General William Westmoreland
was one of the most prominent, yet controversial players in the Vietnam War. A born
leader, Westmoreland was more studied than spontaneous. He stuck to straight rules, rather
than looking at the larger context of the war. This, in the end, would cost him and his
Westmoreland emerged from World War II with quite a renowned
reputation for his military skills. Things quickly changed, though, when he entered Lyndon
Johnsons cabinet in 1964. Elected as the new commander of U.S. military advisers in
South Vietnam, the pressure immediately begin to mount. Filling the shoes for MacArthur,
Westmoreland was left with a full plate. He had one goal, and that was to win the war.
Nothing but victory would satisfy him or his colleagues. Unfortunately, these men never
defined what victory meant. Was it by body count or narrowing the influence of Communism?
Westmoreland, along with many other respected military leaders, had never
encountered the kind of military environment that existed in Vietnam. It was a war without
front lines, without trenches, without any foreseeable end. The enemy was
indistinguishable from the United States South Vietnamese allies. Undoubtedly, this
only contributed to the desperation of the war. Every new maneuver that Westmoreland and
his colleagues thought up seemed to dig them even deeper. For the first time in U.S. War
history an army that seemed to have half their capabilities was ridiculing textbook
While Westmoreland sought to blockade and invade North Vietnam, and then following
up by seizing part of Laos, President Johnson continuously vetoed what he thought to be
risky plans. LBJ believed that these kinds of actions would only prompt China to send
troops to aid the North Vietnamese enemies.
Westmoreland, in the face of continuous vetoed plans, opted for importing larger and
larger numbers of U.S. soldiers. Once simply advisors to the South Vietnamese government,
the U.S. now entered the tropical battlefield. Westmoreland devised what was called the
"search and destroy" strategy. This strategy ordered helicopter-borne troops to
find and erase all evidence of the largest enemy units. The goals of the war soon became
blurred. MACV, the Military Assistance Command of Vietnam were suddenly blinded by body
counts, kill ratios, and all sorts of statistical information. With no definition of what
constituted winning the war, the men in uniform were left with no direction. Without
direction, the increased amount of soldiers only meant an increased amount of death.
Unsurprisingly, people back home were growing more and more impatient. A once highly
supported military general, Westmorelands image resembled that of a murderer. While
two years prior he had been Time Magazines Man of the Year, by 1967 the sound of his
name sparked resentment. The once praising college campuses now deemed him a war criminal
after he called them "unpatriotic" for protesting the failing war. With U.S.
troops in Vietnam approaching the half million mark, the American death toll at 15,000,
and the explosion of the anti-war movement, American patriotism seemed to reach an all
time low. A once trusting American public had come to realize that the words "trust
me" were far from comforting.
Astonishingly, by the time the Tet offensive rolled around in 1968 Westmoreland
seemed angered that the American public was so shocked. A man, who had paraded the
progress to the American people, couldnt understand why people were outraged. The
unexpected extremeness of Tet, increased by television cameras and media, definitely
seemed contradictory to the way the Government officials had painted the war. This
Climactic event not only changed the Vietnam War in changed the way U.S. citizens viewed
the people they put their trust in. Westmoreland, without a doubt, played a huge part in
this image of deception.
Soon after Tet, due to his increased credibility gap, his deputy, Creighton Abrams,
replaced Westmoreland. Till this day Westmoreland swears the war had been nobly fought but
had been undermined by the media. The American public, however, has a very different and
lasting impression from the war. Whether this was due to sewed media coverage or
misleading political figures, one cant say. What is clear, however, is that the
dynamics between civilian and government official has forever changed.