The Vietnam War was a conflict in which the United States attempted to defend South Vietnam from the communist forces of North Vietnam. The United States also needed to fight against the guerilla forces, called the Viet Cong, located in South Vietnam. The war created significant conflict within the United States. Many individuals and groups objected to the presence of the United States military in Vietnam. However, this objection did not occur at significant levels until the war in Vietnam escalated in 1968. While the United States had routinely increased the level of involvement in the country in previous years, the year 1968 created the need to escalate the level of troops to a new level. The Tet Offensive in 1968 resulted in the need for this escalation. Due to this offensive, the war in Vietnam reached a turning point. Prior to the Tet Offensive, the United States and the South Vietnamese army utilized guerilla tactics in their attempts to defeat the forces of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. However, the Tet Offensive created the need for the United States and South Vietnam to change their methodology on the war. This change in tactics and technique resulted in a turning point in the war. It also forced the United States to recognize that the Vietnam War was not a winnable war. This turning point can be considered one of the most decisive moments in the war and within 20th Century global history.
The Tet Offensive was launched by North Vietnam on the day of the Vietnamese New Year. Because of the importance of this day within Vietnamese culture, a truce had been declared for it. However, North Vietnam chose to violate this truce and launch a massive attack against South Vietnam and the United States. Up until this point in the war, the United States practiced guerilla tactics as a means to achieve victory. This was necessitated by the military maneuvers and strategy of both North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. The Tet Offensive, however, surprised the United States. The United States was surprised by the size of the offensive, the timing of the offensive and the military strategy of the offensive (Tet offensive, n.d.).
The Tet Offensive began on January 31, 1968. Between the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, the forces consisted of over 70,000 troops. An important reason for the offensive was the desire to force the United States to begin deescalating the war and reduce the number of troops it had in the area. The United States and South Vietnam are considered the victors in the offensive. However, the military maneuvers created significant negative public opinions about the war in the United States. This began the protest movement by individuals and groups to remove all troops from the war. While North Vietnam may have lost the actual offensive, it did achieve its goal of forcing the United States to begin deescalating the war efforts (Tet offensive, n.d.).
What shocked the American political and military leadership was the recognition that America could not win this war. Prior to this point, American leadership believed that America could win any war. They believed that America contained the military and financial strength to successfully back any war operation of her choosing. However, this was not the case in Vietnam. While the North Vietnamese army sustained significantly greater losses than did the United States, the northern side also indicated her desire to utilize any means to win the war. This included violating truces that had been established by both sides. The United States began to slowly realize that she was fighting with a side that would not surrender even under tremendous disadvantages. While the communist side endured a devastating defeat in the Tet Offensive, they did show a level of brutality of which the United States was not previously aware.
With the launch of the Tet Offensive, the United States began to realize that the war in Vietnam was not a winnable war for her. The political and military leaders had clearly underestimated the brutality and determination of the North Vietnam army and the Viet Cong. As a result of this offensive, 1968 can be considered a turning point in the war. The United States needed to change from her previously used guerilla tactics to more standard military tactics. This was something the country had not prepared for or planned to do. It clearly indicated a change in the policy of the United States from the years prior to 1968 and in the years after 1968.
- Tet offensive. (n.d.). History Channel. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from: http://www.history.com/topics/tet-offensive