All about how the 1968 Tet Offensive destroyed the US’s will to keep fighting in Vietnam. JB West and JB East Present: See You In The Hague! #47. Transcript and AV podcasts.

Pictured above: Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was decades ahead of the United States, knowing that propaganda was the key to defeating the country’s far superior military adversary.




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Jeff J. Brown: Good morning, everybody. This is Jeff J. Brown, aka JB West on the beaches of D-Day in Normandy, France. And my good friend and compadre JB East James Bradley is in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. How are you doing today?

James Bradley: Hey, Jeff. I’m great.

Jeff: Well, tell us what you got going today. I understand we have a fascinating story that a lot of people have maybe heard about but don’t know all the details of.

James: Well, here in Vietnam, it’s the new year and they call it Tet. And I just had the experience of phoning friends in the United States and I would say it’s Tet. And they would say, Oh, like the Chinese New Year. No, it’s not like the Chinese New Year. It is Vietnamese New Year and it’s called Tet. And they never heard of Tet. And then I would say, have you ever heard of the 1968 Tet Offensive? Oh, yeah, yeah. And they didn’t make the connection. So, I thought we would do this show on the Tet Offensive of 1968.

So, let’s get back to the Vietnam War. We’re in the 1960s, and I’ll ask everybody, every listener, Jeff, listeners, everyone to just answer the question in your mind, when did the Vietnam War start? Tick, tick, tick think. When did the Vietnam War start? Well, obviously it started in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, right? No, maybe it started in 1956 when Eisenhower cut the country in two with the Geneva Accords, and they created a North Vietnam and a South Vietnam that had never existed.

No. Maybe it started when President Harry Truman, right, when Japan surrendered, sent all the equipment ready for the invasion of Japan. He sent it down to the French to help in Vietnam. No. Maybe it started when Franklin Delano Roosevelt cut off Japan’s oil because they invaded Vietnam. We’ve been thinking about Vietnam, defending Vietnam, and sending armaments to quell Vietnam from FDR times. So, this is long in the tooth. And this story is going to go all the way into Richard Nixon’s presidency.

So, get ready for a historical ride here. So, first of all, let’s talk about mission creep. We’ve got the CIA coming in in the 1950s under Eisenhower, and they set up a government and they cut Vietnam in two. Now, for people who aren’t familiar with the geography of Vietnam, you might be familiar with the geography of California. Let’s take California and make it Vietnam. So, San Diego is Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City now. So, San Diego, Saigon, and up in Northern California, up in the mountains, there’s a Hanoi.

Now, that was one country. It was one unit for thousands of years. And what happened in the 1950s when Americans weren’t paying attention is the Eisenhower administration cut the country in two. So, Ho Chi Minh had just beaten the French and it was one Vietnam. And we didn’t like that. Secretary of State Dulles didn’t like that. So, we just drew a line and we said, this is a demilitarized zone. And hey, hocus pocus, there’s an East Germany, a West Germany, North Korea, and South Korea.

And look at this. There are two countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Now, this is important because if you look at the 1960s coverage, 1970s, if you go up to today to the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam, they say there was a North Vietnam, a South Vietnam, and they were in a civil war and there was a line between the country and the north tried to come down and the South tried to kick them out. That is all baloney. I came here and had my head turned around on a swivel.

I interviewed Vietnamese who fought in the war, and they were like one guy said, jeez, Mr. Bradley, you guys had big imaginations. You printed a map of our country in The New York Times, then you got the United Nations to say there are two countries. He said that was ridiculous. He said, I never thought I needed a visa to visit my uncle in North Vietnam. And if you read Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s speeches, every single speech he gave for 20 years was he’d begin it. There’s only one Vietnam.

There’s always been one Vietnam. So, there’s only one Vietnam. And this separation of the North and the South was just an American overlay. I’m from Wisconsin. So, imagine that the Philippines invades Wisconsin and they just cut it in half. And all of a sudden, like, I need a visa to get to Madison, Wisconsin, from the North. It wouldn’t make any sense. We’d got relatives, there’s only one Wisconsin and it would always be that way. So, mission creep, we have the CIA in there at first and we put in this president Diem.

