On January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched a series of attacks across South Vietnam against key cities, district and provincial capitals, hamlets, every major American base, and the U.S. embassy. Because the campaign occurred during the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration of Tet, the attacks became known as the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was the largest military operation of the war to date. Although Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces achieved initial victories, they were ultimately repelled, in some cases after weeks of fighting. Although the Tet Offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong and NVA, it had far-reaching consequences. The American public was shocked by television coverage of the attacks, especially since officials from the U.S. government and military had been touting the success of U.S. military operations in Vietnam. This coverage helped to turn public opinion in the U.S. against the war effort.
The Tet Offensive
- Created By
Joel Breakstone, Stanford History Education Group
- The Cold War, 1945–1975: Cold War Conflicts: Korea thru Vietnam
Introduction & Context
Content Advisory: These archival materials may reference content that could be sensitive for some audiences. It is recommended that teachers and faculty preview these media sources to determine their appropriateness before sharing with students.
Teaching Tips Download PDF
This source set includes a series of video clips regarding the Tet Offensive in 1968. The sources provide a range of perspectives on the goals of the Tet Offensive, reactions to it, and its outcomes. These suggested activities provide opportunities to consider similarities and differences across sources and to place the sources into historical context.
Before engaging with this resource set, students should be familiar with the following:
- French colonial rule in Vietnam
- The Cold War
- The Vietnam War and the various factions in the war
- President Lyndon Johnson’s Administration
What was the impact of the Tet Offensive on the Vietnam War?
General Discussion Questions
- What were the goals of the Tet Offensive?
- Across this source set, how were reactions to the Tet Offensive similar or different?
- What factors might explain differences in reactions to the Tet Offensive?
1) Ask students to watch the following sources:
- Interview with Nguyen Thi Dinh of the National Liberation Front (1981)
- Interview with North Vietnamese General Anh Tuan (1981)
- Major General Tran Do Describes the Objectives of the Tet Offensive (1981)
According to these sources, what was the purpose of the Tet Offensive? How are the explanations similar? How are they different? What are the backgrounds of the various speakers? How might their backgrounds influence how they describe the purpose of the Tet Offensive?
2) Ask students to watch the following sources:
- Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk Details Reactions to the Tet Offensive (1981)
- Presidential Advisor Walt Rostow Describes Reactions to the Tet Offensive (1981)
- Presidential Advisor Harry McPherson Describes Reactions to the Tet Offensive (1981)
According to the individuals in these videos, how did White House staff respond to the Tet Offensive? How are the explanations similar? How are they different? Given that all the individuals in these videos served in the Johnson Administration, why might their recollections of reactions to the Tet Offensive differ?
Breakstone, Joel. "The Tet Offensive." WGBH and the Library of Congress. https://americanarchive.org/primary_source_sets/tet-offensive.