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Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive

1968

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Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive

A map depicting those areas attacked by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces during the Tet Offensive.

Map Courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency

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The Tet Offensive

On January 21, 1968, an intense barrage of artillery hit the US Marine base at Khe Sanh in northwest South Vietnam. This presaged a siege and battle that would last for seventy-seven days and would see 6,000 Marines hold off 20,000 North Vietnamese. Anticipating that American forces would be drawn north to the fighting at Khe Sanh, Viet Cong units broke the traditional Tet (Lunar New Year) cease-fire on January 30, 1968, by launching major attacks against most cities in South Vietnam.

For the next two months, US and ARVN forces successfully beat back the Viet Cong assault, with particularly heavy combat in the cities of Hue and Saigon. Once the fighting had ended, the Viet Cong had been permanently crippled and ceased to be an effective fighting force. On April 1, US forces began Operation Pegasus to relieve the Marines at Khe Sanh. After opening the road to Khe Sanh (Route 9) with a mix of air mobile and ground forces, US troops linked up with the besieged Marines on April 8.

Aftereffects of Tet

While the Tet Offensive proved to be a military victory for the US and ARVN, it was a political and media disaster. Public support began to erode as Americans started to question the handling of the conflict. Others doubted Westmoreland’s ability to command, leading to his replacement in June 1968, by General Creighton Abrams. President Johnson’s popularity plummeted and he withdrew as a candidate for reelection. Ultimately, it was the media’s reaction and stressing of a widening “credibility gap” that did the most damage to the Johnson Administration’s efforts. Noted reporters, such as Walter Cronkite, began to openly criticize Johnson and the military leadership, as well as called for negotiated end to the war. Though he had low expectations, Johnson conceded and opened peace talks with North Vietnam in May 1968.

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