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Light at the End of the Tunnel

By the end of 1967 an American Army of 485,000 soldiers and marines, backed up by an enormous logistical system, had deployed in country; and officials talked brightly that there was now "light at the end of the tunnel." President Johnson, National Security Adivser Walt Rostow, Secretary of State Rusk, JCS Chairman Wheeler, CINCPAC Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Ambassador Bunker, and MACV commander General Westmoreland all appeared confident that American ground and air operations were so grinding down Communist forces in Vietnam that they would not be able to maintain anything more than a limited war of attrition. The pronounced gulf between their beliefs and reality deserves representative highlighting.

In October 1932, Montagu Collet Norman, Governor of the Bank of England, surveying the depths of the Great Depression, commented "I am willing to do my best when it comes to the future. I hope we may all see the approach of light at the end of the tunnel. Some people already have been able to point out that light to us. I myself see it-somewhat indistinctly." In October 1948, General Lucius Clay, US commander in Germany, said the Berlin Airlift had progressed to the point that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In June 1966 President Johnson said "I urge you to remember that Americans often grow impatient when they cannot see light at the end of the tunnel -when policies do not overnight usher in a new order. But politics is not magic. And when some of our fellow citizens despair of the tedium and time necessary to bring change - as, for example, in Viet Nam today - they are forgetting our own history."

Robert Komer, March 1967: Mr. Komer opened [the White House meeting] by exuding optimism on the current trend in Vietnam. . . . [He] expressed consider able disdain for MACV J-2, and particularly what he believes to be its overall underestimate of enemy strength. . . . Concluding, Mr. Komer recognized the possible trip-ups in the overall situation but anticipated that unless they occur, major military operations might gradually fade as the enemy began to fade away or put his emphasis on a protracted guerrilla level war. In either case, he said, the size of the problem in Vietnam will diminish, and fewer U.S. resources will be needed.

Walt Rostow, mid-1967: Chaired by Mr. Rostow . . . the [concern of this White House] group . . . was with opinion manipulation and political persuasion, with the aim of altering perceptions to make them coincide with specific notions, whether those notions were supportable by evidence or not.

Gen. Earle Wheeler, August 1967: In his prepared testimony, General Wheeler stated that the air campaign against North Vietnam is going well. . . . In some instances where he did present intelligence estimates, he made it clear that he did not agree with the conclusions of the Intelligence Community.

Walt Rostow, September 1967: Mr. Rostow . . . commented that he was "outraged" at the intellectual prudishness of the Intelligence Community [concerning its evaluation of the lack of progress in pacification].

Gen. W. C. Westmoreland, November 1967: Infiltration will slow; the Communist infrastructure will be cut up and near collapse; the Vietnamese Government will prove its stability, and the Vietnamese army will show that it can handle the Vietcong; United States units can begin to phase down.

Walt Rostow, January 1968: [Mr. Rostow criticized CIA for being "fixed on certain positions" and urged it to develop new analyses based on] certain totally different hypothetical key facts, e.g., . . that the gentlemen in Hanoi see the equation . . . as tending to indicate that one year from now, they will be in a considerably worse bargaining position than they are today; so that settlement now might be to their advantage.

General Westmoreland, January 1968: The year [1967] ended with the enemy increasingly resorting to desperation tactics in attempting to achieve military/ psychological victory; and he has experienced only failure in these attempts. . . . The friendly picture gives rise to optimism for increased successes in 1968.

A "we are winning" consensus pretty much permeated the Saigon-Washington command circuit; intelligence reports and analyses that deviated from it tended to be discounted. The growing uneasiness about the course of the war expressed sporadically by a handful of senior statesmen had little dampening impact on the pre-Tet convictions and pronouncements of the dominant administration officials.

The Tet Offensive in early 1968 changed the course of the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese Army, well-trained and well-equipped, was defeated on the battlefield in every encounter, but the shock to Americans at home solidified anti-war sentiment. There was no "light at the end of the tunnel". The light at the end of the tunnel now appeared to be an oncoming train.



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