How did the Tet offensive affect American politics, society and the course of the war in Vietnam?
Although the Tet Offensive was one of the greatest tactical victories for the U.S. forces against Viet Cong guerrillas, it was an enormous political loss for the United States during the war. Because the attack intensified the antiwar protest movement at home and discredited President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. military officials, the Tet Offensive represented a major turning point in the war against the United States. During the Vietnamese New Year, Tet, in January 1968, thousands of Viet Cong insurgents launched the war’s largest coordinated attack yet, on nearly thirty U.S. military installations in South Vietnam, along with dozens of other South Vietnamese cities. Although U.S. forces were initially caught off guard, they defeated the guerrillas relatively quickly and decisively—a resounding defeat that permanently crippled Ho Chi Minh’s military forces. Despite this victory, however, the offensive frightened the American public because it seemed to contradict President Johnson’s assurances that the United States was winning the war. U.S. public opinion worsened when General William Westmoreland requested 200,000 additional U.S. troops after the offensive, on top of the nearly 500,000 Americans already serving in Vietnam. Westmoreland’s request startled not only the American public but also congressmen, senators, foreign-policy makers, and even Johnson himself. Many U.S. government officials privately began to question whether Vietnam was actually “winnable” at all and, if so, whether the United States was using the right tactics. Former secretary of state Dean Acheson voiced his disproval, as did Johnson’s own secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, who resigned his position. The American media compounded the situation, as the official government line that the United States was winning the war contrasted sharply with the shocking images Americans saw on their...
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