Above: A suspected Viet-Cong operative is summarily executed by Col. Ngoc Loan, South Vietnamese Chief of Police. A film version of this moment was shown on TV in America, shocking American audiences.
“In all honesty, we didn’t achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the south. Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and that was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention — but it turned out to be a fortunate result.” – Tran Do, North Vietnamese General.
The “Tet” Offensive
On today’s date in 1968, in coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam, communist forces launched their largest offensive of the Vietnam War against South Vietnamese and U.S. troops. Because it came on the first day of the Lunar New Year, “Tet”, it came to be known as the “Tet Offensive”. The “fortunate result” of which General Tran speaks above was no less than the unseating of an incumbent U.S. President, the unleashing of the worst civil unrest in the United States in a century, and the turning point of the war in favor of the Viet Cong and their sponsors in North Vietnam.
The Viet Cong Are BEATEN by the U.S. Marines & Army….
On January 30, 1968-during the Tet holiday cease-fire in South Vietnam-an estimated 80,000 troops of the North Vietnamese Army
and the Viet Cong attacked cities and military establish- ments through- out South Vietnam. The most spectacular episode occurred when a group of VC commandos blasted through the wall surrounding the American embassy in Saigon and unsuccessfully attempted to seize the embassy building (some of that fighting is pictured above). Most of the attacks were turned back, with the communist forces suffering heavy losses.
But the Communists WIN the Political Battle
Battles continued to rage throughout the country for weeks–the fight to reclaim the city of Hue from communist troops was particularly destructive. American and South Vietnamese forces lost over 3,000 men during the offensive. Estimates for communist losses ran as high as 40,000.While the communists did not succeed militarily, the impact of the Tet Offensive on public opinion in the United States was staggering. The American people, who had been told a few months earlier that the war was successful and that U.S. troops might soon be allowed to withdraw, were stunned to see fighting taking place on the grounds of the U.S. embassy — right there on their televisions during the evening news.
LBJ Goes Down as the U.S. Erupts
Despite being told by Johnson administration that all was well, the Tet Offensive led many Americans to begin seriously questioning the war, and to wonder whether American power could prevail over the communist threat in foreign lands. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, support for the U.S. effort in Vietnam began steadily to erode, and public opinion turned sharply against President Johnson (pictured, above). The 1968 presidential campaign was under way, and in early March, LBJ, whose name was not even on the ballot did indeed win New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation primary”. But Senator Eugene Mc Carthy, who had opposed the war came in second by only 300 votes. This was viewed as a stunning rejection of the President. Studies later showed that most of the McCarthy voters actually favored the war, but intended their vote to be a protest of the LBJ administration. But it was seen as being against the war. Soon after, Robert F. Kennedy entered the race, strongly opposing the war. And on March 31, LBJ surprised everyone by pulling out of the presidential campaign.
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“Vietnam: A History” by Stanley Karnow, Viking Press, New York, 1983.
Saigon = http://historyimages.blogspot.com/
LBJ = http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/vietnam/vietnam_lessons.cfm