Beverly Deepe arrived in Vietnam as a freelance reporter in 1962 and remained for seven continuous years, becoming the longest-serving Western journalist to cover the war. In 1969, the Christian Science Monitor submitted her work for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.
The Christian Science Monitor – February 3, 1968
“A view from Saigon: Blitz erodes U.S. position in Vietnam”
By Beverly Deepe
The Communists’ three-day blitz war—actually a war within a war—has opened up the possibility of the United States losing its first major war in history. This is the view of some knowledgeable Vietnamese here.
An American defeat in South Vietnam is not necessarily inevitable, as the Communists have long maintained, nor is it likely to be imminent. But, according to some preliminary Vietnamese analysis, it is no longer an impossibility, as American officialdom once predicted.
The Communist blitz war has pushed, rapidly if perhaps impermanently, the favorable politico-military balance of force within the South from the allied side toward the Communist camp.
The United States, the most powerful nation militarily in history, has become the underdog at this time in this multifaceted war of politics, psychology, military battles, and xenophobia.
Hence, the internal options open to the United States as seen in Saigon have shifted dramatically in the past week. The original policy choice of fighting for a battlefield victory or negotiating at the conference table has flipflopped into the choice of either negotiating or being defeated. Also, within the negotiations option, the choice has shifted from negotiating on terms favorable to the Communists.
Whether this balance of forces can be reversed across the board by American officialdom and the Government of South Vietnam is highly debatable in the opinion of knowledgeable Vietnamese. This will be the most significant question in the next few weeks.
“Of course, no one thinks the Communists can—even now—push the Americans into the sea for a classical military defeat,” one Vietnamese observer explained. “But, the Americans can become so politically isolated and militarily humiliated, they will be sucked out politically by Washington or else asked to leave by the Vietnamese,” he added.
In other words, the Communist blitz has at least temporarily snuffed out the hope of hard-line hawks here for an American military victory.
Yesterday’s pre-blitz pessimistic view is today’s optimistic view. The pessimists who once termed Vietnam the United States’s “can’t win” war, now are terming it a “might-lose” war.
The skeptics who once said the tide had not turned in Vietnam now are questioning if there is even a tide to turn.
The cynics, officially contradicted by the Johnson administration, who once said the Americans were heading for a stalemate in Vietnam, are wondering if they’re not heading for a dead end. Those who said they could not see a light at the end of the tunnel now ponder if there’s even a hole or exit at the end of the tunnel.
The blitz war in Vietnam is not considered decisive nor final here any more than the Israeli blitz war ended the Middle East crisis last year. But, the three-day beginning of the Communist “general”—or countrywide—offensive is considered to be the prelude to the last act of the high drama.
The worst is yet to come. Americans and Vietnamese, officials and common citizens, agree on this point. But they look at the gravity of the upcoming situation in different terms.
Gen. William C. Westmoreland, head of the American military command, has predicted full Phase 3 positional warfare along the demilitarized zone and the northernmost provinces. Vietnamese and Americans both look for another swooping attack coordinated between cities in the future. Vietnamese sources, but not Americans, are predicting soon the beginning of the “general” (countrywide) uprising of political demonstrations, economic strikes, and violent anti-Americanism. Others predict the Communists will launch an international and internal peace offensive to dovetail with their battlefield campaigns. And a few sophisticated Vietnamese familiar with Communist strategy foresee all of these probabilities climaxing simultaneously, perhaps during the American election period.
In short, the blitz war is seen as placing the Communists at a crucial crossroads. All of these possibilities now open to the Communists would be disadvantageous to the American position here:
1. A massive military push in positional-warfare pattern along the demilitarized zone or a number of other places. This push, by itself, would probably not be decisive against the preponderance of American firepower, as long as Washington remained determined.
2. The state of general uprising in which political agitation among the Vietnamese population becomes both ugly and pivotal. By itself, it is doubtful the Communists could seize power solely with a people’s uprising. This depends—not on the American strength—but on the future performance of President Thieu, his government, and armed forces.
3. A “peace” offensive in which international and internal developments would interact for both psychological and political advantages for the Communists.
4. More military attacks into the urban centers designed to erode the Vietnamese Government’s support in the cities and among the middle and upper classes—their last shred of internal support among the population—and to wear down the will of the governmental apparatus to resist the Communists.
5. All four of these, or some combination thereof, in which the American military preponderance would be outflanked on the battleground—as it was temporarily by this blitz war—outmaneuvered on the negotiations issue, or neutralized by political chaos in the Vietnamese cities.
The blitz was dramatically illustrated—at least to Vietnamese spectators—the neutralization of American military power by a well-timed across-the-board orchestration of political factors and military actions, operating at various levels. With regimental or battalion attacks, some of the allied airbases were assaulted and partially destroyed.
At a lower level, some of the dirt-strip airbases in provincial capitals were not assaulted, but simply held under siege by a handful of snipers. Other airbases—major ones, such as Da Nang—were not assaulted with close-in combat troops, but simply were rocketed and mortared from long-range.