And the CIA is going to just move things around and tell Diem how to run a democracy and he has no idea how to do it. And there’s no tax base. The peasants don’t believe that there’s a South Vietnam and then, oh, let’s put in some advisors. These advisors are going to be the Green Berets. The Green Berets are going to come and they’re going to put steel into the South Vietnamese military to win one for democracy. And Jeez! That’s not working. So, we’ll send in more advisors and then the Tonkin Gulf false flag.

Well, we got to go to war. So, Johnson doesn’t want a war. He doesn’t want World War Two with millions of troops. So, guess what? We’re going to win it through the air. We’re going to make them surrender just like we made Japan surrender. We didn’t invade Japan, folks. We beat them from the air. But guess what? Japan was an island and Vietnam wasn’t. And Ho Chi Minh studied under the tutelage of Mao Zedong, who said give up the cities, it doesn’t matter. Just have a back base up in the mountains.

Make your team there and you can come out when you’re ready. Give the cities to the enemy. It does not matter. So, we’re going to win from the air. Okay. Shiny steel, the Johnson administration, rolling thunder. We’re going to bomb the hell out of the North Vietnamese and they’re going to surrender. So, what do we do? We create an airstrip in Danang about in the middle of the country. And it’s not an airstrip. It’s an airbase. I drove around the ruins of that airbase. It’s like five miles this way and three miles that way.

You’d have to call a taxi to go from one end to the other. It was enormous. So, we put in this huge airbase with the beautiful, shiny airplanes, and then we’re going to bomb the bejesus out of North Vietnam. Well, what are we going to bomb? Why don’t we bomb the oil facilities then they’ll surrender? Well, gee, Ho Chi Minh figured that out. Ho Chi Minh spent 30 years overseas studying the West. You know what Ho Chi Minh did with the oil before we bombed the refineries? He put it in barrels. And he sent the barrels all out in the countryside.

So, the oil supply was like floating in duck ponds all over the country. Ho Chi Minh had outflanked America, and he did so every step of the way. So, we have this airbase and its bombing fields, and the Vietnamese go underground and it’s not working. Well, guess what? The Vietnamese started attacking the airbase. Well, you need some Marines to protect the airbase. So, in 1965, the Marines in that famous newsreel hit the beach and they come in. So, Johnson said to America we’re not going to have a ground war here.

The Marines just came in to protect the air base. Well, guess what? The Marines in the air base started getting incoming grenades and rocket fire. So, the Marines said, what? We better go out and get those Vietnamese. So, now the Marines are going out on search and destroy missions. And this is ridiculous because they’re going out into the backyard of the Vietnamese who fought the Chinese for 2,000 years. They’re using techniques that they use to beat the Chinese. The Vietnamese are superbly confident that they’re going to beat these interlopers.

Well, we go from 7,000 advisors to plus 5,000 Marines. By 1967, we have half a million people, troops in Vietnam. Now, look at let’s say the Filipinos put in half a million Filipino troops into California. Well, let’s see each soldier has got, what, two pairs of boots? Let’s see 500,000 times. It’s a million. How did a million boots get from the Philippines to California? They were shipped there. How do you get airplanes from the United States to Vietnam? You’ve got to ship them. This is unbelievable.

For each of those 500,000 troops, how much money did they have in their pocket at one time? Let’s just say $10. Ten times 500. That’s $5 million. What if they had $100 in a month? That’s $50 million you’re shipping over just for the troops. How about the infrastructure? When the troops poop, there are toilets on these bases. They’re flushing. Where is that poo going? You’re hiring millions of people to service these 500,000. How many pens did you bring over? How many air conditioning units to cool the bars?

They had Budweiser. They had hamburgers. So, I’m just saying these 500,000 troops weren’t just 500,000 troops. This involved an infrastructure of millions of people. Well, guess what? Some of those millions of people were Vietnamese. So, on the Danang Air Base, the go-go dancers were Vietnamese girls, and the bartender was a Vietnamese guy. And the barber was a Vietnamese guy. And the guy digging the latrine over there was Vietnamese and they all were smiling. Well, these were spies. Vietnam has the same.

If the enemy sets one foot on our soil everybody fights including the women. Everybody. So, everybody. So, yeah, you volunteered to help the Americans. You got paid in dollars. You were the barber, but you were talking to the soldier who was going out. I got to get a haircut because I’m going out tomorrow. Oh, really what time? At about 10 a.m. Oh, where are you going? Oh, we’re going to go on…. So, I interviewed Vietnamese who said we rarely had a helicopter come in and surprise us.

