Did the TET offensive (1968) impact the conflict in Vietnam
Did the TET offensive (1968) impact the conflict in Vietnam – Controlled Assessment
The TET offensive was launched on the 31st of January 1968 by General Vo Giap as he believed the alliance between South Vietnam (S.Vietnam) and that the US was unstable; he hoped the TET offensive would “drive the final wedge between them” and persuade the US leaders to give up on defending S.Vietnam from communism. TET was a series of attacks by the Vietcong (VC) on major cities in Vietnam. The VC were defeated militarily but politically the TET offensive caused great uprisings and further eroded the support for the war effort in America.
The war impacted America militarily. The TET offensive showed a considerable degree of military preparedness, skill and bravery on the part of the Vietnamese; therefore shaking the morale of the US army, who were forcibly made aware of its own vulnerability. A US soldier from the Charlie Company said; "I had prayed to God that this thing was fiction" – this quote summed up the feelings and opinions of the soldiers who were being forced to fight in Vietnam. The army morale declined further when the anti-war movement grew in America as many soldiers knew that few people would welcome them back as heroes. Between 1963 and 1973 over 500,000 cases of desertion were recorded and there was also a big rise in soldiers who refused to obey orders. The US embassy in Saigon came under attack and the enemy had captured it for 6 hours, this made the people of America question their involvement, safety and prospects of winning. Despite being told by General Westmoreland that the NFL had taken “such heavy losses in open combat that they would be incapable of maintaining any military momentum” in 1968, the TET offensive provided evidence that America was not just dealing with any ramshackle of an army.
Secondly, the media played a large part in the conflict in Vietnam. For the first time in a major war, the power of television became apparent. Fifty million people watched the destruction brought on by the war. Consequently the US government was no longer able to portray the war as clean, simple and easy to win. This opinion was falsified by events during the attacks. America saw a well-known news reporter, Walter Cronkite, mouth “What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning this war” Due to his influential position, this statement firmly cemented to the US government what the whole of the US was thinking about this war. As media coverage increased, it ‘pulled back the curtains’ to reveal what was actually going on. During TET the Americans and the ARVN ally had suffered over 4,300 killed in action, some 16,000 wounded and over 1,000 missing in action. It is true that the enemy suffered far more but to an already sceptical US public this mattered little. Uncle Ho, a Vietnamese leader who later became N. Vietnams first president, was recorded saying “They can send hundreds of thousands, even millions of soldiers; the war can last ten, twenty years, maybe even more, but our people will keep fighting till they win” The war no longer had any definite, realistic objective. The scenes of slaughter and devastation in Saigon, Hue and other cities horrified the average US citizen to whom the conflict seems senseless. The media brought vivid scenes of what was going on, therefore the public began to become doubtful of the war.
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Thirdly, economically. In response to the TET offensive, the Americans devised a ‘strategy’ which outlined to “stay with it and ultimately hope that the enemy will finally give up.” This principle made for bad military guidelines and an even worse economic situation for America. The dollar fell in value as the costs of the war escalated out of control; this led to the government rising taxes and eventually protest and rioting broke out as people’s quality of life deteriorated. According to an outside source, HistoryCentral, “The Vietnam War was an important factor in bringing down the American Economy from the growth and affluence of the 1960s to the economic crisis in the 1970s”. Politicians and the public were worried that the USA could not manage to finance the war for much longer. This meant that America would have to reconsider its policy in Vietnam. The TET offensive was estimated to cost around $1 billion due to the huge price of the bombs and napalms in the counter attack. With the economy starting to struggle, the strain put on the US government became greater, and the trust within the government decreased as protests to end the war involvement increased.
