The Significance of the Tet Offensive

Photo Source Department of Defense (USMC) | CC BY 2.0

Fifty years ago the world received a lesson in the revolutionary power of protracted people’s war when some 84,000 Vietnamese communist peasants stunned the world’s greatest military power, the United States, with an astounding offensive considered impossible by America’s Army generals who had only weeks before declared the communist revolutionaries of South Vietnam essentially defeated.

This amazingly shocking assault was the Tet Offensive of January-February 1968. It was so powerful in its execution and effects that it became the crucial event of America’s Vietnam War. No history of that war can be complete without an analysis of this offensive. The significance of Tet was that it compelled the American leadership to make the decision to quit Vietnam; it was thus the pivot point in the war. Often described as a military loss for the communist forces, it was nonetheless a political loss for the Americans and their Saigon client regime – a loss so great that the United States eventually began a process of gradual, yet brutally violent, disengagement. The study of how that definitive decision to disengage came to be and how it was subsequently interpreted after the war offers important lessons regarding the contradictions of the war exposed by Tet – contradictions involving the imperatives of international finance, the exercise of political power, the dishonesty and incompetence of military leadership, the…

Read more