He said, we knew where they were going to land and he said helicopters were great. I mean, folks go on YouTube and search the Vietnam War. And the announcer Americans came in with helicopters so that they were mobile. They weren’t mobile, they were static. The Vietnamese fighters told me helicopters go in a straight line once they take off. And where they’re going to go is their flight path. And one guy said we got told by the barber or the go-go girls or whatever that the helicopter was going to land on this spot on the side of a hill.

We went to the side of the hill and we saw the wind blowing and it was dry grass. So, we got a bunch of kerosene. And when the helicopters came in, we poured the kerosene. We lit it on fire when they landed. And the fire took care of those guys and we shot them in the flames. This is pretty cheap stuff. Another guy took me out to what we would call a battlefield. And he said, we knew the Marines were going to land by the river. There’s only one flat area they can land. And then they had to walk through the village to go up to the hills to search for the insurgents.

So, the Marines walk through the village and they see the toothless ladies and the buffalo boys with no shoes picking their teeth. And they think a bunch of dumb peasants. Well, those dumb peasants were memorizing every single grenade on the waist of those Marines. And the Marines go up in the hills. And my friend, this guy I interviewed, Mr. Khi said the peasants know exactly how many Marines, exactly how many rifles and they give them just great information.

So, Mr. Khi lines up his guys in the bushes. And he knows the Marines when they come down from the mountains, they’ve got to walk by these bushes to get to the helicopter. So, he lines these guys all up with guns and then he’s up in a tree. And when the Marines are optimally placed for slaughter, he waves a flag and all his guys start shooting. He said it was a four-minute operation. All the Marines were dead. He said we grabbed their equipment and he said, I think the whole thing was done in 10 to 15 minutes.

This is senseless to try to fight the Vietnamese. I mean, they have got it down and I can tell other stories like that. So, by 1967, politically in the United States, and this is where most of the Tet Offensive action happens is in the United States, is that Johnson is a politician and he has to run in 1968, November 1968. And there are protests going on. There are hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the United States. And Johnson has to show that he’s winning. So, he brings General Westmoreland.

Look at a picture of General William Westmoreland. Jeez! You couldn’t have gotten a young John Wayne to look any better. Chiseled features, blond World War Two veteran. And he puts General Westmoreland in front of a joint session of Congress. And Westmoreland says we got 500,000 troops. We’re winning. The enemies are on the run and the war is almost over. And Johnson is smiling. He’s going to win reelection. And I saw that address to Congress and it’s like, wow, we’re winning the war.

Then in January, the tables turn. Now we’re in January 1968 and the Vietnamese are nibbling at the edges. Look at California. Most of the population is on the coast. And then you go to the mountains. It’s the same with Vietnam. So, think of the population on the coast. And then there’s noise coming from the mountains. There’s this attack and that attack on the periphery out in the boonies. So, Ho Chi Minh is drawing the American troops away from the cities into the brush of the mountains.

And then a big battle happens up at the DMZ. Now, remember, the DMZ is splitting Vietnam in two. So, we’ve got Saigon down at San Diego and we got Hanoi up in Northern California. California, split in two with the DMZ. And right on the southern end just south of the DMZ is a place called Khe Sanh. And this is a very famous battle, and it’s never put in context. But in January, I was watching this on TV with my dad. There’s a marine contingent on top of Saigon up on this mountain, and they’re getting attacked by artillery.

The Vietnamese artillery takes out the airport. Helicopters are being downed. Marines are being killed. Well, this is such a big deal to LBJ and General Westmoreland that they build a model of Khe Sanh in the White House. And there are pictures. Americans don’t like to look at this because it’s just a fool as a president. He’s down in this map room looking at this clay model of Khe Sanh with little flags and he can’t lose Khe Sanh, why? Because in 1954, the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, you can look it up.

It’s a huge famous battle. And so, the Ho Chi Minh forces psychologically knew that the Americans would think, oh, wow, here’s another critical battle right by the DMZ, a critical hill caisson. And they’ll have to defend it. We were flying in water from the Philippines to defend this thing. We were airlifting in ammunition. The president of the United States was going to hold this thing. It was completely useless to hold that mountain. And eventually, we abandoned it.

