Brinks Hotel

The Brinks Hotel housed some American military officers in Saigon. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1964, two Vietcong agents put a bomb in the basement carpark. They had reconnoitered the target meticulously, and they managed to park a car containing the bomb without being observed or suspected. At 5:45 P.M., while the Americans were eating dinner and planning the Christmas Eve party for later that evening, the bomb exploded while one of the agents, Nguyen Thanh Xuan, nonchalantly observed from a restaurant across the street. Two American officers were killed and fifty-eight were wounded. The Brinks Hotel incident is important for several reasons. It demonstrated the ability of the Vietcong to operate anywhere in South Vietnam, even in the capital of its enemy.

It also demonstrated the inability of that enemy to protect its citizens and allies, a crucial prerequisite to successful guerrilla or insurgency warfare. Coming soon after the American bombing of North Vietnam following the Tonkin Gulf incident, it demonstrated the form of escalation or response that any further bombing of North Vietnam would take. Lastly, it presented policymakers in Washington with a basic question that would characterize the war throughout its history: would bombing the North reduce enemy hostilities in the South? President Johnson overruled his advisers in this instance, arguing that bombing retaliation for the Brinks Hotel attack would be politically foolish during Christmas and militarily unsound as a disproportionate response which might unnecessarily escalate the war.

The attack on the Brinks Hotel epitomized the situation for Americans in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. No place was completely safe from Vietcong acts of terrorism, and the result was uncertainty, confusion, and apprehension for allied forces. The boldness of the Vietcong attack contributed to the escalation of the war during a critical period in Washington's policy-making.