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Session 7

Ray Phillips
08:00 PM ET (US)
I could not read all this crap.
I\My only comment is...Pussies!
Paul C. Burton
07:10 PM ET (US)
Kevin Hugh's paper Deconstucting the Myths of TET is well done. I would point out only a few minor errors. 1) Mr. Hugh's understates the number of U.S. KIA during TET. The actual number of U.S. casualties between 31 Jan 1968 and 6 March, 1968 was 2948. 2) The Marines at the Embassy in Saigon were not in charge of outside-the-embassy security. Mr. Hugh's wrote "The Marine Guard locked the gate and returned fire." The only "gate" closed with return fire was the side gate manned by two Army MP's, William M. Sebast and Charlie L. Daniel. Their initial "return fire" was by M16 directed at the hole blown in the outer perimeter wall, and was quite effective, killing the VC cadre leaders who came through the hole first (illustrating the poor tactical planning of the attack). Both Sebast and Daniel were killed in this initial firefight. The Marines inside the embassy building immediately closed the teakwood door to the embassy and prevented the building from being breached. Only two Marines were stationed outside of the embassy building; Sgt. Rudy Soto on the roof of the Embassy buliding, and Cpl. James C. Marshall next door in the Norodom compound. Sgt Soto was instrumental in providing communication to the Marine Security Guard Coordinator, GySgt. Morrison. Cpl Marshall engaged the enemy from the roof of the Norodom compound, killing one VC with a sidearm, firing a 9MM Barretta (submachine pistol), and assisting with ammunition, casualties, and fire direction of others. Cpl. Marshall was killed by a sniper during this engagement. Perhaps Mr. Hugh's reference to the "gate" was actually a reference to the teak doors to the main lobby of the Embassy building? If so, there was no "return fire" from that location.

Semper Fidelis,

Paul C Burton, JD, MSEd
Sgt.of Marines 1963-1969.
36 months in country.
Edited 02-27-2007 07:17 PM
  Messages 6-4 deleted by author between 07-22-2006 09:28 AM and 07-23-2006 02:06 AM
Stephen Sherman
01:20 PM ET (US)
The following paper was sent to us by Dr. Scott Catino for comment,
as an example of the work of one of his students:

