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As the US command had predicted, the coup led to further disintegration, and as the bureaucratic structure of the former regime dissolved, to a belated recognition that reports of military progress were built on sand. Furthermore, the Generals also proved unwilling to accept the US objective; Vietnamese on all sides were seeking some kind of accommodation that would avert the devastating war that was becoming increasingly likely if the US persisted in its demand for military victory.35
After the November 1 coup, tactics were modified in light of two new factors: (1) the hope that at last a stable basis had been established for expanded military action, and (2) recognition that the military situation in the countryside was a shambles. The first factor made escalation possible, the second made it necessary, as the former hopes were seen to be a mirage. The plans to withdraw soon had to be abandoned as the precondition collapsed. As it became evident that US forces could not withdraw "without impairment of the war effort," the withdrawal plans explicitly based on this condition were nullified; subsequent events made it clear that US forces would in fact have to be increased to achieve the "fundamental objective of victory," which was transmitted unchanged to the Johnson Administration. By early 1965, only a large-scale US invasion could prevent a political settlement.
The policy assumptions, never seriously challenged, allowed few options: the attack against South Vietnam was sharply escalated in early 1965, and the war was extended to the North.
By 1967, the military command was again beginning to see "light at the end of the tunnel," and to propose withdrawal. These hopes were dashed by the January 1968 Tet offensive, which revealed that the war could not be quickly won. By then, domestic protest and deterioration of the US economy vis-à-vis its industrial rivals convinced domestic elites that the US should move towards disengagement.
These decisions set in motion the withdrawal of US ground forces, combined with another sharp escalation of the military assault against South Vietnam, and by then all of Indochina, in the hope that the basic goals could still be salvaged. Negotiations continued to be deferred as long as possible, and when the US was finally compelled to sign a peace treaty in January 1973, Washington announced at once, in the clearest and most explicit terms, that it would subvert the agreement in every crucial respect. That it proceeded to do, in particular, by increasing the violence in the South in violation of the treaty, with much domestic acclaim as the tactic appeared to be successful. The dissident press could tell the story, but the mainstream was entirely closed to such heretical truths, and still is, a ban maintained with impressive rigor.36 These actions of the US and its client again elicited a reaction, and the client regime again collapsed. This time the US could not rescue it. By 1975, the war ended.
As already discussed, the US achieved a partial victory, but no more than that. On the negative side, the client regimes had fallen. But there was a silver lining: Indochina was in ruins, there was no fear that the "virus" of successful development might "infect" others, and the region was insulated from any residual danger, by murderous military regimes. Another consequence, predictable years earlier, was that the indigenous forces in South Vietnam and Laos, unable to resist the US onslaught, had been decimated, leaving North Vietnam as the dominant force in Indochina.37 As to what might have happened had these forces survived and the countries been allowed to develop in their own ways, one can only speculate. Servants of power are ready to offer required answers, but these are without interest, reflecting only doctrinal needs.
Basic policy remained constant in essentials: disentanglement from an unpopular and costly venture as soon as possible, but only after the virus was destroyed and victory assured (by the 1970s, with increasing doubt that US client regimes could be sustained). Tactics were modified with changing circumstances and perceptions. Changes of Administration, including the Kennedy assassination, had no large-scale effect on policy, and not even any great effect on tactics, when account is taken of the objective situation and how it was perceived.
This seems to me to be a good first approximation to the general picture. We turn to details for the 1961-1964 period directly.
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35 On this matter, see particularly Kahin, Intervention.
36 On the complicity of the intellectual community in suppressing the readilyavailable facts about US subversion of diplomacy, see TCNW, ch. 3; MC, ch. 5.5.3. Parts of the story are yet untold.
37 AWWA, 286.