In summary, several points can be made. The Tet Offensive, though it did not overthrow the Saigon government, was successful in accomplishing its main objective of forcing the United States to de-escalate the war in North Vietnam and to begin negotiations that would eventually lead to a peace agreement based on NLF terms in January 1973. The offensive also dealt a devastating blow to the Saigon regime, making it absolutely clear that the government would never be able to survive on its own without massive U.S. aid. Significantly, the offensive set off dynamics in South Vietnam which led to the development of a vast urban peace movement and a widespread sentiment for peace throughout the South that would play a critical role in 1975.
Tet might well have had even greater results for the NLF had their troops returned to their rural bases after the first or second phase instead of trying to carry out all three phases. If the troops had returned to protect their rural bases they would probably still have achieved the original purposes of the offensive and would have emerged from it much stronger. Far fewer cadres and civilians in the countryside might have been killed in the 1969- 1972 period.
Instead, the NLF forces from Long An stayed massed around Saigon; thus, enemy troops were able to inflict high casualties on both NLF and guerrilla units. Worse still, the Politburo and COSVN made the strategic mistake of ordering the NLF forces in Long An and many other provinces to leave for the border areas. As a result, 1969-1970 became the most difficult years of the war for the Communist cause.
Even so, due to popular support, the NLF was not destroyed. Instead, it managed to rebuild itself through the strategy of "three clingings." It was this recovery that led to the military successes of 1971 and 1972. It made it possible for northern forces to operate in the South again without getting into danger.
In short, the story of Tet and its aftermath demonstrates that popular support in the South allowed the NLF to rise from the ashes of defeat like the phoenix in spite of American efforts to destroy it, including the infamous Phoenix program. To claim that the NLF was defeated after the spring of 1968 never to recover again ignores or distorts the facts. In this connection, one may note that accounts of Tet and its aftermath often overemphasize the role of national leadership and directives, and fail to recognize the role of local leaders, organizations, and initiatives.
The original version of this chapter was written in early 1988 and was published in the January-February and March-April issues of the Indochina Newsletter. The