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  #1  
Old 09 February 2008, 08:50 PM
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Icon18 The Lies of Tet

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On January 30, 1968, more than a quarter million North Vietnamese soldiers and 100,000 Viet Cong irregulars launched a massive attack on South Vietnam. But the public didn't hear about who had won this most decisive battle of the Vietnam War, the so-called Tet offensive, until much too late.

Media misreporting of Tet passed into our collective memory. That picture gave antiwar activism an unwarranted credibility that persists today in Congress, and in the media reaction to the war in Iraq. The Tet experience provides a narrative model for those who wish to see all U.S. military successes -- such as the Petraeus surge -- minimized and glossed over.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120226056767646059.html
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  #2  
Old 09 February 2008, 11:10 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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The military impact of Tet depends on your point of view. In the old parlance, Tet was a tactical defeat, but a strategic victory, for the NV and VC.

It is true that the offensive was crushed, in fairly short order, hence it was a tactical loss for the communists. But, and this is probably the more important point, the American people had been told for several years by Gen. Westmoreland et al., that the communist's were on the brink of collapse. The fact that an army "on it's last legs" could mount an offensive with ~350,000 troops showed that the military and the US gov't, had either been lying, or were completely clueless as to the true military situation in S. Vietnam. (Sound familiar?)

The American people figured, and rightly so, that if the North could mount an offensive with that many soldiers, that even if the offensive was defeated, the North would be able to do it again given enough time to rebuild its forces.

Tet was crushed, but the lesson was that in a few years there would have been another Tet. If that failed also, then after another few years there would be another and so on.

There is really no way to look at Tet as anything but a military victory for the NV and VC. They were fighting an asymmetric war, and when need be, they could scale back their activities and take the time needed to rebuild. The NV and VC didn't need military victories, they only needed to be able to periodically show that they could mount a credible military force.

Tet proved that the war could, and probably would, go on indefinitely with neither side being able to claim a military victory.
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  #3  
Old 10 February 2008, 12:58 AM
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Well, since Tet is often called a military catastrophe for the North, I think it's pretty easy to call it less than a win.

Tet was a Hail Mary, all or nothing desperate grasp to break the stalemate in a war that was rapidly dismantling the North's economy and infrastructure. Not only did it not work, it severely diminished the North's assets in the South, including completely decimating the VC and galvanizing the people around their government. The NVA itself suffered horrible losses and accomplished not a single one of it's objectives. It was such a terrific loss that the North issued a directive to never try anything like that again.

However, Tet did sow the seeds that would eventually lead to the North's victory, so you can't call it a total loss.

Incidentally, the Battle of Mogudishu was a US win also.
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  #4  
Old 10 February 2008, 02:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Kutter View Post

However, Tet did sow the seeds that would eventually lead to the North's victory, so you can't call it a total loss.
Then I guess you can hardly call it a Hail Mary, can you? That typically comes at the end of the game when there is no other chance of victory. The question is, if they were so totally crushed, how did they hold out till a US withdrawal and defeat the South so totally?
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  #5  
Old 10 February 2008, 04:57 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Kutter View Post
Tet was a Hail Mary, all or nothing desperate grasp to break the stalemate in a war that was rapidly dismantling the North's economy and infrastructure.
"Rapidly dismantling the North's economy" but they still managed to launch a ~350,000 man offensive. That was the victory, just fielding a force that size was a win for the North. The military / tactical results were basically irrelevant to the strategic importance.
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  #6  
Old 10 February 2008, 10:10 PM
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If the Tet offensive was really an american victory, doesnt that mean that it was Nixon who lost the war ?
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  #7  
Old 10 February 2008, 11:09 PM
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in many wars, isn't there a last big offensive? My history is a bit fuzzy and I am to tired to research it now, but, wasn't the battle of the bulge a last big German offensive? how about Gettysburg, wasn't that a big offensive too that was lost? Don't the 'losing sides' usually have a last big offensive?
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  #8  
Old 10 February 2008, 11:17 PM
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noggins sez:

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If the Tet offensive was really an american victory, doesnt that mean that it was Nixon who lost the war ?
Well, Kissinger and his North Vietnamese counter-part received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating what was later referred to as "the decent interval" to allow more US disengagement before the final Vietnamese victory.

