The Tet Offensive: A Concise History

By Clifford, James H. | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Tet Offensive: A Concise History


Clifford, James H., Air & Space Power Journal


The Tet Offensive: A Concise History by James H. Willbanks. Columbia University Press (http:// www.columbia.edu/cu/cup), 61 West 62d Street, New York, New York 10023, 2006, 272 pages, $29.50 (hardcover).

In every American war, one battle defines the conflict in our national memory. Yorktown, Gettysburg, Normandy, and Inchon are seared into our minds as representative of the courage of our fighting men and their commitment to victory in the American Revolution, Civil War, World War II, and Korean War, respectively. Regarding the Vietnam War, one need only mention the Tet offensive to evoke memories of courage but not of victory. Tet has become the symbol of the futility, if not the outright failure, of our war in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive: A Concise History is the latest attempt to examine what happened and how it came to be interpreted as a defeat.

This book is thorough, well written, and uniquely constructed. Of its six parts, die narrative comprises the first two ("Historical Overview" and "Issues and Interpretations") but less than half of the entire work. These two parts provide a solid foundation of facts critical to understanding how Tet was a US tactical victory and strategic defeat-but one encounters much more here.

Readers will find themselves regularly returning to part 3, an almost daily chronology of events dirough 1967 and 1968, and will thank the author for including it because such a reference helps keep events in the proper order. Part 4, "The Tet Offensive, A to Z," an exhaustive glossary that complements the chronology, includes military terms, personal names, and locations that even the most erudite student of the Vietnam War will find useful. Part 5 is a compendium of 10 important documents pertaining to die Tet offensive from Nortii Vietnamese, US military, and media sources. Reading these documents provides background usually lacking in lesser works.

The final part includes a list of resources. Much more than a simple bibliography, it offers a catalogue of books, papers, and media divided into specific categories relating to the Tet offensive. Additionally and most usefully, Willbanks includes a short commentary about each source.

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