Saturday, February 27, 2010

Love Songs

Mojo and I had a wonderful evening down at Portland's Aladdin Theatre with the vocal stylings of Suzanne Vega.

My bride went out and got the tickets for me because she knows I've always had a weakness for the diva of music-geekdom. Smart, sly, a touch romantic, her clever lyricism and hooky songwriting more than cover for her singing voice which is frankly thin and a touch breathy. It works for her, but she's no Streisand.And in more than just volume. She has a sort of chagrined self-awareness that keeps her from the ranks of the typical pop-music chanteuse. You get the sense that while she enjoys her trade, she sees through the hype and the idol-singer bling. Forget it, Jake, you can hear her say, it's just Chinatown.

Her sidemen were bassist Mike Visceglia and lead guitar Gerry Leonard, who produced sounds I've never heard from an electric guitar, and kept the gig driving. But the real revelation was hearing them kick out Vega's old standards "Luka" and "Tom's Diner". Too many times I've heard performers treat their "popular" tunes with something like contempt, tired of hearing requests for the same song. But she and the guys really tore into the two favorites, giving me the pleasure of hearing something I had thought of as old and done to death made new and bright, full of the original life and spirit that made them so well loved.

Thanks Suzanne. Thanks, guys. You gave us a wonderful and memorable evening, and passed the fire of your creation to us. And that's about as great a gift as an artist can give, or an audience can receive."...if you carve my name in marble
you must cut it deep
there'll be no dancing on the gravestone
you must let me sleep..."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cultural imperia...what IS that thing..?

Does anyone else find this "tumescent-blue-robot-and-Korean-schoolgirls" thing disturbing?It's from the blog "Gusts of Popular Feeling", where the author discusses Korea's official desire to be rid of those pesky foreigners currently used to teach the lingua anglia of technological civilization to the residents of the Land of the Morning Calm.

We're so used to being the biggest racists on the block that it can be surprising to find other peoples just as prejudiced as we are. But one thing our cultural prejudices do is blind us to the realities of the places and peoples we encounter. The people inhabiting the Korean peninsula have been ferocious fighters for centuries, invaders and conquerors whenever possible, and like most aggressive, self-confident cultures tend to be a leeeetle bit xenophobic.

Whether or not the Korean government succeeds in replacing their foreign teachers with robots, the fundamental nature of people won't change. Many Koreans will always find those funny, pale-faced, rude, noisy, horny outlanders a nasty inconvenience at best.

But the little blue woody on the robot? Ew.

Friday Jukebox: Garage Band edition

I was looking for this song with no intention of posting it to Friday jukebox - it's a poppy, hooky sort of song but I have no special associations with it - and came across this funny little video.Not sure if I like it because of the garage-band quality or because the kid directing it has clearly seen enough music videos to have a decent handle on the style and a quirky sense of humor. The idea of using his little sister as the "girl in the short skirt and the long jacket" works like a mechanical ass-kicker. Anyway, I DO like it, and it's a good sort of Friday song.

And speaking of Friday songs, Mojo and are are capriciously abandoning our offspring tonight to go hear Suzanne Vega at the Aladdin.I'll tell you whether it was a good show or not in a bit. I usually enjoy Suzanne's literate musing, but the point here is, frankly, to get my proud beauty away from the needs of our progeny to indulge ourselves in a little grown-up needing. Or needling. Or needs must.

Something like that. Have a great Friday. I'll need something nice to enliven my spirit; March 1st is approaching like a punch in the gut.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wile E. Coyote, Super Meanie

Did I mention that my little girl has the most infectious giggle in the northern hemisphere?Well. She does.

When her little face lights up with laughter and she rolls about chuckling at her own wit it is all I can do not to scrunch her up in a sweet-smelling little girl bundle and hug her to me as she herself used to do with her toys when she was a tiny toddler.Tonight she was giggling in just such a way, sitting on my lap as I caught up on the doings of my Facebook friends, and she rolled one merry eye up and asked me what I was doing.

"I'm reading my mail." I replied.

She thought about that for a moment.

"You're a coyote, Daddy." she stated, and giggled explosively at her own wit, "And a meanie. A coyote and a meanie!" And then she gyrated with laughter and insisted I tell everyone on Facebook that I WAS a coyote and a meanie.

What else could I do?