The OP's author used the decline in US deaths in 1969 and 1970 to show that the war was going our way. Nothing is further from the truth, the Nixon administration began its Vietnamization effort after Nixon took office in 1969 to demonstrate that our south Vietnamese allies could carry on without our direct engagment. Some US units had virtually refused to carry out offensive actions that seemed meaningless, and this refusal helped fuel the Nixon policy.

Instead of ground forces we used air power--deforestration, bombing, and mining Haiphong harbor to carry the fight to the north. Nixon also invaded Cambodia to try to reach the Ho Chi Minh Trail which sent NVA regulars and supplies south. The bombing wasn't very useful on a population that was still agrarian and placed production facilities in scattered sites.

Then Nixon and Kissinger signed a treaty virtually similar to one offered by the Vietnamese in 1968, after 20,000 more US casualties. So, yeah, I go with Nixon losing the war.

I consider General Westmoreland the person who made the Tet offensive such a PR loss. Also, there are those who think that the North Vietnamese did not want to deal with a separate powerbase in the south in the form of the Viet Cong. The VC losses may not have seemed so serious in Hanoi.

jimmy101_again is right. The Vietnamese had a strategy that worked for them. This would be a good lesson to remember in Iraq where there is some quiet now, but not, I suspect, any real peace.


Ali "remember" Infree
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  #9  
Old 11 February 2008, 12:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Sweeney_Todd View Post
in many wars, isn't there a last big offensive? My history is a bit fuzzy and I am to tired to research it now, but, wasn't the battle of the bulge a last big German offensive? how about Gettysburg, wasn't that a big offensive too that was lost? Don't the 'losing sides' usually have a last big offensive?
Well yes, the loosing side has a last major offensive, So does the winning side. It is kind of like "the thing you're looking for is always in the last place you look for it".

I would say that in most wars the winning side launches tha last major offensive of the war. In WWII, The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive. It was not the last major offensive of the war in Europe. The last major offensive would have been the Allies push into Germany which didn't start for some time after the Bulge.

In the Pacific, the last major offensive was also by the allies, the landing on Iwo Jima.

I would think that the last major offensive of the Civil War was Sherman's march to Atlanta.
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Old 11 February 2008, 07:25 PM
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And as long as the U.S. was unwilling to invade the North, they could take all the time they wanted to rebuild.
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  #11  
Old 11 February 2008, 08:02 PM
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Old goat sez:
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And as long as the U.S. was unwilling to invade the North, they could take all the time they wanted to rebuild.
Yes, an invasion would have been a very good idea. Iraq is proof of that.

Ali "why read history when we can relive it" Infree
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  #12  
Old 11 February 2008, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Old goat View Post
And as long as the U.S. was unwilling to invade the North, they could take all the time they wanted to rebuild.
Just as the memory of the Viet Nam War affected US war policy for at leat a generation, I think that the memory of the Korean War may have affected US policy in Viet Nam.

Consider that the UN forces (led by the US) did in fact take the war into the North, nearly to the Chinese border. The Chinese were unwilling to let N. Korea "lose" so they threw a million man army into the fray, and despite horrific losses, pushed the UN back to near the original border where a stalemate continued until peace was brokered (btw, I think Ridgway gets not nearly enough credit for salvaging UN operations in the late phase of the war).

I suggest that the US command may have thought that there would have been a similar involvement by China if the US had invaded N. Viet Nam, perhaps turning the war into a bigger morass than it already was.

