 Corps headquarters.
The American 199th light infantry brigade defending Long Binh...
...was attacked by a mechanized reserve...
...which hit the flank of the Vietcong attacking Bien Hoa.
A unit of the 101st Airborne Division was airlifted in...
...while helicopter gunships and more mechanized units...
...joined the day long battle,
eventually driving the Vietcong away from all their objectives.
For American commanders faced with the huge scale...
...of the Vietcong assault in and around Saigon,
Tet had been an extraordinary test of nerve.
It had seemed as if the enemy was everywhere at once.
Throughout the day, General Weyand had been directing the American battle...
...even as his own headquarters at Long Binh was under attack.
In the first two hours of the Tet offensive Weyand had deployed...
5,000 airborne and armored reinforcements,
more than 500 Armored Personnel Carriers...
...mounting their deadly 50 caliber machine guns had been sent into combat.
So far all the main Vietcong assaults had been at least contained.
But no one doubted there was still hard fighting ahead.
“How would you assess the enemy's purposes of yesterday today?”
“The enemy, very deceitfully, has taken advantage of the Tet truce...
...in order to... create... maximum consternation...
within South Vietnam, particularly in the populated areas.
In spite of the temptation to throw everything he had...
...into the battle against the guerrillas,
General Westmoreland was determined to hold back.
He was still convinced that the Tet attacks were a diversion from the main effort...
...which he expected to come in the Northern border areas.
He was deeply reluctant to commit his most mobile forces to street battles.
By now, Westmoreland knew that the Vietcong attacks...
were being countered successfully all over the country,
but at a great cost to American lives.
The South Vietnamese Army was standing up well.
The next stage would be to defeat the guerrillas...
town by town and battalion by battalion.
In the far South of Vietnam in the heavily populated Mekong Delta,
the Tet offensive had seen Vietcong assaults...
on nearly all of the 16 provincial capitals.
Can Tho, the South Vietnamese Army IV Corp headquarters was also hit.
Route 4 was cut in 62 places.
In the Central and Northern provinces, 11 cities, towns and bases,
including II Corps headquarters, had been attacked...
...in the premature offensive of January 30th.
8 more had been hit the following night.
All the major attacks would be repulsed within a week except in one city.
The assault of the old Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue...
would lead to the biggest and bloodiest battle of the whole Tet offensive.
The city of Hue was the third largest in South Vietnam...
...and the ancient capital of its former emperors.
It was split in two by the Perfumed River...
...over which ran key rail and road bridges.
On the North side of the river was the Citadel, a walled city within the city,
surrounded by a maze of streets and originally the home of the emperor.
Near the Citadel was the headquarters of the 1st South Vietnamese Army Division.
On the other side of the river was the American Headquarters compound.
The only South Vietnamese unit inside Hue...
...was the elite Black Panther Reconnaissance company.
The assault on Hue was launched by two local Vietcong battalions,
elements of the 6th regiment of the 325th NVA Division,
and the 4th independent regiment.
Within 24 hours Hue fell to 5,000 NVA troops,
who were quickly reinforced by a further 7,000.
They instantly raised the North Vietnamese flag over the Citadel.
Thousands of NVA troops ranged through the streets...
...mopping up pockets of resistance and most of Hue was quickly secured.
The exceptions were small areas around...
...the American and South Vietnamese headquarters.
There the defenders held out and had been reinforced by small units...
...rushed in from outside the city.
The U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops that had come to the aid...
...of their beleaguered headquarters...
...had run a gauntlet of NVA forces to get into the city.
Bigger units were battling to follow them...
but it would be days before they would get inside Hue in any strength.
Meantime it was clear that the North Vietnamese Army meant to remain
and would not be dislodged without a major battle.
THE TIDE TURNS
By the second day of the Tet offensive, it was clear to Vietcong commanders
...that the attacks in Saigon were in trouble.
The assault teams had been driven out of most of their main objectives.
The promised reinforcements had rarely arrived...
...and even nearby units had often failed to support each other.
Secrecy meant that they usually knew nothing of any orders but their own.
The fight for Saigon had by now settled into a large number of separate battles...
...raging in different parts of the city.
Often the Vietcong were completely surrounded by government forces.
Isolated units now faced concentrated assaults...
from armored vehicles, planes and helicopters.
In spite of the setbacks, the Vietcong had succeeded...
in winning control of huge areas of Saigon.
To many Vietcong fighters it seemed that victory was at last in sight.
They had been promised that the people of Saigon...
...would rise up to support them.
If they did, the war could be won soon,
whatever happened on the battlefield.
