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Vietnam: A Television History; Tet, 1968; Interview with Harry McPherson, 1981

Part of The Vietnam Collection.


Harry McPherson served as Special Counsel to LBJ from 1965 to 1969 and was Johnson’s chief speechwriter from 1966 to 1969. McPherson begins the interview by recalling the conflicted mood at the White House following the Tet Offensive. The optimism found in military cables and official information clashed with televised images showing the nation that the war was resulting in massive loss of human life and that a prisoner could be shot at point-blank range. He also talks about the concerns LBJ had that the Vietnam War might escalate into a world war and that the goal was not to destroy North Vietnam but rather to keep them contained and not overthrow the government in South Vietnam. He ends the interview with a personal sketch of President Johnson, a complex and tragic figure.

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Vietnam: A Television History
Tet, 1968
Program Number



Interview with Harry McPherson, 1981

Series Description

This 13 part series covers the history of Vietnam from France's colonial control, through the 1945 revolution, to the 1975 U.S. evacuation from Saigon and the years beyond. The series' objective approach permits viewers to form their own conclusions about the war. 101--Roots of a War--Despite cordial relations between American intelligence officers and Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the turbulent closing months of World War II, French and British hostility to the Vietnamese revolution laid the groundwork for a new war. 102--The First Vietnam War (1946-1954)--The French generals expected to defeat Ho's rag-tag Vietminh guerrillas easily, but after eight years of fighting and $2.5 billion in U.S. aid, the French lost a crucial battle at Dienbienphu--and with it, their Asian empire. 103--America's Mandarin (1954-1963)--To stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam--supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinyh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon. 104--LBJ Goes to War (1964-1965)--With Ho Chi Minh determined to reunite Vietnam, Lyndon Baines Johnson determined to prevent it, and South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, the stage was set for massive escalation of the undeclared Vietnam War. 105--America Takes Charge (1965-1967)--In two years, the Johnson Administration's troop build-up dispatched 1.5 million Americans to Vietnam to fight a war they found baffling, tedious, exciting, deadly and unforgettable. 106--America's Enemy (1954-1967)--The Vietnam War as seen from different perspectives: by Vietcong guerrillas and sympathizers; by North Vietnamese leaders; by rank and file; and by American held prisoner in Hanoi. 107--Tet (1968)--The massive enemy offensive at the Lunar New Year decimated the Vietcong and failed to topple the Saigon government, but led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal. 108--Vietnamizing the War (1968-1973)--President Nixon's program of troop pull-outs, stepped-up bombing and huge arms shipments to Saigon changed the war, and left GI's wondering which of them would be the last to die in Vietnam. 109--Cambodia and Laos--Despite technical neutrality, both of Vietnam's smaller neighbors were drawn into the war, suffered massive bombing, and in the case of Cambodia, endured a post-war holocaust of nightmare proportions. 110--Peace is at Hand (1968-1973)--While American and Vietnamese continued to clash in battle, diplomats in Paris argued about making peace, after more than four years reaching an accord that proved to be a preface to further bloodshed. 111--Homefront USA--Americans at home divide over a distant war, clashing in the streets as demonstrations lead to bloodshed, bitterness and increasing doubts about the outcome. 112--The End of the Tunnel (1973-1975)--Through troubled years of controversy and violence, U.S. casualties mounted, victory remained elusive and American opinion moved from general approval to general dissatisfaction with the Vietnam war. 113--Legacies--Vietnam is in the Soviet orbit, poorer than ever, at war on two fronts; America's legacy includes more than one half million Asian refugees, one half million Vietnam veterans and some questions that won't go away. Series release date: 9/1983

Program Description

The massive enemy offensive at the Lunar New Year decimated the Vietcong and failed to topple the Saigon government, but led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American
Electioneering (Political campaigns)
United States--Foreign relations--China
Military strategy
United States--Politics and government
United States--Foreign relations--Soviet Union
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Mass media and the war
United States--History--1945-
Bombing, Aerial Vietnam
United States--History, Military--20th century
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Ellison, Richard (Series Producer)
McPherson, Harry (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Rights Summary

No materials may be re-used without references to appearance releases and WGBH/UMass Boston contract. 2) It is the liability of a production to investigate and re-clear all rights before re-use in any project. Rights Holder: WGBH Educational Foundation

Chicago: “Vietnam: A Television History; Tet, 1968; Interview with Harry McPherson, 1981,” 04/23/1981, GBH Archives, accessed November 30, 2021,
MLA: “Vietnam: A Television History; Tet, 1968; Interview with Harry McPherson, 1981.” 04/23/1981. GBH Archives. Web. November 30, 2021. <>.
APA: Vietnam: A Television History; Tet, 1968; Interview with Harry McPherson, 1981. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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