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Tet '68 Compared To Iraq...

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  • Tet '68 Compared To Iraq...

    RetPara Note: Tet, no matter what Walter Cronkitte said, was not a defeat, it was a victory for the ARVN as they destroyed the Viet Cong as a combat force. Resistance from there on out was by the NVA by a great predominance. Press coverage, then as now, concentrated on US troops fighting and dying. The ARVN did carry a great deal of their own water.

    Analysis: A mini-Tet offensive in Iraq?

    By Arnaud de Borchgrave
    UPI Editor at Large
    Published 4/6/2004 4:12 PM

    WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- Any seasoned reporter covering the Tet offensive in Vietnam 36 years ago is well over 60 and presumably retired or teaching journalism is one of America's 4,200 colleges and universities. Before plunging into an orgy of erroneous and invidious historical parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, a reminder about what led to the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia is timely.
    Iraq will only be another Vietnam if the home front collapses, as it did following the Tet offensive, which began on the eve of the Chinese New Year, Jan. 31, 1968. The surprise attack was designed to overwhelm some 70 cities and towns, and 30 other strategic objectives simultaneously. By breaking a previously agreed truce for Tet festivities, master strategist Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi calculated that South Vietnamese troops would be caught with defenses down.
    After the first few hours of panic, the South Vietnamese troops reacted fiercely. They did the bulk of the fighting and took some 6,000 casualties. Vietcong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives -- except when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their way through the wall into the compound and guns blazing made it into the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines -- but they lost some 50,000 killed and at least that many wounded. Giap had thrown some 70,000 troops into a strategic gamble that was also designed to overwhelm 13 of the 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising. But Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Vietcong troops in South Vietnam. Yet that was not the way it was reported in U.S. and other media around the world. It was television's first war. And some 50 million Americans at home saw the carnage of dead bodies in the rubble, and dazed Americans running around.
    As the late veteran war reporter Peter Braestrup documented in "Big Story" -- a massive, two-volume study of how Tet was covered by American reporters -- the Vietcong offensive was depicted as a military disaster for the United States. By the time the facts emerged a week or two later from RAND Corp. interrogations of prisoners and defectors, the damage had been done. Conventional media wisdom had been set in concrete. Public opinion perceptions in the United States changed accordingly.
    RAND made copies of these POW interrogations available. But few reporters seemed interested. In fact, the room where they were on display was almost always empty. Many Vietnamese civilians who were fence sitters or leaning toward the Vietcong, especially in the region around Hue City, joined government ranks after they witnessed Vietcong atrocities. Several mass graves were found with some 4,000 unarmed civil servants and other civilians, stabbed or with skulls smashed by clubs. The number of communist defectors, known as "chieu hoi," increased fourfold. And the "popular uprising" anticipated by Giap, failed to materialize. The Tet offensive also neutralized much of the clandestine communist infrastructure.
    As South Vietnamese troops fought Vietcong remnants in Cholon, the predominantly Chinese twin city of Saigon, reporters, sipping drinks in the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel, watched the fireworks 2 miles away. America's most trusted newsman, CBS' Walter Cronkite, appeared for a standup piece with distant fires as a backdrop. Donning helmet, Cronkite declared the war lost. It was this now famous television news piece that persuaded President Johnson six weeks later, on March 31, not to run. His ratings had plummeted from 80 percent when he assumed the presidency upon Kennedy's death to 30 percent after Tet. His handling of the war dropped to 20 percent, his credibility shot to pieces.
    Until Tet, a majority of Americans agreed with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson that failure was not an option. It was Kennedy who changed the status of U.S. military personnel from advisers to South Vietnamese troops to full-fledged fighting men. By the time of Kennedy's assassination in Nov. 22, 1963, 16,500 U.S. troops had been committed to the war. Johnson escalated all the way to 542,000. But defeat became an option when Johnson decided the war was unwinnable and that he would lose his bid for the presidency in November 1968. Hanoi thus turned military defeat into a priceless geopolitical victory.
    With the Vietcong wiped out in the Tet offensive, North Vietnamese regulars moved south down the Ho Chi Minh trails through Laos and Cambodia to continue the war. Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.
    Hanoi's Easter offensive in March 1972 was another disaster for the communists. Some 70,000 North Vietnamese troops were wiped out -- by the South Vietnamese who did all the fighting. The last American soldier left Vietnam in March 1973. And the chances of the South Vietnamese army being able to hack it on its own were reasonably good. With one proviso: Continued U.S. military assistance with weapons and hardware, including helicopters. But Congress balked, first by cutting off military assistance to Cambodia, which enabled Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge communists to take over, which, in turn, was followed by a similar Congressional rug pulling from under the South Vietnamese, that led to rapid collapse of morale in Saigon.
    The unraveling, with Congress pulling the string, was so rapid that even Giap was caught by surprise. As he recounts in his memoirs, Hanoi had to improvise a general offensive -- and then rolled into Saigon two years before they had reckoned it might become possible.
    That is the real lesson for the U.S. commitment to Iraq. Whatever one thought about the advisability of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States is there with 100,000 troops and a solid commitment to endow Iraq with a democratic system of government. While failure is not an option for Bush, it clearly is for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who called Iraq the president's Vietnam. It is, of course, no such animal. But it could become so if Congressional resolve dissolves.
    Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, received South Vietnam's unconditional surrender on April 30, 1975. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy."
    Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various church ministers "gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."
    America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin, "because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win." Kennedy should remember that Vietnam was the war of his brother who saw the conflict in the larger framework of the Cold War and Nikita Khrushchev's threats against West Berlin. It would behoove Kennedy to see Iraq in the larger context of the struggle to bring democracy, not only to Iraq, but the entire Middle East.
    (Arnaud de Borchgrave covered Tet as Newsweek's chief foreign correspondent and had seven tours in Vietnam between 1951 under the French and 1972.)

