40 years ago EVERY major city in South-Vietnam was hit by the Vietcong and North-Vietnamese troops. If the sound of that doesn’t give you goose bumps, you’re not a real armchair general.
Every major city was hit. The American embassy in Saigon was overrun by a suicide squad. They were in the sewers and in the gutters. US troops were bewildered. They had been preparing for an attack at Kesahn, a US base that was under siege. The US didn’t realize this was just a clever distraction. (Kesahn is mentioned in the lyrics to ‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen, it was a real focal point for the US).
The communists also conquered the historically important city of Hue. US response was slow and initially they sent in units that were too small to deal with what the communist had prepared for them in Hue.
Although the North-Vietnamese were beaten back with staggering losses, it did NOT look good on US television. Right before the TET offensive was launched, general William Westmoreland had announced that the US was winning the war.
It certainly didn’t look that way on TV. US soldiers were fighting for their lives in the capital of South-Vietnam. The streets were turned into a blaring pandemonium.
The commnist attackers were gutted, but whe they saw what the US journalists made out of it, they couldn’t believe their ears. The US public thought it was taking a beating.
Although it would take almost a decade to finally overrun all of South-Vietnam and flush the last American troops out of the country, the TET offensive was the psychological turning point of the war. After this many Americans thought the war in South-East-Asia was unwinnable. Ironically the attackers were completely wiped out, they lost all their gains, but the shock and the scale of the offensive made the US lose its nerve.
They shouldn’t have been in the country in the first place of course, and the way they fought the war was horrendous. If you read Nick Turse’s book ‘Kill anything that moves’, it becomes clear that a massacre like the one at My Lai wasn’t exceptional, it was only exceptional in the way that it got covered in the mainstream press.
The US strategy of counting dead bodies as a way to measure victory led to an excessive use of fire power, this combined with the training of new recruits in which the Vietnamese adversaries (and all Vietnamese along with them) were dehumanized, made sure that a substantial number of American soldiers literally killed anything that moved. Young girls were gang-raped and killed, innocent civilians were shot, weapons were dropped alongside their bodies and then counted as dead enemies, and so on. War is hell and yo cannot refine it.
Happy TET 2018, may it be a peaceful year.
I don’t love the smell of napalm in the morning, I love the smell of humans exchanging bodily fluids in the morning in an act of mutually consenting love-making.