Everyone's asleep and it's really time for me to go to bed, what with my nasty cold and all, but my big boy continues to have night terrors, remember those? Poor little tad. Just a few moments ago he roused, shuddering, sobbing and sweating. I went in and tried to calm him to no effect. Finally I woke him - difficult and problematic with night terrors - and talked him down. I hugged him, stroked his back and told him everything was OK. Then I suggested that he think of something nice, something that he liked, to help lull himself back to sleep. And he couldn't think of anything.Not a single thing.

I love my little guy. But I'm starting to see that he doesn't have much joy in him. The anger has receded somewhat. There's still not a lot of happiness there, though. And I'm not sure how to teach it to him and I'm not sure how he can find it in himself. But I think he will need it, because the winters are cold and the nights are deep, and if you can't find the glow of warmth within yourself it's very, very easy for the lamp to flicker out.I can only hope that he can somehow kindle some joy in himself. It seems to me to be a very hard, stony sort of life without something or some things that do nothing but provide you pure, useless, unrenumerated delight; bare trees at dusk, the fresh smell of a loved one's skin, the sound of rain.

But how do you explain that to a six-year-old?

Charlie Wilson's War, or, Chain of Fools

No. The enemy of our enemy is NOT our friend. He is our enemy's enemy, and we use his enmity at our peril. Like a double-bitted axe, we cannot be sure where his whetted edge will come to rest, and it may well be in our own neck.

And to forget this, even for a moment, is to make ourselves fools in a world where the only truly capital crime is stupidity.
"It is time U.S. foreign policy took a more realistic view of the world and stop assuming political necessity must yield strange bedfellows. This would enable our military to get back into the business of protecting our nation from existential threats to our security and winning our nation’s wars; not waste blood and treasure in misadventures in nation building or securing non vital national interests. Finally, it is interesting to note that the reason the Soviets intervened militarily in Afghanistan in 1979 is the exact same reason we are intervening now: to secure the sitting government from Islamic insurgents."
Go, read it. It will make you laugh, or weep, or both. Hunter Thompson said "No man is so foolish but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master."

We're now paying for the fact that Charlie Wilson taught himself everything he knew about Afghanistan.

(Cross-posted to MilPub)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Decisive Battles: Tet 1968

Tet (Tổng tiến công và nổi dậy) (First Phase) Dates: January 31-March 28, 1968

Forces Engaged: The total number of troops that fought in the battles that comprised the Tet Offensive is very difficult to pin down, especially since while several units fought at multiple times in different locations many units and even individual soldiers fought everything from firefights lasting minutes or second to sieges lasting days. So the best we can probably do is list the overall numbers of troops in theatre.

U.S. (including foreign allies South Korea, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand): approximately 450,000 troops, including:
9 U.S. infantry divisions (including Marine divisions)
1 U.S. armored cavalry regiment
2 separate infantry brigades
1 ANZAC infantry brigade
2 ROK infantry divisions
1 ROK marine brigade
1 Royal Thai regiment (brigade equivalent)
and a large contingent of naval riverine and USAF support. Probably about 5-600,000 troops under GEN Westmoreland of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF - better known as the "ARVN"): roughly 380,000 total army (12 divisions) and 9,000 marine (2 brigades) ground troops. Support forces included 38,000 RVNN and RVNAF. Many of the engagements were fought during Tet by the "Regional Force" reserves, about 220,000 part-time semi-mobile troops and the local "Popular Force" defense volunteers, 173,000 troops for a total of about 820,000 troops under President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu.All together, somewhere between 1.2 and 1.3 million troops.

People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN): Intelligence estimates at the time varied significantly. About 130,000 "regular" North Vietnamese troops were said to be within the Republic of Vietnam in January, 1968 by the RVNAF. These included four full divisions involved in the battles around Khe Sanh as well as numerous individual PAVN regular units involved in the Tet attacks. Probably between 130,000 and 150,000 infantry.As the PAVN had 26 numbered divisions of approximately 10,000 troops per division in 1968, these 236 battalions represented roughly half of the ground force strength of the North Vietnam (the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam" or DRVN).

