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The Tet Offensive posed a problem for those who had been arguing that the Communist forces in South Vietnam had been declining in strength during 1967 and were losing the war. Still, they were able to find an interpretation of the offensive that was consistent with this picture of enemy weakness. The model they used was the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. By December 1944, the Germans were unmistakably losing World War II. Nonetheless, they concentrated a substantial force and launched a major counterattack through the Ardennes forest of Belgium and Luxembourg . With the advantage of surprise, they were able to cut deepˆ˜ÌœÊ“iÀˆV>˜Êˆ˜iÃÊ>˜`ʈ˜yˆVÌÊ i>ÛÞÊV>ÃÕ>ÌˆiÃ°Ê iVi“LiÀÊ1944 was the bloodiest month of World War II for US forces in Europe. But the German drive was quickly brought to a halt, well short of its objectives. The Germans simply did not have the forces or the supplies to keep their offensive going, and the losses they suffered in it left them even more vulnerable to Allied offensives than they previously had been. Five months after the Battle of the Bulge began, there was no war in Europe because the German army no longer existed. CJCS Earle Wheeler may have been the first to compare Tet to the Battle of the Bulge, speaking hypothetically in December 1967 about an enemy offensive that still lay in the future. He wanted to warn the public that there might be heavy fighting to come, without undermining his argument that the enemy was weakening and the war being won. He gave the Communist forces “credit for waging a very skillful delaying action.” He said they had “not scored a significant military success for at least eighteen months” and were paying a high cost for what they were doing, C H A P T E R SEVEN 7 THE MYTHS OF TET THE MYTHS OF TET 157 but he warned that the North Vietnamese were “not yet at the end of their military rope” and that “it is entirely possible that there may be a communist thrust similar to the desperate effort of the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.” 1 Ambassador Bunker compared Tet with the Battle of the Bulge as early as February 3, 1968.2 General Westmoreland made the comparison on February 25 and repeatedly thereafter.3 On February 28, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow sent President Johnson a memo by Henry Owen, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, in which Owen wrote that the television coverage of the Tet Offensive reminded him of how in three past American wars, “the losing side threw everything it had into one last all-out offensive.” The Battle of the Bulge was one of his cases. He concluded, “There may be a law of human nature that comes into play toward the end of wars, and which . . . prompts the losing side to take large risks and losses in a last offensive (or, more usually , a wave of successive offensives) just before its collapse.” Years later, the command historian of the US Army Intelligence Center wrote that “U.S. analysts correctly viewed the enemy offensive as a ‘last ditch’ effort, similar to the Germans’ offensive at the ‘Battle of the Bulge.’”4 Senior officials have said the same. Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote in his memoirs, “From a purely military point of view, it reminded me of Germany’s Battle of the Bulge in World War II—a last-ditch offensive . North Vietnamese strategists committed all their available manpower , apparently hoping that their offensive would spark a general uprising among the South Vietnamese people, but this did not occur.” Walt Rostow said, “Tet as we all know was a maximum effort, like the Ardennes offensive.”5 Lieutenant General Phillip Davidson wrote, “We knew that in 1967 the Communists were losing the war in both South and North Vietnam. But it is only from reports that have recently become available that historians realize the disastrous extent of those losses. Like Hitler at the Battle of the Bulge . . . desperation forced the North Vietnamese to take an action of major risk.”6 Journalists and scholars have made similar statements. William S. White published a column in the Washington Post titled “Red Gains in Viet Cities Like Last Nazi Spasm at the Bulge.” More recently, Professor 158 CHAPTER SEVEN Peter C. Rollins wrote, “Johnson, Rostow, the Joint Chiefs, Westmoreland all saw Tet—correctly...


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