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THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM
ROBERT S. MCNAMARA
WITH BRIAN VANDEMARK
7. The Decision to Escalate:
January 28-July 28, 1965
(selections from pp. 187-188)
The president listened. He seemed troubled and pensive. "The great danger," he concluded darkly, "is we'll pick up a very big problem any day."
How right he was.
The bombshell exploded on June 7. On that day, Westy sent a cable to the Pentagon that stated:
The conflict in Southeast Asia is in the process of moving to a higher level. Some PAVN [North Vietnamese] forces have entered SVN [South Vietnam] and more may well be on the way....So far the VC have not employed their full capabilities in this campaign....ARVN [South Vietnamese Army] forces on the other hand are already experiencing difficulty in coping with this increased VC capability. Desertion rates are inordinately high. Battle loses have been higher then expected....As a result, ARVN troops are beginning to show signs of reluctance to assume the effective and in some cases their steadfastness under fire is coming into doubt....The force ratios continue to change in favor of the VC....The GVN cannot stand up successfully to this kind of pressure without reinforcement....I see no course of action open to us except to reinforce our efforts in SVN with additional U.S. or third country forces as rapidly as is practical during the critical weeks ahead....The basic purpose of the additional deployments recommended...is to give us a substantial and hard hitting offensive capability on the ground to convince the VC that they cannot win.
Westy said he needed 41,000 more combat troops now and another 52,000 later. This would increase total U.S. strength from 82,000 to 175,000. The last paragraph of his cable read: "Studies must continue and plans developed to deploy even greater forces, if and when required." His request meant a dramatic and open-ended expansion of American military involvement.
Of the thousands of cables I received during my seven years in the Defense Department, this one disturbed me most. We were forced to make a decision. We could no longer postpone a choice about which path to take. The issue would hang over all of us like a menacing cloud for the next seven weeks.
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