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Subject: 1968: LBJ and his block wargame in the White House basement rss

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1968: LBJ and his block wargame in the White House basement




Next month will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive. One of the more interesting photographs from these turbulent days in 1968 shows President Lyndon Baines Johnson studying a representation of the Khe Sanh battlefield in the White House situation room.

The president was obsessed with Khe Sanh. LBJ began to equate the struggle at Khe Sanh with the French disaster at Dien Bien Phu. The president feared a political setback if the base fell to the North Vietnamese. His staff created a model of the region around Khe Sanh with small blocks to indicate the positions of the military units. Please note the detailed terrain and the grid references created with string. Nice work!

LBJ would frequently go down to the situation room late at night, monitoring reports and studying maps. Since the US Constitution designates the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces LBJ was certainly entitled to review troop deployments or select bombing targets... and these actually were actions taken by Johnson. However, there seems to be something a little sad about a man with LBJ's responsibilities spending his sleepless nights pondering the movements of companies and battalions on a battlefield thousands of miles away.

If my talents were not so limited a Photoshop substitution of the map from Fire in the Lake for this model of Khe Sanh would be a top priority.
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pete belli wrote:


If my talents were not so limited a Photoshop substitution of the map from Fire in the Lake for this model of Khe Sanh would be a top priority.


I'd help but my Photoshop skillz are strictly limited.

Somebody out there - get on it!
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pete belli wrote:
If my talents were not so limited a Photoshop substitution of the map from Fire in the Lake for this model of Khe Sanh would be a top priority.


C’mon Pete! We know you’re a game designer, not a photoshopper. I expect you to have a playable Khe Sanh block wargame identical to the photo ready to go in a couple of days.
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Here's a rough one, along with the black and white conversion:


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pete belli wrote:
However, there seems to be something a little sad about a man with LBJ's responsibilities spending his sleepless nights pondering the movements of companies and battalions on a battlefield thousands of miles away.

Even sadder when we remember that, as his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara confessed in a book decades later, the LBJ Administration -- as early as 1966 -- didn't know how to win the war, but was determined to fight on.
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gocamels wrote:
Here's a rough one:



Brilliant!

I'm reminded of a story I heard at a 'future of warfare' wargame I participated in when I was on active duty in the US Navy. I was questioning the over-reliance on modeling without regularly revisiting the assumptions that go into them. After all, the fidelity of a model is only as good as what it is built on. One of the RAND guys told us that after Nixon was sworn into office in 1969, he wanted to know how long it would take to win in South Vietnam if the US continued the Johnson Administration strategy. Several think-tankers found what they thought was the most appropriate "off the shelf" model to determine an answer, 'turned the Big Wheel" (as modelers apparently say), and returned some time later with the answer.

"According to the model, we won the war in 1965."

Maybe they'd have been better off playing Fire in the Lake. The casualties that mounted on all sides between 1969 and 1975 might've been better off, too.
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gocamels wrote:
Here's a rough one, along with the black and white conversion:




Superb!
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Now it needs a thought bubble for LBJ .... suggestions? "Another fine mess McNamara preordered us into"? Something snooty denigrating COIN? LBJ wishing he stuck to classic H&C AH titles instead?
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aesthetocyst wrote:


Another excellent image. thumbsup
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pete belli wrote:
However, there seems to be something a little sad about a man with LBJ's responsibilities spending his sleepless nights pondering the movements of companies and battalions on a battlefield thousands of miles away.


Seems reasonable. Battles can impact far beyond the limited tactical consequences of the action. Only in hindsight can we say that the result was decisive (or not).
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Not as pretty as the Fire in the Lake board, but maybe this board from Khe Sanh, 1968 would be more appropriate scale:

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elgin_j wrote:
Battles can impact far beyond the limited tactical consequences of the action. Only in hindsight can we say that the result was decisive (or not).


An excellent point.

The base at Khe Sanh had become an important psychological battlefield in spite it its minor tactical and/or strategic value.
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pete belli wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
Battles can impact far beyond the limited tactical consequences of the action. Only in hindsight can we say that the result was decisive (or not).


An excellent point.

The base at Khe Sanh had become an important psychological battlefield in spite it its minor tactical and/or strategic value.


The Stalingrad of the Vietnam War?
 
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desertfox2004 wrote:
pete belli wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
Battles can impact far beyond the limited tactical consequences of the action. Only in hindsight can we say that the result was decisive (or not).


An excellent point.

