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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Tet Offensive: a turning point in the Vietnam War

Today is 46th Anniversary of the start of Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. Beginning on 30 January 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched country wide attacks on United States and South Vietnamese forces that completely exposed the lie being told to the American people by President Lyndon Johnson and his military leadership that the Vietnam War was winding down and the US was winning. Instead we awoke to the news that the national liberation forces had people everywhere and were carrying out what they called the  "General Offensive and Uprising" (Cuộc Tổng tiến công và nổi dậy).

The offensive was the largest mobilization carried out by either side in the war to that point, it involved more than 80,000 Vietnamese troops fighting to reunited Vietnam and free it from foreign military domination for the first time since the French began their military conquest in 1859. The offensive took place in more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of the 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the southern capital Saigon where they lay siege to the headquarters of the ARVN General Staff at Tan Son Nhut Air Base; the Independence Palace, the Long Binh Naval Headquarters, the National Radio Station and, most dramatically, the huge US embassy in Saigon. The BBC would report, on the second day of the offensive, which would last to 28 March 1968:
The American command in Vietnam has reported over 5,000 people dead after two days intensive fighting.

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu has been forced to declare martial law as communist forces, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, have kept up sustained assaults on several fronts - from Saigon in the south to Hue in the north.

Authorities in the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi, described it as, "a more powerful and more continuous offensive" than ever before.

White House intelligence in Washington anticipated attacks over the Tet holiday to celebrate the lunar new year, but they were surprised by their intensity.
Vietcong forces have also attacked the Vietnam general staff headquarters, Navy headquarters, two police stations and the Philippine Ambassador's residence as well as blowing up the radio station in Saigon.

Communications are in chaos and commercial flights from the airport have been cancelled.

North Vietnamese - Vietminh - troops have reinforced their siege of Khe Sanh, near the demilitarised zone.

Some commentators expect the so-called Tet Offensive will shatter the American resolve and have a similar effect on the US to that on the French after the North Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 - which contributed to the Geneva Agreements later that year.
Note that even as late as '68, the BBC hadn't got the memo from US military PsyOps that the Viet Minh were being rebranded as the "Viet Cong."

General Vo Nguyen Giap who led the Viet Minh forces against the French and then the United States, and was the architect of their victories both at Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive, died in 2013 at the ripe old age of 102.

The reason the Tet Offensive caused such a dramatic shift in American public opinion is that it so completely exposed the lie we had been told about how the war was going. Kevin Murphy, UC Berkley, wrote about the Tet Offensive:
One reason Tet proved such a shock to Americans was that all reports before the offensive seemed to indicate that the US, unlike the French before them, was winning the war in Southeast Asia. “It is significant that the enemy has not won a major battle in more than a year,” General William Westmoreland had told the press in November of 1967. “His guerrilla force is declining at a steady rate...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.” Vice- President Hubert Humphrey echoed the sentiments on Meet the Press that same month. “We are beginning to win this struggle,” Humphrey declared. “We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress.” And President Lyndon Johnson had said much the same about the war earlier that year: “We are very sure that we are on the right track.”
With the success of the Tet Offensive and the consequential exposure of the real weakness of the US position in Vietnam, the end did indeed come into view, serious Peace Talks began in Paris in May of that year. Although this first round of talks were sabotaged through the combined efforts of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and it would take another four years of killing and dying before US ground troops finally left Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, which began 46 years ago today, told everybody just how things were going to turn out.

To learn more about the Tet Offensive and the Vietnam War. See my documentary film Vietnam: American Holocaust. It is available both from VietnamAmericanHolocaust.com and Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.