People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF): the armed "wing" of the Viet Cong rebel forces attempting to take over the RVN. Overall strength at the time of Tet varied from 150,000 to as many as 200-250,000. These soldiers varied greatly in quality as well, from the local irregulars - the propaganda poster VC farming rice by day and ambushing GIs by night - through the "Regional Force" to the chu luc Main Force battalions, virtually indistinguishable from the North Vietnamese regulars.Roughly 330-500,000 troops all arms under the direction of GEN Giap.

The Sources: Well documented.
The Wiki entry, itself a surprisingly well-written and documented work, mentions U.S. Army studies of the war as well as the PAVN's own official history.

The Campaign: To understand the strategic significance of Tet you have to understand the strategic position, and especially the political position, of the U.S. Army and government on January 30, 1968.

Vietnam was, like almost every other French colonial legacy, a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a secret all tied into a neat ball of utter fucking disaster. The French, incompetent at colonial rule as always, had combined this with being incompetent at defending their colony, which fell to the Japanese in 1940. Having shown that they could be defeated by one group of Asians, the French insistence at refusing to release their hold on the Vietnamese - one of Asia's truly irascible fighting peoples - was building a road to mayhem.

The French were handed their ass by their former chattels in 1954, but proceeded to weasel out of just giving the place over to the people who beat them by dividing the place and handing the south half - where most of the French expatriates and the Viet clients had been busy growing rubber prior to decolonization - to a fellow named Bảo Đại, who seems to have been a decent enough guy for a man who spent most of his life as a phony "emperor" of a supine colony.Bảo Đại was promptly defenestrated by one Ngô Đình Diệm when the latter decided to go from "prime minister" to "president" without the bother of getting elected (or having a Frenchman make him one, which was how they'd been doing it recently). Diệm, in turn, called off the plebiscite that would probably have taken the whole camorra over to the regime of Hồ Chí Minh ruling in the North, and the war was on.

We feared Hồ because he was a yellow Red, and because our political class was way too familiar with the whole "Who lost China?" ratissage that had followed the defeat of Chiang and the Nationalists in 1949 and didn't want to be the last one standing when the music stopped playing "The East Is Red". Significant U.S. military involvement in the RVN had begun in 1965. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had become ensnared fighting the commies, but mostly with advisers and Lend-Lease. After attacks in February, 1965 which killed American soldiers at Pleiku and Qui Nhon then-President LBJ send U.S. bombers over the North (in February) and decided in March to commit U.S. maneuver elements which led to the Marine landings at Da Nang in April.On January 1, 1965 16,000 U.S. military were posted within the RVN. By January 1, 1966, the number was 184,000. This would rise to the 450,000 by January 1, 1968.

Between 1965 and 1968 the Johnson Administration was in a bind. It understood that it was faced with a patient and hardened enemy who had no place to "go" if they lost. But it also had a public who had long since forgotten the bloody, inconclusive guerrilla wars against dusky savages like native tribes and Filipinos. For three generations Americans expected total force and decisive victory. The sanguine stalemate in Korea was widely seen as having helped cost the Democrats the 1952 election, and no sane politician wanted to be seen as the next victim of the next Joe McCarthy.

So the U.S. government began to deliberately blow sunshine up the American public's ass.

I know. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Here's the good summary of one such debate from the Wiki entry:
"This prompted the administration to launch a so-called "Success Offensive", a concerted effort to alter the widespread public perception that the war had reached a stalemate and to convince the American people that the administration's policies were succeeding. (T)he news media then was inundated by a wave of effusive optimism. Every statistical indicator of progress, from "kill ratios" and "body counts" to village pacification was fed to the press and to the Congress. "We are beginning to win this struggle" asserted Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey on NBC's "Today Show" in mid-November. "We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress." General Bruce Palmer, Jr., one of Westmoreland's three Field Force commanders, claimed that "the Viet Cong has been defeated" and that "He can't get food and he can't recruit. He has been forced to change his strategy from trying to control the people on the coast to trying to survive in the mountains."
Westy himself said in November of '67: "(the communists were) unable to mount a major offensive. I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing. We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view."

In a bizarre precursor to Dubya's inane "Bring 'em on." dare, Westmoreland also said "I hope they try something, because we are looking for a fight."They did.

