56. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk1

No. 101


  • The GVN in the Wake of the Communist Urban Offensive
[Page 130]

Since the Communists launched their unprecedented military offensive against South Vietnamese urban centers, the GVN has of necessity concentrated on the security problem it faces throughout the country. As South Vietnamese and Allied military forces continue to cope with North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops in Saigon itself and at many other points, the GVN has declared martial law, banned all public meetings and demonstrations, and placed under the threat of severe punishment “all activities causing disturbance to public security and order, that is all political movements lending a hand to Communism under a label of peace and coalition government.” In the meantime, it is attempting to restore normal administrative operations in the cities and towns and to provide immediate relief services to the thousands of displaced persons.

Beyond these immediate tasks, however, the GVN will have the problem of countering the adverse psychological impact of the enemy actions. Although information on public reactions is still very sketchy, available reports support the assumption that the Communist effort has convinced many Vietnamese that enemy capabilities are far greater than they had been led to believe and that no area, however “secure”, is really immune from attack.2 In addition to diminished confidence among the urban public, the GVN may well have to contend with lowered morale in its regular and irregular armed forces and in the civil bureaucracy. There may be increased attentisme among some political elements and possibly a greater tendency to support an accommodation with the Communists. In the countryside, the Communist offensive may have already dealt the pacification, Chieu Hoi, and other government programs serious setbacks. Headquarters and support facilities have been disrupted or destroyed in a number of towns, and many pacification and Chieu Hoi cadre presumably are without any guidance and/or in a highly demoralized state. More importantly, however, the Communist attacks have almost certainly raised further doubts among the rural populace as to the ability of the government to protect the countryside when it cannot protect secure urban areas.3

[Page 131]

Thus far, the GVN seems to be attempting to capitalize on popular revulsion against the carnage and the violation of the Tet holiday by the Communists, appeal for national unity, and rally support to the government. President Thieu may even try to assume wider powers beyond those in the martial law decree for a protracted period and perhaps declare a state of “general mobilization,” or ask the Assembly to do so. Many Vietnamese in and out of the Assembly undoubtedly have been shocked by the excesses attending the Communist offensive and may be more receptive to GVN appeals for unity and support than has been the case in the past. When the initial shock passes, however, members of the Assembly and other politically-important groups will probably tend to revert to the normal suspicion of the government leadership and to their acute concern with their own prerogatives. At this point, the ability of the GVN itself to remain united and prove by performance that it can respond more than it has in the past to public needs will become an important factor in determining the acceptability of emergency measures. In the final analysis, moreover, much of the GVN’s ability to control the political situation will hinge on its ability to improve the military situation. Government statements pointing to the high Communist casualty toll or announcing that the current Communist offensive has been stopped are not likely to be very convincing as long as Communist harassment in and around the towns and cities continues, and as long as the main body of NVA and Viet Cong regular forces continues to pose a serious threat of larger scale actions in outlying areas.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.
  2. In Intelligence Note No. 128 to Rusk, February 9, Hughes noted a curious reaction to the timing of the Tet offensive by the South Vietnamese, since “by violating the sanctity of Tet, the Vietnamese Communists have incurred a degree of enmity among the urban population that will not soon subside, above and beyond the fact that the war has now directly affected many people whose own lives and property had heretofore gone untouched.” (Ibid.)
  3. In Intelligence Note No. 161 to Rusk, February 29, Hughes noted that, in addition to the loss of confidence in the GVN, the withdrawal of the ARVN from rural areas into the cities to counteract the urban attacks left a power vacuum in the countryside which VC guerrillas were filling, and the departure of RD teams caused pacification to become “inoperative.” (Ibid.) In a February 7 memorandum to Rostow, DePuy described the short-range impact of Tet upon pacification as “very bad” and the long-term impact as unclear until the GVN could reverse the political and psychological gains of the VC. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 C (3), Revolutionary Development Support)
  4. In a February 10 memorandum entitled “RVNAF Performance During the Tet Offensive,” CIA analysts concluded: “It does appear that most ARVN units—and National Police and other paramilitary units—reacted reasonably well to the initial attacks. Subsequently, there seems generally to have been a lack of aggressiveness and some breakdowns in discipline have been reported. It seems likely that morale and confidence have been shaken to some degree, but morale does not appear to have collapsed. It would also seem likely that most units are at least temporarily well below normal strength. Because of the disruption of communications, RVNAF units may not be well-informed of the situation, and thus susceptible to the same rumors that seem to be upsetting the civil populace. Their vulnerability to Viet Cong propaganda is thus also probably greater than usual. On balance, some ARVN elements would seem to be ill-prepared for sustained or renewed pressure without a respite of several weeks. While many units can still be expected to perform well and give good account of themselves, some of those in isolated areas and operating without close U.S. support might disintegrate. We would expect RF and PF elements to be generally more shaky than ARVN, particularly those in relatively isolated rural areas.” (Central Intelligence Agency, O/DDI Files, Job 78–T02095R, I-South Vietnam Branch (I/SV))