William Childs Westmoreland was a United States Army General, most notably commander of United States forces during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1968 to 1972.
Westmoreland adopted a strategy of attrition against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, attempting to drain them of manpower and supplies. He also made use of the United States' edge in artillery and air power, both in tactical confrontations and in relentless strategic bombing of North Vietnam. Many of the battles in Vietnam were technically United States victories, with the United States Army in control of the field afterward; holding territory gained this way proved difficult, however. Public support for the war eventually diminished, especially after the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive in 1968. By the time he was re-assigned as Army Chief of Staff, United States military forces in Vietnam had reached a peak of 535,000 personnel. Westmoreland's strategy was ultimately politically unsuccessful. Growing United States casualties and the draft undermined United States support for the war, while large-scale casualties among non-combatants weakened South Vietnamese support. This also failed to weaken North Vietnam's will to fight, and the Government of South Vietnam—a factor largely out of Westmoreland's control—never succeeded in establishing enough legitimacy to quell defections to the Viet Cong.
Early lifeWilliam Childs Westmoreland was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, on March 26, 1914 to Eugenia Talley Childs and James Ripley Westmoreland. His upper middle class family was involved in the local banking and textile industries. At the age of 15, William became an Eagle Scout at Troop 1 Boy Scouts, and was recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo from the Boy Scouts of America as a young adult. After spending a year at The Citadel in 1932, he was appointed to attend the United States Military Academy on the nomination of Senator James F. Byrnes, a family friend. His motive for entering West Point was "to see the world". He was a member of a distinguished West Point class that also included Creighton Abrams and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Westmoreland graduated as first captain—the highest cadet rank—and received the Pershing Sword, which is "presented to cadet with highest level of military proficiency". Westmoreland also served as the superintendent of the Protestant Sunday School Teachers.
Military careerFollowing graduation from West Point in 1936, Westmoreland became an artillery officer and served in several assignments with the 18th Field Artillery at Fort Sill. In 1939, he was promoted to first lieutenant, after which he was a battery commander and battalion staff officer with the 8th Field Artillery at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
World War IIIn World War II, Westmoreland saw combat with the 34th Field Artillery Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Germany; he commanded the 34th Battalion in Tunisia and Sicily. He reached the temporary wartime rank of colonel, and on October 13, 1944, was appointed the chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division.
After the war, Westmoreland completed Airborne training at the Infantry School in 1946. He then commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. From 1947 to 1950, he served as chief of staff for the 82nd Airborne Division. He was an instructor at the Army Command and General Staff College from 1950 to 1951. He then completed the Army War College as a student in 1951, and stayed as an instructor from 1951 to 1952.
Korean WarWestmoreland was promoted to Brigadier General in November 1952 at the age of 38, making him one of the youngest U.S. Army generals in the post-World War II era. He commanded the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in operations in Korea from 1952 to 1953. After returning to the United States, Westmoreland was deputy assistant chief of staff, G–1, for manpower control on the Army staff from 1953 to 1955. In 1954, he completed a three-month management program at Harvard Business School. As Stanley Karnow noted, "Westy was a corporation executive in uniform."
After the war, Westmoreland was the United States Army's Secretary of the General Staff from 1955 to 1958. He then commanded the 101st Airborne Division from 1958 to 1960. He was Superintendent of the United States Military Academy from 1960 to 1963. In 1962, Westmoreland was admitted as an honorary member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. He was promoted to lieutenant general in July 1963 and was Commanding General of the XVIII Airborne Corps from 1963 to 1964.
Vietnam War;Background and overview
at Cam Ranh Air Base, 23 December 1967.
The attempted French re-colonization of Vietnam following World War II culminated in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Geneva Conference discussed the possibility of restoring peace in Indochina, and temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Việt Minh, and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại. A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state. Although presented as a consensus view, this document was not accepted by the delegates of either the State of Vietnam or the United States. In addition, China, the Soviet Union and other communist nations recognized the North while the United States and other non-communist states recognized the South as the legitimate government. By the time Westmoreland became army commander in South Vietnam, the option of a Korea-type settlement with a large demilitarised zone separating north and south, favored by military and diplomatic figures, had been rejected by the US government, whose objectives were to achieve a decisive victory, and not to use vastly greater resources. The infiltration by regular North Vietnam forces into the South could not be dealt with by aggressive action against the northern state because intervention by China was something the US government was concerned to avoid, but President Lyndon B. Johnson had given commitments to uphold South Vietnam against communist North Vietnam.
Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Harold Keith Johnson, and subsequently historians such as Harry G. Summers, Jr. came to see US goals as having become mutually inconsistent, because defeating the Communists would require declaring a national emergency and fully mobilising the resources of the US. President Johnson was critical of Westmoreland's defused corporate style, considering him overattentive to what government officials wanted to hear. Nonetheless, Westmoreland was operating within longstanding army protocols of subordinating the military to civilian policymakers. The most important constraint was staying on the strategic defensive out of fear of Chinese intervention, but at the same time President Lyndon B. Johnson had made it clear that there was a higher commitment to defending Vietnam. Much of the thinking about defense was by academics turned government advisors who concentrated on nuclear weapons, seen as making conventional war obsolete. The fashion for counter-insurgency thinking also denigrated the role of conventional warfare. Despite the inconclusive outcome of the Korean War, Americans expected their wars to end with the unconditional surrender of the enemy.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident of 2 August 1964 led to a dramatic increase in direct American participation in the war, with nearly 200,000 troops deployed by the end of the year. Viet Cong and PAVN strategy, organization and structure meant Westmoreland faced a dual threat. Regular North Vietnamese army units infiltrating across the remote border were apparently concentrating to mount an offensive and Westmoreland considered this the danger that had to be tackled immediately. There was also entrenched guerrilla subversion throughout the heavily populated coastal regions by the Viet Cong. Consistent with the enthusiasm of Robert McNamara for statistics, Westmoreland placed emphasis on body count and cited the Battle of Ia Drang as evidence the communists were losing. However, the government wished to win at low cost, and policymakers received McNamara's interpretation indicating huge American casualties in prospect, prompting a reassessment of what could be achieved. Moreover, the Battle of Ia Drang was unusual in that US troops brought a large enemy formation to battle. After talking to junior officers General Westmoreland became skeptical about localised concentrated search and destroy sweeps of short duration, because the Communist forces controlled whether there were military engagements, giving an option to simply avoid battle with US forces if the situation warranted it. The alternative of sustained countrywide pacification operations, which would require massive use of US manpower, was never available to Westmoreland, because it was considered politically unacceptable.
In public at least, he continued to be sanguine about the progress being made throughout his time in Vietnam, though supportive journalist James Reston thought Westmoreland's characterizing of the conflict as attrition warfare presented his generalship in a misleading light. Westmoreland's critics say his successor, General Creighton Abrams, deliberately switched emphasis away from what Westmoreland dubbed attrition. Revisionists point to Abrams's first big operation being a tactical success that disrupted North Vietnamese build up, but resulted in the Battle of Hamburger Hill, a political disaster that effectively curtailed Abrams's freedom to continue with such operations.
;Commander in South Vietnam
Westmoreland was sent to Vietnam in 1963. In January 1964, he became deputy commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, eventually succeeding Paul D. Harkins as commander, in June. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told President Lyndon B. Johnson in April that Westmoreland was "the best we have, without question". As the head of the MACV, he was known for highly publicized, positive assessments of U.S. military prospects in Vietnam. However, as time went on, the strengthening of communist combat forces in the South led to regular requests for increases in U.S. troop strength, from 16,000 when he arrived to its peak of 535,000 in 1968 when he was promoted to Army chief of staff. and prime minister of South Vietnam Nguyễn Cao Kỳ in October 1966.On April 28, 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress. "In evaluating the enemy strategy", he said, "it is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve.... Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission.... Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the communist aggressor!" Westmoreland claimed that under his leadership, United States forces "won every battle". The turning point of the war was the 1968 Tet Offensive, in which communist forces attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. At the time, Westmoreland was focused on the Battle of Khe Sanh and considered the Tet Offensive to be a diversionary attack. It is not clear if Khe Sanh was meant to be distraction for the Tet Offensive or vice versa; sometimes this is called the Riddle of Khe Sanh. Regardless, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops successfully fought off the attacks during the Tet Offensive, and the communist forces took heavy losses, but the ferocity of the assault shook public confidence in Westmoreland's previous assurances about the state of the war. Political debate and public opinion led the Johnson administration to limit further increases in U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam. Nine months afterward, when the My Lai Massacre reports started to break, Westmoreland resisted pressure from the incoming Nixon administration for a cover-up, and pressed for a full and impartial investigation by Lieutenant General William R. Peers. However, a few days after the tragedy, he had praised the same involved unit on the "outstanding job", for the "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle". Post 1969 Westmoreland also made efforts to investigate the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre a year after the event occurred.
Westmoreland was convinced that the Vietnamese communists could be destroyed by fighting a war of attrition that, theoretically, would render the Vietnam People's Army unable to fight. His war strategy was marked by heavy use of artillery and airpower and repeated attempts to engage the communists in large-unit battles, and thereby exploit the US's vastly superior firepower and technology. Westmoreland's response, to those Americans who criticized the high casualty rate of Vietnamese civilians, was: "It does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn't it?" However, the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam were able to dictate the pace of attrition to fit their own goals: by continuing to fight a guerrilla war and avoiding large-unit battles, they denied the Americans the chance to fight the kind of war they were best at, and they ensured that attrition would wear down the American public's support for the war faster than they.
