The Tet Offensive changed public perception of the Vietnam War. Although a costly loss for communist forces from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the series of attacks led South Vietnamese and U.S. citizens to question the outcome of the war.
Photograph courtesy U.S. Army

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  • On January 30, 1968, communist-affiliated troops from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong (a distinct political organization) launched the so-called Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and their United States allies. The Tet Offensive was the largest military operation of the Vietnam War to that point, and would emerge as a key turning point in the conflict.
     
    The Tet Offensive was a surprise series of attacks launched during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year festival. Many South Vietnamese troops were given a traditional weeklong holiday during Tet, and the military was completely unprepared for the assault. The 10-month engagement targeted more than 100 cities and towns, including the strategic southern capital of Saigon.
     
    The Tet Offensive was a catastrophic military failure for the communists. As many as 50,000 troops died in the effort to gain control of the southern part of the country. The South Vietnamese and American losses totaled about 10,000.
     
    Although a military loss, the Tet Offensive was a stunning propaganda victory for the communists. In fact, it is often credited with turning the war in their favor. The South Vietnamese lost morale as Viet Cong guerrillas infiltrated rural areas formerly held by the government. South Vietnamese leaders also began to suspect their U.S. allies withheld knowledge of the Tet Offensive.
     
    The consequences of the Tet Offensive extended to the United States. Many Americans began to question military and political leaders who assured them the Vietnam War would be won soon. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, popular journalist Walter Cronkite remarked that “we are mired in a stalemate” where “the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    affiliate Verb

    to associate or connect to something else.

    assault Noun

    violent attack.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    catastrophic Adjective

    very bad.

    communist Noun

    person or group of people who support communism, a type of economy where all property, including land, factories and companies, is held by the government.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    consequence Noun

    result or outcome of an action or situation.

    country Noun

    geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.

    democracy Noun

    system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

    distinct Adjective

    unique or identifiable.

    emerge Verb

    to develop or come into view.

    extend Verb

    to enlarge or continue.

    festival Noun

    day or other period of time set to celebrate or commemorate an event, usually with a series of parties, ceremonies, or observances.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    guerrilla Adjective

    having to do with warfare conducted by organized groups of civilians, not soldiers or the military.

    holiday Noun

    period of celebration or honor.

    infiltrate Verb

    to permeate or pass into something.

    in the wake of Phrase

    following or resulting from.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    mired Adjective

    stuck or entangled.

    morale Noun

    emotional or psychological condition of a person or group of people.

    negotiate Verb

    to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

    operation Noun

    organized effort with a specific goal.

    pledge Verb

    to guarantee or promise.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    propaganda Noun

    information or ideas specifically intended to help or hurt the cause of an organization.

    rational Adjective

    reasonable or logical.

    rural area Noun

    regions with low population density and large amounts of undeveloped land. Also called "the country."

    Encyclopedic Entry: rural area
    stalemate Noun

    position in which no decisive action can be taken.

    strategic Adjective

    important part of a place or plan.

    stunning Adjective

    stupefying, strikingly beautiful or astonishing.

    target Verb

    to establish something as a goal or aim.

    troop Noun

    a soldier.

    war Noun

    large-scale armed conflict.