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The American buildup transformed the economy and had a profound impact on South Vietnamese society. A huge surge in corruption was witnessed. The Ho Chi Minh Trail running through Laos, 1967
Washington encouraged its SEATO allies to contribute troops.
Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines all agreed to send troops. Major allies, however, notably NATO nations Canada and the United Kingdom, declined Washington’s troop requests.
The U.S. and its allies mounted complex operations, such as operations Masher, Attleboro, Cedar Falls, and Junction City.
However, the communist insurgents remained elusive and demonstrated great tactical flexibility.
Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam began to stabilize with the coming to power of Prime Minister Air Marshal Nguy?n Cao K? and figurehead Chief of State, General Nguy?n Van Thi?u, in mid 1965 at the head of a military junta.
This ended a series of coups that had happened more than once a year. In 1967, Thieu became president with Ky as his deputy, after rigged elections.
Although they were nominally a civilian government, Ky was supposed to maintain real power through a behind-the-scenes military body.
However, Thieu outmaneuvered and sidelined Ky by filling the ranks with generals from his faction. Thieu was also accused of murdering Ky loyalists through contrived military accidents. Thieu, mistrustful and indecisive, remained president until 1975, having won a one-man election in 1971
The Johnson administration employed a “policy of minimum candor”in its dealings with the media. Military information officers sought to manage media coverage by emphasizing stories that portrayed progress in the war. Over time, this policy damaged the public trust in official pronouncements. As the media’s coverage of the war and that of the Pentagon diverged, a so-called credibility gap developed.
Tet Offensive Main article: Tet Offensive Having lured General Westmoreland’s forces into the hinterland at Khe Sanh in Qu?ng Tr? Province
in January 1968, the NVA and NLF broke the truce that had traditionally accompanied the T?t (Lunar New Year) holiday.
They launched the surprise Tet Offensive in the hope of sparking a national uprising.
Over 100 cities were attacked, with assaults on General Westmoreland’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy, Saigon.
Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were initially taken aback by the scale of the urban offensive, they responded quickly and effectively, decimating the ranks of the NLF.
In the former capital city of Hu?, the combined NLF and VPA troops captured the Imperial Citadel and much of the city, which led to the Battle of Hu?.
Throughout the offensive, the American forces employed massive firepower; in Hu? where the battle was the fiercest, that firepower left 80% of the city in ruins.
During the interim between the capture of the Citadel and end of the “Battle of Hu?”, the communist insurgent occupying forces massacred several thousand unarmed Hu? civilians (estimates vary up to a high of 6,000).
After the war, North Vietnamese officials acknowledged that the Tet Offensive had, indeed, caused grave damage to NLF forces.
But the offensive had another, unintended consequence. General Westmoreland had become the public face of the war. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine three times and was named 1965’s Man of the Year.
Time described him as “the sinewy personification of the American fighting man… (who) directed the historic buildup, drew up the battle plans, and infused the… men under him with his own idealistic view of U.S. aims and responsibilities.”
U.S. Marines fighting in Hu In November 1967
Westmoreland spearheaded a public relations drive for the Johnson administration to bolster flagging public support.
In a speech before the National Press Club he said that a point in the war had been reached “where the end comes into view.”
Thus, the public was shocked and confused when Westmoreland’s predictions were trumped by Tet. The American media, which had been largely supportive of U.S. efforts, rounded on the Johnson administration for what had become an increasing credibility gap.
Despite its military failure, the Tet Offensive became a political victory and ended the career of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who declined to run for re-election.
Johnson’s approval rating slumped from 48 to 36 percent.
As James Witz noted, Tet “contradicted the claims of progress… made by the Johnson administration and the military.”