I.- GENERAL SITUATION
The 1968 Tet (Lunar New Year) offensive was labeled by the Vietnamese communists (VC) as a “general offensive-general uprising”. “General offensive” was a term used by the Chinese communists in their revolutionary theory. It was used by the Vietnamese people to indicate their uprsings against foreign aggressors throughout history; however, the term was abused by Viet Minh to refer to their seizure of power in 1945. To deal with fast changes in South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam - ROV) in the mid-60s, and eager to carry out their aggression against it, the communists in North Vietnam (Democratic Republic of Vietnam - DRV) decided to start a general offensive-general uprising campaign in all the South.
The overthrow of Soviet (USSR) Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) was an excellent opportunity for the DRV. The Soviet government, under his advocacy for peaceful co-existence with the West, suggested in 1957 that both North and South Vietnam be members of the United Nations as two separate countries, but DRV strongly rejected it and decided to invade ROV by force.
Following the Maddox event in August of 1964, however, the United States began to escalate its air attacks against the North (1) in an effort to delay its attempt. The new Soviet triumvirate, consisting of Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982), Alexei Kosygin (1904-1980) and Nicolay Podgorny (1903-1983), tried hard to draw DRV to their side in the Soviet-China conflict by declaring that the USSR would readily assist it against US attacks. Following a visit in 2-1965 to Hanoi by Soviet Premier Kosygin, Vietnam Labor Party’s first secretary Le Duan (1907-1986) led a delegation to Moscow 2 months later to sign an aid agreement with the USSR and obtain its consent for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLFSV) to have a liaison office in Moscow,(2) meaning an implied recognition by the Soviets of the NLFSV in South Vietnam. As a result, military assistance to the DRV and its NLFSV offspring was set up, through a policy later called Brezhnev Doctrine, to provide modern weapons in great quantities and far more effective than the US World War 2 armament supplied to the ROV armed forces (ARVN)
In ROV, the murder of President Ngo Dình Diem on 11-1-1963 caused a political chaos and the resulting nullification of the 1956 Constitution, promulgated by him. Consequently, the continuous legitimate civilian government after 1954, namely the First Republic of Vietnam, was terminated, creating a constitutional emptiness as the source of political upheavals maneuvered by non-elected military authorities. The generals who had involved themselves in the overthrow of President Ngo Dình Diem showed to have little political abilities.
General Duong Van Minh (1916-2001) stayed in office as Chief of state for only three months and was removed on 1-29-1964 by General Nguyen Khanh, who himself met with numerous protests, especially from those against his so-called Vung Tau Charter of 8-16-1964. It was eventually annihilated on 8-25-1964 under the pressure of demonstrations mainly by Buddhists. Coup plots followed suit, the most important of which occurred on 9-13-1964 when Generals Lam Van Phat and Duong Van Dùc moved their troops to Saigon for a quick “show of force” On 2-19-1965, General Lam Van Phat and Colonel Phaïm Ngoc Thao started another coup but failed. Nationwide, demonstrations were held continually by either political groups or peace movements, especially by religious sects who, as a protest, took their altars to the streets in big cities of Quảng Trị., Hue, Đà Nẵng. and Qui Nhon in June of 1966.
The situation gradually settled down with the election of a Constitutional National Assembly on 9-11-1966, followed by the promulgation of a new Constitution on 4-1-1967 as the foundation for the Second Republic of Vietnam. With the election of President Nguyen Van Thieu (1923-2001) and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky, both army generals, an era of military leadership began.
The Maddox event on 8-2 and 8-4-1964 was a big surprise to North Vietnam, while it prompted the US Congress to allow President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) to broaden the Vietnam War through its “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution”. US troops were sent to Vietnam to directly engage themselves in the fighting, and their strength quickly raised from over 200,000 advisors and technicians at the end of 1964 to 486,000 before the end of 1967.(3) In addition, there were tens of thousands of participating troops from such allied countries as South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), at the same time, increased significantly in size.(4) North Vietnam’s important highways and cities, meanwhile, began to suffer from increasing air attacks, causing Hanoi leaders to fear that ARVN and US troops would invade its beaches or even its capital. A secret capital was established somewhere in the mountains to be used in case Hanoi and other critical areas of North Vietnam were occupied or destroyed by air.(5)
In the South, the NLFSV took advantage of the political turmoil created by the assassination of President Ngo Dình Diem in 1963 to strengthen its presence for a short period before it weakened as a result of hgher stability in ROV thanks to the US military engagement, especially after the election of the Constitutional National Assembly in 1966.