Nick
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  #13  
Old 12 February 2008, 01:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Nick Theodorakis View Post

Consider that the UN forces (led by the US) did in fact take the war into the North, nearly to the Chinese border. The Chinese were unwilling to let N. Korea "lose" so they threw a million man army into the fray, and despite horrific losses, pushed the UN back to near the original border where a stalemate continued until peace was brokered (btw, I think Ridgway gets not nearly enough credit for salvaging UN operations in the late phase of the war).
The difference with Korea was that only occupying half of Korea was still defensible because it was a penninsula. The thing about Vietnam is it wasn't. There was no way to put up a line of defenses to keep the North out of South Vietnam because the land extended for hundreds of miles west of the border. Considering the North's willingness to go outside the borders of Vietnam to take the war to the South, there was really no way in hell the war could have been won, IMO, without a land invasion of North Vietnam. If anything, they got the strategies backwards. They should have stopped in Korea short of the border with China (the Pyongyang-Wonsan corridor had been considered as an alternative defensive line prior to the decision to push all the way North) during the Korean War and stopped nothing short of Hanoi in the Vietnam War. That or just stayed the hell out of the whole bloody mess completely.
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  #14  
Old 12 February 2008, 01:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sweeney_Todd View Post
in many wars, isn't there a last big offensive? My history is a bit fuzzy and I am to tired to research it now, but, wasn't the battle of the bulge a last big German offensive? how about Gettysburg, wasn't that a big offensive too that was lost? Don't the 'losing sides' usually have a last big offensive?
I believe you are correct. Basically, when one side is losing slowly, and if they see an opportunity for one last throw of the dice, there is a lot of incentive to take that chance. It's like the last flurry of blows from a boxer who is up against the ropes.

And, as you note, it generally doesn't work. Even if the German Ardennes Offensive (the Bulge) had succeeded wildly, it would only have worked to the Soviets' advantage: the "Iron Curtain" would have been farther west.

Lee, winning at Gettysburg, might have gotten something from it; but Grant was, all but simultaneously, taking Vicksburg, the Union "spin" on events could still have been made favorable. The North would still have won the war.

Another example is the Japanese "Banzai" charge in WWII, seen in several battles. When it was clear that standard tactics weren't working, they took their honor in their hands and charged.

(Slightly more rational is the "Parthian Shot" of the ancient eastern horsemen: when they were losing a battle, they made sure to fire off one last shower of arrows at the winners, just so the victory would sting.)

Silas
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Old 12 February 2008, 07:46 AM
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And, as you note, it generally doesn't work.
Well, sometimes it works, but then it isn't the last offensive anymore, other offensives will follow.

In a way, the battle for Britain was a last shot thing for Britain, except that it worked, so they were able to follow it up with more offensives and it ended up not being the last offensive after all.
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Old 12 February 2008, 06:59 PM
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Well, sometimes it works, but then it isn't the last offensive anymore, other offensives will follow.

In a way, the battle for Britain was a last shot thing for Britain, except that it worked, so they were able to follow it up with more offensives and it ended up not being the last offensive after all.
I'll buy the principle...but the Battle of Britain wasn't a "Hail Mary" offensive; it was a defensive stand. It was successful -- otherwise, we'd be comparing it to Thermopylae... i.e., I think you're correct, but might be able to choose a better example. The Zulu charge at Isandlwana might (or might not!) be a better example, as it was a "last desperate attack" which succeeded -- and was then followed by another that did not succeed.

Silas
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  #17  
Old 12 February 2008, 08:32 PM
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Silas Sparkhammer sez:
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I'll buy the principle...but the Battle of Britain wasn't a "Hail Mary" offensive; it was a defensive stand.
I agree, Britain was not able to go on the offensive on the ground, so their air defense became the equivalent of a wall in the air to grind up Luftwaffe planes and crews. With the use of available technology like radar, Britain could husband its resources and fight within their means.

Back to the OP, the Vietnamese did the same. They built and gathered supplies and soldiers. They committed them on their schedule, not ours. Military historians have looked at long term conflicts and found that even with very high casualties, nations which make a conscious choice to continue the war will do so. Make no mistake that the Vietnamese were even close to the kind (or rate) of casualties that would have caused them to quit. They were not.

