Famous Battles in History Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive

About the famous Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War between the Vietnamese and United States, history and account of the battle.

MORE FAMOUS BATTLES--ON LAND AND AT SEA

TET OFFENSIVE, 1968

Throughout 1967, Gen. William Westmoreland sent American troops rampaging through South Vietnam in massive "search and destroy" operations. Using unreliable body counts as an infallible indicator of success, the American military announced that the war was being won. The deputy commander in Vietnam, Gen. Bruce Palmer, declared, "The Vietcong has been defeated from Da Nang all the way down in the populated areas." On NBC's Today show, Vice-President Humphrey concurred, saying, "We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress."

The Communists had suffered from the gargantuan American military buildup in Vietnam, but they were not defeated. For even as the Americans declared eventual victory, Communist Gen. Nguyen Vo Giap, the mastermind of Dien Bien Phu, was readying his forces for a grand offensive in early 1968. Hoping for a complete military victory, Giap was nevertheless prepared to settle for a psychological defeat of South Vietnam and the U.S.

On Jan. 30, 1968, at the beginning of the Tet (lunar new year) festival, Giap launched simultaneous assaults on 40 South Vietnamese urban centers. Enjoying the holidays, the South Vietnamese soldiers were taken completely by surprise. North Vietnamese and Vietcong units drove into the city of Hue and initiated a reign of terror that left 2,800 people dead. Communist forces infiltrated and attacked Saigon, where American marines beat off attacks on the U.S. embassy and South Vietnamese troops battled on the lawns of the presidential palace.

Gradually, after savage fighting, the Americans and South Vietnamese pushed the Communists out of Saigon, Hue, and the other cities. The spontaneous uprising of urban Vietnamese, which Communist military leaders had counted on, had failed to materialize. From a strictly military point of view, the Communists had gained little and had lost thousands of their best soldiers. The U.S. Army quickly proclaimed victory, claiming 60,000 Communist soldiers killed to only 2,600 Americans and South Vietnamese.

However, in Vietnam the Communists had demonstrated that they were undefeated and determined to win. In the U.S., the Johnson administration had been dealt a fatal blow in an election year. The "credibility gap" had become a "credibility canyon." Off the screen, Walter Cronkite expressed the feelings of most Americans when he asked, "What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning the war!" Giap had won his psychological victory, which ultimately led to the Communist takeover of South Vietnam.

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