Deconstructing the Myths of Tet
Kevin L. Hughes
Modern Vietnam Independent Study

Dr. Catino
University of South Carolina-Aiken
April 24, 2006
America’s war in Vietnam has been called a confusing war, a point that is perhaps best demonstrated by the myriad of differing opinions that exist on the topic. The uncertainty and disorder created by this conflict fostered a climate in which a great many myths were born and circulated. These misconceptions, half-truths, and in some cases outright lies made their way not only into our history books but into our culture as a whole.
One of the biggest of these fallacies is the belief that the Tet Offensive was a grand victory for the North Vietnamese and a humiliating defeat for the United States and South Vietnam. There is no other way to categorize the Tet Offensive other than a disastrous defeat for the Communists. The true irony of Tet is that in losing, the North Vietnamese illustrated an emerging principle of modern warfare that changed the face of the world. In the aftermath of Tet it became evident that it was possible for the U.S. to win the militarily, yet still lose the political battle waged in the court of public opinion. Misconceptions about the Tet Offensive helped turn the opinion of many Americans against the war in Vietnam, which was the true prize the Communists gained despite the military disaster.
 It is not the purpose of this paper to investigate the minute details of the Tet Offensive but rather to illustrate the broader scope of how the misconceptions surrounding the event greatly affected the war. It is important to understand that as the North Vietnamese were planning the surprise attack on their enemies to the South, a perfect storm was brewing across the Pacific. The actions of the Johnson Administration in the years preceding the Tet Offensive inadvertently created an environment that would maximize the success of the enemy.
President Johnson and General Westmoreland had concocted a strategy of “limited war,” treating the war in Vietnam as a war of attrition.1 In an attempt to counter critics of escalating the conflict, Johnson decided on a gradual escalation instead of an all out total war. Unlike Ho Chi Minh, Johnson was the head of a democratic nation where his decisions could directly affect his future political career. This left the administration permanently walking a tight-rope act, delicately balancing fighting a war in Asia while carefully watching public opinion at home.
With an election year looming and criticism against the war rising, the Johnson administration was left searching for any good news to present to the American people. On April 28, 1967, they turned to an unprecedented move to try and achieve this goal. General Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress in order to bolster support for the President. It was the first time a battle commander had addressed Congress during a war in American history.2 During this speech he was treated to thunderous applause as he proudly proclaimed, “We will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor.”3 Such an optimistic appraisal of the progress of the war was a common theme from the Administration during this period.
The President was so determined to put forth positive reports it is possible that he ignored signs that pointed in a different direction. The public was hearing on a nearly daily basis that things were improving in an effort to calm the fears of the nation. On November 19, 1967, Westmoreland was quoted, “American and South Vietnamese forces were ‘winning a war of attrition.’”4 A few days later he said, “The strength of Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam were ‘declining at a steady rate.’”5 Comments like this may have helped ease the minds of some Americans, but it also proved problematic when the North Vietnamese launched their offensive. The American public was conditioned to think that the enemy was reeling towards inevitable defeat, which made the brazen Communist offensive even more shocking.
One of the most impressive abilities of the North Vietnamese throughout the war was their ability to infiltrate the South. Leading up to the Tet Offensive most of the fighting done by the United States and South Vietnamese forces was against the Viet Cong. By creative use of the DMZ, border sanctuaries, and most importantly the Ho Chi Minh trail, the Communists smuggled men and munitions into the South. Through this same method, they also infiltrated South Vietnam in preparation for the Tet Offensive.
On January 31, 1968, the Communists sprung their synchronized surprise attack across 800 miles of Vietnam. The event was strategically planned to occur in the midst of the Lunar New Year, one of the most important holidays for the Vietnamese. Despite having received some intelligence hinting at the possibility of the attack, many of the South Vietnamese (ARVN) and American troops were relaxed because of the holiday.
The Communist plan called for a drastic change in strategy. With the help of infiltration the North Vietnamese Army regulars would join with the Viet Cong for an all out assault on strategic targets throughout the South. Perhaps the most important element was the idea that a general uprising would follow, with the South Vietnamese running out of their houses to welcome the Communists and join their cause.
The Communists committed somewhere in the range of 67,000 men, roughly one fourth of their total force.6 The sound of fireworks booming in celebration of the Tet holiday was replaced by the sound of gunfire as the attack began. Communist forces emerged from their hiding places in the jungles of Vietnam, swarming the streets of towns and cities throughout the country. Such a move was more than just an ordinary military gamble.
For years the Viet Cong had been guerilla specialists, hitting at all sides of the enemy with the exception of an open frontal assault. Now they were spilling out of the dense cover of the jungle and into the sights of American military might. For years the North Vietnamese had meticulously avoided heavy combat with the military superiority of the Americans. Instead, they had saved their precious resources hoping to outlast their enemy. During the Tet Offensive these conserved resources were unleashed in an attempt to end the war. Such a drastic change in strategy was a huge risk, and the result was devastating for the Communists.
On March 6, a mere two months after the onset of the offensive, the U.S. published a staggering casualty report. A mind boggling 50,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops had been killed compared to only 2,000 Americans and 4,000 South Vietnamese.7 That number is significant, especially when you consider that the North Vietnamese were losing men at a rate of more than 8 to 1. No other figure better illustrates that the Tet Offensive was a military defeat for the North Vietnamese. The minimal gains made by the Communist forces in the South were not held for long. With the notable exception of areas such as Hue, many targets were occupied for mere hours. Even more devastating for the North Vietnamese, their general uprising never came. Without the expected outpouring of support from the South Vietnamese, the Tet Offensive was little more than a suicide mission for a great many of the Communists.
During Tet, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong suffered stunning casualties while gaining little or nothing of any significant value militarily. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that the Tet Offensive could be considered as a turning point in the war, but in this case capturing a military victory proved not nearly as critical as capturing political sentiment. Due to two misunderstood events during the Tet Offensive, the tide of American public opinion swung in favor of the Communists.
