Marc Jason Gilbert and William Head
The Tet Offensive caused one of the deepest and most lasting of the many rents that the Vietnam or Second Indochina War made in the fabric of American life: hence the reputation of that campaign as the Vietnam War's Vietnam. Americans have since come to regard it either as defining the moment when the United States seized defeat out of the jaws of victory, or as the wake-up call that finally alerted America to the unwinnable nature of the Vietnam conflict. Such struggles within a body politic usually possess the redeeming virtue of inexorably leading to the broad synthesis that awaits even the most heated of historical debates. Yet, such are the political stakes and personal passions that swirl around this aspect of America's defeat in Vietnam that the integration of the competing interpretations of the Tet Offensive has proven elusive.
To most former allied military officers, some scholars of American history, and much of the American public, the Tet Offensive launched in January-February 1968 was a "last gasp," a failed all-or-nothing bid to win the Vietnam War on the ground, which, though stymied in the field, succeeded, largely by accident, in persuading America to throw away the fruits of a major allied victory and start down the road to defeat and humiliation. As they also believe that the high casualties incurred by the Vietnamese foe during the offensive increased the potential of the allied pacification program and Vietnamization, many adherents of this approach to the Tet Offensive translate its results into a stab-in-the-back thesis: while American forces defeated the enemy on the battlefield and stood on the brink of success in the war for the loyalties of the Vietnamese people, they were betrayed on the home front by a meddling news media and their own weak- willed leaders.1 To these students of the American war in Vietnam, the only