Tet Offensive Essay, Research Paper
The American intervention in Vietnam began in 1963 with the intent of stopping South Vietnamese from falling into Communist hands. In August of that year, Lyndon Johnson, who had taken over the American presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy ordered the first air strikes on North Vietnamese. Six months later, the Rolling Thunder air campaign began. In this campaign alone, more bombs were dropped than in all of World War II. The president announced plans were underway for a $1 billion development program along the Mekong River that would benefit not only Vietnam, but also all of Southeast Asia. The program was intended as an offer to North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. While flying back to Washington after the first major speech in Vietnam about the war, Johnson confidently predicted to his press secretary, Bill Moyers, “…old Ho can’t turn me down.”(Crown 48) But the next day, Ho did just that. The rejected Mekong River development proposal was one of many instances in Vietnam where Lyndon Johnson’s overpowering skills as an agreement builder and deal maker would fail him. Secretary of Defense, William McNamara, stated to Lyndon, There is a very real question, whether it will be possible to maintain our efforts in South Vietnam for the time necessary to accomplish our objectives there (Crown 148).
With in the next five years, the two Vietnams received an estimate of twenty-two tons of explosives for every square mile of territory. Seven million tons of bombs and defoliants were dropped killing 2.6 million Vietnamese.(A Dirty Business) The American deployment jumped from 23,000 in 1963 to 184,000 in 1966 and reached a peak of 542,000 in January of 1969 while Richard Nixon is in office. North Vietnamese had had enough and began plans for an offensive that was pointed directly towards the American
and the anti-Communists. In the 1960 s, North Vietnamese launched four major attacks on South Vietnamese and the American soldiers at the American Embassy, at Hue, at Bien Hoa, and at Tan Son Nhut known as the Tet Offesive; the personal accounts of John McCain in his autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, J.R. Bullington s autobiography, Trapped Behind Enemy Lines, and many American soldiers accounts in Veterans Recall Tet s Painful Lesson, tell of the struggles that occurred during this offensive.
Tet is the New Years holiday celebrated only in Vietnam. This holiday usually rolls Christmas, Easter and New Years all in to one. Fighting was traditionally on stand still on this holiday. No one expected the devastation that would occur on January 31, 1968. (Prados 141)
The Tet Offensive involved three attacks aimed directly at South Vietnamese and the American soldiers. The first attack was at the American Embassy on January 31, 1968. This was one of the smallest and involved only fifteen Viet Cong suicide snappers. Its importance well outweighed its size. The Embassy was located in Saigon; a few blocks from the Vietnamese Presidential Palace and hotels that quartered many Americans. The Embassy was a new building surrounded by a sturdy wall. The Embassy was the only Embassy in the world with a helicopter pad on the roof.
Just before daylight, sappers in civilian clothes blew a hole in the wall of the American Embassy. Two military police guards killed the first two Viet Cong to enter the building but were killed themselves in the gun fire exchange. A military police closed the heavy metal doors of the chancery so that no Viet Cong could enter in. Under fire from a
helicopter and from a platoon of American airborne troops lifted to the roof of the chancery by helicopter, all of the Viet Cong that entered the Embassy was killed with in six hours.
The second attack of the Tet Offensive was on Hue, a combat base, on January 31 February 25. Three North Vietnamese infantry regiments, plus several rocket and combat engineer battalions, supported by Viet Cong local force units, were in the process of overrunning and occupying the city. By the end of the first day, J.R. Bullington stated, It seems they ve taken everything. The whole city of Hue. (Bullington 376). It was evident that the North Vietnamese was planning on staying. They set up a company headquarters at the power plant and had begun some type of work that involved digging.
Hue was very symbolic to the South. It embodied the Vietnamese culture, history, traditions, and sense of national identity. Its loss would signal the loss of the war. American and South Vietnamese high commands would not let it remain under enemy occupation for long. Lieutenant Steve Miller said, We did not realize, however, the strength of the North Vietnamese forces in the city, the near totality of their initial victory, or the confusion, misjudgment, and sometimes ineptitude of the American and Saigon authorities. (McDonough 74). They knew that this attack would be a long struggle for everyone and the North was ready to fight.
During the attack of Hue, there were around 2,000 document cases of execution and mass murder of Vietnamese civilians, whom Communists saw as enemies. These mass murders and executions included the lives of government employees, politicians, teachers,
intellectuals, business people, and religious leaders, as well as U.S. government employees. (Pimlott 40). John McCain recalls this mass murder and execution as being a horrific occasion, one he will never forget. To see the look of the dying faces and to hear the innocent pleas of the civilians gives you a feeling far beyond words can express. (McCain 2)
The third and fourth attack of the Tet Offensive was at Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhut, two other combat bases. These attacks took place on January 31, 1968 at 3:00 a.m. The key to the capture of Saigon was the seizure of these two huge U.S. air bases, a few miles to the north and west of the city. At 3:00 a.m., the enemy hit Bien Hoa with two infantry battalions and a reinforced infantry company. About 60 percent of the attackers were North Vietnamese regulars, especially trained for this kind of operation. The attacks started with a ten-minute rocket bombardment of the bunker, followed by an invasion of a large number of Communist troops who continued to blast the bunker with rockets and automatic weapons.
When the attack began, Captain Maisey was at the west end of the base. He knew that holding the Bunker was critical to defending the base. Maisey moved immediately to the Central Security Command Post and volunteered to lead the defense of the Bunker, occupied by several men who were firing furiously through the gun ports. Outside were 30 to 40 security police who had come to the aid of the comrades. Maisey had to dive through the enemy s field of fire but was unhurt. It was the spookiest thing I have ever
experienced. And I have been through a lot these past couple of years in Nam . stated a man inside the Bunker (Veterans Recall Tets Painful Lesson 154).
The Tet Offensive lasted from January 31, 1968 to March 2, 1968. A CIA reporter stated, The intensity, coordination, and timing of the attacks were not fully anticipated,
adding another major unexpected point was the ability of the Vietcong to hit so many targets simultaneously. (Heroes in the Line of Duty) Clearly, this attack took everyone by surprise and the effects will live on in the lives of many Vietnamese and American forever.
The Tet Offensive was the final nail on the coffin for the administration of Lyndon Johnson. In 1963, when he came to power after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his approval rating was over 80%. By 1967, it was down to 40%. According to Karnow, Then Tet came and his rating plummeted as if Vietnam were a burning fuse that had suddenly ignited an explosion of dissent. (Karnow 95). At the beginning of March, his rating dropped to 30%. His credibility was gone. Johnson announced that the air strikes would be confined to below the twelfth parallel and authorized the opening of negotiations with North Vietnamese. These negotiations would try to make peace between the North and the South.
Troops levels remained at about 500,000 and the war would continue on after Tet for five years. More American soldiers died after Tet than before. 1,536 soldiers were killed from the US/Free World MAF, 2,788 ARVN soldiers were killed, and 45,000 were killed from the NVA/VC. A total of 63,224 soldiers were killed in the Tet offensive, not including the innocent people living in South Vietnam.
From the bombing of the American Embassy, to the massacres at Hue, at Bien Hoa, and at Tan Son Nhut, the Tet Offensive served as the turning point in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was officially over in 1970. Richard Nixon had taken office as President in 1969. His comments of the Vietnam War told of the way the war was
No event in American history is more misunderstood that the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic. (Statistics about the Vietnam War).
Clearly, the South Vietnamese and the American people struggled for justice and equity through out the Vietnam War and especially during the Tet Offensive.