The Enduring Debate Over Khe Sanh

Photos from Operation Pegasus, a joint U.S. and South Vietnamese push by 30,000 troops to lift the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968.

“In early 1968, the siege of the remote Marine combat base at Khe Sanh dominated American news coverage of the war in Vietnam. Gen. William Westmoreland, America’s supreme commander in Saigon, billed the North Vietnamese Army’s move against Khe Sanh as ‘the main event’ of a Communist offensive. News accounts ominously compared the siege to Dien Bien Phu, the remote French garrison surrounded and forced to surrender to Vietnamese Communist forces in 1954. On Feb. 18, even with the so-called Tet offensive raging across the country, The New York Times called the unfolding showdown at Khe Sanh ‘the major battle of the Vietnam War.’ The drama played out over 77 days, with nerve-jangling highlights on nightly news broadcasts. Four weeks into the siege, Americans learned that President Lyndon Johnson and his commanders were contemplating the use of tactical nuclear weapons to save Khe Sanh. The defenders endured artillery barrages, sniper fire, probes and ground assaults. Ultimately, though, Khe Sanh didn’t live up to its early hype of an Alamo-style disaster in the making. Over time, the events that unfolded at Khe Sanh in 1968 were eclipsed by the interpretation of what had occurred. A revisionist historical narrative hardened in the 1980s, and Khe Sanh became a metaphor for General Westmoreland’s mismanagement of the war. More recently, the siege has been written off as a brilliant North Vietnamese ruse that concealed the impending Communist attacks on urban centers — the Tet offensive. This judgment infuses books of contemporary vintage and the recent Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary film on Vietnam. In reality, the evidence on North Vietnamese intentions at Khe Sanh is inconclusive, and the case is far from closed. As 1968 began, the United States and North Vietnam aspired to victory in the year ahead. Khe Sanh figured prominently in the plans of both. The anchor of the American stronghold at Khe Sanh was a Marine combat base perched on a plateau between an old French road, Route 9, and the Rao Quan River, about seven miles east of the border with Laos and 15 miles south of the demilitarized zone dividing North Vietnam from South. A fan-shaped array of outposts, including an American Army Special Forces camp, guarded approaches to the base from the north and west. …”
NY Times
The Atlantic: The Battle of Khe Sanh and Its Retellings (Video)
W – Battle of Khe Sanh
YouTube: The Battle of Khe Sanh – 1968

Map of northern Quảng Trị Province

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in Lyn. Johnson, R. McNamara, Tet 1968, Viet Cong, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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