There was no strategic reason, we were being fooled by the Vietnamese who knew that we would commit forces. Now, are you with me? The populations along the coast and along the mountainside, Vietnamese are making noises to draw the troops away. Now there’s Khe Sanh and Walter Cronkite. Every single night, the battle of Khe Sanh. This happened and one Marine died and one airlifted died. And man, all of America is watching it. The president of the United States is watching it. What’s happening in Khe Sanh?

Well, all the troops, all the military focus is up there. And then Tet comes. It’s the new year. Everybody relaxes during Tet. Tet is the combination in American terms if you took Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, and 4th of July and combined all that relaxation into a 10-day period that’s the Vietnamese Tet. So, the Americans kind of relaxed it Tet. Nothing happens during Tet. But there’s this battle up in Khe Sanh and there are some mountain battles. So, what I’m trying to say is Ho Chi Minh pulled the troops away from the coast.

And then guess what? When Tet hits, Ho Chi Minh sends. Every major city in Vietnam is hit simultaneously by guerrilla forces. We call them guerrillas. They call them patriots. So, to get ready for Tet, if you were an American observer, oh, they’re bringing in wagon loads of flowers. Well, underneath those flowers were rifles and grenades and artillery. They were moving all this into the city while the Americans were distracted getting ready for a holiday.

Now, Tet happens and all of a sudden, someone like me, a little boy watching Walter Cronkite, the action goes from General Westmoreland saying the war zone already won to Khe Sanh, oh, man, we’re going to keep this hill too, hey, what the hell’s going on here? Every single city in Vietnam hit. Just a minute. Look at this on TV. The Vietnamese drove a car up to the American embassy. Now I’m sitting in Saigon. I could take the listener by the hand and walk about 5 minutes from my apartment right here.

And now it’s the American consulate because the embassy is up in Hanoi. Back then, Saigon was the artificial American capital of Vietnam. So, that was the embassy. But it’s the same wall. They drove a car up. They didn’t have to come in with a tank. They just drove a car up to the wall and blew a hole in the wall. And then all of a sudden, about 20 Vietnamese are on the embassy grounds. Well, guess what? Why did they do 911 with the World Trade Center? Because the world press watches them. Guess what?

When you invade the embassy grounds in 1968, there were a lot of cameras around. All the CBS, NBC, ABC, whatever newsmen were able to rush and they filmed all this. I mean, don’t hold me to the facts. I don’t know I forgot exactly, but it was a seven-hour battle or a 14-hour battle, but they were battling on the grounds of the embassy. Well, there is behind the tree a dead Marine. And we’re like what’s going on? This war is already won. There are on the grounds of the American embassy with the American flag.

Civilian employees of the embassy with machine guns defending the embassy. This is not a war won. This is a war lost. This is incompetent. So, what I’m trying to say here is the war what Ho Chi Minh was trying to do was win the war in the minds of the Americans. Now, if you look at the anti-war movement in America, you’ll think, oh, yeah, that started with Noam Chomsky in the Boston Commons. No, no, no. It was Joe Blow in San Francisco who organized it. Well, just a minute. Ho Chi Minh in the 1930s was teaching his acolytes.

Look it, when the Westerners come to Vietnam, there’ll be photographs. And these photographs will make it to the newspapers of Auckland, New Zealand and Paris, France, New York, Chicago, and Toronto. And it’ll be a Westerner in a helmet pointing a rifle at a peasant. And this isn’t going to go well and there’s going to be anti-war protests and we’re going to win the war in the enemy’s home. Ho Chi Minh lived for 30 years overseas studying propaganda. He was an artist. He was an author.

He was published. He knew about propaganda. So, if anybody thinks that these anti-war demonstrations in the West were homegrown in the West, well, then you tell me why Ho Chi Minh in the 1930s was giving classes on how this would happen. He predicted it and he stimulated it. So, if you come to Saigon with me right now and we go to the War Museum downtown here about 15 minutes away from me on the first floor, there are all these posters. Oh, the Vietnam anti-war protest in Auckland, New Zealand.

