the historical memory of Vietnam had become a foreign policy strategy as well, for, as George Orwell had warned, those who define the past can control the present and thus the future. To George Bush and many others, America had failed because its warriors had been undermined at home, not vanquished in Vietnam. Such interpretations, however much political currency they create, do not constitute good history. The legacy of Vietnam is so much more complex than the revisionists would have Americans believe. From a study of Tet one can learn valuable lessons about not only tactics and strategy, but the nature of civil-military relations, the effect of public opinion on military affairs, and the politics of war as well. Recognizing and analyzing the myth of Tet may only be a small step toward learning such lessons. It must be taken, however, for Walter Cronkite and Earle Wheeler, among others, understood on February 27 that the United States faced a harsh and perilous future in Vietnam. But, from similar premises, they offered divergent solutions--negotiated withdrawal and escalation. Perhaps that is one of the greater tragedies of the Vietnam War.
Military leaders themselves immediately recognized that Tet marked a definite turning point in the war. The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler, told the president that it was "the consensus of responsible commanders" that 1968 would be a pivotal year. The war might continue but would not return to pre-Tet conditions. Wheeler to Johnson, February 27, 1968, "Report of the Chairman, J.C.S., on Situation in Vietnam and MACV Requirements", in Neil Sheehan et al. , eds., The Pentagon Papers, New York Times edition ( New York: Quadrangle, 1971), pp. 615-621. Similarly General Edward Lansdale, special assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, asserted that 1968 would be a "year of intensity," a "change point" in history, as a result of the Tet Offensive. Lansdale to Members, U.S. Mission Council, March 21, 1968, "Viet-Nam 1968", Lansdale Papers, Box 58, Folder 1511, Hoover Institution on War, Peace, and Revolution, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Later, General Bruce Palmer, a MACV deputy in Vietnam, forthrightly added that Tet "ended any hope of a U.S. imposed solution to the war." See The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), p. 103.