Explain the role of nationalism in the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Second Indochina War. The competing forces of nationalism played a key role in the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Second Indochina War (1954-1975). Nationalism implies a feeling of patriotism, and a strong urge to improve the country. For North Vietnam, and areas of South Vietnam, this meant a war for independence an attempt to break the ties of foreign control. Conflicting this was America’s sense of nationalism, which contorted itself in the vehement discouragement of communism. These competing forces reached a pinnacle at the Tet Offensive, a North Vietnamese response to their struggle for independence. Although considered as technically a military failure, it was evidently a success as measured by the reactions and ramifications it caused for both the Americans and the Indochinese. The 1968 Tet Offensive commenced on the eve of the celebration of the Tet festival, which in itself was regarded as a period free of conflict. The significance of holding this festival was not only the element of surprise that would be gained from holding it on a public holiday, but the historical significance as in 1789 Quang Trung led his forced into Hanoi during Tet to overthrow an army sent from China, with the goal of independence as well. The North Vietnamese hoped to replicate this victory. Just before midnight on January 30th Ho Chi Minh, president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1945-1969) announced on the radio a signal for the commencement of the offensive, “…let the south and north emulate each other in fighting US aggressors! Forward! Total victory shall be ours1.” The Offensive consisted of three phases that last until October of 1968. These had severe repercussions on the American home front, American soldiers, Cambodians and Laotians and obviously the South and North Vietnamese. It became a turning point in the Second Indochinese War. The consideration of launching the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese Army, particularly the Viet Cong, was a part of a larger struggle for independence that became a major motivation throughout the Second Indochinese War. General Giap, a key organiser in the offensive commented that the objective was, “simultaneously military, political and diplomatic2”, reflecting the encompassing nature of the offensive. They aimed to launch a major attack of North Vietnamese Forces against US troops in South Vietnam, attack as many cities as possible and then use political efforts to bring about an uprising in the South and to undermine the military and civilian confidence in the South Vietnamese Government. This was all backed up by the North Vietnamese sense of nationalism, aimed at uniting Vietnam under one communist government. As one Vietnamese refugee stated, “The Viet Cong offensive is like the tide lapping at a beach. It comes and goes. But each time, a little bit of the government’s authority is swept away.3” The attack on the American Embassy in Saigon after midnight on January 31st involved nineteen Viet Cong (VC) fighters who blew a one-metre hole in the wall of the embassy. This particular offensive signified the anti-American sentiments felt by the North Vietnamese in accordance with their nationalistic values of independence. The Viet Cong fighters were all shot but managed to impact psychologically on the confidence of the Americans, accomplishing their aim. Another significant attack was that of coastal city of Hue, the third largest city in Vietnam. This town was not only the old Imperial Capital but was both the cultural and intellectual centre of Vietnam, which was also a major unloading point for the allied troops. The headquarters of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was headquartered in Hue. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attacked the city with mortar shells and rockets. They slammed into the citadel walls and other defensive spots, shocking the ARVN troops stationed there. They overran the citadel, raising a...
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Anderson, D (2006). The Tet Offensive: Turning Point of the Vietnam War. Compass Point Books.
Oberdorfer, D. (1971) Tet!. Doubleday.
Simnkin, J. Internet www, page at url: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNtet.htm (last dated unknown)
Hayward, S. Internet www, page at url: http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/dialogue/hayward-tet.html (April 2004)
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