Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Lesson of Vietnam

The other day I was driving to work listening to some reporters on the radio talking about Iraq. Of course the usual subjects were being covered: The false pretenses for the war; Washington politics; The costs of the war; The comparisons with the Vietnam War. It was that last one that put me into a white-hot anger, and that is why I am writing this a couple of weeks later because I didn't want to write mad.

The particular point that angered me was that one of the speakers was opining about what event might be analogous to Vietnam's Tet Offensive as the point at which the war became unwinnable. Let me be very clear: The Tet Offensive was the moment in Vietnam when the media lost the Vietnam war. Despite how it is remembered, the Tet Offensive was one of the most spectacular military victories in American history which was squandered away as a lost opportunity.

Tet, or Tết Nguyên Đán, "is the is the most important and popular and festival in Vietnam". The Tet Offensive was timed to start on the night of January 30-31, 1968. Due to the importance of this holiday, it was believed that the chances for any significant NVA or VC attacks during this time were minute, so much of ARVN was on leave and even U.S. military forces were at a low level of alert. The attacks were a total surprise as earlier hints of the attacks were dismissed by intelligence agencies as disinformation. Despite this, within only a few days, most of the attacks had been repulsed and the North suffered heavy losses.

By the end of the offensive, the VC was all but obliterated. Formerly secret operatives had exposed themselves during the attack and were then captured or killed. The NVA also suffered heavy losses. Some sources quote northern losses at nearly fifty times that of American losses. All military parts of the planned offensive failed. Even the hot spots at Hue and Khe Sanh were finished a few weeks after the offensive started.

The North's plans included a general uprising by the population which never occurred. According to several captured VC commanders, most mid-level VC commanders didn't expect any uprising in their area to occur, but they said nothing and followed through with the plan on hopes that it would occur in someone else's area. Apparently the North was blinded by its own communist ideology. I'm sure the widespread atrocities committed by the North did nothing to help foment this expected rebellion.

The true genius of General Giap wasn't his military plan, but rather his shrewd reckoning that a major attack would sway American public opinion against the war. He may have been more successful in this than he expected as he received a huge help in this way from Walter Cronkite and his "Cronkite Moment" when Mr. Cronkite declared the war unwinnable and stated that America must leave Vietnam. I belive Mr. Cronkite owes me and every other American an apology. I grew up in the 1970s thinking that the Tet Offensive was a huge military defeat for U.S. and allied forces until I became interested in history just before my teenage years and eventually learned the truth about Tet.

And now we have reporters looking for an Iraqi Tet, or perhaps more accurately, an Iraqi "Cronkite Moment". All we hear from the media is how horrible it is that America is in Iraq. We hear terms such as "civil war", yet the Iraqi coalition government is still in place with all major Iraqi ethnicities participating. We hear that American forces are taking a beating in Iraq despite the fact that we have never lost an engagement that involves a unit of platoon size or larger. We hear about every bad thing that a soldier does, but we seldom hear of how any American soldier has helped or befriended anyone.

And what about those the U.S. is fighting? Christians are terrorized routinely all over the muslim world, insurgents behead children, insurgents have children beheading people, all in the name of Allah. Where is the media outrage over these sorts of events? These are not the sort of people you can have a dialogue with. These people simply have to be killed because they are a threat to everyone.

The media needs to stop trying to teach what they believe is the lesson of Vietnam, and learn the real lesson themselves. That lesson is that they are the ones who lost the war and they are trying very hard to do it again.

Give 'Em Surrender Harry Finds His Tet Offensive
Is 'Cronkite Moment' Just a Media Myth?
The Tet Offensive at Wikipedia
The Tet Offensive at Digger History
The Tet Offensive at Ashbrook Center
More About the 1968 Tet Offensive
The Tet Offensive at Vets With a Mission