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How much impact did the Tet Offensive have on the conflict in Vietnam?
It had been 13 years from the start of the Vietnam War in November 1st 1955, in the early hours of 31st January 1968, 70,000 guerrilla fighters of the NLF launched one of the most daring military campaigns in history. After the initial element of surprise ended the U.S and South Vietnamese forces inflicted heavy casualties which left the Vietcong a broken military force for the remainder of the war. The US and South Vietnamese had won a military victory, but more importantly the Vietcong had won a propaganda victory.
The Tet Offensive is often seen as a turning point but in fact it was a breaking point that swung the support in favour of the opposition of the Vietnam War. Before the Tet Offensive opinion polls showed that 15% of people wanted the war to come to an end, after the Tet Offensive this number rose to 25%. The war was costing the U.S taxpayers 27 billion per year and possible further escalation would mean even higher costs the repercussions for this was anger from Americans as they saw their hard earned money wane into the effort of liberating a country that many Americans did not know existed, the consequence was mass protest, fall in public opinion of war and also the setting up of the ‘Great Society’ a protest group made up of American citizens angry that LBJ did not follow up on his policy called the Great Society which involved domestic programs aimed at eliminating poverty and inequality in the USA, in result to the Vietnam War such changes were not taking place or at least were not as evident as people anticipated. Furthermore many were horrified by what the U.S military was carrying out operations such as Rolling Thunder, The Phoenix Program and the COSVN.
Poor Americans particularly African Americans had no way of avoiding the conscription law that the wealthier citizens who were mainly white could by attending higher education which required money few had at their disposal. African Americans fancied more fighting for their civil rights rather than fighting for a cause they did not understand. This view was represented in a famous quote by Muhammad Ali, “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong anyway. They never called me a ******” (Muhammad Ali - 1967). In 1966 Johnson initiated ‘Project 100,000’ which increased troops in Vietnam from 23,300 in 1965 to 465,600 by the end of 1967, 41% of the soldiers were black even though Black Americans represented only 11% of the population of the US.” We’ve got so much trouble at home, We don’t need to go to Vietnam.”(John Lee Hooker, Don’t Want To Go To Vietnam (Song), 1969). This popular song illustrates what many Black Americans felt when forced to conscript. Furthermore there was no black Americans in any of the draft boards in the US thus making racism and prejudice a reasoning for sending a person off to fight and possibly die.As a result of force conscriptions many protest groups were founded such as the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King and The Student Movement. Building up to the events that happened at Tet New Year 1968 many factors were shifting public opinion against the war: politicians began to criticise the realism of the tactics and in addition many politicians denounced the corrupt nature of the regime in South Vietnam and the horrors that returning US veterans had experienced which were publicised around the US by newspapers and magazines. What this shows us is that following a dire course of events the Tet Offensive was enough to send support for the war plummeting.
Celebrities turned political activists included John Lennon, Muhammad Ali and Yoko Ono. The magnitude of influence that celebrities had aided in crippling support for the war. However a CBS anchor man called Walter Cronkite was the top dog in this VIP club of influencers. As LBJ said on February 27th 1968 “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” This quote shows the power of media and how one man of no notional power to people like the President could operate the point of view of hundreds of millions of people. The Vietnam War was a different war, it was the first war to be fully televised which meant that it was harder for the government to create propaganda. This threat worried the government, “Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.”(Westmoreland – April 5th 1982). This shows us the concerns of politicians and secondly the phrase “can get terribly confused in the public mind” portrays the perspective that criticizing the government and disproving what the government says is wrong. However there is a glimpse of truth in Westmoreland’s statement as famously American journalists reported that the Vietcong had invaded the US embassy when in fact they had only managed to get onto the embassies grounds. The public felt betrayed by their own government.
This brings on the concept of ‘Credibility Gap’, as a result of this idea public opinion went down. The credibility gap is a term used to describe the lack of truth or accuracy in what the federal government, military and politicians were telling the public. It became a household word after a series of events such as Vietnamisation, Tet Offensive and the My Lai massacre. As Murrey Marder put it in 1965 in The Washington Post “growing doubt and cynicism concerning Administration pronouncements” (Murrey Marder – Washington Post - 1965). The Tet Offensive revealed the problem of Credibility Gap as the public had been told that they were winning the war all along but somehow the apparently beaten Vietcong staged an attack on 100 towns and cities including the capital Saigon. This is shown here “I see light at the end of the tunnel” (Walt W. Rostow, National Security Adviser, Dec. 1967). The result was destructive for LBJ and the senate as they saw public opinion fall fuelled by the media as people no longer saw victory as realistic and instead wanted to end the war at all costs. This new perception of the war was promoted by Walter Cronkite, “Only rationale way out would be to negotiate” (Walter Cronkite - 1968). Besides revealing the Credibility Gap the other consequence was the shattering of the ‘American Ego’ they had gathered from the wide array of conflicts they had won since the start of the 20th century.