Most historians and the Vietnamese actors themselves admit that the "General Offensive and Uprising" was something of a desperation throw. U.S. engagement - and especially U.S. airpower - had hammered both the field forces and the DRVN economy. The Northern politics surrounding Tet are intriguing. The government of the DRVN was at the time divided into three main parties. "Militants" or hard-liners, led by First Secretary Lê Duẩn, Lê Ðức Thọ, and General Nguyễn Chí Thanh the head of Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), communist headquarters for the South, wanted to attack the Southern government directly and take over through military victory. The "Soviet" party, led by Trường Chinh and Defense Minister Võ Nguyên Giáp,

believed that political agitation and soft power would do the trick. The "centerists", led by President Hồ Chí Minh and later by a Lê Ðức Thọ who defected from the militants, proposed "negotiating while fighting", with the end of a settlement that would eventually lead to northern domination.

The main fighters were Thanh, who wanted a general offensive in the south which would employ all the PAVN/PLAF maneuver units in an attaque à outrance that would bring the oppressed masses in the South out to do a Bastille on their American puppet rulers, and Giáp, who believed that American combat power, particularly airpower, made conventional war prohibitively costly and who wanted to fight the war of the flea.

The internal struggle between the factions resulted in the "Revisionist Anti-Party Affair" (vu an xet lai-chong Dang) in the summer of 1967. The militants used the Party apparatus to arrest hundreds of soft-liners and pro-Soviet members of the communist government. Giáp, hero of Dien Bien Phu, was too big to take down but was isolated and forced to follow the dictates of the militants. These dictates were codified in Resolution 14 of the party Central Committee in October, 1967, which laid down the goals for Tet: rejection of negotiations, abandonment of "protracted (guerrilla) warfare", and an offensive in the towns and cities of South Vietnam.Ironically, Thanh drew up the plans for Tet in April, May and June of 1967 and then went to a booze-up in July, got plowed and died of a heart attack. Giáp took over the implementation of the plan.

The Plan: Basically, the idea was to demonstrate along the borders to draw the dangerous American maneuver forces, artillery and air support away from the mainly coastal cities in January before opening the initial attacks all across the country but largely in the two major cities of Saigon and Hue. Attacks would include most of the urban areas of South Vietnam and attacks on major allied bases. Giáp considered a major demonstration against the Marine base at Khe Sanh necessary in order to protect his supply lines and divert American attention.Giáp considered the strategic objective of Tet to be weakening or destroying the power base of South Vietnam through popular revolt fomented by military victory. There has been much speculation since 1968 about two "conspiracy theories" concerning "secret" Tet objectives, however, which I should discuss.

The first is whether Tet was intended to influence either the March primaries or the November presidential election in the U.S. The answer for this is simply no. Documents captured at the time and statements of the Vietnamese participants since make it clear that the political leadership in the DRVN had no idea how their attacks would be seen in the U.S. They were happy to exploit the resulting shock and dismay but had no way of anticipating or attempting to create it.The second is whether the entire operation was an elaborate maskirova designed to cover Hanoi's destruction of the power of the COSVN and northern domination of a post-war Vietnam. This, too, appears to be an urban legend.

The "militants" believed that Tet would lead them to power in the South, while the "moderates" and the remaining soft-liners were willing to go along, if also willing to accept less than total victory if it meant a break from aerial attack and an opportunity to open negotiations leading to a political takeover. (It's worth noting that two of the three primary American proponents of this notion are Norman Podhoretz and Harry Summers, both wrong about virtually everything else about Vietnam.)I suspect that both the "moderates" and pro-Soviet soft-liners wept few tears about the loss of Southern militant leadership during Tet. But the losses would also hurt the military operations of the PAVN, hardly a desirable result. So, sadly, another perfectly good conspiracy theory shot to hell.

Beginning in October the PAVN initiated a series of engagements that are known as the "Border Battles". In October a PAVN brigade attacked at Song Be and another attacked the Special Forces camp at Loc Ninh that resulted in a ten-day fight that gutted the PAVN regiment. Another attack centered around Dak To committed four regiments of the PAVN 1st Division against the U.S. 4th ID and 173rd Brigade, ARVN 42nd Infantry Regiment and an airborne battalion.After 22 days both the PAVN 1st and the US 4th Divisions were exhausted, and the 173rd was badly beaten up, and for what appeared to be no reason. The Wiki entry comments "MACV intelligence was confused by the possible motives of the North Vietnamese in prompting such large-scale actions in remote regions where U.S. firepower and aerial might could be applied indiscriminately. Tactically and strategically, these operations made no sense."

