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Most of what Americans have heard about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The brief battles in early 1968 during the Vietnam conflict marked the dividing line between gradual progress toward possible victory and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. That the enemy was handily defeated on the ground was considered immaterial; that it could mount attacks at all was deemed a military triumph for the Communists. This persistent view of Tet is a defeatist story line that continues to inspire America's foreign enemies and ...
Most of what Americans have heard about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The brief battles in early 1968 during the Vietnam conflict marked the dividing line between gradual progress toward possible victory and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. That the enemy was handily defeated on the ground was considered immaterial; that it could mount attacks at all was deemed a military triumph for the Communists. This persistent view of Tet is a defeatist story line that continues to inspire America's foreign enemies and its domestic critics of the use of force abroad.
In This Time We Win, James S. Robbins at last provides an antidote to the flawed Tet mythology still shaping the perceptions of American military conflicts against unconventional enemies and haunting our troops in combat. In his reexamination of the Tet Offensive, Robbins analyzes the Tet battles and their impact through the themes of terrorism, war crimes, intelligence failure, troop surges, leadership breakdown, and media bias. The result is an explosion of the conventional wisdom about this infamous surge, one that offers real lessons for today's unconventional wars. Without a clear understanding of these lessons, we will find ourselves refighting the Tet Offensive again and again.
“You had to see the low walls of enemy dead stacked like cordwood outside that ring of armor to understand our bewilderment when we read that we had been defeated.”
Colonel Michael D. Mahler, 3/5th Cavalry, Vietnam 1967-68
Most of what people hear about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The 1968 battle during the Vietnam conflict is billed as the moment when public support for the war effort, already rocky, dropped out. Allied forces quickly won the battle, but news reports exaggerated the scale of the attacks and the destruction they wrought, generating a sense that the contest had ended in a draw at best. Antiwar sentiment surged, and a harried President Lyndon Johnson bowed to public pressure and chose not to run for re-election. The battle marked the dividing line between gradual progress toward an ill-defined victory and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. At least this is the received wisdom of Tet.
It is now commonly understood that Tet was a U.S. military victory but a political defeat. Yet at the time the battle was widely considered an American defeat in both respects. The enemy attacks were seen as largely symbolic, in which success was measured not by seizing and holding square miles of territory but commanding column inches of newsprint and minutes of television air time. The fact that the enemy was swiftly defeated on the ground was immaterial; that it could mount an attack at all was considered a military triumph. This impression was promoted by the press, antiwar activists, North Vietnamese propagandists, and President Lyndon Johnson’s domestic political opponents.
Many still believe that the enemy intentionally staged a symbolic attack in order to “send a message,” to gain advantage in negotiations, or “to get the Americans to the bargaining table.” That perspective diminishes the magnitude of the Communist defeat by defining North Vietnamese objectives down to what they achieved. But Tet was not an attempt by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong simply to send a message. It was a last-ditch, desperation assault seeking a victory they saw slowly but surely slipping away. The North Vietnamese sought to foment a general uprising of the South Vietnamese people, to overthrow the Saigon government and force a Communist triumph. But despite frantic attacks by Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars, the hoped-for popular uprising did not take place, and after a few days’ fighting the majority of the Communist forces were driven off or destroyed. It was a historic, catastrophic failure.
Decades after the disastrous offensive, Tet continues to shape perceptions of American conflicts. Tet has become more than a battle; it is a legacy, a legend, a continually replicating story line. It has become a powerful symbol divorced from its reality. The Tet narrative is fixed deep in the historical memory of those old enough to remember it, of those slightly younger who experienced its echoes, and especially of the generations who received the version of events rendered by historians and reporters after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, when the arrival of defeat affirmed their long-standing belief in its inevitability.
I Introduction 1
II Vietnam, the Limited War 17
III The War and Public Opinion 41
IV The View from Hanoi 59
V The Light at the End of the Tunnel 79
VI Code Name: Buttercup 93
VII Intelligence Failure 107
VIII The Embassy Attack 125
IX "The Shot Seen Round the World" 143
X Assessing the Broader Offensive 165
XI The Battle of Hue 181
XII Hue and My Lai 195
XIII Khe Sanh 215
XIV The Walter Cronkite Moment 237
XV Johnson Surrenders 263
XVI Loan Agonistes 281
XVII Tet's Legacy 295
Posted April 25, 2013
I enjoyed the reading of this book both because it helped me to revisit and further clarify important often misinterpreted events of this defining war and the period it was fought in. The soldier's of that time and place did as good a job and better as any we've ever placed on a battlefield, and often under more difficult circumstances than previously fought wars. All war is difficult but to tie the hands of the warrior as the Johnson administration did whether knowingly, or for some obscure reasoning, left our citizen soldiers at the mercy of all kinds of abuse both on the frontline in Vietnam and on America's front lawn. The author gives these war weary fine Americans a welcome home resolution which asks the news media to get out of the way of interpreting events as per your own perspective and report all the news evenly and in depth, enough so the average citizen can use his own judgment to interpret events as they truly unfold. I recommend this work for the many new insights it provides.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.