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Tet lives on - forty years later

By John Passant - posted Monday, 11 February 2008

It is not often you can pinpoint the decline of a great empire. For the US January 30, 1968, 40 years ago, is a worthy contender.

That night and the next morning the Tet offensive began. National Liberation Front forces rose up across South Vietnam and took parts of Saigon, the capital of the US puppet regime. They remained in control for a few days and even briefly held the US Embassy compound.

Their major military success was in Vietnam's third largest city, Hue. The Vietcong held the city for almost a month. They also held Cholon, the mainly Chinese area of Saigon for a few weeks, until the US military in its gentle caring way destroyed the suburb and its thousands of civilian inhabitants.


During the Tet offensive a US major said of Dentre that it "was necessary to destroy the town to save it".

One of the aims of the Tet offensive was to show the American public that the US could not win the war. The NLF succeeded.

The Tet offensive exposed the lies of the US leadership about Vietnam. In March of that year US President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president. He knew then that the war was unwinnable.

Tet had shown the US population the strength and commitment of the liberation forces and the support they had among the Vietnamese people. This bolstered the US and global anti-war movement. In 1968 for the first time a majority of Americans opposed the war. Mass demonstrations across the world called for an end to US intervention.

1968 was a year of tumult and rebellion across the world. There were black uprisings in US cities; workers were on the verge of taking power in France in May; open rebellion broke out among soldiers in Vietnam (especially blacks); and cops battled with anti-war protestors on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Party's 1968 convention.

There was a sense among a sizeable minority that ordinary working people could change the world for the better.


This cry for change found an echo in the US elections in 1968 when presidential candidate Richard Nixon hinted he had a secret plan to end the war.

Once elected Nixon increased the bombing. He attacked neutral Cambodia. Anti-war protests across the US and the world became massive and militant.

About two million Vietnamese died in the War. More than 50,000 US troops came home in body bags. The US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than the number dropped during World War II.

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First published at Socialist Alternative in the January 2008 issue. 

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About the Author

John Passant is a Canberra writer ( and member of Socialist Alternative.

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