Tet Offensive Essay, Research Paper
The Tet Offensive, which occurred on January 31, 1968, proved to be a political
and a psychological victory for the Vietnamese communists. And, although it only lasted
for about one month, it was one of America?s most notable battles that taught the
Americans and the Vietnamese valuable lessons about life and war. The background of
the Tet-Offensive is very interesting, one hidden within the conflict of the Vietnam War.
While the offensive was being planned, there were anti-war demonstrations taking place in
the U.S. against the Vietnam War. Lyndon B. Johnson, in a close election, won the
primary over McCarthy who happened to be against the war, and then went on to running
the country with few problems.
In Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap of North Vietnam told his political members
that the opportunity for a general offensive or uprising was within reach. The offensive
began in August of 1967, when following Hanoi?s decision to proceed with Giap?s
?uprising,? Giap began a massive buildup of troops, equipment, and supplies in South
Vietnam. First, thousands of guns and munitions were bought southward along the Ho
Chi Minh Trail. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the vital Vietcong (also known as the South
Vietnamese) supply line that twisted through the jungles of North Vietnam in a southward
direction (?Vietnam?). This trail also served as a transportation route for food and
medical supplies being brought to the south part of Vietnam. Tens of thousands of troops
poured down from the North, infiltrated the countryside, and wearing civilian clothes,
easily blended with the local people. By mid-January, 1968, about 84,000 of the North
Vietnamese Army (NVA), and the Vietcong troops were in South Vietnam (?Massacre?).
And, two weeks before the actual attack would even take place, Giap?s troops were
positioned and ready for an attack (Coteau 2).
The U.S. began to have suspicions about some sort of uprising taking place. So
the offensive did, in fact, not take Americans by surprise. American intelligence sources
had started uncovering evidence that indicated a shift in enemy strategy in the late
summer/early fall of 1967. The 101st Airborne Division, on November 19, seized an
attack order telling that the offensive was near, and some slightly detailed plans of what
was going to happen and how it was going to happen (?Vietnam?). The U.S. intelligence
officers took this evidence as propaganda and disregarded it completely. The found attack
order was then published on January 5th, but still attracted very little attention.
As 1968 approached, the U.S. appeared to be winning the war, but in Washington,
on December 18th, General Earle G. Wheeler, joint Chief of Staff, cautioned that ?it is
entirely possible that there may be a Communist thrust similar to the desperate effort of
the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II? (Young 27-28). The U.S.?s
suspicions about a possible uprising became stronger as the Tet-Offensive grew closer.
In Saigon, on December 20th, General William C. Westmoreland of the U.S.
Army cabled Washington that he expected the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong
to ?undertake an intensified countrywide effort, perhaps a maximum effort over a
relatively short period? (73-74). On the same day, December 20th, the President warned
the world that ?we face dark days ahead? (Mueller 3). These events began to foreshadow
the Vietnamese?s coming psychological victory.
In January of 1968, American forces captured a pair of NVA operation orders
calling for an attack on Pleiku before the Tet, and targeting Ban Me Thuot for assault.
Two days prior to the Tet, agents of the South Vietnamese Military Service arrested
eleven Vietcong leaders that were caught holding a secret meeting (?More?). The eleven
had two tapes that had messages about the liberation of Saigon, Hue, and other cities.
Too many warnings of the offensive were ignored. One U.S. intelligence official stated ?If
we?d gotten the whole battle plan, it wouldn?t have been believed. It wouldn?t have been
credible to us? (Omicinski 18-19). Intelligence analysts refused to believe that the
Vietcong and the NVA were capable of executing such a large scale, coordinated attack,
but they were not sure if the Vietcong and NVA were, or if they were not.
The U.S.?s suspicions on the upcoming offensive were starting to be confirmed.
