April 16, 2015

1965. America's Undeclared War

Escalation in Vietnam
"Soldiers and equipment from the 1st Cavalry Division while in Southeast Asia" (source)
September 24, 1965


A short dispatch from Vietnam last week indicated that, for a while at least, the United States might have chanced on a startling and revolutionary method of waging war—the kind of undeclared war going on against the Viet Cong.

The United Press International report came from the new field headquarters of the recently arrived 1st Cavalry Division. The fresh, air-mobile troops pitched their tents and raised their standard near the town of An Khê in the central highlands of the guerrilla-infested Pleiku province. It seems that, shortly after the 1st Cavalry moved in and set up camp, signs appeared around their bivouac reading "US Government Property—Keep Out."

First reports said that the United States had purchased a thirty-square-mile area of the An Khê valley which, presumably, in the words of the poet "would be a bit of foreign soil that would remain, forever, in America . . ." This bit of news immediately raised an incongruous question.

Since the escalated Vietnam War is going to cost us between $10 and $12 billion a year from now on out, wouldn't it be an economical move to settle the whole dispute in the pattern of the 1st Cavalry Division? Why not simply buy all of Vietnam outright and be done with it?

This daydream was scrambled a few hours later, however, when UPI sent through a disclaimer from Saigon headquarters. It seems that the US didn't purchase the An Khê valley subdivision after all. The government just took a lease on the real estate. There's been no word on the terms, and the length of the lease is presumably a secret, since that would tell the enemy how long the American high command figures it will take to make Ho Chi Minh see reason and call off the Communist aggression in South Vietnam.

Here in Washington, there's every indication that the 1st Cavalry Division will indeed need a long-term lease on its An Khê valley. The most solid confirmation of this was the call-up this week of almost 2,000 physicians. Normally, draft calls for doctors usually are issued in January. However, this newest medical corps call-up came three and a half months early.

This fact, and other military straws in the wind, indicates that a new and important phase in the undeclared war is about to begin. For the first time in almost a year there's an optimistic air of expectancy at the Pentagon. The reason, in General Westmoreland's words: "the vaunted Viet Cong monsoon offensive was, literally, a washout for the enemy . . ."

Front line dispatches indicate that the US and Saigon commands are not even waiting for next month's end of the rainy season to initiate their new strategy. Already the American and South Vietnamese troops are moving in a dozen areas to take the war's initiative away from the Viet Cong guerrillas.

During the past eight months of escalated warfare against the Viet Cong, American fighting men have made no secret of their respect for the combat ability of their Viet Cong enemy. He's a wily, tough, and dedicated fighting man, skilled in guerrilla tactics and as courageous as they come.

There are no reliable signs that these tough little people will suddenly fold up and surrender. They fought the Japanese, who were expelled from their country. Later they took on the elite of the French army and won. With a kind of fanatical ignorance, they sincerely believe that victory over the Americans is fated and inevitable. Also, the Hanoi Communist government's scornful rejection of President Johnson's truce proposals for negotiation indicate that North Vietnam is willing to absorb the present limited bombing of her communications and military establishments.

Consequently, the Allied strategists have decided that the military pressure must be increased. The arrival of the 1st Cavalry division brought the number of Americans in Vietnam above the 125,000 total sent by President Johnson. When he announced this goal last July, Mr. Johnson also warned that he would order further reinforcements there if needed. The decision has been made.

Orders have been given—or are under processing—to increase the number of US troops in Vietnam to 200,000 men, possibly even 250,000, reportedly by the end of the year. However, unlike the much-publicized move of the air-mobile 1st Cavalry Division, strict security silence has been clamped on future movements of American troops to the Far East. We'll find out about them after they arrive.

As the new phase of the Vietnam War gets underway in the South, America's limited bombing offensive against military targets in the North is also expected to be intensified. It all adds up to the fact that, in the coming months, and probably through the winter, the undeclared war in Vietnam will get bigger and bloodier and call for more sacrifices from Americans.