 First, part of the brazen plan called for an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. A group of 19 Viet Cong were charged with a suicidal attack on the embassy. Upon their arrival the marine guard locked the gate and returned fire. The Viet Cong were able to infiltrate portions of the compound but never reached their goal of entering the embassy. The entire Communist group was “wiped out in 6 hours of fighting.”8 But six hours was enough for images of the event to be recorded on film.
 It was only natural that members of the media would capture images of the Tet Offensive, especially the ill fated assault on the U.S. Embassy. For years the war had been fought in the hinterlands of Vietnam, miles away from the comforts of Saigon. With the Tet Offensive suddenly the war had come to the doorstep of the media. Many of the media members were quartered very near the embassy, and the images of Americans trapped inside and under attack were compelling.
 It wasn’t important that the attack ended in utter failure for the Viet Cong. The American people had been told repeatedly that the Communist enemy was on the run and near defeat. Johnson and Westmoreland had worked to shore public opinion by proclaiming that victory was only a matter of time and that the enemy was disorganized and demoralized. Now the images on the nightly news betrayed any such proclamation of optimism. There on everyone’s television were pictures of Viet Cong commandos banging on the gates of the American Embassy, firing bullets and rocket propelled grenades at the structure. The sight was shocking and confusing for the majority of the public. How could an enemy on the edge of defeat muster such an effort? Had the President being lying all along about the progress of the war? The simple fact that the Communists could muster such a bold mission shook the very foundation of trust between President Johnson and the American people.
 The Tet Offensive embodied America’s trouble in Vietnam. It did not render success in Vietnam impossible, nor did it signal the setting in of a quagmire. What it did was prove the optimistic appraisals coming from the Johnson administration wrong and signified that there would still be difficult times ahead. But war is almost always difficult. From a military standpoint the Tet Offensive was a success for the United States, but the political battle would be won or lost in the hearts and minds of the public. One of the most important factors in this battle was media coverage, since nearly all of the information on war was filtered through some sort of medium. The misinterpretation of the attack on the U.S. Embassy was damaging, but there was another event during the Tet Offensive that was even more critical in turning public sentiment against the war.
 An image can be a powerful conveyor of emotion. A single photograph taken during the Tet Offensive erased any doubt that a picture could influence public opinion. AP photographer Eddie Adams captured one of the most shocking images of the war when he stumbled upon a group of South Vietnamese Marines and their Viet Cong prisoners. As Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of National Police, arrived on the scene, the situation turned deadly.9
 The police chief proceeded to single out one prisoner in particular, a small man with baggy shorts and his hands tied behind his back. Without uttering a word, Loan raised his pistol to the man’s head. Instinctively, Adams tripped the shutter of his camera at the same instant the Loan pulled the trigger. The resulting image froze a moment in time, capturing the bullet smashing into the side of the Viet Cong prisoner’s head. An NBC camera crew also captured the event on motion picture film, following the man’s body as it crumbled to the street. The incident was an instant sensation.10
 The New York Times made the Adams picture the centerpiece of their February 2 edition. The image ran on the front page, four columns wide and five inches deep.11 In a rare move the Times also ran the image on page 12, printing a series of photographs that depicted the entire incident.
 On that day the Times was filled with stories about the Tet Offensive, including General Westmoreland’s first response to the attacks. The headline for that story trumpeted that “The Enemy Toll Soars” and that the attack was “Running Out of Steam.”12 The front page also featured another moving photo. In it a South Vietnamese soldier held the body of his young child, who had been murdered by the Viet Cong. But there above them all, almost dominating the page, was the troubling image of chief Loan executing the Viet Cong guerrilla. The cut-line beneath the picture read: “Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, national police chief, executes a man identified as a Vietcong terrorist in Saigon.”13 Widespread misinterpretation of this image would prove crippling to the American war effort.
 With so many deaths occurring on both sides during the Tet Offensive, it is important to ask why one death became so important. While the description of the action listed in the Times was relatively accurate, there was much more to the story than simply an execution. From Loan’s account, the man was a Viet Cong operative who had killed many Americans and many of Loan’s South Vietnamese comrades.14 But those images were not forever captured on film.
 The Adams photo became a rallying point for those who were critical of the war. It was the type of image that could be misconstrued as evidence of the U.S. being in the wrong war, with the wrong ally. Anti-war protestors had hard “proof” in the form of this photo that the war was corrupt and chaotic. While this picture had the most powerful influence on public sentiment, there were other photos and videos captured during the Tet Offensive that contributed as well.
 During Tet the Communists attacked and captured multiple cities all across South Vietnam. In short order most of these areas were recaptured by American and South Vietnamese forces. One exception to this was the city of Hue. Once the initial steam of the offensive began to die down, the press turned to Hue as the lead story for the nightly news. It took the United States Marines a month to recapture Hue, and during that time many more startling images were captured. For the first time, television was bringing the war into the living room of nearly every American home. It was pictures and video of the Tet Offensive that helped turn the tide in the favor of the Communists.
 For years the Tet Offensive has been misinterpreted by many Americans. It is thought of as a complete victory for the North Vietnamese, and an embarrassing defeat for the United States. The true lesson of Tet is that despite being caught off guard by the enemy offensive, and despite mismanagement of the war by the Johnson Administration, American and South Vietnamese forces soundly defeated the Communists. Following the Tet Offensive the effective strength of the Viet Cong was never the same again. The most important development that came from this experience was the immergence of the influence of media coverage on public opinion. By showing that they still had enough left to mount an organized assault, the North Vietnamese managed to shed light on the fact that the Johnson administration had been overly optimistic about a timetable for ending the war. With no end in immediate sight and the horrible, shocking images of Vietnam playing each night on their television sets, the American people soon lost the stomach for war. While they suffered terrible losses and were defeated militarily, the Communists managed to win the political battle and turn a potential disaster in their favor.
End Notes

