Military generals in Vietnam had a definition in their minds as to when to gauge we were winning the war there. They referred to it as the 'crossover point', that is, the point in the war when the enemy would no longer be able to replace the men it had already lost. By mid 1967, this idea was taking hold, as President Lyndon Johnson stated to the American people that progress was being made.
In Vietnam however, 'pacification', or the winning of the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people as a strategy was clearly not working. Half a million Americans were now part of the landscape, and the disruption of life for the average Vietnamese was becoming intolerable. It didn't help that derogatory terms from prior wars were used by soldiers to describe the natives as 'gooks', who lived in 'hooches'.
A stunning statistic came out of this episode that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. With a half million American soldiers in Vietnam by mid 1967, only twenty percent of them would ever see combat! All the rest were in some area of support for soldiers in the field. I just found that astonishing, considering the number of soldiers who died in the war.
One of the frustrations that our combat soldiers in Vietnam experienced was the non-traditional way of fighting over a piece of land and then abandoning it when the battle was over. This was a routine occurrence in Vietnam. To Marine John Musgrave, who I quote in my summary line, the whole idea of fighting an enemy was to secure the land they were fighting on - 'War is a real estate business". Interestingly, the first time I ever ran into the concept expressed in that way was in a 1949 John Wayne movie, "Sands of Iwo Jima". It's the classic Marine definition of battle - "That's war boy, tradin' real estate for men." In Vietnam, all definitions that made any sense wound up entirely discredited.
It would seem then, with the lack of progress in prosecuting the war for the South Vietnamese, that the North would be in high spirits, but there was similar dissatisfaction with Le Duan's leadership as well. The North Vietnamese were weary of the disruption in their own lives, so Le Duan revived an idea that he had some success with in 1964. He termed it 'General Offensive, General Uprising', a strategy of coordinated attacks on scores of South Vietnamese cities and military bases that he hoped would completely demoralize the opposition. In due time, this would become known as the Tet Offensive.
A significant highlight of this episode in the series is the inclusion of an interview by a French journalist of a captured Air Force pilot shot down by the North Vietnamese. The young John McCain is almost unrecognizable as he speaks about his capture, having suffered a broken arm and leg when he parachuted from his downed plane. It was somewhat odd to see McCain smoking during the interview while flat on his back, but it was worse to learn that after the interview, he was beaten for not showing sufficient gratitude to his captors.
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