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The spreading talk of stalemate in Vietnam seemed to represent a crisis. Political and military leaders responded with an optimism campaign that began even before the completion of the SNIE, an effort to persuade the public that the war was being won. President Johnson invited Lieutenant General Stanley Larsen, back in the United States after almost two years commanding the American forces in II Corps, to give a press conference at the White House on August 25. Some of General Larsen’s exaggerated claims about enemy weakness in the coastal lowlands of II Corps were remarkably specific: “The 95th Regiment has chosen not to fight and to avoid contact for the last year and a half.” “I have made a prediction that we have seen our last major battle in the II Corps area, on the coastal area, at least, of battalion size or larger.”1 The PAVN 95th Regiment had in fact been in considerable combat during recent weeks, culminating with a successful raid earlier in August on the district capital of Hieu Xuong, in the immediate vicinity of the American air bases at Tuy Hoa. The next battle of battalion size or larger in the coastal areas of II Corps began four days after General Larsen’s prediction that there would be no more such battles, with the PAVN 95th Regiment again pushing very aggressively into the vicinity of Tuy Hoa.2 A few weeks later, US Army Chief of Staff Harold Johnson told U.S. News & World Report, “If you exclude the two northernmost provinces of South Vietnam, just south of the Demilitarized Zone, you find that the major forces of the enemy have already been largely broken up. . . . I do not believe that they any longer have the capability of regular, planned reinforcement.”3 The same absurdities appeared in classified documents C H A P T E R FOUR 4 THE OPTIMISM CAMPAIGN THE OPTIMISM CAMPAIGN 95 not intended for public distribution. A major study of progress in the war written jointly by MACV and the US Embassy in early November blithely ignored ongoing battles around Loc Ninh in III Corps and near Dak To in II Corps to state that the enemy was “confining his major operations almost entirely to the general DMZ border area” (the northernmost part of I Corps). It said this surely was not a matter of choice; the enemy must be losing the capability to operate on a serious scale outside northern I Corps.4 The White House demanded that General Westmoreland take a major role in the optimism campaign. He seems for the most part to have been an enthusiastic participant, but he was reluctant to allow his name to be associated with statistical arguments for progress. His hesitation to tell reporters the crossover point had been reached—he had made that claim in a private meeting at the White House in April 1967 but did not present it to reporters, even on a “background” basis, until late June— has already been noted. President Johnson said in late October, “We’ve almost lost the war in the last two months in the court of public opinion.”5 He brought Westmoreland to Washington in November to make a series of public and private statements about the war. Some of Westmoreland’s statements during his visit were as optimistic as the president could have wished. He told Jim Lucas of the Scripps-Howard newspapers that the enemy, “running out of men,” was “trying desperately to win a victory. He has not been able to, but he can get an awful lot of mileage (in the American press) out of a few pinpricks.”6 But in some ways, Westmoreland was still cautious. He had two big statistical claims about progress toward military victory : that total enemy strength had declined from 285,000 to 242,000 and that while the number of regular combat battalions in the enemy force was 163, the same as it had been a year before, enemy losses had been so great that 76 of those 163 battalions were no longer rated combateffective . He wanted these claims to appear in the press, but he did not want to be cited, or to have Davidson or any other senior officer at MACV be cited, as having made them. He and Davidson had presented both claims on November 11, but in a “background” briefing; the reporters were forbidden to identify the officers who had briefed them. He...


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MARC Record
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