Proposal for Research Paper

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Proposal for Research Paper


David Hommer

History 299

Dr. Claudine Ferrell


The proposed paper will investigate the relationship and correlation between On Strategy: An Analysis of The Vietnam War and actual American military practice and strategy during the war from a Clausewitzian point of view. The paper will concentrate specifically on the Tet Offensive. The Vietnam War was a war conducted on the doctrines of “Containment” and “Domino Theory”. The war was fought against the North Vietnamese, who were believed and later confirmed to be Communists. The United States supported the South Vietnamese, and the Soviet Union as well as China supported the North Vietnamese. The proposed paper will likely not face very many challenges, as primary sources and secondary sources on something as recent as the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive are a rather simple matter to locate. The Pentagon has to release a certain amount of classified documents to the public record at regular intervals, and many of those refer to the Vietnam War and contain information on troop deployment, operation details, and tactical strategy used by American forces. Using such secondary sources such as the database entry Aerial Bombing and Counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War, an e-book copy of Vom Kriege, and the book On Strategy by Harry Summers in addition to the primary sources of government documents, and written reports by the US military during Vietnam one can formulate a comprehensive analysis of the Tet Offensive from Clausewitzian point of view. The Tet Offensive occurred on the morning of January 30th, 1968. It was believed by South Vietnamese and American forces that the Vietnamese holiday of Tet was a day of peace, and so the Communists would not provoke or start combat on such a day. This was to prove a strategically inaccurate sentiment however. For weeks before Tet, the North Vietnamese infiltrated cities, towns, and scouted out US troop levels to determine strength in different locations. They brought weapons into the cities and hid them for the upcoming assault. Chains of communication between the various Communist forces in each targeted location were set up, and plans were finalized. For weeks before the offensive began, the North Vietnamese infiltrated major cities, American and South Vietnamese bases, and other important places. They surreptitiously stockpiled weapons, ammunition and supplies in these cities and locations over a period of several weeks. The North Vietnamese disguised themselves as refugees, off-duty South Vietnamese soldiers or other unassuming disguises to accomplish this infiltration. The Tet Offensive was masterminded and orchestrated by the North Vietnamese general Diap, who was also responsible for defeating the French forces in Vietnam roughly twenty-five years before the Tet Offensive.

On the morning of January 30th, the surprise attack known as the Tet Offensive began. It started with a diversionary hit-and-run attack on several US bases to draw American troops away from the cities which were the true targets. Striking fast and with incredible precision, Communist and North Vietnamese forces simultaneously attacked several major cities and other places with significant American troop levels. This offensive caught the U.S. military off-guard. This offensive was also caught live on American television cameras, which was quickly relayed home to the American public as it happened. The Tet Offensive was militarily a defeat for the Communists, with the killed-in-action count around forty thousand. However, politically it was a victory. The live television footage as the offensive happened made it clear to the American public that the North Vietnamese were not as weak as the Johnson administration had claimed. A platoon of North Vietnamese actually managed to get into the courtyard of the U.S. embassy at Saigon before they were annihilated by American forces. The Tet Offensive resulted in the destruction of many temples, architecturally historic structures and other irreplaceable wonders in the city of Saigon and other places. This offensive resulted in further dissent and unhappiness with the Vietnam War in the American public. It decreased morale, and made many American troops question whether the Vietnam War was fated to end in defeat or victory. After the Tet Offensive, American President Johnson was forced to admit that he had not been fully honest about the strength and organization of communist forces in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland of the United States Defense Command of South Vietnam requested that Johnson send two-hundred thousand more US troops, believing that the North Vietnamese were now on the run and that American forces had the initiative. This was viewed by the American public as an act of desperation however, and the President concurred. Suddenly opinion in the government about the Vietnam War shifted overnight. Many politicians who once lauded the ill-fated American operation now openly criticized it. As a result of this scandal of sorts, President Lyndon B. Johnson made it clear that he would not run for a second term. It can be easily and rightfully concluded that the reason for President Johnson’s refusal to seek a second term was because of the deceptive and inaccurate military assessment of the North Vietnamese which was then passed on to the unsuspecting American public. The Tet Offensive was one of the main reasons why the US suddenly chose to end escalation of American involvement in the Vietnam War, and US bombers were restricted to fly bombing missions below the 20th parallel. Johnson also placed a limit on US troop numbers in South Vietnam, and opened peace talks with the North Vietnamese. It would however be several years before troop removal from the country was completed. This information constitutes my preliminary analysis on my chosen topic.

In conclusion, the point of this paper is to completely analyze the Tet Offensive from Clausewitzian point of view. I will attempt to analyze the moral effects, military effects, and societal effects of the offensive On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of The Vietnam War. Using Clausewitz’s book Vom Kriege, I will analyze the Tet Offensive from a Clausewitzian point of view. That is my proposal for this paper.

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