Oh, the Vietnam anti-war protest in Santiago, Chile. And you just see all these posters and you just think, oh yeah, these are all the anti-war protests from all around the world. No, no, no, no. They came out of the mind of Ho Chi Minh. The reason they’re on the ground floor is that that’s how Ho Chi Minh thought they’d win the war psychologically. So, the importance of Tet is not the detail that they fought in Hoi An for this amount. And they went from this town to that town and they had this casualty here.

And the Americans were eventually able to reassert control. But that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to affect little boys like me in Antigo, Wisconsin, and my father and taxpayers who had just been told the war was won. And then we witnessed a ten-hour battle in the US. We couldn’t even protect the US embassy. So, psychologically, and this is something I just don’t understand, that Ken Burns and these guys don’t bring it out because they don’t come over here and talk to the Vietnamese.

But the Tet offensive was not about taking cities, it was about influencing the American mind. So, guess what? Tet February the populace thinks this isn’t going anywhere. Anti-war protests increase. Gene McCarthy sees this and says I think I’ll run for president. He does pretty well and Johnson looks weak. Robert F Kennedy sees this weakness and says, hey, I’m going to jump in. And guess what? I was sitting in the den at 321 Fifth Avenue, Antigo, Wisconsin, and I saw Lyndon Baines Johnson get on the television and he shocked everyone, including his wife.

“I want to announce that I will not accept the nomination as your president and I will not run”. I think it’s more important that I attend to the heavy duties of this prick. He was just lying. He was a beaten man by the Tet Offensive, by Ho Chi Minh, who waged a psychological war. And that’s the bottom line with the Tet Offensive. Forget all the geography. And they hit this town at this time and this happened. What they did is they won the war where Ho Chi Minh had predicted the war would be won in the 1930s, and that was in the minds of the enemy back home. That is the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Jeff: Thank you, James. Can I say something?

James: Please.

Jeff: Yeah. It reminds me, as you were talking about this, it reminds me of the Chinese, the Art of War and the 36 Stratagems of War, and how the Chinese greatest generals are the ones that never fire a shot. They’re the ones that don’t have to go onto the battlefield and use psychology and use behind the scenes. And of course, unfortunately, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong and the entire population, including the women, as you said, all had to fight, because there was no way they could not fight.

But it’s just I think it reminds me of that idea that you use psychology, you use propaganda to weaken the enemy and cause them to lose resolve and cause them to doubt themselves. And that’s all that’s presented in the Art of War. So, I think Ho Chi Minh obviously did the same thing with the United States. So, it’s a wonderful story. And I’m really glad you shared it with us today.

James: So, Ho Chi Minh didn’t just read The Art of War. He translated it three times. Sat down with the original Chinese and translated it into Vietnamese three times. If you’ve ever as a writer transposed a copy of the paragraph, you know it pretty well. Book three times. Ho Chi Minh in the 1930s was teaching The Art of War. He was an expert on the Art of War, and he studied under Mao. So, the point is, he ran the whole war with the Art of War, but the Tet offensive was won in the minds of individual Americans. That’s where the battle is. And William Westmoreland never understood it to the day he died.

Jeff: And they apparently don’t seem to understand it in Ukraine or anyplace else they go. It’s just one disaster after another. So, it’s just an American military just I think they live in a dream world of their own certitude. And I think Westmoreland was in that frame of mind. And Ho Chi Minh taught him a lesson.

James: Well, let’s do another session on that. I just wanted to get this out so that people know that they know the phrase Tet Offensive, but they don’t connect it with a psychological holiday that surprised America. It ran a president out. Johnson would not have to have RFK assassinated. If he ran, Nixon wouldn’t be president. I mean, the Tet Offensive changed history.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. Well, hopefully, we’ll have another installment about Johnson from another angle. And for those of you out there who don’t know right now, it actually is Tet in Vietnam and Chinese New Year in China. It’s the year of the rabbit in China and the year of the cat in Vietnam. So, now, since 1975, Tet in Vietnam is much more relaxed than it was during the war, right?

James: Yeah, we’re very peaceful here. And all of that’s the Vietnam vets said Vietnam is a country of peace. We didn’t invade anybody. But you come to our front porch and everybody…

Jeff: Well, James, thank you for a wonderful presentation. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot. And we’ll have to get back on for the real Lyndon Baines Johnson. And looking forward to it soon. So, take care. Stay well in beautiful Ho Chi Minh City.

James: OK, JB East signing off.

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