Westmoreland repeatedly rebuffed or suppressed attempts by John Paul Vann and Lew Walt to shift to a "pacification" strategy. Westmoreland had little appreciation of the patience of the American public for his time frame, and was struggling to persuade President Johnson to approve widening the war into Cambodia and Laos in order to interdict the Ho Chi Minh trail. He was unable to use the absolutist stance that "we can't win unless we expand the war". Instead, he focused on "positive indicators", which ultimately turned worthless when the Tet Offensive occurred, since all his pronouncements of "positive indicators" did not hint at the possibility of such a last-gasp dramatic event. Tet outmaneuvered all of Westmoreland's pronouncements on "positive indicators" in the minds of the American public. Although the communists were severely depleted by the heavy fighting at Khe Sanh when their conventional assaults were battered by American firepower, as well as tens of thousands of deaths in the Tet Offensive, American political opinion and the panic engendered by the communist surprise sapped U.S. support for the war, even though the events of early 1968 put the United States and South Vietnam into a much stronger military position.
At one point in 1968, Westmoreland considered the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam in a contingency plan codenamed Fracture Jaw, which was abandoned when it became known to the White House.
Army Chief of StaffIn June 1968, Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams, the decision being announced shortly after the Tet Offensive. Although the decision had been made in late 1967, it was widely seen in the media as a punishment for being caught off guard by the communist assault. He was mentioned in a Time magazine article as a potential candidate for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.
Westmoreland served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1968 to 1972. In 1970, as Chief of Staff, in response to the My Lai Massacre by United States Army forces, he commissioned an army investigation that compiled a comprehensive and seminal study of leadership within the army during the Vietnam War demonstrating a severe erosion of adherence to the army's officer code of "Duty, Honor, Country". The report, entitled Study on Military Professionalism, had a profound influence on Army policies, beginning with Westmoreland's decision to end the policy that officers serving in Vietnam would be rotated into a different post after only six months. However, to lessen the impact of this damaging report, Westmoreland ordered that the document be kept on "close hold" across the entire Army for a period of two years and not disseminated to War College attendees. The report only became known to the public after Westmoreland retired in 1972.
Many military historians have pointed out that Westmoreland became Chief of Staff at the worst time in history with regard to the army. Guiding the army as it transitioned to an all-volunteer force, he issued many directives to try to make Army life better and more palatable for United States youth—e.g., allowing soldiers to wear sideburns and to drink beer in the mess hall. However, many hard-liners scorned these as too liberal.
Later yearsWestmoreland ran unsuccessfully for governor of South Carolina in the 1974 election. He published his autobiography the following year. Westmoreland later served on a task force to improve educational standards in the state of South Carolina.
In 1986, Westmoreland served as grand marshal of the Chicago Vietnam Veterans parade. The parade, attended by 200,000 Vietnam veterans and more than half a million spectators, did much to repair the rift between Vietnam veterans and the American public.
Westmoreland versus CBS: ''The Uncounted Enemy''interviewed Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary, shown on January 23, 1982, and prepared largely by CBS producer George Crile III, alleged that Westmoreland and others had deliberately understated Viet Cong troop strength during 1967 in order to maintain U.S. troop morale and domestic support for the war. Westmoreland filed a lawsuit against CBS.
In Westmoreland v. CBS, Westmoreland sued Wallace and CBS for libel, and a lengthy legal process began. Just days before the lawsuit was to go to the jury, Westmoreland suddenly settled with CBS, and they issued a joint statement of understanding. Some contend that Judge Leval's instructions to the jury over what constituted "actual malice" to prove libel convinced Westmoreland's lawyers that he was certain to lose. Others point out that the settlement occurred after two of Westmoreland's former intelligence officers, Major General Joseph McChristian and Colonel Gains Hawkins, testified to the accuracy of the substantive allegations of the broadcast, which were that Westmoreland ordered changes in intelligence reports on Viet Cong troop strengths for political reasons. Disagreements persist about the appropriateness of some of the methods of CBS's editors.
A deposition by McChristian indicates that his organization developed improved intelligence on the number of irregular Viet Cong combatants shortly before he left Vietnam on a regularly scheduled rotation. The numbers troubled Westmoreland, who feared that the press would not understand them. He did not order them changed, but instead did not include the information in reporting to Washington, which in his view was not appropriate to report.
