Happy Vietnamese New Year Everyone!
I enjoyed many Tet holidays in Vietnam visiting neighbors, being stuffed with delicacies by eager grandmothers who wouldn’t be satisfied until I would hold my stomach in agony and beg her not to put more on my plate. (She should anyways.) Tet is a wonderful time for family and friends to commune and feast while the trials and troubles a a year’s hard work are long forgotten. It’s a three day non-stop filling of the celebration of Vietnamese life. It’s a time to remember the past, enjoy the present, and drink for the future.
But for a different generation of Americans, the word “TET” means but one thing – a horrible reminder of the pain of war from 1968.
The Tet Offensive in 1968 changed the Vietnam War, but it didn’t do so in the way you might expect. Leading up to the Viet Cong attacks on the first day of their New Year, the American people had been led to believe from their government that great progress was being made in freeing South Vietnam from the Communist instigators who had been reeking havoc in the delta and central regions of the country for nearly a decade. But the Tet Offensive proved once and for all that the reassuring words from Washington via the press corp were hollow at best and possibly down right deceitful.
On the first night of Tet 1968, the Viet Cong pulled off nearly fifty coordinated and simultaneous attacks which caught the Americans and the South Vietnamese armies off guard. From the former Imperial city of Hue, to the central highlands where American missionaries were killed, to the fortified city of Saigon itself, these attacks reverberated loudly throughout the country, the world, and especially the American media which drilled home this point to the American people – we were not winning the Vietnam War.
It mattered little that American firepower pushed back every single one of these advances. That’s right. America won them all, but the Viet Cong delivered a devastating punch and a massive dose of reality to the American people. From that point on, cynicism crept in and led to one of the most turmoil filled years in American history, from President LBJ deciding not run for president again, to the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to the urban riots, the Tet offensive set the stage for them all.
This shows me that above all else, we need government that is checked by an independent news media, driven by principles and not ideological conviction – something today that is certainly hard to find.