MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Lessons From the Tet Offensive, A Half Century Later

Posted by Martin C. Fox on February 3, 2018

for Johnson to lament that if he had lost Cronkite then he had lost the American people.

The ‘lessons’ described in the story have great merit.

Again, in most of these places the outcomes that matter will depend less on such metrics and more on politics, perception, and emotion. Again, Americans have the disadvantage of being the outsiders and the hazard of becoming targets of those with nationalist sensibilities or anger wrought by collateral damage.

Yet the point that struck me the most was that Cronkite would say anything bad about a democrat’s policy, let alone if that democrat was president. I doubt many republicans were invited to cruise the Potomac on Walter’s yacht.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/lessons-the-tet-offensive-half-century-later-24264

By most strictly military measures, the offensive was a defeat for the communists and a victory for the United States and its allies. Communist forces were unable to hold the cities that they had brazenly attacked, and those forces sustained huge casualties. But the military outcome was not what mattered most, either in the immediate aftermath of the offensive or ultimately. The political, perceptual, and emotional outcomes were what mattered, and they led the history books to view Tet not as a U.S. victory but as a big setback.

The enormous and very costly effort that the Vietnamese communists mounted demonstrated that they had the decisive advantage in motivation. They were fighting on, and for, their home turf. They had the strong wind of nationalism at their backs. The Americans were the interlopers and had none of these advantages. The motivation displayed by the makers of the Tet Offensive was more than what they would have shown if they had been merely pawns of Moscow or Beijing in some wider ideological contest.

American attitudes toward the war, before and after Tet, showed how long a dominant frame of mind driving policy can persist in the face of contrary circumstances, and how it takes a big shock to jolt those attitudes into a different framework. The Tet offensive supplied such a shock. It splashed the war onto American television screens in a way that was harder to ignore than anything that had come before. It was the stimulus for Walter Cronkite to editorialize about how the war was a stalemate rather than a winning U.S. effort, and for Johnson to lament that if he had lost Cronkite then he had lost the American people.

Today, U.S. forces are deployed in many countries in efforts in which success and failure tend to get measured in the military terms of number of militants killed or the amount of territory captured. Again, in most of these places the outcomes that matter will depend less on such metrics and more on politics, perception, and emotion. Again, Americans have the disadvantage of being the outsiders and the hazard of becoming targets of those with nationalist sensibilities or anger wrought by collateral damage. And again, attitudinal frameworks that may be obsolete or inappropriate can show remarkable persistence, whether such a framework involves drawing a line in a southeast Asian jungle against the advance of communism or prosecuting a “war on terror”.

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