Based on later analysis of the information from all sides, it appears clear that Westmoreland could not sustain a libel suit because CBS's principal allegation was that he had caused intelligence officers to suppress facts. Westmoreland's anger was caused by the implication of the broadcast that his intent was fraudulent and that he ordered others to lie.
During the acrimonious trial, Mike Wallace was hospitalized for depression, and despite the legal conflict separating the two, Westmoreland and his wife sent him flowers. Wallace's memoir is generally sympathetic to Westmoreland, although he makes it clear he disagreed with him on issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration's policies in Southeast Asia.
Views on Vietnam WarIn a 1998 interview for George magazine, Westmoreland criticized the battlefield prowess of his direct opponent, North Vietnamese general Võ Nguyên Giáp. "Of course, he was a formidable adversary", Westmoreland told correspondent W. Thomas Smith Jr. "Let me also say that Giap was trained in small-unit, guerrilla tactics, but he persisted in waging a big-unit war with terrible losses to his own men. By his own admission, by early 1969, I think, he had lost, what, a half million soldiers? He reported this. Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more than a few weeks." In the 1974 film Hearts and Minds, Westmoreland opined that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient. And as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it: Life is not important."
Westmoreland's view has been heavily criticized by Nick Turse, the author of the book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Turse said that many of the Vietnamese killed were actually innocent civilians, and the Vietnamese casualties were not just caused by military cross-fire but were a direct result of the U.S. policy and tactics, for example the policy "kill everything that moves" which enabled the U.S. soldiers to shoot civilians for "suspicious behavior". He concluded that, after having "spoken to survivors of massacres by United States forces at Phi Phu, Trieu Ai, My Luoc and so many other hamlets, I can say with certainty that Westmoreland's assessment was false". He also accused Westmoreland of concealing evidence of atrocities from the American public when he was the Army Chief of Staff.
Historian Derek Frisby also criticized Westmoreland's view during an interview with Deutsche Welle:
For the remainder of his life, Westmoreland maintained that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam; he stated instead that "our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam. By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling."
Personal lifeWestmoreland first met his future wife, Katherine Stevens Van Deusen, while stationed at Fort Sill; she was nine years old at the time and was the daughter of the post executive officer, Colonel Edwin R. Van Deusen. Westmoreland met her again in North Carolina when she was nineteen and a student at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The couple married in May 1947 and had three children: a daughter, Katherine Stevens; a son, James Ripley II, and another daughter, Margaret Childs.
Just hours after Westmoreland was sworn in as Army Chief of Staff on July 7, 1968, his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Van Deusen, was killed when his helicopter was shot down in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
Westmoreland died on July 18, 2005, at the age of 91 at the Bishop Gadsden retirement home in Charleston, South Carolina. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease during the final years of his life. He was buried on July 23, 2005, at the West Point Cemetery, United States Military Academy.
The General William C. Westmoreland Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, is named in his honor.
In 1996, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution authorized the General William C. Westmoreland award. The award is given each year in recognition to an outstanding SAR veterans volunteer.
William Westmoreland was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln by the Governor of Illinois in 1970 in the area of Government.
Major military assignments
- Commander, 34th Field Artillery Battalion, 9th Infantry Division; 1943–1944
- Chief of Staff, 9th Infantry Division; October 13, 1944 to 1946
- Commander, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division; 1946 to 1947
- Chief of Staff, 82d Airborne Division; 1947 to 1950
- Instructor, Army Command and General Staff College; 1950 to 1951
- Student, Army War College; 1951
- Instructor, Army War College; 1951 to November 1952
- 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team; November 1952 to 1953
- Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G–1, for Manpower; 1953 to 1955
- Secretary of the General Staff; 1955 to 1958
- Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division; 1958 to 1960
- Superintendent, United States Military Academy; 1 July 1960 to 27 June 1963
- Commanding General, XVIIIth Airborne Corps; July 1963 to December 1963
- Deputy Commander, United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam; January 1964 to June 1964
- Commander, United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam; June 1964 to June 1968
- Chief of Staff, United States Army; July 3, 1968 to June 30, 1972
;Foreign decorations and awards
Dates of rankclass of 1936
|Second Lieutenant||First Lieutenant||Major||Lieutenant Colonel||Colonel|
|12 June 1936||12 June 1939||1 February 1942||25 September 1942||28 July 1944|
|Captain||Major||Brigadier General||Lieutenant Colonel||Major General|
|12 June 1946||15 July 1948||7 November 1952||7 July 1953||December 1956|
|Colonel||Brigadier General||Major General||Lieutenant General||General|
|June 1961||14 July 1962||20 May 1963||31 July 1963||1 August 1964|
Retired from active service in July 1972.