By mid-January, Westmoreland was almost sure that the offensive would be starting just
before or just after the Tet. The U.S. and its officials had strongly doubted that the
Vietcong and the NVA would strike during the holiday. The Tet is a very important and
religious holiday in the Chinese and Vietnamese cultures which is another reason why the
Vietnamese?s victory was psychological. Some smaller battles started to break out in
Vietnam before the actual Tet-Offensive did. In the fall of 1967, Vietcong and the NVA
units suffered heavy losses during several bouts with the U.S. and the Army of the
Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) forces. Starting on October 27th, and continuing for
22 days, the American and South Vietnamese troops killed over 1,600 more enemy
soldiers, almost destroying the 4 NVA regiments (?Vietnam?). When the unavoidable
Tet-Offensive came, somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 troops launched an all-out
attack on the marines at Khe Sanh on January 21, 1968 (Porter 5). The question that
started to be asked by American troops and its citizens was: ?Is this the offensive or not??
The answer to that question was yes, the battle ended up being called ?the most important
battle of the world? (Anzalone 4).
The first attack was not the Tet-Offensive. This larger battle was composed of
many smaller battles. On January 21st, 1968, at 12:30 a.m., the North Vietnamese 325
division launched an assault against Hill 861, a marine outpost northwest of the main
combat base (?Massacre?). Following that battle, there were many other battles, until
mid/late February. And end to the Tet-Offensive finally came into view. On February
20th, there were 47 marines killed, 240 badly wounded, and 60 wounded, but still fighting
(?More?). The Americans had actually killed more than four times the number of dead on
their side. They started fighting the Platoon Task Force, which included a sniper team.
They had two buildings to secure before they could take over the tower. Amazingly, there
was no resistance in the two buildings of the tower itself. On February 21st, the northeast
wall of the Citadel fell to Major Thompson?s 1st Battalion marines. The marines then
hoisted an American flag over the liberated South Vietnamese soil (more specifically, the
Citadel). The Tet-Offensive finally came to an end. The Black Panther Company of the
1st ARVN Division?s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, secured the main flagpole at the
Midday Gate of the Imperial Palace. At 5:00 a.m., they hauled down the NLF (National
Liberation Front) flag, that ran up the yellow and red standard of the Republic of Vietnam
(?Vietnam?). Although the battle was then officially over, there were still many losses.
There were 5,113 NVA/VC dead in Hue, and 89 captured (Young 65). The ARVN had
384 casualties, and 1,830 wounded (73). Among the civilians of Hue, there were 5,800
listed as dead or missing, most of whom had been killed by communist death squads and
buried in mass graves in the inner city (98). The U.S. Army had 74 dead and 507
seriously wounded (15). And, the Marine Corps had 147 dead, and 857 seriously
wounded (Anzalone 2).
From the experience of the Tet-Offensive, the American?s learned to never
underestimate the abilities of their enemies. In this battle, each side proved something to
the other. The Vietnamese Communists proved that they were able to pull off a
large-scale uprising and also still fight with a lot of power. The Americans proved that
they too could hold up their side of the fight, but they also learned that sometimes there
are no true winners in a battle, each side has its casualties and failures.
Young, Marilyn B. The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990. New York: HarperCollins,
Massacre at Hue. 25 November 1999. Excerpt from the Viet Cong Strategy of
Terror. 6 Apr. 2000 .
Couteau, Robert. Home Page. New Insights Into the Spirit of Place. 6 Apr.
Anzalone, Tom. Home Page. Tet 1968. 6 Apr. 2000. .
Porter, D. Gareth. Home Page. University of Texas. The 1968 Hue Massacre. 6
Apr. 2000. .
Vietnam. 17 Feb. 1998. The History Net. 8 Apr. 2000. .
Mueller, James M. Tet in Hue. 6 Apr. 2000. .
More About the 1968 Tet Offensive. 19 Mar. 1998. Fortune City. 10 Apr.
Omicinski, John. ?Tet Offensive Marked Turn in War.? Gannett News Service 30
Jan. 1998, nat. ed.