April 7, 2004

Is this the Tet Offensive II?

There is some temptation to relate the current events in Iraq to the Vietnamese Tet Offensive. Here’s what happened during that battle.

After erosion of their position during 1967, the Communists threw all of their South Vietnam guerrilla forces into attacks in more than 100 cities across the length and breadth of the country. Most spectacularly, since it came before the eyes of the Saigon press corps, a 19-man sapper squad penetrated the U.S. Embassy compound. They failed to enter the chancery building, despite early reports, and the last of them was killed or repulsed after a six-hour battle.

General William Westmoreland appeared in the shattered compound to proclaim a great victory. His televised appearance came against a backdrop of destruction throughout the country, and the American elite decided to believe not the general but their own eyes. A widely cited Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed that "the whole Vietnam effort may be doomed, it may be falling apart beneath our feet." Walter Cronkite turned against the war, editorializing on the need for negotiation. With this home-front reaction, Tet was the turning-point in the war, the anvil of Communist victory and American defeat.

Yet in fact, Westmoreland was right, subsequent analysts have uniformly concluded. The Communist offensive was decisively repulsed. There was no general uprising in favor of the North. The South Vietnamese army did not buckle, though operating at 50% strength because of imprudent holiday leaves. The indigenous Viet Cong were destroyed, leaving the rest of the war to be conducted by troops recruited in the North.

Posted by Ted at April 7, 2004 9:51 PM