Perhaps the pinnacle of nonsense took place between 21 JAN 68 and the end of March at the old CIDG-MAC/SOG outpost of Khe Sanh in the Huong Hoa district of Quang Tri province, just a short drive down Route 9 from the Demilitarized Zone.The "siege" of Khe Sanh is really a topic in itself. Over a period of some two months between two and four PAVN divisions encircled, bombarded and assaulted the combat outpost. About 200 or so Marines died, perhaps 1,000 PAVN troopers...but the real significance of Khe Sanh was on the mind of the American commander. GEN Westmoreland considered defense of the post crucial to the point where a significant amount of U.S. combat power was shifted north into the I Corps AO; 50 U.S. maneuver battalions were there by the end of January, 1968. As Tet broke over Vietnam Westmoreland prepared (but didn't release) a statement reading "The enemy is attempting to confuse the issue …I suspect he is also trying to draw everyone's attention away form the greatest area of threat, the northern part of I Corps. Let me caution everyone not to be confused."The diversionary attacks had worked. Now it was time for the big dance to begin.

Probably the most repeatable rule of warfare is that no plan every survives contact with the enemy. The corollary should probably be that no plan ever survives contact with the soldiers tasked to carry it out. Tet was no exception. The "border battles", with their immense cost and apparently pointless objectives, should have had every intelligence agency in the South quivering with nervousness. One commander, LTG Fred Weyand of III Corps was suspicious of the weird PAVN/PLAF activities in his AO, which included Saigon. He requested reinforcements for the Capital District, and Westy ordered 15 U.S. battalions back to Saigon from the Cambodian border to increase the garrison to 27 maneuver battalions, a crucial move in the upcoming attacks.- On 28 January 11 Viet Cong cadres were captured in the city of Qui Nhon while in possession of two pre-recorded audio tapes appealing for a popular rising in the cities.

- on the night of 29/30 January Nha Trang, Ban Me Thuot, Kontum, Hoi An, Tuy Hoa, Da Nang, Qui Nhon, and Pleiku were all attacked. Supposedly this had something to do with a mistake or difference in the lunar calendar in the northern provinces. All the attacks included mortar or rocket prepping the (mainly) ARVN positions for simple mass PLAF main force ground assaults. Almost all of these attacks were wiped out with heavy PLAF losses by daylight.

A countrywide stand-to was still not ordered.
"At 03:00 on the morning of 31 January communist forces assailed Saigon, Cholon, and Gia Dinh in the Capital Military District; Quảng Trị (again), Huế, Quang Tin, Tam Kỳ, and Quảng Ngãi as well as U.S. bases at Phú Bài and Chu Lai in I Corps; Phan Thiết, Tuy Hòa, and U.S. installations at Bong Son and An Khê in II Corps; and Cần Thơ and Vinh Long in IV Corps. The following day, Biên Hòa, Long Thanh, Bình Dương in III Corps and Kien Hoa, Dinh Tuong, Go Cong, Kien Giang, Vinh Binh, Bến Tre, and Kien Tuong in IV Corps were assaulted. A total of approximately 84,000 communist troops participated in the attacks while thousands of others stood by to act as reinforcements or as blocking forces. Communist forces also mortared or rocketed every major allied airfield and attacked 64 district capitals and scores of smaller towns."
The Tet Offensive had begun and the entire nation of South Vietnam seemed to be aflame.

To tell the end at the beginning, Tet was a disaster for the PLAF. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 of the roughly 175,000 Viet Cong troops committed to the attacks in and around Saigon were killed, tens of thousands more wounded or captured. Of the 7,500 PAVN/PLAF involved in the fight for Hue between 2,000 and 5,000 were killed. More crucially, the VC infrastructure and covert organizations all over the South were crippled by the deaths and capture of key personnel. And not a single recorded case of popular uprising occurred. The COSVN, the Central Committee and the "militants" had been disastrously wrong.The two most desperate battles were in the Saigon area and Hue, and they serve to illustrate the course of the debacle...and the strange way that battlefield defeat became strategic victory for the communists. Let's look at them; first Saigon, then Hue.

