Modern History Conflict in Indochina

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How significant was the Tet Offensive in achieving a communist victory in Vietnam by 1975?

The Tet Offensive had a major impact upon the outcome of the Second Indochina War, particularly due to the fact that it powerfully swayed public opinion in America of the Vietnam War. The American publics' option of the Vietnam War beforehand had been strongly leaning toward their involvement in favor of conscription. However after the devastating loss of the Tet offensive much exposure was not put onto the war effort and the losses incurred. Many stated that Tet was fruitless and futile, this is also partly due to the fact that there had been increased opposition to the use of conscription in the American mainstream media. Tet was a significant turning point in the war and led to the withdraw of US forces. A combination of political and military factors, including the overall successful strategy of the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA), the failure of US approach and their severe underestimation, all led to fall of Saigon by the NVA and VC on 30th April, 1975.

The RVN had been a corrupt, incompetent government whose anti-communist stance had been fostered by the US. The US had injected billions of dollars in RVN infrastructure and the ARVN, and the following of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution began fighting on the RVNs behalf. The US was technically superior to the VC, ultising heavy bombers, helicopters and advanced weaponry the VC could not match. With this in mind, however the US made a series of military mistakes. One of the most crucial was to send its own people into the war. Their strategy was also one of attrition, to be achieved by conventional warfare, believing to be confronted with such devastating losses and the NLF would be forced to surrender. As stated by David Chandler ‘the Second Indochina War was a war that the United States could never won' Similarly, the “Winning Hearts and Minds” programs failed to gain the support of the peasant population as it contradicted the military belief that “to save the peasants it is necessary to destroy them”. As a result the course of the war was essentially stable as no significant ground was made by be both the US/ARVN and the VC. Hence the US and ARVN forces applied a dual political and military strategy that was overall not compatible and stated to be ineffective.

The Viet Cong (VC) forces adapted a policy of guerilla warfare from the beginning. Phase one would only involve guerilla attacks on RVN and US targets. The Second phase provided a combination of guerilla and conventional tactics until a third phase of conventional warfare and general uprising could be implemented with a reasonable chance of success. However the VC military equipment could not match the DRV in terms of artillery and equipment that the US had injected billions of dollars. As a result, General Giap and the VC ultised their better understanding and took advantage of the jungle terrain and control of the countryside. The VC employed tactics of rigging booby traps for example punji sticks would strike infrequently and quickly. As a result, the VC built elaborate booby traps that were effective throughout the jungle that aimed to ‘wound and tramatise rather than kill’. The VC also used the tactic grabbing by the belt buckle” staying so close to the US and ARVN troops that the US airstrike could not be called for fear and causing self- damage.

Up until 1968, the US and ARVN had been achieving military success. Many Americans believed that the US was ‘winning the war, notably US Commander in Vietnam General Westmoreland could see “a light at the end of the tunnel”. If the American allies acted with such brutality did they have of building popular support and winning the War. It became undeniable to the leaders of the NLF that an attempt to achieve victory and this took in the form of the 1968...
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