By now, the readers of this blog will have determined that I found Mark Bowden’s Huế 1968 richly rewarding. So before I speak further of its virtues, I’ll dispense with my criticisms.
Mark Bowden does not appear to be a man with years of experience in Vietnam. He occasionally gets details wrong—e.g., he expands RVNAF to “Republic of Vietnam Air Force” rather than the correct “Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces” and once in a while misspells Vietnamese place names.
But these issues are nit noy—to use a term common with GIs in Vietnam. Two other matters are of greater importance.
One is Bowden’s use of the term “Front” to designate the Vietnamese Communists. The word refers to the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (in Vietnamese Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam). The front was a fictional organization created by the North Vietnamese. Its manifesto was written in Hanoi and sent in 1961 to units controlled by North Vietnam operating clandestinely in the south. In its manifesto and radio propaganda broadcasts, the Front represented itself as an independent South Vietnamese association opposed to the South Vietnamese government. In fact, it was paper organization that never existed. The proper term to refer to the enemy at Huế is “the North Vietnamese.”
The second is Bowden’s claim that that the 1968 Tet Offensive was an intelligence failure. In fact, my organization, the National Security Agency (NSA), forecast a country-wide offensive in a series of reports beginning on 25 January 1968, almost a week before the offensive got underway. I know. I was a contributor to those reports. The failure was that General Westmoreland, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam commander, and other senior military officers didn’t believe the reports and didn’t act on them. That was one of many times in Vietnam when intelligence I and others were producing was ignored (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/vietnam-tet-offensive.html).
These complaints now out of the way, I can get on with my discussion of the overall excellence of Bowden’s book.