Vietnam War Bibliography:

The Order of Battle Dispute and the Westmoreland Lawsuit

A dispute among U.S. intelligence officers, over the strength of enemy forces in South Vietnam in 1967, had its first public exposure on March 19, 1968, when The New York Times published an article based on documents that Daniel Ellsberg had leaked to reporter Neil Sheehan. A more extended account, written by former CIA analyst Samuel Adams, appeared in 1975. The House Select Committee on Intelligence [the "Pike Committee"] held hearings on the issue late in 1975 (see U.S. Intelligence Agencies and Activities: The Performance of the Intelligence Community). It was the subject of a major television documentary in 1982, which led to a major lawsuit in which General William Westmoreland sued Samuel Adams, the CBS Television Network, and several CBS employees. The trial in late 1984 and early 1985 led to the release of a huge amount of information about U.S. intelligence, Communist forces, the background to the Tet Offensive, and other matters.

Sam Adams, "Vietnam Cover-up: Playing War with Numbers", Harper's, May 1975. Charges by a former CIA analyst that U.S. intelligence, especially MACV intelligence, deliberately underestimated enemy strength in Vietnam in order to maintain optimism about the way the war was going. The text has been placed on-line in the Virtual Vietnam Archive of the Vietnam Project, at Texas Tech University, as pp. 158-171 of Reassessment of U.S. Foreign Policy, a 1975 hearing before the Subcommittee on Future Foreign Policy Research and Development, House International Relations Committee.

Samuel A. Adams, oral history interview, September 20, 1984. 68 pp. The interview was conducted by Ted Gittinger, of the LBJ Presidential Library, and is part of the Oral History Collection of the LBJ Presidential Library, but it has been placed online in the Lyndon B. Johnson Oral History collection at the Miller Center for Public Affairs, University of Virginia.

Sam Adams, introduction by Col. David Hackworth, War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1994. 251 pp. The full text is available online to paid subscribers of Questia. This extremely valuable book is seriously incomplete. Sam Adams died in 1988, and his widow wisely decided to publish the manuscript as he had left it, rather than allow someone else to write new material to fill in the gaps. See review by Peter Braestrup, in Washington Post Book World, 5/8/94, p. 8; the review is naively accepting of the official version of the events.

"The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception" was a documentary broadcast by CBS on January 23, 1982. It was, in essence, the television presentation of Samuel Adams' charges about distortion of military intelligence reporting. It restated Adams' old charges in regard to the dropping of certain categories from the official order-of-battle figures, and added new charges (based on research Adams did after writing his 1975 article) that MACV figures also underestimated the rate of NVA infiltration into South Vietnam for about five months before the Tet Offensive. (See below for full transcript.)
     In establishing the sheer fact that intelligence estimates were deliberately distorted, this program does pretty well. It presents a great deal of convincing testimony from military intelligence officers who said that pressure from their superiors to hold down the estimates of enemy strength had made them compile official estimates that they themselves did not believe to be accurate. However, the program does less well in analyzing the implications and consequences of the problem.
     First, it assumes far too readily that if crucial information was omitted from MACV official reports, then the White House was being kept in ignorance. CBS allowed its viewers to believe (once almost came out and told them outright) that the President was ignorant of matters that in fact the President seems to have known about.
     "The Uncounted Enemy" did not openly deny General Westmoreland's claim that the Tet Offensive had been in military terms an American victory, but it discussed that claim in a fashion designed to raise doubts. This was not proper; there had been good reason to doubt Westmoreland's claim at the time he made it, in 1968, but by 1981, when this documentary was made, the fact that Tet really had been an American military victory had become clear.
     Finally, there have been questions about the fairness of the program. Its makers, presumably noticing the obvious logic that a successful conspiracy to distort intelligence reporting implies both a lot of conspirators who will presumably attempt to conceal what they have done, and a lot of victims who were successfully persuaded that the reports they were getting were honest, tended to discount in advance those witnesses who said there had been no distortion of intelligence reporting. CBS did not interview all those it should have interviewed, and it did not give much air time to those who said there had been no distortion of intelligence reporting. Exercising this sort of judgment is generally considered a violation of proper journalistic procedure. On the other hand, the evidence that has emerged since the program was broadcast indicates that CBS's judgment was good. The people who were given the most air time in the CBS program were in fact the ones who were describing the events accurately.

