Austin Bay

Sometime within the next six months or so, al Qaeda or Saddamist terrorists will attempt a Tet offensive.

No, Middle Eastern mass murderers don't celebrate the Vietnamese festival of Tet, but trust that America's enemies everywhere do celebrate and systematically seek to emulate the strategic political effects North Vietnam's 1968 attack obtained.

This spring marks the 40th anniversary of Hanoi's offensive (yes, 40 years, two generations). It will also mark the umpteenth time American enemies have attempted to win in the psychological and political clash of an American election what they cannot win on the battlefield.

In the course of Tet 1968, North Vietnamese, American and South Vietnamese forces all suffered tactical defeat and achieved tactical victories; that's usually the case in every military campaign. At the operational level, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) suffered a terrible defeat. As NVA regiments emerged from jungle-covered enclaves and massed for attack, they exposed themselves to the firepower of U.S. aircraft and artillery. The NVA units temporarily seized many cities at the cost of extremely heavy casualties.

However, Tet achieved the grand political ends North Vietnam sought. Tet was a strategic psychological attack launched in a presidential election year during a primary season featuring media-savvy "peace" candidates. "Peace" in this context must be italicized with determined irony; in the historical lens it requires an insistent blindness steeled by Stalinist mendacity to confuse the results of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam (e.g., Cambodia's genocide) with any honest interpretation of peace.

Reflecting on Tet in a 1989 interview with CBS News' Morley Safer, NVA commander General Vo Nguyen Giap said: "The war was fought on many fronts. At that time the most important one was American public opinion." He added: "Military power is not the decisive factor in war. Human beings! Human beings are the decisive factor." (See Howard Langer's "The Vietnam War: An Encyclopedia of Quotations.")


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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