At the same time as the attacks on Saigon,
the Vietcong had launched powerful assaults on the surrounding towns.
The headquarters of the 18th South Vietnamese Army Division was also hit.
The headquarters had held out and the town had been retaken...
...after fierce fights by American, South Vietnamese and Australian units.
As part of an attempt to surround Saigon...
...and cut off the capital from reinforcements,
the Vietcong 273rd regiment launched a massive assault on the town of Thu Duc,
which contained one of the two South Vietnamese military academies.
The regiment took heavy losses but the following day...
...it seized the Newport Bridge over the Saigon river.
Together, South Vietnamese and American units...
captured the bridge after a violent battle.
At the high point of the Vietcong assault on Saigon,
the guerrillas occupied whole tracts of the West and South of the city.
They used the Phu Tho racetrack as a major assembly area.
The American 199th light infantry brigade launched an all out assault...
on the racetrack buildings driving the Vietcong into the streets around.
By the fourth day of the Tet battles, the Vietcong were being squeezed...
into the sprawling and crowded district of Cholon.
The drive to clear the Vietcong from their last stronghold of Cholon
and other parts of Saigon, would last more than a month.
Like the battles to clear residential districts all over South Vietnam...
...the fighting would be immensely costly in lives.
Everywhere, instead of surrendering en masse,...
the guerrillas were fighting back with determination and skill.
Most Vietcong units committed to the Tet offensive...
had made no plans for a possible retreat.
The hopes of Vietcong leaders were now fading fast.
They were forced to accept that the Tet offensive was failing.
The South Vietnamese Army had been meant to collapse or even join the guerrillas
but instead most of its units had bravely chosen to fight.
According to General Giap, it was their skill and determination
...that largely blunted the North's Tet offensive.
Even more disastrous, the uprising...
that was supposed to have seen thousands of civilians...
storming government buildings and proclaiming the revolution, had not happened.
On February 17th 1968, the Vietcong launched...
...sudden mortar and rocket attacks all over South Vietnam.
The attacks were no more than a symbolic gesture.
A few days later, the Vietcong high command ordered its units...
to pull back from the cities to regroup and refit the remaining forces.
HUE
When the Vietcong high command ordered its guerrilla units to withdraw from the cities...
...it made one clear exception:
The city of Hue was not to be abandoned.
Although South Vietnamese Army and American forces had launched...
...a determined counter assault, Hue was too valuable a price to lose.
By the fourth day of the Hue battle 1,000 more South Vietnamese Army troops
...had been airlifted to the city.
The Americans had been reinforced by 1,200 Marines.
Fierce assaults had been launched on the gates of the Citadel...
and into the streets of the Southern city.
By now the 12,000 NVA and NLF troops in and adjacent to Hue...
...had fortified almost every city block.
The attackers were forced to advance down narrow streets...
...and through gardens fighting their way from house to house.
Around every corner there were strong points bristling with heavy weapons.
Any house or wall could conceal a heavily armed NVA assault group.
At the start of the battle,
in the hope of saving the imperial city from complete destruction,
the South Vietnamese had insisted that the Americans not use artillery...
or aircraft to destroy enemy fortifications.
After five days of fierce and bloody fighting, most restrictions were lifted.
Bombers and artillery support were called in to hit NVA strong points.
Most devastating of all, the guns of American warships joined the battle.
Directed by Marine spotters, the ships fired thousands of shells...
...into the city from 14 miles away.
Meanwhile in spite of frantic American efforts,
U.S. reinforcements West of the city...
...were still struggling to reach the battle zone.
When the Tet offensive had begun it had caught the American 1st Air Cavalry division...
...in the middle of its redeployment from further South.
The division was split with its headquarters and 3rd brigade at Camp Evans,
...and its main logistical base at Phu Bai.
When the North Vietnamese had begun their attack on Hue, they had cut highway 1...
...the vital road link between the Air Cavalry's fighting units...
...and its stocks of fuel and ammunition.
Meanwhile, the NVA had a clear supply line running from the A Shau Valley...
...into Hue, and a ring of anti aircraft defenses around the city.
The Air Cavalry could send only a single battalion to advance on Hue.
It was dispatched without artillery support,
and with air cover impossible because of bad weather,
the battalion was cut off and only just escaped annihilation.
It would take nearly three weeks for the 1st Cavalry division
...to assemble the men, fuel and ammunition it needed to start cutting...
...the North Vietnamese Army supply lines into Hue.
By the twelfth day of the battle for Hue city,
South Vietnamese units had reoccupied parts of the Citadel.