Renata Adler, Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time. New York: Vintage, 1988. 245 pp. Previously published "Annals of Law: Two Trials," in the New Yorker magazine, June 16, 1986, pp. 42-96, and June 23, 1986, pp. 34-83. From the brief glance I have taken at this book, Adler seems to be seriously biased, and to lack an understanding of even the most elementary issues involved in the Westmoreland/CBS trial.

Burton Benjamin, Fair Play: CBS, General Westmoreland, and How a Television Documentary Went Wrong. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. xviii, 218 pp. This account is by the man CBS assigned to handle its internal investigation of the documentary "The Uncounted Enemy". I have not seen it, but my impression is that it is concerned more with the question of whether the documentary followed proper journalistic procedures that with whether it was accurate.

Jake Blood, The Tet Effect: Intelligence and the Public Perception of War. New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2005. xv, 212 pp.

David Boies, Courting Justice: From NY Yankees v. Major League Baseball to Bush V. Gore 1997-2000. New York: Hyperion/Miramax Books, 2004. 490 pp. A short section near the beginning (pp. 18-23) deals with Boies' work as the lead attorney in CBS' defense against Westmoreland's libel suit.

Bob Brewin & Sydney Shaw, Vietnam on Trial: Westmoreland vs. CBS. New York: Atheneum, 1987. 414pp. The bulk of this book is a journalistic account of the Westmoreland/CBS dispute, pretty competently done except for a tendency simply to present the evidence, without enough analysis. (There are, however, surprising inaccuracies in regard to the "Viet Cong Infrastructure".) About 80 pages are devoted to interesting information about the war that came out in the trial but had little connection with the issues in the trial, especially dealing with the Ho Chi Minh Trail and US efforts to block it, and with McNamara's pessimism about the war.

Richard M. Clurman, Beyond Malice: The Media's Years of Reckoning, rev. ed. New York: Meridian (New American Library), 1990. 325 pp. A large portion of the book is devoted to Westmoreland v. CBS.

Thomas L. Cubbage III, "Westmoreland vs. CBS: Was Intelligence Corrupted by Policy Demands?" in Michael I. Handel, ed., Leaders and Intelligence (London: Frank Cass, 1989), pp. 118-180. An anti-CBS view by a former military intelligence officer.

Karen Donovan, v. Goliath: The Trials of David Boies. New York: Vintage, 2007. David Boies was the lead attorney for CBS in Westmoreland lawsuite. This book has about thirty pages on the case.

Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, Confessions of a Cold Warrior. Fairfax, VA: Preview Press, 1995. 228 pp. Graham held a senior position in MACV intelligence in late 1967. The part of this book at which I have looked, the discussion of the 1967 dispute over enemy strength estimates and the 1968 Tet Offensive (pp. 51-57), appears to me to be nonsense.

C. Michael Hiam, Who the Hell Are We Fighting? The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars. Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press, 2006. 326 pp. Reprinted with a new Foreword by Thomas Powers, and under a new title, A Monument to Deceit: Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars. ForeEdge (University Press of New England), 2014.

Ed Joyce, Prime Times, Bad Times. New York: Doubleday, 1988. xii, 561 pp. Edward M. Joyce was President of CBS News during the trial of the Westmoreland lawsuit. He is more interested in procedural issues than with the truth or falsehood of the broadcast.

Bruce Jones, War without Windows. New York: Vanguard, 1987. xvi, 302 pp. By a junior officer who worked in military intelligence in Saigon 1967-68.

Don Kowet, A Matter of Honor. New York: Macmillan, 1984. 317pp. This is a full-length attack on the CBS documentary "The Uncounted Enemy." Kowet's lack of knowledge of the issues dealt with in the documentary, when added to his biases, make the book pretty worthless.

Grace Ferrari Levine, "Television Journalism on Trial: Westmoreland v. CBS", Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 5:2 (1990), pp. 102-116.

"Masters of the Intelligence Art: John F. Stewart, Jr. and the Vigilant Eye of the Storm." Published electronically on the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Center Huachuca History Program web site. 35 pp. Stewart (and the author of this article) sided with Westmoreland in the dispute over the 1967 estimates of the strength of enemy forces in Vietnam (see below for Stewart's testimony as a witness for Westmoreland, in Westmoreland's suit against CBS). Stewart later was involved with Urgent Fury and Just Cause. The biggest portion of the article deals with Desert Storm.

