Vietnam War and the TET Offensive

Essay by BKruegs June 2004

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Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive

Vietcong guerrilla fighters violated the temporary truce they had pledged to observe around the lunar new year celebrations, and surged into more than one hundred towns and cities, including Saigon. Shifting the war for the first time from its rural base into the new arena of South Vietnam's supposedly impregnable urban areas, it was a campaign of 'enormous breadth, speed, and scope.' It shook US imperialism to its roots and had a dramatic and lasting effect on US public opinion. It was a campaign that had been in preparation since a study carried out by General Giap in September 1967 had concluded that the war had reached a 'stalemate' situation and that something needed to be done. Out of this report arose the plans for the Tet offensive.

Vietcong leaders had carried out a vigorous propaganda campaign in order to prepare their forces. Ho Chi Minh urged the troops on to 'ever greater feats of battle' in 1968.

Giap had set the campaign's minimum and maximum objectives. As a minimum the Tet outbreak would force the halting of the ariel bombardment of North Vietnam and force the Americans into negotiations. As a maximum the offensive could drive the Americans out of Vietnam all together opening up the path to liberation and unification. Although not meeting it's major objectives the Tet offensive did have a lasting effect on the course of the war. It was a turning point. According to US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, "Henceforth, no matter how effective our action, the prevalent strategy could no longer achieve its objectives within a period or within force levels politically acceptable to the American people". Vietcong soldiers stormed the highland towns of Banmethout, Kontum and Pleiku, they then simultaneously invaded 13 of the 16 provincial...