On January 30, 1968, communist-affiliated troops from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong (a distinct political organization) launched what became known as the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and its American allies. The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military operations of the Vietnam War, and became 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 on holiday when the attacks began, and the military was caught off guard. The campaign initially targeted more than 100 cities and towns, including the strategic southern capital of Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City.

The Tet Offensive was a catastrophic military failure for the communists. Historians estimate as many as 50,000 communist troops died in the effort to gain control of the southern part of the country. The South Vietnamese and American losses totaled a fraction of that number.

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 began to lose influence as Viet Cong guerrillas infiltrated rural areas formerly held by the South Vietnamese government. The offensive frayed the relationship between the South Vietnamese and the United States.

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 U.S. journalist Walter Cronkite said, “We are mired in a stalemate [and] 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.”

affiliate
Verb

to associate or connect to something else.

assault
Noun

violent attack.

Noun

city where a region's government is located.

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.

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.

Noun

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

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.

Noun

large-scale armed conflict.

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