The Americans had almost cleared the city South of the river...
...and had been reinforced by 500 more Marines.
The North Vietnamese still had open supply lines to the West
and were able to launch aggressive counterattacks.
But with the Marines now pressing into the old city,
the NVA position was deteriorating fast.
To help defend the Citadel, the Truong Tien bridge across the Perfumed river
...had been blown up by a Vietcong demolition team.
Supplies and reinforcements for the South Vietnamese Army and the U.S. Marines...
...fighting inside the Citadel, had to be sent by landing craft.
It was a hazardous journey.
The boats had to skirt an enemy held area...
...and sail under the guns of NVA troops.
During the following week, as the Americans and the South Vietnamese...
...blasted their way deeper into the city,
the sheer weight of their firepower began to tell on the NVA.
Their commander asked for permission to pull out.
But he was told he had to fight on.
The battle continued through to the night of February 23rd,
with days and nights of savage fighting...
...before the NVA were finally driven from their last redoubt...
...in the Citadel's imperial palace,
and the Stars and Stripes was raised above it.
Retaking Hue cost nearly 400 South Vietnamese Army...
...and more than 140 U.S. Marines lives.
5,000 NVA and Vietcong died in the city...
...and a further 3,000 in the adjacent fighting.
5,800 civilians were caught in the crossfire...
...or killed by NVA forces in the first days of the occupation.
American firepower, bombs and artillery...
...had reduced 80% of the city to rubble.
AFTERMATH
By the end of the city battles 37,000 Vietcong troops...
...deployed for the Tet offensive had been killed.
Many more had been wounded or captured, and the fighting had created...
...more than half a million civilian refugees.
The casualties had included most of the Vietcong's best fighters...
...and many political officers and secret organizers.
For the guerrillas it was nothing less than a catastrophe.
But for the Americans who lost 2,500 men,
it would prove to be a most severe blow to public support.
Vietcong leaders were now forced to claim that Tet...
...had always been intended as a series of offensives, not just one push.
To keep up some kind of momentum, two more waves of attacks were planned,
one for May and another for the following September.
The guerrillas also meant to tighten their grip on the countryside...
...now mostly abandoned by government forces...
...drawn in to the city fighting.
In the battles, the Americans had lost more than 2,500 men...
and nearly 8,000 had been wounded.
The South Vietnamese Army had suffered much worse.
Its best units had been hit so hard...
...they would be useless for up to a year.
Meantime American forces would spearhead follow up operations against the Vietcong.
Starting March 11th 1968, massive Search and Destroy sweeps were launched...
...against the Vietcong remnants around Saigon and in other parts of the country.
On March 16th one of these operations resulted in the now infamous massacre...
...by U.S. Charly company of over 200 civilians at the hamlet of My Lay.
Altogether nearly 20,000 Americans and 9,000 South Vietnamese troops...
...rained throughout the Iron Triangle, Cu Chi district...
...and other long time Vietcong strongholds.
In three weeks, possibly 3,500 Vietcong were killed,
and their ability to pose a serious threat to the capital...
...was delayed for the foreseeable future.
The Tet battles had delivered a massive victory to American military leaders.
What they wanted was an all out push to win the war,
including ground offensives into Laos and Cambodia.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff asked for 2,600 extra men...
...half for Vietnam, the rest to boost the reserves.
The answer from the White House was 'No'.
Tet had changed everything.
THE CROSSROADS
To the American public, already disillusioned with the war,
the Tet battles had come as a dreadful shock.
If the communists were close to defeat,
as the president and the military had claimed so often,
how could they have launched a nationwide offensive on such a scale?
By now, support for President Johnson's handling of the war...
...was at an all-time low.
He faced a reelection battle in the fall, and inside his own party,
Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy were opposing him on an anti-war platform.
Even his own advisors, especially Clark Clifford,
the new defense secretary, were coming out against the war.
The pressure on Johnson was overwhelming.
On March 31st 1968 on national television,
the president announced a new American peace initiative,
He invited the North Vietnamese to negotiate and stated that...
as a goodwill gesture, he was curtailing the bombing campaign against the North.
He also made a dramatic announcement about his own future.
“I shall not seek, and I will not accept...
...the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
Within days of the president's speech, Clark Clifford...
...ordered officials to start planning for a new American strategy in Vietnam.
The South Vietnamese Army would be built up
so it could gradually take over the fighting itself.
Meanwhile, the US would work for a negotiated peace with the North.
For the United States, it was the beginning of a new phase in the war.
The start of a long and costly battle to disengage from Vietnam.
Subtitling: DeStrangis