The Engagements (Saigon and Huế):

Saigon: Of the 84,000 troops committed to the active assaults on 31 JAN, about 10 battalions of VC Local and Main Force soldiers were tasked six objectives in downtown Saigon: the new U.S. Embassy was perhaps the most visible and public.The others included a variety of military (ARVN GHQ at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Long Binh HQ for the RVN Navy) and civilian (Independence Palace, the National Radio Station) All of these were assigned to the C-10 Sapper Battalion recruited from Saigonese. Viet Cong Local Force battalions targeted the central police station, the Artillery Command and Armored Command headquarters, all at Go Vap. Biên Hòa Air Base and ARVN III Corps headquarters received 2 VC battalions, while Tan Son Nhut Air Base, northwest of Saigon was attacked by 3 battalions. Thirty-five battalions; PLAF and PAVN, were part of the Tet mission in Saigon.

In addition, the VC had thoroughly penetrated the RVN security in the capital. Officers, politicians, public figures and others in positions thought critical for the support of the government of the South were targets; their addresses and movements had been tracked down and hit teams were sent out in the last night of January to kill them and their families. Many of these people were killed - this part of the operation was quite successful.

The remainder were, for the most part, typical of the fate of the Tet attacks and attackers. Let's look at the attack on the U.S. Embassy for an example.Since 1968 U.S. Embassies have been attacked eight times (although of the eight half were in either Lima, during the Shining Path insurgency, or Beirut, during the civil war in Lebanon. The remaining five include the 1979 Tehran takeover, an attack in Karachi in 1979, a bombing in Kuwait in 1983 and the Al Qaeda bombings in Africa in 1998) but at the time the idea of an American embassy being attacked - even in a war zone where the U.S. was fighting on the side of the enemy of the attackers - was inconceivable to an American public whose war consisted of watching "Combat!" and "The Rat Patrol" and the nightly news.[I should add that I was an eleven-year-old then fascinated by the battle footage then aired on the news. To me the most fascinating part always came at the end of the Friday night NBC Nightly News - then called the "Huntley-Brinkley Report"

and my father's mainstay of world information - when the sound would go off and the screen would show just three visual cards; an American flag above the number of U.S. KIAs for that week (typically in the high two to low three figures), an RVN flag with a higher number (typically three figures) and finally the red/blue-with-the-gold-star DRVN flag with the highest number (never below three and usually a four-figure value). At eleven I couldn't understand why the enemy Reds didn't just give up...]

At any rate, it was 2:45am when the U.S. Embassy attacked by a 19-man sapper team. These guys entered though the undefended perimeter wall by blowing a hole through it with a simple satchel charge.The group must have taken some time getting through the hole - not a large one as you can see from the picture, giving the small USMC guard on night duty time to lock the chancery doors. The two military policemen pulling gate guard at the "night gate" - SP4 Charles L Daniel and PFC William E Sebast - died as well as a man could, doing their duty to the end. They locked the gate and managed to kill both the VC patrol leaders soon after the assault team got inside through the hole in the wall.This made all the difference; without their officers and despite having forty pounds of C-4 the assault team ran in aimless circles in the embassy grounds until 18 of the 19 were shot down. I should add that the efforts to relieve the embassy were fairly chaotic. Two MPs responding to Daniel and Sebast were killed, the rest of the Marine guard never did get inside the compound until after a large force of GIs from the 716th MP Battalion arrived, a platoon from the 101st tried to air assault onto the roof at 5am but was driven off by fire...finally the MPs and USMC guard force broke in and shot down the remaining VC.At 8am the Embassy was officially declared "secure"

Speaking of the evening news: here's a typical news broadcast of the fighting in Saigon and at the Embassy:

The Wiki entry for the Embassy building has a good summary of the night's fighting. The objective was purely symbolic, I should add - less than a dozen people were inside the chancery building when it was attacked. And the VC had horrific luck in battle. But for the U.S. public, the event was a real shock. Despite an army of 500,000 and three years of fighting the enemy we had been told was ready to surrender had managed to attack the very symbol of U.S. power in the capital city of our Vietnamese "ally".

The other Tet attacks this night met much the same fate as the Embassy assault; ARVN and U.S. forces, greatly assisted by their mobility and air support, brutally smashed the VC/PAVN attacks. Most of the assault forces and assaults were crushed by midday on the 31st. The exception was in the Chinese neighborhood of Cholon and around the Phu Tho racetrack, southwest of downtown Saigon.This area was razed in fierce fighting between several ARVN units until 7 MAR. Finally the area was declared a "free-fire" zone and the ARVN Rangers moved in, fighting from house to house until the last living thing had been killed.