  • #2
    Isnt it funny how liberals got America into Vietnam but like to compare every military action that they dont approve of to Vietnam?
    Delegate, MN GOP.

    PATRIA SI, COMUNISMO NO!/p...?id=1156276727


    • #3
      While I agree there are some operational aspects in Iraq that are similar to Vietnam (namely the nature of the combat), the similarities generally end there. The political climate is different, the attitude of the American public is different, the enemy is different, and the reason for combat is even different. Slowly support is fading away as time goes on, but I don't believe there have been any resounding drops because of any one or handful of incidents, time is just not on the side of offensive -as opposed to defensive- US military operations. The similarities are too 'here and there' and generally situational in nature (the same today, different tomorrow) to call it another Vietnam... that's just politics trying to throw a bad tasting word onto what's going on and trying to pigeon-hole it.
      If voting could really change things, it would be illegal.


      • #4
        i am taking a public speaking class and decided to give a talk on why iraq is not like tet or vietnam. will be interesting since i was in college during vietnam and served in germany while all the others in the class are your basic not too bright high school graduates who probably think the germans bombed pearl harbor.
        from my little research to date the only similarities are
        1. americans are fighting
        2. both are in asia
        3. the bad guys will die in relatively large numbers
        4. the partisan liberal press and tv will portray it all wrong
        5. the democrat leadership and liberals will be on the wrong side again

        i hope to keep it non-political.

        right now i am comparing time frame, countries supporting us, countries supporting the enemy, METT, casualties, media (to include internet and talk radio...), draft.

        any other suggestions are appreciated.
        Just because you don't understand me doesn't make me an artist.


        • #5
          Wayne, METT will probably cover most of it. Look at the intent of the attack from both sides and why the attacks were launched at that particular time.


          • #6
            WHA?!?... The Germans didn't bomb Pearl Harbor?! So Belushi was wrong in Animal House ? Damn, there goes my day.

            Seriously, I think it's absolutely absurd.
            Stay Alert, Stay Alive!


            • #7
              think i will start my talk by handing out number slips between 1 and 366, selectively tailored to make my point. i will ask all those with <100 to stand up and inform them they are to be drafted. that may get their attention. i remember the draft lottery, being only a millenium older than the rest of the class (and teacher).
              the difficulty for me will not be presenting the talk but writing it and rehearsing so as to keep politcis as neutral as possible. as i get older, i get more intolerant of the geopolitically stupid radical left and their lackeys in the partisan press.

              to paraphrase whoever the texas democrat vp nominee (was that '88?) years ago.

              "i served in the vietnam era and this is no vietnam."

              thanks for the input.
              Just because you don't understand me doesn't make me an artist.


              • #8
                I don't think you can compare the 2. The Army in Vietnam was experiencing incredibly low morale, the equipment and technology we were using was outdated and we were not fully commited. Iraq we have the forces and technology and we can get it done. The question is at what price?
                101st Airborne Screaming Eagles Rule


                • #9
                  Vietnam and Iraq

                  At this point in time it is unreasonable to compare apples and oranges. Vietnam was an environment were America's prediliction for massive firepower paid only limited dividends. As we found out first hand just a decade or two earlier....jungle fighting is ardous and prone to heavy casualties. Instead of learning from the French we sought to impose even greater conventional forces and firepower to offset the physical terrain. To a remarkable degree we were highly successful. The Viet Cong's near destruction during Tet and the subsequent damage to the North Vietnamese infrastructure brought us very close to victory...and the Viets will as much as admit it. But as Clauswitz said that war is an extension of politics...we were exactly what Giap had said we were....a democracy. Democracies do have a concommittant weakness and strength when it comes to waging war. The support of the people is paramount and the loss of public support, no matter how well the military effort is proceeding. will result in eventual defeat. On the other hand democracies, like all liberal governments born out of the age of Reason, have shown a truely remarkable ability to fight the better fight when they, the NATION, are truely mobilized to achieve total victory. Totalitarian nations have repeatedly misjudged the resolve and military effectivenss of democracies. The proof is in the books and the books give straightforward honest answers through three world wars.

