Friday, May 19, 1972
Support For Nixon's Vietnam Decision
By Joseph Alsop
ITEM: It is being said that supplies for North Vietnam which cannot come through the newly mined ports can easily come down by rail from China. In point of fact, Haiphong alone has been receiving about 2 million tons of supplies a year. This is about seven times the tonnage that has been coming down through China. Replacing Haiphong by overland transport is a total impossibility.
ITEM: It is being said that there are no critical, war-affecting categories of supply because Hanoi's war planners have prestocked all needed supplies on such an enormous scale. This may be true for some of the heavy equipment that the North Vietnamese army is using. But it is emphatically not true for the fuel that permits the heavy equipment to move.
Gasoline and other petroleum products account for the largest single tonnage of supplies being imported into North Vietnam. Hanoi's military requirement alone is around 30,000 tons per month precisely because of the much larger North Vietnamese use of trucks, tanks and other heavy equipment requiring motorized prime movers. Just on the northern battlefront, the North Vietnamese need is around 10,000 tons per month.
Delivery from Haiphong and Vinh has been by pipeline. Pipelines are notoriously difficult to knock out by bombing because patches can be propositioned. Yet fuel shortages have already hampered the enemy on the approaches to Hue. Choking off the North Vietnamese fuel imports should in fact produce reasonably early results at the fighting front.
ITEM: The U.S. government analysts who concluded bombing was useless before the Johnson bombing halt omitted a good many key facts from their calculations. One should not be surprised by this. They were the same analysts who overestimated the number of Viet Cong guerrillas by a factor of five and underestimated the enemy's tonnage imports through Cambodian ports by a factor of three.
They were not very reliable analysts, in short. One fact that they omitted, with great bearing on the present problem, was the need the bombing created for an army of 200,000 people to repair bridges, patch roads and keep rail traffic limping along. Another fact was the need for a huge, manpower-consuming organization of anti-aircraft defense.
In North Vietnam today, able-bodied power is the shortest single item. Hence rallying another repair army will be a dreadful strain. As to the antiaircraft organization, a great deal of it has been moved bodily to the fighting front. There are now five antiaircraft regiments on the approaches to Hue, for example, without considering other areas of South Vietnam. Any sane man can figure out the resulting problems of the Hanoi war planners.
These are only a few of the hard facts that point to the designed result of President Nixon's bold decision. The designed result, of course, is to prevent Hanoi from sustaining its great offensive over a prolonged period of time.
But that leaves the immediate future to consider. Quite obviously, what the President has done cannot produce an instantaneous effect. The North Vietnamese offensive can be sustained for now, even if it cannot be sustained for a prolonged period.
Meanwhile, the immediate future can prove rough going. On the approaches to Hue, particularly, Hanoi's high command has cast all precautions to the winds. An attempt was recently made to move supply by rail, in broad daylight as far south as the DMZ. North Vietnam trucks are also moving in broad daylight just behind the front. The train was destroyed by air attack.
"Support for Nixon's Vietnam Decision", by Joseph Alsop, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes Friday, May 19, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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