17. A Crazy Plan That Cost General Westmoreland His Command
Operation FRACTURE JAW never went beyond the planning stage. As things turned out, fears of an American Dien Bien Phu at Khe Sanh proved to be overblown. The French debacle in the earlier siege was caused by France’s inability to resupply its beleaguered garrison from the air. However, America had an ace in the hole that France did not: the US Air Force, whose capabilities were orders of magnitude greater than the French air force. American aerial assets managed to sustain the US garrison at Khe Sanh with adequate resupplies of men and materiel, while punishing the besieging North Vietnamese, until they lifted the siege and withdrew in the summer of 1968.
As to General Westmoreland, after years of Johnson acceding to his requests for more and more troops, the president finally drew a line in 1968. That year, the American buildup in Vietnam reached a peak of 535,000 men. When Westmoreland asked for 200,000 more men, LBJ had enough. Between the general’s insatiable appetite for troops and materials, his attempt to keep secret from the White House a plan to nuke North Vietnam, and overall dissatisfaction with the war’s direction and prospects, LBJ decided to get a new commander. Westmoreland was sacked by promoting him upstairs to Army Chief of Staff. He was replaced with his deputy, Creighton Abrams, who began implementing a steady troop draw down.