On 30 Jan 1968, in coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam, communist forces launched their largest offensive of the Vietnam War against South Vietnamese & US troops.
Dozens of cities, towns, & military bases–including the US embassy in Saigon–were attacked. The massive offensive was not a military success for the communists, but its size & intensity shook the confidence of many Americans who were led to believe, by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, that the war would shortly be coming to a successful close.
On 30 Jan 1968–during the Tet holiday cease–fire in South Vietnam, an estimated 80,000 troops of the North Vietnamese Army & National Liberation Front attacked cities & military establishments throughout South Vietnam. The most spectacular episode occurred when a group of NLF commandos blasted through the wall surrounding the American embassy in Saigon & unsuccessfully attempted to seize the embassy building. Most of the attacks were turned back, with the communist forces suffering heavy losses.
Battles continued to rage throughout the country for weeks–the fight to reclaim the city of Hue from communist troops was particularly destructive. American & South Vietnamese forces lost over 3,000 men during the offensive. Estimates for communist losses ran as high as 40,000.
While the communists did not succeed militarily, the impact of the Tet Offensive on public opinion in the US was significant. The American people, who had been told a few months earlier that the war was successful & that US troops might soon be allowed withdraw, were stunned to see fighting taking place on the grounds of the US embassy.
Despite assurances from the Johnson administration that all was well, the Tet Offensive led many Americans to begin seriously questioning such statements, & to wonder whether American military might could truly prevail over the communist threat on foreign shores. In the 1950s, Americans had almost unconditionally supported a vigorous American response to communism; the reaction to the Tet Offensive seemed to reflect the growing skepticism of the 1960s, when Americans felt increasingly doubtful about the efficacy of such Cold War tactics. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, support for the US effort in Vietnam began steadily to decline, & public opinion turned sharply against President Johnson, who decided not to run for re-election.
The North Vietnamese were so badly beaten during this fighting their commanding general was prepared to withdraw from the fight and return to the north. However, the American media continued to report the Tet Offensive as a victory for the communists. This media support convinced the North Vietnamese to stay in the fight–and it worked; they won. Our military never lost a major battle–but we lost the war.