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General Westmoreland’s reactions during the early days of the Tet Offensive show some indications that he was aware that the Communist forces were stronger than his statements during the optimism campaign had implied. At a press briefing on February 1, he said the enemy was in a “go-for-broke” campaign. But then he was asked what would happen to the enemy forces if their current offensive failed. Would they be “pretty well washed up?” He replied that the enemy “will be very badly hurt to the point where it will take him, in my opinion many, many weeks to recover.” In some areas, the enemy might recover within weeks, “but in others, it will take months.”1 If he had actually believed that the Communist forces had been shrinking for more than a year because they could not find, each month, replacements even for the men they lost in a month of normal fighting, he would not have expected them ever to recover from the much heavier losses they were currently suffering. He also made it clear that he knew the Communists had significantly more strength than they were currently using. He said they had a threephase plan. Phase one, from late October 1967 to mid-January 1968, had involved attacks in certain areas of South Vietnam. The Communists wanted to win control of those areas if they could but also knew their attacks would force the United States to send forces to those areas, thinning out US forces elsewhere. Phase one thus “was diversionary for phase two.”2 Phase two was the much more widespread pattern of attacks that had begun on January 30 and 31. But that also, according to Westmoreland , was not an end in itself. He said phase two was “diversionary for phase three,” which would be a massive attack in the two northernmost chapter nine 9 THE WAR CONTINUES THE WAR CONTINUES 191 provinces of South Vietnam, Quang Tri and Thua Thien. “His [the enemy ’s] Phase Three is yet to come. This will be his main effort and will involve the commitment of the largest number of troops ever committed by the enemy to date.”3 General Wheeler, Secretary McNamara, and President Johnson also suggested around this time that the attacks on places such as Saigon had essentially been diversions and that the real Communist objective was the northernmost provinces.4 In his press conference on February 1, Westmoreland made it clear that the Communists had very large forces that they had held back from the Tet Offensive because they were to be used in the phase three attacks in Quang Tri and Thua Thien. He made only the briefest reference to the fact that they also had uncommitted reserves in other areas of South Vietnam.5 By the time he met with senior officers on February 3, concern about uncommitted reserves in other areas was increasing. The first item in the minutes of the meeting began, “In the current country-wide attacks , the enemy, in many areas, has not committed many of his primary main force and NVA units. This is particularly true in III CTZ. As a result, he possesses a strong capability to re-cycle the attacks.” The following day, Davidson drafted and Westmoreland signed a warning about this to all commands.6 After the war, General Westmoreland tried for the most part (but with odd exceptions—see below) to give an impression that he had never seen the situation as direly threatening during the Tet Offensive. This impression has been widely accepted. Richard Holbrooke, however, who talked with Westmoreland shortly after Tet, later remembered him as having been “dispirited, deeply shaken, almost a broken man . . . stunned that the Communists had been able to coordinate so many attacks in such secrecy.”7 Westmoreland told Wheeler on February 3 that it was possible a situation might arise in the northernmost part of South Vietnam calling for the use of nuclear weapons. He had officers both at MACV and in I Corps working until February 12 on plans for such use under the code name “Fracture Jaw.” Major General Walter Kerwin, who as chief of staff at MACV supervised the planning there, later described this as contingency planning “in case we had a catastrophe.”8 Even more significant was the prolonged dialogue between Westmoreland and CJCS Wheeler on the question of possible reinforcements for 192 CHAPTER NINE the American forces in Vietnam, conducted at long distance...


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