THE TET OFFENSIVE: A Concise History

Article excerpt

THE TET OFFENSIVE: A Concise History, James H. Willbanks, Columbia University Press, New York, 2006, $29.50.

In this short, well-written, and helpful reference, James Willbanks traces the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the Communist Tet Offensive in 1968, during the Vietnam War. He highlights conflicting interpretations of the campaign's success and significance at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. Willbanks includes a brief chronology of major Tet-related events from January 1967 to December 1968; a pithy encyclopedia of Tet-related vocabulary; reproductions of 10 important primary documents; and a reference guide to primary sources, significant secondary works, archival collections, and other resources concerning the Vietnam War in 1968.

Within his narrative, Willbanks ably encapsulates the campaign's most salient features for those unfamiliar with Tet 1968 in particular, and the Vietnam War in general. However, his treatment of the continuing historiographical debate over Tet betrays a vein of institutional bias that runs throughout the work. Given his position as a military historian on the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College faculty, it is not surprising that Willbanks effectively condemns what he deems slanted and overzealous American media coverage for translating a major tactical defeat of Communist forces into ultimate strategic victory for North Vietnam. …