76. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
19428. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my thirty-ninth weekly message:
- As the massive Viet Cong Tet offensive subsides, it becomes
increasingly possible to draw certain conclusions. What was
blurred a week ago begins to become more clearly into focus.
Although it will be several days before we have a fairly
accurate country-wide assessment of the physical and material
damages certain things are now fairly evident:
- The enemy has suffered a heavy military setback with nearly 33,000 killed, over 5,600 detained, and the loss of more than 8,000 individual and 1,250 crew-served weapons. A large part of the force he had committed, estimated at about 60,000, has been put out of action. A second wave of attacks against Saigon and some other major cities, which it was feared for some time might take place, has not materialized and there is increasing evidence, for the present at least, that it may not.
- That Hanoi and the Viet Cong made a major miscalculation in expecting uprisings among the people and defections among the Vietnamese forces. While the GVN may not enjoy great popularity among the people in general, there is strong evidence that in the city [Page 216] and countryside alike the Viet Cong attacks during the last two weeks have caused widespread resentment and bitterness toward the VC.
- That it seems apparent that Hanoi’s maximum objective was to take and hold many of the cities, thereby creating a political situation which would compel the GVN and the US to virtual surrender. The second and fallback objective (and this is Thieu’s opinion also) was probably to put themselves in a strong position for negotiations, one in which they could insist as a minimum on a coalition government.
- That despite the heavy military defeat suffered by the enemy, much damage has resulted throughout the country. The number of evacuees which had climbed to 485,000 yesterday showed a decline of 457,000 today, probably an indication that people are beginning to return to their homes. The number of houses destroyed has now been reported at 48,000 although on the basis of our observations, we believe the figure may be exaggerated. The figures on civilian deaths increased to almost 3,800, and the wounded to nearly 21,000. In addition, there has been substantial damage to industry and to lines of communication. Commercial activity has been slowed, at least temporarily, and will take some time to recover.
- The economic situation in Saigon and in most of the country is improving. Food prices, which rose rapidly in the first days of the attack, are coming down. Lines of communication are beginning to be opened up. In looking beyond the immediate crisis, economic prospects are less bright than they appeared a few weeks ago. It will take time to restore the damage to industry and the loss of confidence in the business community which the attacks have caused. The Vietnamese economy, however, has demonstrated powers of recuperation in the past and hopefully these negative factors may prove short lived.
- That the predominant reaction of the people is that of anger, indignation, and a sense of outrage at the VC, especially its treachery in attacking during the Tet holidays, although there is a lot of apprehension and fear of the possibility of future attacks. There is too surprise that the enemy was capable of attacking on such a wide scale in such force and criticism of GVN intelligence capabilities. But there is also a feeling of pride in the performance of the Vietnamese forces, a new confidence in the GVN, and a welling up of the support for it from many quarters. I think it is fair to say, therefore, that the GVN is facing a crisis of confidence. If it reacts quickly and effectively, moves ahead with reconstruction and other constructive programs the resentment of people at the losses they have suffered will be replaced [Page 217] by confidence and gratitude; if not, the GVN can be seriously weakened.2
[Omitted here is extensive discussion of measures undertaken by South Vietnam to rebuild in the aftermath of the Tet offensive.]
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. This telegram is printed in full in Pike, ed., The Bunker Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 334–341.↩
- In a February 13 memorandum to the President, Lodge noted that the “plus side” of the aftermath of Tet was that in South Vietnam the growth of “a dividend from all the work we have done to bring about constitutional government and a sense of civic consciousness,” which he labeled “political energy,” was occurring. In addition, the RVNAF had fought well and there was a “remarkable” degree of unity among the GVN leadership. (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 2, Tabs aa-vv)↩