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Vietnam - 06 The Tet Offensive

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Vietnam
Episode Six

The Tet Offensive

The Tet Offensive was a military campaign conducted between 30 January and 23 September 1968, by forces of the Viet Cong, or National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese army, or People's Army of Vietnam against the forces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the United States, and their allies during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the offensive was to strike military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam and to spark a general uprising among the population that would then topple the Saigon government, thus ending the war in a single blow.

The operations are referred to as the Tet Offensive because they began during the early morning hours of 30 January 1968, the new year day according to the lunar calendar; the most important Vietnamese holiday, Tết Nguyên Đán, which celebrates the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar. Both North and South Vietnam announced on national radio broadcasts that there would be a two-day cease-fire in honor of Tết, also called "Spring Festival." In Vietnamese, the offensive is officially called Cuộc Tổng tiến công và nổi dậy năm 1968 ("The General Offensive and Uprising 1968"). The common name is (Xuân) Mậu Thân ("[Spring] Year of the Monkey"). The Vietcong launched a major offensive beginning with a wave of attacks on the morning of 30 January in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones. This early attack did not, however, cause undue alarm or lead to widespread allied defensive measures. When the main communist operation began the next morning, the offensive was countrywide in scope and well coordinated, with more than 80,000 Vietcong troops striking more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the national capital. The offensive was the largest military operation yet conducted by either side up to that point in the war.

The initial Vietcong attacks stunned allied forces and took them by surprise, but most were quickly contained and beaten back, inflicting massive casualties on the communists. The exceptions were the fighting that erupted in the old imperial capital of Huế, where intense fighting lasted for a month, and the continuing struggle around the U.S. combat base at Khe Sanh, where fighting continued for two more months. Although the offensive was a military disaster for Vietcong forces, it had a profound effect on the American administration and shocked the American public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the communists were, due to previous defeats, incapable of launching such a massive effort.

The majority of Western historians have concluded that the offensive ended in June, which easily located it within framework of U.S. political and military decisions that altered the American commitment to the war. In fact, it continued, through two more distinct phases. The second phase began on 5 May and continued until the end of the month. The third began on 17 August and only ended on 23 September.


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