Unlike the previous strategic offensive, the Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising was carefully prepared and drawn a large number of military troops, equipment as well as people. Our forces used various creative, daring and thorny tactics, and smartly combined between diversion tactics and direct attacks to lure a large number of enemy forces to the mountainous and forest battlefields from cities and towns. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese revolutionary side concentrated most forces to directly attack enemy key targets deeply inside the enemy’s rear in cities and towns with the aim of defeating the enemy’s headquarters and bases, creating favorable for the masses to rise up and take power. The simultaneous attacks shocked the whole US society; all Americans from ordinary people to politicians were stunned and very surprised at the Vietnamese revolutionary power and tactics.

American military police kneel behind a wall on the first day of the Tet Offensive on January 31, 1968. Photo: AP

At that time, the US military forces escalated the war against North Vietnam with the aim of weakening their adversary, but they earned increasing losses. In South Vietnam, the US military forces and the US-backed Saigon military, based on their preeminent military power, launched two large campaigns to “seek and destroy” revolutionary regular forces but both ended up with failures. In fact, many enemy units suffered large losses in numbers, so they were forced to withdraw their forces to cities and towns to protect their key targets and wait for reinforcements in order to carry out another campaign.

In an effort to drive the enemy deeply into a passive position, the Central Military Commission decided to conduct a general offensive and uprising in the whole battlefield to annihilate enemy troops, destroy the enemy’s strategic combat plan, liberate people from the enemy-occupied areas, and win decisive victories of the war. In the North, thousands of troops and tens of thousands of tons of logistics were quickly transported to the front. As soon as the Vietnamese revolutionary side had built up forces, created an advantaged position and chosen an appropriate time, all revolutionary forces in South Vietnam simultaneously launched attacks on the enemy across the battlefield, and opened several campaigns to attract US and US-backed regular forces to mountains and forests, facilitating uprisings of people in cities and towns.

While the enemy resisted passively attacks made by several units of the Vietnamese revolutionary forces across the battlefield, particularly in Road 9 and Khe Sanh, the Vietnamese revolutionary side suddenly opened the Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising on the eve of the 1968 Lunar New Year, drastically assaulting enemy troops at large military bases and headquarters as well as important civilian targets in towns and cities of South Vietnam, particularly the three big cities of Hue, Da Nang and Saigon. All key enemy targets, including Doc Lap Palace (the premises of the US-backed Saigon Government), US Embassy in Saigon, General Staff of the US-backed military, Tan Son Nhat Airport, to name but a few. The strength as well as daring and creative tactics of the Vietnamese revolutionary forces shocked the whole US.

On the next day, all US media and press publications were full of information about the Vietnamese revolutionary military operations in South Vietnam, thousands of kilometers away from the US. Some media and newspapers showed their surprise and admiration, using a lot of exclamations in their reports. Other media and newspapers gave their audiences and readers a good insight into the Tet Mau Than Offensive and Uprising, and depicted local police and US forces’ landing on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon full of smoke and fire from helicopters in an effort to retake control of the building from a Vietnamese revolutionary unit. These reports and articles completely destroyed the confidence and optimism of the US Government and people to the war the US Army conducted against the Vietnamese people in Vietnam. They also ignited the flame of anti-Vietnam War movements around the US, which saw the participation of US people from all walks of life. Hundreds of US youths burnt their daft-cards in public places.

The Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising also triggered many fierce debates in US politics, particularly at the US Congress. One side still advocated the war in Vietnam, and the other resolutely protested it and rejected any requests on military reinforcement or additional budget for the war. The “war of words” became more and more violently. Former US President D. Eisenhower acknowledge that the war had plunged the US into such a current sad state and into a deep division.

Even some advisors to the then US President warned the US Government of reassessing the war to make a wise and good decision.

On the pressure of a large wave of anti-war movements of US people and protests from US officials, President Johnson had to summon a meeting of top government officials to discuss war-related issues. He then decided to stop bombing North Vietnam from the 20th North Parallel Northward; to return to peace talks with the Vietnamese revolutionary side in Paris; and withdraw the US military forces from Vietnam step-by-step. He also declared to retire from his political career in an effort to reduce the anti-war movement and heal the gap among the US people and politicians.  

Recalling the Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising in his book, General Westmoreland, former Commander of the US military forces in Vietnam, wrote that the Vietnamese revolutionary forces had driven the war to towns and cities, which had been considered as the safe haven of the US and US-backed military forces. They dealt the US-backed Government and military a deathblow. General Maxwell D. Taylor, former US Ambassador to Saigon, acknowledged that the Vietnamese revolutionary forces launched intensive attacks on five big cities and 39 towns. He continued writing that the Vietnamese revolutionary forces’ attacks, which were narrated in detail by the US media and press, made the US people, politicians and officials horrible and that terror would never be recovered.

In one of his books, Historian Gabriel Kolko underlined that the Tet Mau Than Offensive and Uprising in 1968 was the most important and complex event of the war in Vietnam. It had become the first US-waged war beyond the country since 1882 that triggered an intensive social crisis and a deep political division. In general, US researchers and officials shared the view that the Tet Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising showed that the US Army completely had taken control of nothing in Vietnam.

Written by Major General, Associate Professor, Doctor Bui Thanh Son

Translated by Thu Nguyen