Huế: Again, the PLAF/PAVN stormed into the city center in the dark morning hours of 31 JAN.In this case the main effort was to secure something called "The Citadel", a 19th Century walled fortress north of the Perfume River that served as HQ for the ARVN 1st Division and other city garrison troops. If the attackers had expected the "puppet" troops to fold they were highly mistaken. MG Truong's 1st ARVN Division fought hard, and the situation remained in flux for the first day. Most of the rest of the city fell to the attackers, however, who seem to have done some random butchery on people they didn't like - perhaps 500 to 2,000 people, including foreign civilians, priests, policemen, government officials and political enemies were confirmed killed or simple disappeared - while digging in to resist the inevitable counterattack.And this was inevitable. There was no "general uprising". The majority of the Vietnamese people kept their heads down, and the VC and NVA forces were now exposed in the cities to the merciless and overwhelming ARVN and U.S. firepower. The month-long fight to retake Huế was bloody for the Marine, U.S. Army and ARVN troops involved, but the outcome was foregone and the casualties inflicted on the northerners and their southern allies crippling.The Wiki entry sums things up succinctly: "Except at Huế and mopping-up operations in and around Saigon, the first surge of the offensive was over by the second week of February. The U.S. estimated that during the first phase (30 January – 8 April), approximately 45,000 communist soldiers were killed and an unknown number were wounded. For years this figure was held as excessive, but it was confirmed by Stanley Karnow in Hanoi in 1981. Westmoreland claimed that during the same period 32,000 communist troops were killed and another 5,800 captured. The South Vietnamese suffered 2,788 killed, 8,299 wounded, and 587 missing in action. U.S. and other allied forces suffered 1,536 killed, 7,764 wounded, and 11 missing."

The Outcome: Grand tactical U.S./ARVN victory.

The Impact: Tet was seen as a disaster of the first order for the COSVN by both the political leadership in the North and the U.S. leadership at MACV.

In 1969 a COSVN directive read: "Never again and under no circumstances are we going to risk our entire military force for just such an offensive. On the contrary, we should endeavor to preserve our military potential for future campaigns." More than 20,000 PLAF/PAVN troopers "rallied" to the Southern forces in 1969. Although the attacks on the cities had enabled the VC to gain control in much of the countryside the horrendous losses in Tet crippled many of the VC cadre and caused much of this gain to be lost as the U.S. moved away from the direct-action tactics of search-and-destroy and the big sweeps under the incoming MACV commander, GEN Abrams.

However, the effect of Tet on the political situation in both the South and the U.S. would prove decisive.

In the RVN the offensive was just another bad day for a "nation" that had had many of them. President Thiệu used the chaos and the resulting anger to consolidate his power.This, in turn, helped narrow the power base in Saigon. The RVNAF continued to train and fight in the mold of their American trainers and suppliers without anything like the economy and manufacturing base the U.S. Army and Air Force had. Although Thiệu was distrusting of the U.S. long-term commitment to his country he made no attempts to prepare for the day when his soldiers would have to fight alone.

In the U.S. the effect of the offensive was shocking. We were used to the idea that American arms and American causes were inevitable and inexorable. The seeming torrent of body bags, the stories of ARVN soldiers and Vietnamese policemen fleeing rather than fighting, the seeming pointlessness of the brutal fighting made American civilians skeptical of the war and more inclined to support an end, regardless of the outcome. Part of this was the direct effect of the Johnson Administration's decision to make the news from Vietnam all sunshine and lollipops. Part of this was the American public's determination to be fat, dumb and happy. But a huge part of this was the massive miscalculation on the part of the U.S. government, beginning with Eisenhower, of the strategic importance of Vietnam and the difference between a homegrown revolutionary and a world-wide Communist conspiracy.

