More About The 1968 Tet Offensive
For several thousand years, Vietnamese Lunar New Year has been a traditional celebration that brings the Vietnamese a sense of happiness, hope and peace. However, in recent years, It also bring back a bitter memory full of tears. It reminds them the 1968 bloodshed, a bloodiest military campaign of the Vietnam War the North Communists launched against the South.
The "general offensive and general uprising" of the north marked the sharp turn of the Vietnam War. Today there have been a great number of writings about this event. However, it seems that many key facts in the Communist campaign are still misinterpreted or neglected.
In the mid-80, living in Saigon after being released from the Communist "re-education camp," I read a book published in the early 1980's in America about the story of the 1968 Tet
Offensive. It said that the North Vietnamese Army supreme command had imitated one of the greatest heroes of Vietnam, King Quang Trung, who won the most spectacular victory over the Chinese aggressors in the 1789 counter-attack - in planning the 1968 operations.
The book quoted King Quang Trung's tactic of surprise. He let the troops celebrate the 1789 Tet Festival one day ahead so that he could launch the attacks on the first three days of the lunar new year while the Chinese troops were still feasting and not ready to organize their defense.
Those who claimed the similarity between the two campaigns
certainly did not know the whole truth, but jumped into
conclusion with wild imagination after learning that the North Vietnamese attacking units also celebrated Tet "one day ahead" before the attacks.
In fact, the Tet Offensive broke out on the Tet's Eve - in the early morning of January 30, 1968 at many cities of Central
Vietnam, such as Da Nang and Qui Nhon, as well as cities in the central coastal and highland areas, that lied within the
Communist 5th Military Region.. The other cities to the south that included Saigon, were attacked 24 hours later at the small hours of January 31. Thus the offensive lost its element of total surprise that every tactician has to respect.
But It surprised me that some in the American media were still unaware of such tragic story.
The story started some 5 months previously. On August 8, 1967, the North Vietnam government approved a lunar calendar
specifically compiled for the 7th time zone that covers all
Vietnam, replacing the traditional lunar calendar that had been in use in Asia for hundreds of years.
That old calendar was calculated for the 8th time zone that
Beijing falls right in the middle. It was accepted in general by a few nations such as China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and
somewhat in Japan and Korea, mostly for traditional celebrations and religious purposes. South Vietnam used this calendar. With common cultural origin, these countries needed not have their own calendar, particularly it has not been used for scientific and administrative activities.
The North Vietnam new lunar calendar differs from the common calendar about some dates, such as the leap months of certain year (1984 and 1987) and the Tet's Eve of the three Lunar New Years: Mau Than (1968), Ky Dau (1969) and At Suu (1985). South Vietnam celebrated the first day of the Mau Than lunar year on January 30, 1968, while North Vietnam celebrated it on Jan 29, 1968.
It was obviously that the North Vietnamese leaders had ordered the offensives to be launched on the night of the first day of Tet to take the objectives by total surprise. By some reason, the North Vietnamese Army Supreme Command was not aware of the fact that there were different dates for Tet between North and South Vietnam. Therefore, most NVA units in the Communist 5th Military Region - closer to North Vietnam - probably used North Vietnamese calendar, and conducted their attacks in the night between Jan 29 and 30, while their comrades farther to the south attacked in the night...
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