The base at Khe Sanh had become an important psychological battlefield in spite it its minor tactical and/or strategic value.


The Stalingrad of the Vietnam War?


Sort of, in that Stalingrad became a "thing", a symbol, that sucked both aides into chasing sunk costs (particularly the Germans) ... but not so in that Stalingrad had real strategic value.

Khe Sanh was more of a test case, a microcosm of the larger war, not quite America's Dien Bien Phu, in that we wouldn't have pulled out had Khe Sanh fallen, it wasn't our last stongpoint, but it absolutely was a trial of strength, a test of wills.
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desertfox2004 wrote:
pete belli wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
Battles can impact far beyond the limited tactical consequences of the action. Only in hindsight can we say that the result was decisive (or not).


An excellent point.

The base at Khe Sanh had become an important psychological battlefield in spite it its minor tactical and/or strategic value.


The Stalingrad of the Vietnam War?


I was thinking Verdun.
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Anyone know of any books on this?
Ive read the Robert Caro series

Had a prof in college that wrote an unpublished work on LBJ is fact he was able to get Doris Kearns Goodwin to come and speak to our small (20th century Am president) class about LBJ...but according to my prof he said repeatedly that "LBJ was the biggest crook to ever inhabit the White House" and he said it in his Richmond southern dialect.

LBJ very interesting character

Thanks Pete for the post
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aesthetocyst wrote:


Now it needs a thought bubble for LBJ .... suggestions? "Another fine mess McNamara preordered us into"? Something snooty denigrating COIN? LBJ wishing he stuck to classic H&C AH titles instead?


"...and as long as we roll sixes in every combat we should beat them Sir".
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Aussie550 wrote:
aesthetocyst wrote:


Now it needs a thought bubble for LBJ .... suggestions? "Another fine mess McNamara preordered us into"? Something snooty denigrating COIN? LBJ wishing he stuck to classic H&C AH titles instead?


"...and as long as we roll sixes in every combat we should beat them Sir".

Viewing reality through a grossly distorted lens from the White House didn't start or end with LBJ. devil
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Yes, I've read the March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman and it's crazy how the various incumbents kept digging themselves into deeper holes.
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buseyhead wrote:
Anyone know of any books on this?
Ive read the Robert Caro series

Had a prof in college that wrote an unpublished work on LBJ is fact he was able to get Doris Kearns Goodwin to come and speak to our small (20th century Am president) class about LBJ...but according to my prof he said repeatedly that "LBJ was the biggest crook to ever inhabit the White House" and he said it in his Richmond southern dialect.

LBJ very interesting character

Thanks Pete for the post


I've not read Larry Tye's book on Bobby Kennedy, but he made an interesting point in an interview saying that the antagonism between LBJ and Bobby prevented sharing how the Cuban Missle Crisis was resolved through the then secret concession to remove Jupiter missles from Turkey. So, LBJ continued under the impression that we just stayed tough and backed the other guy down in Cuba... and that this was to be his only strategy in Vietnam.

I guess we'll need to wait for the next Caro book to understand more.
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Eldard wrote:

Even sadder when we remember that, as his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara confessed in a book decades later, the LBJ Administration -- as early as 1966 -- didn't know how to win the war, but was determined to fight on.


Sounds like my aptitude in wargaming.
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Huge version of this photo.

WHO IS THE MYSTERY MAN TO THE LEFT AND WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT TO EDIT HIM OUT?!?



Duh-duh-dummmmmmm.

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buseyhead wrote:
Anyone know of any books on this?


Books about Khe Sanh, or books about LBJ's war management? Or something else?

 
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aesthetocyst wrote:


Huge version of this photo.

WHO IS THE MYSTERY MAN TO THE LEFT AND WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT TO EDIT HIM OUT?!?

I can assure everyone that it is neither Mark Herman nor Volko Ruhnke, or even Jim Dunnigan. But it may be then-Secretary of Hobbies Milton Bradley, because I believe the gentlemen to LBJ's left (our right) are brothers Clooney "Clu" and Roland "Move" Parker.

The event was PrezCon '68.
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samtn99 wrote:
Anyone know what scale that is? What is the size of each square? 1 km?


Based on this map...



...and another image of this model floating around the internet that shows the blocks in red (which is the color the US military uses for the enemy) it would be possible to make an reasonable assumption.

The blocks could represent enemy divisions or regiments and the scale might be approximately 5000 meters per square on the grid.

I hope somebody smarter than me determines the actual scale.
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