Monday, July 5, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part VI

Here is part six in my ongoing series.

The Tet Offensive was the major turning point in the war. Not only did the attacks themselves catch the Americans off guard, but also the way in which the North Vietnamese carried out those attacks. Army soldier Donald Hines took note of the brutality of the enemy warfare during and after Tet, “Before the Tet Offensive they would sneak around at nighttime. Now they were saying ‘We’re bad and we’re gonna kick your ass.’” It was clear to many men like Hines that the enemy was now playing for keeps. 

This change in intensity made a large impact on the morale of soldiers, and made many for the first time really question the government’s handling of the war and the tactics used to fight it. Following Tet, Marine Scout Adolphus Stuart “saw that it [America’s plan] wasn’t going to work,” and asked himself “What’s going on?” Tet created many questions about the effectiveness of the American policies and tactics in the fighting of the war. The ones asking the questions were the soldiers who had seen the carnage of Tet close up, and the American public who had smelled failure coming back in 1967. In the first two weeks alone 1,113 U.S. troops died with many calling for the South Vietnamese to do more of the fighting. The huge losses in the major battle centers of South Vietnam proved that the enemy, while depleted, was not going to give up.

As a result of the huge miscalculation made by the U.S. government involving the Tet Offensive, President Johnson committed himself to move towards a peace agreement with the North. In a speech on March 31, 1968, Johnson said, “The United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end.” From these words is was clear to America, now more than ever, that the war in Vietnam was not going according to plan. Johnson reaffirmed this notion at the end of his speech when he said that he would not run for president in the upcoming election. By deciding not to run for re-election, Johnson could focus his time on getting the U.S. out of Vietnam. Soldiers reacted to this move toward peace and the aftermath of Tet very strongly. The president, apart from stopping bombing campaigns and troop movements, planned to turn more of the fighting over to the South Vietnamese while still maintaining supremacy.

Many soldiers who were in Vietnam at the time saw that as wishful thinking, and knew that if the U.S. had barely stood up to the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong at Tet, how could the South Vietnamese do it alone? Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford summed up the dilemma facing the U.S. after Tet saying, “What was the plan to win the war? Well, the only plan was that attrition would wear out the communists, and they would have had enough. Was there any indication that we’ve reached that point? No, there wasn’t.” By the late Spring of 1968 feelings like Clifford’s were being felt throughout Vietnam by soldiers and officials.

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