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Turning point in Vietnam

What was not recognized at the time was that the majority of those who voted for McCarthy were Vietnam war hawks who thought that President Johnson was not escalating the war fast enough. In May , that number had increased to 36 percent.

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In October , for the first time a plurality of respondents, 47 percent against 44 percent who disagreed thought entering the war had been a mistake. The numbers fluctuated in December under the influence of the public relations campaign touting progress in the war. After the Tet offensive, in February , a plurality of respondents again said they thought that sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake. In August , a majority, 53 percent, took this view.

The figure crept up to 60 percent in and remained there until the last combat troops withdrew. The number of public opinion poll respondents who thought sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake passed a threshold in February , but this was a threshold that had already been passed before in October The figures do not indicate that Tet was a decisive turning point in public opinion , in so far as it can be measured by the polls.

The February plurality and August majority results may have been milestones, but they were not turning points. From April to June , the plurality of responses shifted back and forth between approval and disapproval. For the first time, a majority disapproved his handling of the war in July And, as John Mueller reports, approval of his handling of the war correlated with approval of his presidency overall. As a study of local reactions to the offensive discovered, by the end of February , the offensive—although its repercussions were resonating decisively in Washington—appeared to have largely been forgotten.

Admiral Sharp, Commander in Chief of U.

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In a poll, while almost a third of the public favored an immediate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, almost a quarter still favored a stronger stand, even if this meant escalating the war by invading North Vietnam. This provides us with a good measure of the split in opinion within the majority. In a series of polls, Americans were asked whether they favored an early withdrawal of troops, sending more troops and stepping up the fighting, or taking as many years to withdraw the troops as necessary to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese.

Renewing the bombing while withdrawing forces from Vietnam was not as illogical a course as it might sound. These majorities obviously overlapped with the majorities from August onward who thought sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake. Although they were unwilling to meet the continued economic and human costs of the ground war, a large proportion of the U.

As anyone observing debates about U. One of the key constituents of the electoral coalition that elected Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush were foreign policy conservatives, among them former cold war Democrats who had become disaffected with the party when the Johnson administration failed to achieve a victory in the Vietnam War. Then, in at a military veterans convention, George W. Bush uttered a Reaganesque interpretation of Vietnam, stating that the fate of South Vietnam after the communist victory should warn against the notion that withdrawal from Iraq would be cost-free—another lamentation for the victory that the hawks wished they had won in Vietnam.

This interpretation applies not just to the United States but to many of the places where rebellion and change were in the air. Heavy-handed repression by the authorities in West Germany and Poland had the result, at least at first, of increasing the visibility of protests and rallying support for them, but a transformation of those two societies did not follow. In Prague, the forces of reaction crushed movements seeking political freedoms, although they never stamped out the hopes of liberty these movements kindled.

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In Paris, the de Gaulle presidency creaked onwards and the hopes of the rebels for liberation of the imagination were lost in compromise. Amidst the tumult of revolt and reaction, and odd though this may appear, one can trace a seed of the conservative revival in the hawkish dissatisfaction with U.

This text is under a Creative Commons license : Attribution-Noncommercial 2. European journal of American studies. Contents - Previous document - Next document. Index terms Top of page. Outline 1. The Presidential Election of Please do whatever is necessary to insure that these figures are not, repeat not, released to the news media. Since the American bombing campaign had driven many people into the cities, a large number traveled to the largest cities.

Fireworks of various sorts marked the Tet holiday, and it was normal that many strangers would be around.


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This made it a perfect time for the NLF to smuggle soldiers and weapons into the cities. The Americans also believed that there would be a lull in military activity because of the Tet holiday. While there had been military offensives in the past around Tet, the one planned for was nothing less than an effort to shift the course of the war against the United States. He argued that it risked too much in a direct confrontation with the American military, something the North Vietnamese and NLF had successfully avoided in the previous two years.

Up until Tet, the war had been primarily confined to the countryside. Marine base at Khe Sanh near the Laotian border.

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Westmoreland was convinced that the Vietnamese wanted to repeat at Khe Sanh the victory they had achieved at Dien Bien Phu fourteen years earlier. Johnson was so nervous about the situation that he had a model of Khe Sanh in the White House and made his generals pledge that Khe Sanh could be held no matter what. In January, tens of thousands of NLF troops moved into the larger provincial towns and cities.

They smuggled weapons and explosives in coffins, burying them in cemeteries for future use. Belief in a tremendous impending attack would have required tremendous counter-efforts.


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  • Personal plans would have to be altered; holidays and furloughs canceled; daily habits of comfort and convenience in previously safe cities abandoned. Official assessments of Communist weakness would have to be discarded or explained away; public predictions would have to be eaten. It could not be done.

    American arrogance and racism also played its part in the Tet fiasco. This lethal mix of inertia, arrogance, and racism was about to blow up in their faces. More than targets were hit all over South Vietnam, including the American embassy in Saigon. The NLF flag flew over the citadel in Hue for the next three weeks. Numerous civilians brought them great quantities of food. In Saigon, 1, NLF troops took the city and managed to hold it for three weeks against a combined force of more than 11, U.

    Westmoreland tried to portray the offensive as the death rattle of the NLF, similar to the Battle of the Bulge by the Germans in the final phase of the Second World War. The U. Superior firepower in the air and on the ground , however, tipped the balance. It was clear from the scope of the Tet Offensive that the mass of the South Vietnamese people were opposed to the Americans and in support of the NLF, the complete opposite of what the American public had been told for years.

    The destruction U. William Calley executed more than unarmed men, women, and children in ditches.

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    It would be a year and a half before the My Lai massacre became public. While American firepower pushed back the Tet Offensive, the costs were high. The Americans suffered nearly 4, casualties between January 30 and March 31, American military forces were clearly demoralized after Tet, beginning the process of decay and rebellion that would reach crisis proportions in the remaining years of the war. A March 3 State Department report dismally concluded: We know that despite a massive influx of , U.

    KIA, etc. We have achieved a stalemate at a high commitment. Yet it should be noted that Tet was also extremely costly for the Vietnamese nationalist forces, especially for the NLF. The anticipated urban uprisings that the attacks were meant to inspire did not happen. Moreover, in addition to the tremendous casualties they suffered in the attempt to take and hold cities around 40,, according to one estimate , the absence of NLF fighters in the villages exposed their rural bases to attack.

    Only out of 2, in one section survived; another lost all but out of 1,