Tet 1968, the Miltary Offensive; Tet '94, the Economic Offensive

Article excerpt

HANOI, Vietnam _ More than a quarter of a century ago, an event occurred during the celebration of the Tet Lunar New Year that would be remembered in the annals of history as the turning point of the Vietnam War.

Just before 3 a.m., on the night of Jan. 31, 1968, an antitank rocket blasted a hole in the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy along Saigon's tree-lined Thong Nhut Blvd.

That attack by Viet Cong sappers signaled the start of a Communist-led offensive across South Vietnam that brought down the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson and set America on a course of disengagement from the Vietnam War. It would go down in the history books as the "Tet Offensive."

Then, the festive atmosphere turned to the ugliness of war _ images of America's embassy, the symbol of economic and military might, under attack, and of a Saigon general executing a Viet Cong officer on a street corner.

Now, 26 years later, the 1994 Tet Lunar New Year that begins today brings America and Vietnam together again in peace with the restoration of economic ties last week after nearly 20 years. A resumption of diplomatic relations is on the horizon.

The only shooting is that of firecrackers that superstition has it bring prosperity and good fortune. Families are reunited in peace and a little prosperity instead of being separated by a war that divided North and South Vietnam three decades ago, killing an estimated 2 million Vietnamese and sending another 2 million in flight from the country.

The Tet Offensive pointed to the vulnerability of South Vietnamese cities that were once considered safe, and raised questions about U.S. strategy and tactics.

Most importantly, while it was a military victory for the United States and its South Vietnamese allies, it was a psychological defeat. The images of America's embassy under attack and of war's brutality, prompted hundreds of anti-war demonstrations in the United States and raised congressional opposition to the war to a new high.

President Johnson addressed the nation on television on Sunday night, March 31, 1968, saying the United States was substantially reducing the level of fighting and halting air strikes over most of North Vietnam in a step toward peace.

Then he shocked the world with a 20-word statement that was not in his prepared text.

"I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president." The war had claimed yet another casualty.

There were more than half a million U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1968. This Tet, 23 Americans are here with the U. …