"Masters of the Intelligence Art: Phillip B. Davidson, Jr. and Army Intelligence Doctrine." Published electronically on the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Center Huachuca History Program web site. 10 pp. The author of this article has a higher opinion than I do of Davidson, who was chief of the Plans and Estimates Branch of Douglas MacArthur's intelligence staff during the Korean War, and headed military intelligence in Saigon 1967-1969. (See below for Davidson's testimony as a witness for Westmoreland, in Westmoreland's suit against CBS).

Edwin E. Moise, "Why Westmoreland Gave Up." Pacific Affairs 58:4 (Winter 1985-86), pp. 663-673. If you browse the Internet through an institution that has subscribed to JSTOR, you can access the text directly or go through the JSTOR Pacific Affairs browse page.

Lt. Col. Evan H. Parrott, Jr., "CBS News, General Westmoreland, and the Pathology of Information", Air University Review, September-October 1982.

Norman L. Rosenberg, Protecting the Best Men: An Interpretive History of the Law of Libel. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1986.

M. Patricia Roth, The Juror and the General. New York: William Morrow, 1986. 300 pp. By one of the jurors at the trial of Westmoreland v. CBS, et. al.

Joshua Rovner, Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011. ix, 263 pp. An analysis, which looks quite convincing to me, of the reasons why policymakers sometimes politicize intelligence, and sometimes just ignore intelligence analyses that contradict their views. Much of Chapter 4, "The Johnson Administration and the Vietnam Estimates" (pp. 49-88), deals with the Order of Battle dispute.

Neil Sheehan, "U.S. Undervalued Enemy's Strength Before Offensive," New York Times, March 19, 1968, pp. 1, 3. Based on documents that Daniel Ellsberg (later to become famous in the "Pentagon Papers" case) leaked to Sheehan.

Frederick L. Shields, Preventable Disasters: Why Governments Fail. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991. xi, 204 pp. Analyses three "disasters", one of which is the Tet Offensive.

Rodney A. Smolla, Suing the Press. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. 277 pp.

Mike Wallace, with Gary Paul Gates, Between You and Me: A Memoir. New York: Hyperion, 2005. 292 pp. Wallace's account of his role as chief correspondent for "The Uncounted Enemy," and as a defendant in Westmoreland's lawsuit, is on pp. 187-203.

James J. Wirtz, The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. x, 290 pp. This book contains some useful information, but basically it is a whitewash of the intelligence failure.

James J. Wirtz, "Deception and the Tet Offensive", Journal of Strategic Studies 13 (June 1990), pp. 82-98.

James J. Wirtz, "Intelligence to Please? The Order of Battle Controversy During the Vietnam War", Political Science Quarterly 106:2 (Summer 1991), pp. 239-63. Starts out with the misunderstanding that "the Order of Battle debate . . . was driven by organizational definitions of who constituted an enemy combatant" (p. 241), and goes on to the suggestion, which I regard as preposterous, that the events of the Tet Offensive suggest that MACV estimates of enemy combat forces had actually been too large (p. 253).

 

The Virtual Vietnam Archive of the Vietnam Project, at Texas Tech University, has placed online the full texts of many documents related to the Westmoreland lawsuit against CBS et al. (both declassifed intelligence reports and other documents dating from the war, and documents generated in in connection with the lawsuit). The items listed individually below represent only part of what is available. The best way I know of to search the collection is to go to the Virtual Vietnam Archive Quick Search Page, from there go to "Advanced Search," choose "Larry Berman Collection (Westmoreland v. CBS)" among the options offered for the "Collection Title" field, and then enter other terms as appropriate in the "Subject/Keyword", "Document Title", or other fields.

A private sector publisher has issued a huge microfilmed collection of documents from Westmoreland v. CBS et. al.

A private sector publisher has issued a very large microfilmed collection of MACV intelligence reports, including the complete texts of MACV Order of Battle Summaries from May 1967 onward (the links to Order of Battle Summaries above are only to excerpts, not to the complete texts).

Congressional committee hearings of 1973 and 1975 relating to the order of battle dispute can be found under Congressional Committee Documentation: Intelligence and Special Operations.

See also The Tet Offensive

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Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, Edwin E. Moise. This document may be reproduced only by permission. Revised August 6, 2014. Opinions expressed in this bibliography are my own. They could hardly be the opinions of Clemson University, since Clemson University does not have opinions on the matters in question.