Sunday, July 19, 2009

"How wrong was Walter Cronkite about the Tet Offensive? About as wrong as can be."

So, how wrong was Cronkite about Tet? About as wrong as can be, it turns out. History has declared unequivocally that there were winners and losers in Tet: it was a grand strategy that failed miserably for the North in the tactical military sense but succeeded beyond its wildest dreams as a propaganda ploy—due in large part to Cronkite and his colleagues in the MSM.

One of the oddest things about Cronkite isn’t what he did then; it’s that apparently he remained proud of it for the rest of his life. I’ve read and listened to a number of his interviews on the subject; at no time did he even address the fact that he was wrong about Tet in the military sense—nor did his questioners bring it up. Was this reticence on their part a show of respect for the frailty of an elderly man? Or were both he and his interviewers largely unaware of the discrediting facts that had been uncovered and widely aired in the intervening decades? Or did they not care if they were wrong about those things, because, after all, they were pursuing that “higher truth?”

The “lower” truth (otherwise known as the actual truth) is that Tet was a disaster for the Vietcong and the North—especially the Vietcong, who never recovered from the blow. But, in the end , it didn’t matter. How they managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat was detailed in the definitive work on the subject, Peter Braestrup’s 1978 analysis of MSM coverage of Tet, entitled “The Big Story.”
…the nationwide Vietcong offensive turned out to be an “unmitigated disaster” for the communist side. But the media consensus was just the opposite—an “unmitigated defeat” for the United States.

Cronkite, along with several hundred reporters from two dozen countries, focused on how the Vietcong guerrillas managed to blast their way into the U.S. Embassy compound (but didn’t make it past the Marines in the lobby).
Yet the Vietcong didn’t reach a single one of their objectives and lost most of their 45,000-strong force....

Interestingly enough, Braestrup doesn’t posit press political bias as a major part of the problem. The real difficulty was sheer ignorance, especially about anything military.
Read it all. An outstanding and informative blogpost.


from Braestrup:
…The press was impressionable. General Bruce Palmer succinctly summed up the problem when he stated that the foe “took the battle down around the Caravelle Hotel and, so, from the standpoint of the average reporter over there, it was the acorn that fell on the chicken’s head and it said ‘The sky is falling.’”
Al Qaeda in Iraq followed this strategy. For the longest time - years - AQ in Iraq exploded a car bomb every weekday morning within earshot and camera shot of the media hotel in Baghdad: the Baghdad Hilton. The bombs were timed for the morning so that video of the smoke (taken from an upper floor of the Hilton) could be played on each day’s evening newscast in America. One car bomb, every weekday morning. That was part of the prescription for propaganda victory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At the time, most everyone - in and out of the military - thought Tet was a military loss. It, of course, wasn't.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu said that once you lose support of the people, you cannot prevail.

Tet '68 was a loss for the North Vietnamese. Despite their tactical loss, they capitalized on the political aspect.

The US would have done the same thing. Except we weren't interested in politics, we were going to just bomb them back to the stone age...