443. Editorial Note

Direct warnings of an upcoming major offensive by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were transmitted in messages sent by General William Westmoreland, Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, to General Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In telegram MAC 11956, December 19, 1967, Westmoreland argued that the enemy would attack along the border areas “so that he can launch major attacks against SVN to gain a psychological and political victory, while at the same time retaining the best hope of disengaging when defeated.” In a message dispatched the next day, Westmoreland made the case that the concentration and effectiveness of his troops near the borders had compelled the leadership in Hanoi “to undertake an intensified country-wide effort, perhaps a maximum effort, over a relatively short period.” He also noted that enemy forces in other areas of the country had been weakened and he did not propose any counter-measures against them since it was likely that any attack in the lowlands would be of a diversionary nature. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Material re Vietnam and Pueblo, Jan-Feb 1968) For an assessment of these messages, see James J. Wirtz, The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), pages 186–190.

As a result, Westmoreland’s strategy was to concentrate on defending the outposts in the area around Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province. He had correctly assessed North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strategy for a “General Uprising” but was unaware that the enemy planned to use its forces to attack Khe Sanh and to liberate Hue and Danang after breaking through U.S. lines. By confronting the North Vietnamese regular forces at Khe Sanh, Westmoreland would prevent them from becoming the second wave of the Tet Offensive. See Ronnie E. Ford, Tet 1968: Understanding the Surprise (London: Frank Cass, 1995), pages 192–193. For additional discussion of Westmoreland’s prediction, see Samuel Zaffiri, Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland (New York: William Morrow, 1994), and William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1976).