The My Lai massacre was a controversy which impacted public opinion at home in the US. The My Lai massacre tool place on 16th March 1968 when a platoon led by Lieutenant Calley wiped out the village of My Lai killing at least 347 men, women and children. The massacre at first was kept a secret from the US public by the military but eventually it came to light when Life magazine got hold off a story that an American soldier had heard about the massacre. This sparked off an official investigation, it left people in disbelief that their own soldiers who were portrayed as the good guys were capable of such things as well as this was revealed a year after the Tet Offensive when public opposition to Vietnam was already low. “Le Tong, a 28-year-old rice farmer, reported seeing one woman raped after GIs killed her children.” (Seymour Hersh – 12th November 1969). The My Lai controversy emphasised on the impact already caused by the Tet Offensive as it further convinced the American people that the war was not a just war.
Despite the shifting opinion polls against the war, William Westmoreland was determined that he would achieve victory, just weeks after the Tet Offensive he requested 200,000 troops to be sent to Vietnam. His request was rejected by LBJ and he was demoted to serve as a Chief of Staff for the U.S army. He retired 4 year later in 1972. During his time as General of the US army the number of troops increased from 20,000 to over 500,000. The impact of Tet on public opinion made his superiors more cautious in turn detrimising his determination to win the war at all costs.
The Tet Offensive did not just impact the American public, it also impacted American soldiers. Morale among American troops was deteriorating following Tet Offensive and also from frustration of the unorthodox guerrilla warfare, a famous saying represented the mood of the soldiers; “Don’t be the last GI to die.” This quote refers to the Nixon Doctrine which was an agreement which included the eventual withdrawal of all U.S troops leaving the ally nations to defend for themselves and the US just acting as a ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ (Nuclear power protecting a non-nuclear power).The wavering morale affected the effectiveness of the U.S soldiers as they were not as motivated and it also caused the My Lai massacre and was the motivation behind the hundreds of incidents of fragging in which soldiers killed their own superior officers in order to avoid being sent on missions. Many soldiers resulted to drugs to escape the horrors they had witnessed. The most common drugs consumed were Marijuana and Heroin, in 1973 it was acknowledged that 35% of the US army serving in the South had tried heroin with 20% being addicted at some time during their tour of duty. The drugs also further impacted the soldiers performance in battle.
The impact of the Tet Offensive persuaded LBJ not to run for re-election. The consequence of Tet was the revealing of the colossal task LBJ had put upon himself which he could not finish. The Tet Offensive demonstrates a cardinal rule of politics: never overpromise and under-deliver. Furthermore the Tet Offensive hurt the US politically as it resulted in the split of the Democratic Party and forced the entire U.S government to split in anti-war or pro-war coalitions. This made it difficult for decisions to be made about the war as there was high tension between the two sides. It also resulted in the resignation of LBJ’s secretary of defence Robert McNamara.
In the 1968 elections the consequences of Tet assured that an anti-war candidate would be elected. That candidate was Nixon who campaigned with the slogan ‘peace with honour’, He promised that in his first term he would reduce U.S troops levels, he also pursued a plan which he named the ‘Nixon Doctrine’ which was correspondent to his theory of Vietnamisation whereby the U.S would gradually withdraw from Vietnam and leave the South Vietnamese to fight the war themselves while receiving minimal aid. Besides this Nixon appointed Henry Kissinger as a national security advisor, Kissinger was very anti-war thus his objective being to reach a peace settlement.
Vietnamisation was based on the foundations of ‘peace with honour’ and ending the war quickly became the objective of the war. This impacted soldier’s morale as they were fighting and dying for no cause which impacted their effectiveness. Secondly Vietnamisation gave the communists a breathing space to rebuild their forces following the Tet Offensive. In spite of this Vietnamisation was not totally peaceful, Laos and Cambodia were invaded in an attempt to drive out the Vietcong stationed there, it was a complete disaster as the predominantly South Vietnamese force was defeated. This was one of the first signs that the South Vietnamese would not be able to do this alone.
Nguyen Van Thieu was the South Vietnamese leader from 1965 following a military coup until 1975. Thieu’s carrier and chances of saving South Vietnam were jeopardised by the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was the start of the end as the consequences were decreased military support as US eventually began to withdraw its troops and also the US was reluctant from sending its troops to ‘risky’ endeavours as ending the war became the end. Eventually Thieu lost all US support as Nixon was forced to resign following a scandal and his successor ended assistance to South Vietnam.
This is a GCSE essay?! This is amazing! But don't you need to evaluate it? Sorry haven't done GCSE history since 2012
And yes I haven't got to the evaluation part yet.
Good essay, so I'll be harsher with my criticism Break up your sentences a little - the first of the third paragraph, for example, is too long. Also, I would strongly recommend looking in to both sides of the argument. At the moment, all you talk about is basically agreeing with the question. I'd include some counter arguments to show that you are aware, but you can formulate your own opinion based on this
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