What was the significance of the final casualty count on both sides from the Tet Offensive?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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On January 31, 1968, the Tet Offensive commenced.  It was significant in transforming how both sides saw the conflict in Vietnam.  Part of this transformation was the actual casualty count of all three phases of the Tet Offensive.  Approximately 45,000 Allied casualties were reported as a part of the Tet Offensive.  The Viet Cong withstood close to 111,000 casualties as a result of the Tet Offensive.  Over 10,000 civilians were killed, as well.  These numbers proved staggering and were critical in causing domestic pressure from the United States to bear in the conflict in Vietnam.  The fundamental belief was that the Viet Cong was unable to sustain a broad- based and protracted offensive.  The Tet Offensive was coordinated in a wide ranging fashion and demonstrated the absolute sense of force that the American forces were up against in Vietnam.  At a point where the American public was losing patience with the war, primarily because of the amount coming home killed or wounded, the Tet Offensive served to move the public in a decidedly anti- war mode, making its victory even that much more removed.  At the same time, the casualty count on the Viet Cong side proved to American military advisors and to political advisors  that "the enemy" was willing to sustain and absorb such casualty counts.  This was something seen as inconceivable at an earlier point, and transformed how the conflict was seen in military and political terms.  The casualty count accrued by the Viet Cong at Tet demonstrated that they were willing to enter a realm that the Americans were not, indicating that the parameters of victory had to be both quickly redefined and rearticulated to the American people, two things that could not be done effectively.


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