The Myth of Tet: American Failure and the Politics of War
In concluding his CBS news special, "Report from Vietnam," on February 27, 1968, America's most respected newsman urged the United States to disengage from the Vietnam War, "not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."1 Thus Walter Cronkite shocked the country with his appraisal of the enemy's Tet Offensive--a nationwide but loosely coordinated series of attacks on political and military targets in South Vietnam launched by the combined forces of the Viet Cong (VC) and the northern People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). Cronkite's stark evaluation was a turning point in America's reaction to the Tet attacks, just as Tet marked a turning point in the U.S. experience in Vietnam. "If I've lost Cronkite," President Lyndon Johnson lamented, "I've lost middle America." Needless to say, he had lost the war as well. After early 1968 it was evident that the United States would not soon or successfully conclude its involvement in Indochina.2
Over the past decade the Tet Offensive has become a central consideration in the historiography of Vietnam. Indeed, as influential conservative revisionists see it, Tet is a metaphor for the entire war. The United States was militarily successful during Tet, various political, military, and academic figures argue, but had its best efforts undermined at home by the media, the peace movement, and craven politicians who had forced American soldiers to fight with "one hand tied behind their back."3In reality, then, the United States achieved a decisive military victory but suffered an equally conclusive political and psychological defeat.4 Even scholarly critics of the war have generally accepted that view, essentially agreeing that, as Loren Baritz put it, "Tet was, as the military believed, a great American victory." Others--including Chalmers Johnson, Robert Asprey, Andrew
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Publication information: Book title: The Tet Offensive. Contributors: Marc Jason Gilbert - Editor, William Head - Editor. Publisher: Praeger. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 231.
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