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Despite news reports of increasing casualties and military setbacks, the Johnson administration had spent much of 1967 assuring Americans that victory was near. As if responding directly to these claims, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched a major offensive of January 30, 1968. Called the Tet Offensive after the Vietnamese lunar New Year celebration that coincided with the beginning of the attacks, it was marked by attacks on United States and South Vietnamese forces throughout Vietnam.
On the one hand, the Tet Offensive was a tactical victory for the United States. Vietnamese forces were repulsed at almost every point of attack, and both the NVA and the Viet Cong suffered frightful casualties. But the offensive demonstrated that the conflict was far from over, and in many ways, it completely undercut American patience with the war. Images of the bloody siege of Khe Sanh as well as the Marine reduction of Hue City turned American popular opinion against the conflict. CBS television anchor Walter Cronkite declared on his nightly broadcast, then watched by millions of Americans, that "it seems certain...that the war will end in a stalemate." It led General William Westmoreland to request almost a quarter of a million troops to continue the war effort. Not only did Lyndon Johnson only agree to send 13,000 additional troops, but he also announced that he would not be running for the presidency again in 1968.
The year 1968, then, was a year in which the United States inflicted a series of very costly defeats on the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. In that sense, the United States was winning the war. Yet the ferocity and the bloodshed of the Tet Offensive convinced many in the United States not only that the Johnson Administration and the Pentagon could not be trusted to prosecute the war, but that the sacrifice necessary to attain victory in the conflict, if indeed victory was obtainable, would not be worth it. It was the crucial political turning point in the war.
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