This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensiveby James S Robbins
Most of what Americans know about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The brief 1968 battle during the Vietnam conflict marked the dividing line between gradual progress towards an ill-defined victory, and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. The fact that the enemy was, in fact, handily defeated on the ground was immaterial; that they could mount an attack at all was
Most of what Americans know about the Tet Offensive is wrong. The brief 1968 battle during the Vietnam conflict marked the dividing line between gradual progress towards an ill-defined victory, and slow descent to a humiliating defeat. The fact that the enemy was, in fact, handily defeated on the ground was immaterial; that they could mount an attack at all was deemed a military triumph for the Vietcong. At least this is the received wisdom of Tet.
In This Time We Win, James S. Robbins at last provides an antidote to the flawed Tet mythology that continues to shape the perceptions of American military conflicts against unconventional enemies and haunt our troops in combat. Indeed, America’s enemies recognize and find inspiration in the prevailing Tet narrative.
In his thorough re-examination of the Tet Offensive, Robbins examines the battle in the familiar frameworks of terrorism, war crimes, intelligence failure, troop surges, leadership breakdown, and media bias. The result is an explosion of the conventional wisdom on this infamous battle, one that offers real lessons for today’s unconventional wars. Without a clear understanding of these lessons, we will find ourselves reliving the Tet Offensive again and again.
“History is written by the victors, but eventually the truth comes out.”
—Bui Diem, former South Vietnamese Ambassador to the US
“The Tet Offensive is a standing inspiration to today's terrorists and insurgents. This Time We Win is a direct assault on the logic that transforms U.S. tactical victories into strategic defeats.”
—Barry R. McCaffrey, General, USA (Ret.)
“Tough questions and startling answers. Forget what you've heard about the Tet Offensive. Jim Robbins sets the record straight.”
—Colonel Jack Jacobs, US Army Retired. Medal of Honor, 1969, Vietnam
“This book is a wonderfully detailed chronicle of how North Vietnam's crushing military defeat at Tet was converted into a political victory in the US which would sap the American will to win. I recommend this book to American veterans still perplexed at this dichotomy as well as to the public. It is truly a great account of this critical period.”
—John O’Neill, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Unfit for Command
“For over forty years the American experience in the Tet Offensive has been used and abused by those who try to apply the analogy of Tet to contemporary policy. This Time We Win corrects simplistic interpretations of Tet that are often used to create the impression of inevitable defeat in Vietnam and other conflicts. This book deserves a wide readership.”
—Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam
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“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.
Meet the Author
James S. Robbins is senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at The Washington Times and executive director of the American Security Council Foundation. A former special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Robbins is a frequent commentator on national security issues on U.S. and international television and radio. He holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
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Highly informative! Corrects many of the misconceptions about the war. Research was organized and well written.
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.