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Assess the significance of the 1968 Tet Offensive as part of North Vietnams

strategy in achieving victory in the Second Indochina War.


North Vietnam secured victory in the Second Indochina War which waged
from 1965-75. Though the Tet Offensive in 1968 aided this victory, through the
undermining of support for the war in America, it was this along with the
Norths superior strategies, tactics and morale and also the oppressive policies
of the South Vietnam government that ultimately secured them victory over
the South and the US.
The North Vietnamese and NLF strategy to win the Vietnam War was attrition
- they would wage a war by a variety of various means until the USA tired of
supporting the South Vietnamese government. The strategy was to make the
war so long, bloody, and expensive that American public opinion would turn
against it. This strategy had been applied successfully before against the
French, but the USA was a far more formidable enemy. Therefore it required
patience, discipline, and a deep commitment to the nationalist cause. The
North were much more committed to their cause and they fought with a real
desire to win, whereas their enemies didnt. The Historian V Sanders states
that The communists fought with incredible determination. The guerrillas
were never going to give up. This became a decisive factor in their win and
contrasted greatly to that of those in the South and the US.
The key tactical instruments of the strategy were flexibility and concealment,
this became known as guerrilla warfare and proved successful against the
US. The NVA and VC laid mines, set booby traps and arranged ambushes.
The US troops unfamiliar with the terrain before them admist the jungles of
Vietnam, more than often fell victims to the stealth of the NVA and VC. These
attacks had a major psychological impact of never allowing the enemy to feel
safe and between 1965 and 1970 11% of all US deaths and 17% of wounds
were caused by booby traps and mines. Faced with an enemy they could not
see.... One US combat soldier bitterly recalled they booby-trapped the trails
they knew wed take, because we always took the same trails, the ones that
looked easy and kept us dry.
In 1968 when the Tet Offensive was launched, where the Vietcong launched a
70000 person attack on 100 towns and cities in South Vietnam, it became a
turning point in the war. The communist government hoped that SV population
would rise up in support, as well as pose a challenge to the Americans so
strong that it would force them to de-escalate their commitment to the war and
negotiate. Though 45000 of communist fighters died and with the complete
decimation of Vietcong forces the historian R Corbett in 1986 book Guerrilla
Warfare, suggests that though the Tet weakened the communists military, the
overall consequences were without doubt favourable to the North. As images
of the Tet offensive on US television and in US newspapers significantly
undermined support for the war among the American public and gave weight
to the claims of the anti-war movement.
The Americans strategy intended to simply use their overwhelming firepower
and resources to make the war to costly for North Vietnam. Particularly they

thought they could win the war by bombing them into oblivion. The Historian
Clodfelter states that Vietnam was subject to the most intense aerial bombing
episode in history as the US tried to reach what they called as the crossover
point: the time when the Americans killed VC and NVA forces faster then they
could be replaced. However US troops lacked morale and motivation to
continue to face the attacks of the enemy. The Historian R.D Shulzinger
identifies that the twelve month duty as well as the anit-war movement back
home led to a lack of morale within the troops. Ultimately resulting in a high
number of deaths within the civilian population which served to undermine
their program to win the support of the population. Events such as the My Lai
Massacre produced a lack of support for US involvement both in Vietnam and
in the US.
The Americans also realised from an early stage that to win they needed to
win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. The problem however
lied in the fact that the US were incapable of understanding how to achieve
this and the corrupt government they were backing in the South did not want
to do it. To win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people, the
government relocated peasants from their traditional villages into fortified
settlements called Hamlets , while their old homes and villages were
destroyed to prevent the Viet Cong from using them.The program backfired
drastically and ultimately led to a decrease in support for Diems regime and
an increase in sympathy for Communist efforts. A report put out by the
Caravelle group stated that the hamlets tire the people, lose their affection,
increase their resentment and most of all give an additional terrain for
propaganda to the enemy.
As the body count piled up, for both sides it was America that started to think
that the war and sacrifices made by these soldiers was pointless and led to
many riots and demonstrations, which would aid the North in their win and
was exactly what they wanted. Lyndon B Johnson, President of America
during the late 60s faced an onslaught of critisism as atrocities and the real
terror of the first televised war became apparent to Americans back home.
Slogans such as Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today? became
faces of the anti-war movement and gave growing pressure on the
government to end the war. When Nixon was elected President in 1969, he
had concluded that the Vietnam War could not be won and he was
determined to end the war quickly. The growing pressure on his presidency
from Americans back home soon led to the removal of US troops from
Vietnam. Here he started the process known as Vietnamization, which
implemented a strategy of replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops.
Vietnamese troops were ultimately corrupt and unprepared to take over from
the Americans. They had little skill and relied heavily upon US aid.
Subsequently when the US withdrew, North Vietnam quickly captured the
South and Saigon fell in 1975.
North Vietnam were ultimately successful in the second Indochina War, as
they implemented a better strategy and fought for a real purpose. America
and the South managed in most of their strategies to benefit the North rather
then themselves, making a series of underestimated mistakes, that

subsequently with the aid of the 1968 Tet Offensive led to the huge anti-war
protests in America that became to difficult to ignore. Thus North Vietnam was
victorious.