33. Editorial Note

Following attacks that took place in parts of I and II Corps on January 30, 1968, a force numbering initially 58,000 and quickly rising to approximately 84,000 Viet Cong (VC) cadre and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars launched an extensive series of coordinated assaults on most of the urban centers of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist leadership in Hanoi had infiltrated forces into these areas over the preceding weeks. The offensive sought to instigate a mass uprising against the Americans and the government in Saigon, generate instability and a loss of security in the South, draw strength away from Khe Sanh, and position North Vietnam favorably in any future peace talks. The insurgents rose up in the capital, the six largest cities of South Vietnam, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, 64 of 242 district centers, and numerous other smaller villages and hamlets. The tactical surprise the NVA/VC achieved was evidenced in the audacious nature of their attacks, which included penetrations by VC sapper teams of the U.S. Embassy compound, the Presidential Palace, and Ton Son Nhut airport in Saigon; damage to ships in Cam Ranh Bay; the seizure of the U.S. military billet in the center of Dalat; and the fall of the ancient imperial capital of Hue to NVA/VC units after an assault lasting only a few hours. A summary of the situation broken down by corps tactical zones in the immediate aftermath of the Tet offensive is in Intelligence Note No. 89, February 1. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)

The impact of the Tet offensive on the American public was immense. Press reports stressed that the NVA/VC forces had achieved a strategic victory. In retrospect, it became clear that they had suffered a devastating tactical defeat, with the eradication of nearly 70 percent of NVA/VC cadres in the South. In the immediate aftermath, however, public opinion polls reflected that the American public turned sharply against supporting a continuation of President Lyndon Johnson’s effort in Vietnam. For literature describing Tet as the major turning point of the war, see James J. Wirtz, The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Ronnie E. Ford, Tet 1968: Understanding the Surprise (London: Frank Cass, 1995); Peter Braestrup, Big Story (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977); Don Oberdorfer, Tet! (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971); Bruce Palmer, Jr., The 25-Year War: America’s Role in Vietnam (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985); Eric Hammel, Fire in the Streets: The Battle for Hue—Tet 1968 (New York: Dell, 1992); Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson’s War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989); Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore, MD: The Johnson Hopkins University Press, 1986); Herbert Y. Schandler, The [Page 75] Unmaking of a President: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977); William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Dell, 1976); Samuel Zaffiri, Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland (New York: William Morrow, 1994); William J. Duiker, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981); Douglas Pike, War, Peace, and the Viet Cong (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969); Peter Macdonald, Giap: The Victor in Vietnam (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993); and Cecil B. Currey, Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap (Washington: Brassey’s, 1997).