Politically, the TET offensive was testing the government. The Tet offensive showed that Westmoreland’s optimism was misplaced and that his assessment was wrong after assuring the American public that the war was going well and the communists were in retreat. Westmoreland requested more than 200,000 new troops in order to mount an effective counteroffensive, an escalation that many Americans saw as an act of desperation. As anti-war sentiment mounted on the home front, some of Johnson’s advisers that had supported past military build-up in Vietnam now argued for scaling back U.S involvement. Furthermore Johnson’s credibility collapsed – his approval rating in 1963 was over 80% which then plummeted to under 40% in 1967. Stanley Karnow wrote: “But then came the TET – and his ratings fell – as if Vietnam were a burning fuse that had suddenly ignited an explosion of dissent.” On the 31st of March, President Johnson declared that he was limiting the bombing of North Vietnam to a specific area and therefore sparing 90% of communist territory and calling for negotiations to end the war. At the same time, he announced that he would not be running for re-election that November – “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President” Nixon was the successor of Johnson as he promised ‘Peace with Honour’ and to De-Americanise the war. Even though the US carried on bombing N. Vietnam and were seen as hypocrites, they did pressure N. Vietnam into signing the agreement to end the war eventually in January 1972. Furthermore Johnson’s actions demonstrated that the war was weakening and deteriorating America, so the end was insight.
Public opposition added to the strain of the war. In response to public demand, Nixon, when elected, introduced a policy of Vietnamisation that included a gradual withdrawal of the US troops. The impact of the anti-war movement may have been exaggerated, as it divided the US public opinion and contributed to the eventual failure of the US policy in Vietnam. “This anti-war movement had a great impact on American foreign policy and essentially forced the US out of Vietnam…..By 1968, protesters numbered almost seven million with more than half being white youths in college." With vast numbers protesting against the war, it became clear to the government that it was not in their best interest to stay in the war. Opposition by the general public, in response to TET, weakened the US war effort massively, and could have caused of the end of the US involvement in the war.
Vietnam was also affected by the TET offensive. It is estimated that 65,000 Vietnamese were killed during the US bombings in North Vietnam. South Vietnamese civilians became unsure of the war especially America’s involvement, mainly during the bombing on ‘their side’; a Buddhists was recorded to say: "I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think." Although N. Vietnam felt under attack it did not damage their morale. After each bombing raid the people would come out of shelter and repair the damage- communities formed. The Vietnamese people’s resilience did have some effect on the conflict in Vietnam as the government were misleading the American public, suggesting that the war was easily won and that the Vietnamese were giving up.
During the TET offensive, Vietnam’s economy struggled due to the counterattack the American government put in place. America retaliated by using more Agent Orange causing more crops to be destroyed which is Vietnams main source of income. Additionally due to the bombing, a vast amount of N. and S. Vietnam was destroyed and the repairs cost a lot of money therefore the recovery was slow and the economy suffered greatly. As a result, the money needed to maintain the armies was unavailable so equipment may not have been in abundance. This would have affected the Vietnamese ability to fight.
Militarily, TET was a disaster for Vietcong troops, most of the 45,000 fighters were killed by the NLF. TET weakened the communist military, and wiped out some of the finest fighters the Vietcong had and the NLF organisations in the South. Huong Von Bo, an artillery officer in the N. Vietnamese army said “we didn’t have enough men to fight a major battle, only enough to make hit and run attacks.” From a military perspective, the TET offensive was a complete failure for the communists. Despite, the wishes of Hanoi, the South Vietnamese people did not rise up against their own government, nor did the government or ARVN crumble and collapse. The TET offensive caused a lack of direction andhad a detrimental effect on the Vietcong army; therefore the war effort and conflict slowly ground to a steady halt, and ultimately impacted the conflict in Vietnam.
In conclusion, the boldness of the Communist offensive, the sensationalist reports from the media, and the heavy U.S. casualties incurred during the fighting, coupled with the disillusionment over earlier, overly optimistic reports of progress in the war by administration officials, accelerated the growing disenchantment with President Johnson's conduct of the war. However the impact of the Tet Offensive went beyond its military outcomes.
The Tet offensive is seen as the great turning point: from then on the war, was widely acknowledged as unwinnable by the Americans. It was only a matter of time before mighty US imperialism was humiliatingly forced to withdraw. Not only did the TET offensive signal the strength of the opposition, but also the lies and large credibility gap brought on by the US government. The impacts of the TET offensive ranged widely from economic to social to military and political; all of which eroded the war effort in America and brought out its weaknesses. However, Vietnam suffered great consequences as well. When all the issues accumulated the speed of the war started to slow down, and gradually became de-Americanised. Therefore, it perhaps could be said that the TET offensive impacted the conflict in Vietnam and eventually was the reason it finally ceased.