1 “The War of Attrition,” New York Times (April 26, 1967): 46. www.proquest.com/ (Accessed April 21, 2006).
2 Tom Wicker, “Westmoreland Tells Congress U.S. Will Prevail,” New York Times (April 29, 1967): 1. www.proquest.com/ (Accessed April 21, 2006).

3 Ibid.

4 Peter Grose, “War of Attrition Called Successful by Westmoreland,” New York Times (November 20, 1967): 1. www.proquest.com/ (Accessed April 21, 2006).

5 Hedrick Smith, “Westmoreland Says Ranks of Vietcong Thin Steadily,” New York Times (November 22, 1967): 1. www.proquest.com/ (Accessed April 21, 2006).

6 Don Oberdorfer, Tet! (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 116.

7 “South Vietnam: U.S.-Communist Confrontation in Southeast Asia”, Stanley Millet, ed., vol. 3, 1968 (New York: Facts on File, 1974), 71.

8 Ibid, 35.

9 Clarence Wyatt, Paper Soldiers: The American Press and The Vietnam War, (New York: Norton, 1993), 165-68.

10 Ibid.
11 Oberdorfer, 166.

12 Charles Mohr, “Street Clashes Go on in Vietnam; Foe Still Holds Parts of Cities,” New York Times (February 2, 1967): 1. www.proquest.com/ (Accessed April 21, 2006).
13 Ibid.
14 Wyatt, 165.

Grose, Peter, “War of Attrition Called Effective By Westmoreland.” New York Times,
 Nov. 20, 1967.

Mohr, Charles, “Street Clashes Go on in Vietnam; Foe Still Holds Parts of Cities.” New York Times, Feb. 2, 1968.

Millet, Stanley, ed., South Vietnam: U.S.-Communist Confrontation in Southeast Asia,
 vol. 3, 1968. New York: Facts on File, 1974.

Oberdorfer, Don. Tet! New York: Da Capo Press, 1971.

“The War of Attrition,” New York Times, April 26, 1967.

Wicker, Tom, “Westmoreland Tells Congress U.S. Will Prevail.” New York Times, April 29, 1967.

Wyatt, Clarence R., Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War. New
 York: Norton, 1993.
Laura Hornbeck
11:53 PM ET (US)
I am glad to read about this forum. The effort by the US in Vietnam was, in my opinion, an unarguably noble one -- to stop the spread of Marxism in southeast Asia. Now with the decline of Marxism on a global scale, the real horrors of it are beginning to be understood.

I heard a Buddhist man from Cambodia speak here in Texas last year about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. His wife was pregnant with twins when the communists took over. Because it was "unacceptable" to bring more babies into the society at that particular time, the babies were strangled immediately after birth. The parents could do nothing about it. They will carry their grief with them to their graves.

Such inhuman evils were common in Cambodia, and all because Marxism did indeed win in Vietnam, then it spread like a cancer to the surrounding countries. Why anybody still thinks the people of Southeast Asia would have been worse off with an American victory in Vietnam is beyond me.

I congratulate you on your upcoming forum.
Stephen ShermanPerson was signed in when posted
09:27 AM ET (US)
I welcome your comments to this session where we will discuss the Vietnam War at the macro-level. To return to the Session Page go to http://www.viet-myths.net/Session07.htm

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