- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 9, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 023112841X
- ISBN-13: 978-0231128414
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,369,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Tet Offensive: A Concise History
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An excellent supplementary text for college and university courses. (Library Journal)
A careful and judicious evaluation... Students especially will find this invaluable. (Lawrence D. Freedman Foreign Affairs)
The Tet Offensive will be of great value to military professionals, historians, and Vietnam veterans. (Col. Gordon W. Keiser, U.S. Marine Corps Proceedings)
[A] well-written, and helpful reference... The Tet Offensive is enjoyable reading and an important new addition. (MAJ John M. Hawkins Military Review)
Thorough... An excellent work worthy of inclusion in collections of studies on the Vietnam War. (Larry K. Burke The Journal of Military History)
Without a doubt, this work will become the initial resource that student and historians alike will pull off the shelf to comprehend this seminal military event Highly recommended. (Choice)
In the Tet Offensive of 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched a massive countrywide attack on South Vietnam. Though the Communists failed to achieve their tactical and operational objectives, James Willbanks claims Hanoi won a strategic victory. The offensive proved that America's progress was grossly overstated and caused many Americans and key presidential advisors to question the wisdom of prolonging combat.
Willbanks also maintains that the Communists laid siege to a Marine combat base two weeks prior to the Tet Offensiveknown as the Battle of Khe Sanhto distract the United States. It is his belief that these two events are intimately linked, and in his concise and compelling history, he presents an engaging portrait of the conflicts and singles out key problems of interpretation. Willbanks begins with a historical overview of the events leading up to the offensive, the attack itself, and the consequent battles of Saigon, Hue, and Khe Sahn. He continues with a critical assessment of the main themes and issues surrounding the offensive, and concludes with excerpts from American and Vietnamese documents, maps and chronologies, an annotated list of resources, and a short encyclopedia of key people, places, and events.
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However, there is no complete history of the offensive as a whole. Maybe the massive scope and complexity of the event makes it too difficult to put it all together into one book. Having read some of Mr. James Willbank's earlier works, I thought this book would be a good, definitive recounting of the offensive. Unfortunately, I was disappointed this book was just another analysis and evaluation. With that being said, Mr. Willbank's book is nevertheless, still a good read discussing the background, origins, execution and legacy of the attacks. No doubt, the US intervention in 1965 took a potential victory away from the Communists and resulted in a protracted war of attrition that become a stalemate by 1967. However, the Free World Allies had the initiative and were winning.
The resulting proposal by the Communists for a general, three phased uprising in 1968 to break the stalemate was not universally embraced. With the release of historical materials from the Vietnamese Communists, we are now finding that Ho Chi Minh was not solely in control of the war, but just another vote and voice on a committee that oversaw the war effort. By the late 1960s he was merely serving as the Father and symbol of Vietnamese unification. When he died in 1969, the Communist war effort hardly skipped a beat. The same can be said of General Vo Nguyen Giap. At the time of the offensive, the General made the cover of Time Magazine, who proclaimed him the architect of the offensive. Now we are learning that this is not so, that both he and Ho Chi Minh opposed the whole concept but were out voted by the other members of the Politburo. The younger, more assertive members of the North's Politburo including Le Duan and General Nguyen Thi Chanh defied the conventional wisdom and doctrine of the older generation of revolutionaries to fight a semi-conventional war of attrition with the Americans. They seemed to have an unusual understanding of the personalities and motivations of the American leadership and the politics involved and rightfully knew we had no will or staying power. One wonders if they did not have an "insider" feeding them information on what was going on in the White House.
The book addresses key elements of the offensive to include Allied intelligence, what they knew and when they knew it. Was the offensive really a surprise? Or was it just not taken seriously? There is a chapter devoted to the media reaction and Walter Cronkite's shameful proclamation that the war was lost. One thing I did not realize was that the offensive was designed as a three phased attack to be conducted throughout 1968. Phase one took place at Tet, phase two in May of 1968 and phase three taking place in the summer of 1968. I remember it was thought at the time that the phase two attacks were meant to put pressure on the Paris Peace Talks that had just started that same month. May 1968 was also the costliest month of the war for American casualties, exceeding the total for the actual Tet Offensive in February. And 1968 was the costliest year of the entire war.
Mr. Willbanks devotes two chapters addressing the "riddle of Khe Sanh". Was it really a concerted effort to overrun and destroy the Marine garrison? Was it General Giap's pet project to repeat his success at Dien Bien Phu? Or was it a feign to draw away attention and resources away from the cities? No doubt, the destruction of 6,000 of America's best troops would have had an impact that would have been felt to this day. In recent years, the Vietnamese Communists have already given an insincere spin, which no one believes, that it was all a feign. Then why did they concentrate 40,000 NVA soldiers around Khe Sanh that could have been better used reinforcing Communist successes at Hue? And at one point, why did they positioned NVAF IL-28s and MIG-17s closer to the DMZ for a possible air strike on Khe Sanh and other targets in northern I Corps? Mr. Willbanks rightfully believes that all this posturing does not reveal what the Communists strategic thinking was in 1968, but are nothing more than after the fact justification for their decisions at that time. I personally believe that the seige was sincere effort by General Giap's to repeat his triumph and decide the war in one decisive battle. The rewards would have been worth the gamble. However, I don't think he had a grasp for America's mobility and logistics capability or our ability to accurately mass so much fire power in such a small place and still have plenty more to fight off the offensive. I also believe that with Giap's recent death the riddle will never be answered.
Mr. Willbanks rounds out his book with footnotes, a chronology of key events in 1967-1968, a mini-glossary, key documents and a list of resources that aided his research. Though disappointed, this book is still a great addition to my Vietnam library and I look forward to future works from this esteemed author.
No matter what the outcome that historians and military experts will agree on, the Tet Offensive has become part of our military history no different than the bravery at Gettysburg, the tenacity of the fighting in the Ardennes in 1944, the retreat from Chosin in 1950 or the Surge in Iraq in 2006. The valor of the servicemen who fought and died in 1968 should never be forgotten. I remember serving with fellow soldiers who were there in 1968. When they met with other veterans of Tet, they would all agree on one thing and that was Tet was hell.
To me it seems that this battle requires several conclusions, and that several points remain unknown.
The Tet Offensive in general is a perfect example of winning (the US side) the battle, and losing the war. After years of good news, of seeing light at the end of the tunnel, the enemy was capable of making liars out of our leaders in the eyes of the people back home in America. After Tet, no one believed the generals or the Government and we lost the war.
The battle at Khe Sanh achieved a great deal of attention. So much that we still don't know if it was a ruse to confuse the Americans or a major defeat for the North Vietnamese. All the evidence is contradictory. My own best guess - it was a ruse that if it had surprisingly been successful would have been followed up. Mr. Willbanks does an excellent job of presenting both sides and reaching no conclusion, because we really don't know.
During the Tet Offensive the South Vietnam based Viet Cong were essentially wiped out as a fighting force. When you take over a country, you don't want to leave a cadre of trained underground fighters in place, even if they had been on your side. Now they were gone, used up, heros, dead heros. This is my view, not that of Mr. Willbanks.
It's only when the books come out that we begin to understand what happened. This book is a welcome addition to the literature. It's well researched and presents both sides of things like Khe Sanh.
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Covers the battles and politics from both sides. Additional chapters on the media and Tet, and Tet's influence on American strategy.Read more