The Tet Offensive was a series of battles in the Vietnam War. It was a major offensive by the North Vietnamese Army
(NVA) and the National Liberation Front (NLF), commonly known as the Viet Cong, beginning on the night of
January 30-31, 1968. It involved military action in most of the major cities in southern Vietnam and attacks on the US firebase
at Khe Sanh. The attacks on Khe Sanh are usually considered separate from the actual Tet Offensive occurring at approximately
the same time. The objective of the 1968 Tet Offensive was to take the Nationalist and the US armies by surprise since the
North Vietnam's government proposed a ceasefire for the celebration of the Lunar New Year.
During the Tet Offensive the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam was taken over for 30 days and this was televised, making the
U.S. look bad and causing much anti-war sentimentalism at home.
The US military response was uneven in the face of much conflicting intelligence. The belief that Khe Sanh was about to
be a major battle was well established, MACV staff being certain that a decisive clash was imminent. The US base was reinforced
and thousands of unattended ground sensors were scattered in the surrounding jungle in Operation Niagara. US intelligence
identified at least 15,000 NVA troops in the vicinity.
The NVA lost many troops, but for them it is widely seen to have been an enormous psychological and propaganda victory.
Despite the severe military defeat the communist forces had been dealt, the fact that they had been able to mount such a major
assault at all was a blow to hopes of winning the war anytime soon. Until the Tet Offensive, General William Westmoreland's
now-infamous public reports of the progress of the Vietnam War were highly fictionalized and exaggerated to appear positive
for the American public, often using exaggerated bodycounts and other inflated numbers. Developing reports of the Tet Offensive
severely undercut the upbeat war propaganda of the Johnson administration and The Pentagon, and served to unite
previously divided public opinion towards opposing the war. When the news broke that a squad of VC had gained access to the
American Embassy in Saigon, the event quickly came to epitomize the disparity between the facts and official statements. After
the Tet Offensive, the main issue of public debate would be "how to securely withdraw" from the war without losing a "hearts
and minds" Cold War battle against then-enemy Soviet Union and its system of Communism.
The heavy US shelling of Ben Tre produced the famous quote, "it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it."