OTOH, only a third or less of Americans thought the war was worth continuing in 1970. Tet in 1968 and its publicity was only a portion of the reason. For my part, the US civilian and military leadership took its own armed forces for granted and ruthlessly used them to pursue bad strategies for domestic consumption. Again, this is not an old story, it is current events once again.

Ali "there they go again" Infree
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  #18  
Old 13 February 2008, 01:23 AM
Taken
 
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This reminds me of the 1918 Spring Offensive, the last german offencive of WW1. The Germans had an influx of soldiers from the eastern front since Russia had made peace, and they wanted to knock France and England out of the fight before the US was fully mobilized in Europe. The offensive resulted in the biggest gain of land for the Germans since 1914, but they lost too many to continue fighting, while France and England were able to replace their losses, and the land they captured was hard to defend.

The general who planned this offensive, Ludendorff, considered it a victory and argued that only WW1 only was lost by politicians.

Still something can be said for the point of view that war opponents lost Viet-Nam. They were a central part of the North’s strategy: just wait and drag the war until the US gets fed up with casualties and the pulls out. Absent a credible peace movement, a more conventional military strategy would have been used, and the North would most likely have lost the war.


About the battle of Britain, I saw in a documentary that during the first phase of this battle, (while the Luftwaffe was focusing on military targets) they were losing more planes than they could replace while the RAF could sustain the fight indefinitely. They allegedly changed strategy (to targeting civilian areas) in retaliation to an accidental bombing of a German civilian area by the RAF. It has always been believed that this change in strategy allowed the RAF to fight on and win the battle. Yet in may be that the Luftwaffe change strategy as a Hail Mary in a battle it could not in.


Taken
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  #19  
Old 13 February 2008, 05:28 PM
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Taken sez:

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Still something can be said for the point of view that war opponents lost Viet-Nam. They were a central part of the North’s strategy: just wait and drag the war until the US gets fed up with casualties and the pulls out. Absent a credible peace movement, a more conventional military strategy would have been used, and the North would most likely have lost the war.
I was opposed to the Vietnam War, but I did not cause the U.S. to "lose". Since you are in Quebec, perhaps you are aware that what is now Vietnam was, before WWII, French Indochina. The Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh fought the Japanese after they took over this French colony, and then the French on their return at war's end. The Vietnamese concluded a treaty for French withdrawal with a plan for elections. Said elections never happened thanks to U.S. intervention. There was a French anti-war movement as well, just as the Algerians benefited from a French anti-colonial movement. So, the idea that the U.S. might change their objectives as a result of domestic political activities did not originate with the U.S. version of the war in Vietnam.

Honestly, U.S. military forces tried, briefly, an anti-guerilla warfare approach, then a conventional military approach, all without success, against a highly motivated opponent. The casualties were important, perhaps until the late stages 1970-3, more important than any protest movement.

Ali "ho ho ho chi minh, brown rice will make you thin" Infree
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  #20  
Old 13 February 2008, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Taken View Post
This reminds me of the 1918 Spring Offensive, the last german offencive of WW1. The Germans had an influx of soldiers from the eastern front since Russia had made peace, and they wanted to knock France and England out of the fight before the US was fully mobilized in Europe. The offensive resulted in the biggest gain of land for the Germans since 1914, but they lost too many to continue fighting, while France and England were able to replace their losses, and the land they captured was hard to defend.

The general who planned this offensive, Ludendorff, considered it a victory and argued that only WW1 only was lost by politicians.
Neither France, England, nor Germany were actually able to replace their losses. France and Germany were litterally out of military-aged men to draft. England was nearly so. Germany might have been able to hold onto their gains even then, but the entry of the US meant not only an influx of new troops, but a large reserve of replacements. What really supported the myth that the politicians lost the war was that the terms of Versalles were horrible for the Germans, considering at the time of the cease-fire they held large tracts of Allied territory (much of Belgium and Holland), while the Allies held almost no German territory. But the German military forces had started to dissolve after the cease-fire but before the treaty, and that left the Germans in a very poor negotiation position. (And the total collapse of the US resistance to the terms the French wanted to impose on the Germans.)
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