Cronkite's "We Are Mired in Stalemate" Broadcast,
February 27, 1968
Cronkite reports on his recent trip to Vietnam to view the
aftermath of the Tet Offensive in his television special
Who, What, When, Where, Why?
report is highly critical of US officials and directly contradicts
official statements on the progress of the war.
listing Tet and several other current military operations
as "draw[s]" and chastising American leaders for
their optimism, Cronkite advises negotiation "...not
as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their
pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."
Cronkite and a CBS Camera crew use a jeep for a dolly during
an interview with the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion,
1st Marines, during the Battle of Hue City., 02/20/1968, National
Archives and Records Administration
back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum
up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative,
personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive
against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by
a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make
it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected
south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with
a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this
is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer
is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful
that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of
the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff.
the political front, past performance gives no confidence that
the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded
by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on,
but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this
young nation. Another standoff.
have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American
leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer
in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may
be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced
by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer
war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success
in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations.
It would improve their position, and it would also require our
realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations
must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms.
For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience
of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain
standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or
terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate,
the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North,
the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred,
or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops
to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer
to the brink of cosmic disaster.
say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the
face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the
past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable
pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only
realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that
military and political analysts are right, in the next few months
we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his
last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear
to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to
negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived
up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they
is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
Reporting Vietnam: Part One: American Journalism 1959-1969
(1998), pp. 581-582.