Forecasting the End

April 1975: In Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin, the retired Marine officer acting as an intelligence analyst in the Defense Attaché Office’s Intelligence Branch in Saigon, is tasked with writing an estimate of the situation in South Vietnam. The purpose is to prepare for the visit of General Fred C. Weyand, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who will be in Vietnam from 28 March to 4 April.

Here is the text of Chuck’s estimate as quoted in the novel:

The northern half of South Vietnam is lost. The southern half could survive temporarily under three conditions: (1) the government is able to extract its forces from the north intact, (2) the North Vietnamese do not increase their forces in the south, and (3) the U.S. immediately resumes the air war and delivers essential ammunition, equipment, and supplies.

As this is written, it is clear that none of these conditions will be met. Casualties in the north have been overwhelming, and the remaining troops are in rout. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese are infiltrating the southern provinces at an unprecedented rate. And the U.S. has ceased its matériel and air support. In short, what is left of South Vietnam will fall within weeks.

In the long term, the only option available to avoid capitulation is the reintroduction of U.S. forces—ground, naval, and air. President Nixon promised to bring U.S. military strength to bear if North Vietnam violated the Paris Agreement. Gross violations by North Vietnam are now legion. Failure to rescue Vietnam will be recognized world-wide as evidence of bad faith.

Chuck’s words in the novel are based on my memory of what I, as the senior representative of the National Security Agency in Vietnam, wrote to be used in the briefing of General Weyand. I knew from intercepted North Vietnamese communications that unless the U.S. intervened, South Vietnam would fall to the North Vietnamese. General Weyand apparently took my words to heart. In his report to the President, dated 4 April 1975, he said:

The current military situation is critical, and the probability of the survival of South Vietnam as a truncated nation in the southern provinces is marginal at best. The GVN is on the brink of a total military defeat.

And he ended his estimate as follows:

United States credibility as an ally is at stake in Vietnam. To sustain that credibility we must make a maximum effort to support the South Vietnamese now.

The U.S. did nothing. The North Vietnamese overran Saigon less than a month later.

2 thoughts on “Forecasting the End”

  1. Tom, going to get your book and annotate it for my daughter Brenna and add some pictures I still have including that long afternoon in your office waiting for PA #1 on the day of the palace bombing. Few others share those moments.


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