The search- and- destroy tactics employed by the American commander, General William Westmoreland, proved ill suited to the situation. Th e Vietcong, aided by North Vietnamese regulars, were waging a war of insurgency, avoiding fi xed positions and striking from ambush. In a vain eff ort to destroy the enemy, Westmoreland used superior American fi repower wantonly, devas-tating the countryside, causing many civilian casualties, and driving the peasantry into the arms of the guerrillas. Inevitably, these tactics led to the slaughter of innocent civilians, most notably at the hamlet of My Lai. In March 1968, an American company led by Lieutenant William Calley, Jr., killed more than two hundred unarmed villagers.
Th e main premise of Westmoreland’s strategy was to wage a war of attrition that would fi nally reach a “ crossover point” when communist losses each month would be greater than the number of new troops they could recruit. He hoped to lure the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese regulars into pitched battles in which American fi repower would infl ict heavy casualties. But soon it was the communists who were deciding where and when the fi ghting would take place, provoking American attacks in remote areas of South Vietnam that favored the defenders and made Westmoreland pay heavily in American lives for the commu-nist losses.