On 18 February 1968 MACV posted the highest U.S. casualty figures for a single week during the entire war: 543 killed and 2,547 wounded. Mainly as the result of Tet (including the "mini-Tets" that followed in the spring and summer of '68), the Year of the Monkey went on to become the deadliest year of the war for the U.S. forces with 16,592 soldiers killed.For all the cautionary tropes of dominoes and Red Menaces most Americans saw no point in an endless war in southeast Asia. Worse, this war now seemed not to be ending, but intensifying. Tet didn't look like a failed gamble, but like a harbinger of worse to come - it was like a Battle of the Bulge without a Berlin to conquer. Shocked by reality after years of official lying, the U.S. public saw Vietnam now not as a domino that needed propping up but a bloody jungle road leading...nowhere.And so the U.S. public began voting not with its feet but with its children; visible draft-resistance, draft evasions and deferments skyrocketed. Johnson refused to run in 1968. The country spiraled down into disorder, and to Nixon. Tet had proved decisive, not in the way its planners had anticipated, but decisive all the same.

Touchline Tattles: Perhaps the most enduring image from Tet is this one: ARVN BG Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a VC prisoner.The circumstances are fairly twisted as is so much of the war in Vietnam. On 1 FEB 68 the victim, who may have been either one Nguyễn Văn Lém or a similar looking fellow named Le Cong Na, was caught in civilian clothes by Loan's unit. He may or may not have been part, or leading, a hit team targeting RVN police officers and their families. He may have been a VC propaganda or covert operations officer. Either way, he was handcuffed when Loan produced a revolver and used it to put a round through the VC prisoner's brain housing group.

The U.S. public had seen nothing appalling about the liquidation of civilians in the firestorms of Dresden or the incineration bombing of Tokyo and Kyoto, had seen no crime inherent in the starvation of native tribes or the incarceration of Filipinos in concentration camps. It surveyed without anguish the notion of "free-fire" zones in Vietnam, where anything moving was an enemy and would be killed.

But this image, and the others that symbolized the personalized horror of war, like this one,and this,brought home the ugly face of war to the U.S. public and it responded with a revulsion it had not shown before and has not since.

So in a sense, when General Loan raised his arm and squeezed his trigger, he helped shoot dead his own cause, his own country and his ally's concern for them both.

Pretty good shooting for a .38 caliber revolver.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Jukebox

It's a beautiful sunny day here in the Northwest and I've been working outside in the beautiful day:And now it's time to go home to my little honeys and I've doing my timesheet to the sly obscenity of Lou Reed:You shoulda seen 'em go, go, go...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"I just happen to think people are pretty wonderful"

I fell a little in love with you the first time I saw "Anchors Aweigh".Now sleep well; you've earned your immortality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One piece of beautiful land

I made my home amidst this human bustle,
Yet I hear no clamour from the carts and horses.
My friend, you ask me how this can be so?
A distant heart will tend towards like places.
From the eastern hedge, I pluck chrysanthemum flowers,
And idly look towards the southern hills.
The mountain air is beautiful day and night,
The birds fly back to roost with one another.
I know that this must have some deeper meaning,
I try to explain, but cannot find the words.
(Tao Qian)
The wind returns; my little courtyard is green and overgrown,
The willows seem to have grown again this spring.
I lean for a long time on the railings; alone, without a word,
The sound of bamboo and the new moon are just like in days gone by.
The playing and singing have not yet ceased; the wine cups remain,
The ice on top of the pool begins to melt.
Bright candles and a faint fragrance are deep in the painted hall,
It's hard to think I must allow my temples all to turn white.
(Li Yu)
The east wind blows over the water, the sun sits by the hill,
Though spring has come, the idleness persists.
Fallen blossom is scattered amid wine and tinkling pendants by the rail,
She listens to playing and singing in a drunken daze.
The pendants are now silent, her evening wear undone,
For what man's sake is she to dress her hair?
Her fair appearance too will pass as time slips by,
At dusk, she leans alone upon the railing.
(Li Yu)
Who can explain why we love it- West Lake is good.
The beautiful scene is without time,
Flying canopies chase each other,
Greedy to be among the flowers, drunk, with a jade cup.

Who can know I'm idle here, leaning on the rail.
Fragrant grass in slanting rays,
Fine mist on distant water,
One white egret flying from the Immortal Isle.
(Ouyang Xiu)
Across the world this June, the petals all have fallen,
But the mountain temple's peach blossom has just begun to bloom.
I regretted so much that spring had gone without a trace,
I didn't know that it had only moved up here.
(Bai Juyi)(An appreciation of the late winter beauty of the Lan Su Chinese Garden and a lovely day spent there with my little daughter.