and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
Clark sent a letter of support to McCarthy, and Clark was in Chicago for the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) convention and heard speeches from Al Lowenstein (“Dump Johnson”) and McCarthy. Clark saw a campaign in need of a steady hand and money, and a candidate that needed to find his comfort zone, fast. Clark hired many young staffers and focused on building campaign organizations on the ground in the four states that McCarthy had targeted due to the high level of anti-war fervor: Wisconsin, Oregon, California, and Massachusetts. The McCarthy campaign needed money, but the candidate believed fundraising was beneath him, which wasn’t uncommon for Senators in that era, since the amounts needed for campaigns were much less than today, and it was commonly held that raising money for one’s own campaign sullied their reputation.
General William Westmoreland, the general in command in Vietnam, had plenty of intelligence about the enemy’s offensive that was sure to occur in January 1968. Westmoreland was certain that the US would be victorious in Vietnam, convinced that a war of attrition would break the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. The key was to draw the enemy into a large-scale pitched battle, which Westmoreland believed would be the catalyst in reaching critical mass for attrition. On 20 December 1967, Westmoreland cabled D.C., saying that the VC and the NVA would soon launch a large offensive in large area over a short period of time, which would then lead to the large-scale conventional battle for which the US Army and LBJ had been waiting.
Westmoreland believed that the VC were already defeated, and that he was ready for anything the NVA threw at the Army, having nearly 1 million men in uniform, counting 300k+ US troops, 78k Marines, and the various South Vietnamese forces under his command. Westmoreland was so sure of victory that he didn’t share much of what he knew in terms of intelligence with his officers.
fast . . . Clark decided to get McCarthy in direct political combat with LBJ as soon as possible. McCarthy wanted his neighboring state of Wisconsin to be his first primary, but Clark liked the risky nature of the New Hampshire primary and it was in his old stomping grounds, so Clark knew how the citizens and media of the state would react to McCarthy. New Hampshire would be a bold move for a candidate that was seen as boring, and Clark knew that running in NH was not as bold/brave as outsiders believed. Polls had McCarthy at no more than 10%; RFK advised McCarthy to run in NH, which made McCarthy not want to run in NH. McCarthy didn’t see NH as the right state to launch an anti-war campaign, and getting whipped by LBJ in NH would mean he would be a non-factor in WI, OR, CA, and MA.
Clark knew that McCarthy’s style would be perfect in NH, especially southern NH, which had become more liberal, and most of NH’s population was in the southern part of the state. McCarthy reluctantly agreed to “tour” NH and he spoke in front of a crowd of 1400+ in Manchester NH on 14 December 1967. On the way back to the airport, David Halberstam interviewed McCarthy for an article, and McCarthy stated that he planned on staying out of NH’s primary. Had McCarthy made that statement on the radio, he would have been sunk in NH, but the article wouldn’t appear for awhile in that Halberstam was working on a profile.
In Vietnam, the NVA build-up had been closely watched by US intelligence, but they could not get a read on the many border attacks which occurred far from the cities that were being monitored. The question that was asked was why would the NVA waste men and materiel so far from those cities; the conclusion reached was that the border attacks were unrelated to the build-up. Westmoreland retasked forces away from those cities and the coastal lowlands to the border outbreaks, seeing no risk in doing so since he judged the NVA as being incapable of a successful offensive on even one city. That’s what Westmoreland’s training and experience told him, and he, like everyone else in power, viewed the conflict in Vietnam in World War II terms, not for the kind of war it really was, a War of National Liberation (e.g. the Revolutionary War).