                  So now we know that democracies have a weakness, you must sell the war to all the people, you must mobilize every facet of life to achieve victory. There can not be, and should not be, guns and butter. This weakens the participation of the home front in the purchase price of victory. That is precisely where our political leaders went astray in Vietnam...they failed to bring the will of the people into the fight and then they failed to be willing to use "whatever force necessary to achieve victory" and all that those magic words mean in the head of your opponent . That was never on the table, and because it was not there..Giap had eventual hope that America will tire of the war and lose hope of victory. Once that was done, and it wasn't done by one single group......peaceniks, media, or commie loving actresses. It was done through negligence and presumption and now it is past history and rightfully so.

                  We should have learned a lesson...but it appears we've learned the wrong ones. You do not fight tyranny by becoming more tyrannical. You do not hide the truths of war and prevent honest straightfoward reporting except at your peril. You do not bring democracy to anyone at the end of a bayonet.

                  Iraq is a much more favorable terrain to our forces....the sand does not hide quite as effectively. Massive firepower still rules the day and the night. House to house fighting while potentially more brutal and deadly will still bring battlefield victories. But this will work only so long as the American people are prepared to see it as a worthy goal. Our government. and our two party system have once again failed to evoke the sacred trust that democracies demand and require in times of war. We are falling into the trap once again of guns and butter. Failing to move into a full war time economy, with sacrifice both at home and abroad to forge a true link between the worker and the warrior. Our public policy needs to blunt and to the point so that Al-Quida and Iraq both understand...we WILL win, even if we need to destroy every living thing in that part of the world to do it! That is a language they understand...and that is the price they are not willing to pay. Unless we commit to a "real" total war and not the guns and butter philosophy currently at the root of our strategy, Vietnam's paradigm will remain very much before our eyes. Sorry this is so long.....but its been itching to get out.


                  • #10
                    Paramount to swithing to a 'guns' strategy, the people need to be completely convinved that the enemy truly requires the necessary sacrifices to be defeated (ala WWII). Short of an all-out fully conventional battlefield army giving us a bloody nose or some tyrant grabbing countries left and right, I don't think you're going to find the American public ever willing to give up its' lifestyle to support a fight that can seemingly be won with stealth bombers, laser-guided bombs, and special forces.

                    After that, you will have the inevitable "I didn't vote for this war, why should I sacrifice for it". While the answer would be 'you voted for the people in office to represent you and they decided for you', that would never be an acceptable answer unless a vast majority (75%) supported the effort. 51%, while a majority, still means half didn't say yes.

                    If we go looking, we'll surely find monsters, the thing is, the American public doesn't want to go find them, they'd rather let them come to us and then we whack them. "Nobody" 'wants trouble' and they're not about to sacrifice for something they didn't want in the first place when it comes down to it.
                    If voting could really change things, it would be illegal.


                    • #11
                      This could become another Vietnam if they let it. Right now there is an increase in fighting, 60 soldiers dead since last Tuesday, and it worries the American Civilans. They don't really understand they just see that Americans are dying and they want it to stop. We should have the U.N. have NATO deploy 150,000 Troops and we could take our forces down from 125,000 to like 45,000. On the Vietnam thing remember 47,000 Troop died so there would need to be a lot more deaths in Iraq for us to start major protests and not support our troops.
                      101st Airborne Screaming Eagles Rule


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by SGT Long
                        Isnt it funny how liberals got America into Vietnam but like to compare every military action that they dont approve of to Vietnam?
                        That's all they've been programmed for. We'll have to wait for Liberal Robot 3.45 for them be able to do any speaking that approaches rationality. For now, all they can do is spout tired old cliches, accuse the liberal target d'jour with silly, vague allegations, and demand we disengage, because the war is unwinnable. Any more, and their "brain" (powered by a AAA battery) shorts out.
                        Mens Est Clavis Victoriae
                        (The Mind Is The Key To Victory)


                        • #13
                          That's all they've been programmed for.
                          So thats why every political scandel in the last quarter century has to have a -gate stuck on the end of it.
                          Delegate, MN GOP.

                          PATRIA SI, COMUNISMO NO



                          • #14
                            Originally posted by SGT Long
                            Isnt it funny how liberals got America into Vietnam but like to compare every military action that they dont approve of to Vietnam?

                            I'm not sure Ike would be considered a liberal, and in today's parlance neither would Kennedy.

                            When Cronkite said that Tet showed that the war was lost, I do not believe he was referring to the military-angle.

                            Vietnam and Iraq have similarities. WWII and Iraq have similarities too, though.


                            • #15
                              Thanks for pointing out that Liberals didn't start US involvement in Vietnam. And conservatives didn't rush to get us out of it. Nixon and Kissinger were more than happy to be involved there, but when the pressure got too great, then they decided to make a messing bailing out from the war.
                              “To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.”


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