A social phenomenon, inadequately known due to the speed of the war, was the mass fleeing of a half million to one million peasants from the insecure countryside to the cities, to live as refugees under the protection of the ROV government. (Don Oberdorfer, ibid. p. 53.) The VC guerillas began to suffer long-term damage due to a reduction in the people’s protection and supplies, and the unavailability of young men for their fighting units. In addition, many communist cadres deserted to be united with their families or to serve the nationalist government under its “Open Arms” policy.
The communist leaders in the North found that after three years of turmoil, the South was ripe for a general uprising similar to the one of August 1945. If the ROV was left to stabilize its position, the NLFSV would be in a very disadvantageous situation. Hanoi, therefore, decided to surprise its enemy with its general offensive on all cities in the South, followed by an expected general uprising under their maneuver.
The campaign aimed at the following objectives:
* To seize power, destroy the ROV government system, and create turmoil;
* To directly face the US military might that was much greater than the former French forces. Even though Hanoi did not expect to win, it could cause a big uproar in the world and division among Americans. 1968 was the US presidential election year, and the political situation was so sensitive that the Americans could be affected to strongly support peace and anti-war movements. Unless there was stability in the country, US troops would suffer low morale and, eventually, have to leave Vietnam.
* To prepare for a strong position at the conference (to take place in 5-1968) where negotiations had been arranged by international concerns for both sides of the conflict.
* To bring war to the cities to force peasants, who had moved over there for security, to return to the countryside. With the prevention of the peasants from leaving the countryside, the NLFSV fighting resources at the grassroots level would benefit significantly.
* To stop the desertion of non-communist NLFSV members who had been dissidents to the Ngo Dình Diem regime and now wanted to be back with the post-Diem ROV government. Instead of returnng right after Diem’s assassination early in 11-1963, they had to wait for the political turmoil in Saigon to end and the city to become suitable for them to live.
* In case the general uprising should fail and the NLFSV main force be wiped out by ARVN, it would be a good chance for the Labor Party in Hanoi to eliminate once for all the NLFSV whose members were out of its trust and control due to their originally being either disloyal communists from the South or ROV dissidents. This would be an opportunity for Hanoi to take over the total control of the organization.(6)
According to Hanoi’s calculation, the general uprising, whether a success or failure, would eventually benefit the Labor Party, and that was why Hanoi prepared itself to sacrifice the NLFSV and officially terminate its existence only one year after ROV was taken over in 1975.
II.- PRE-TET EVENTS
The 1968 Tet general offensive-general uprising plan was finalized by the Labor Party’s Politburo and Central Military Committee in an important meeting early in 7-1967 in Hanoi.(Don Oberdorfer, ibid. p..54) Due to the sudden death on 7-6-1967 of Gen. Nguyen Chí Thanh (1914-1967), Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap became the offensive mastermind while Pham Hung (1912-1988), the Central Secretary in charge of the South, replaced Nguyen Chí Thanh as leader of the compaign.(7)
In North Vietnam, the Labor Party began to carry out a purge in mid-1967 with the custody of all advocates for Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s peaceful coexistence between regimes of different political systems. These were labeled by Hanoi as ‘anti-party revisionists’, including MM. Hoang Minh Chinh, Vu Dinh Huynh, Dang Kim Giang, and about 40 other intellectuals and artists.
For the ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet October Revolution, Labor Party’s First Secretary Le Duan left at the end of 10-1967 for Moscow, accompanied by Politburo members Vo Nguyen Giap and Nguyen Duy Trinh, Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, respectively . The delegation, on its way, stopped by Peking to request the People’s Republic of China for military assistance for its offensive plan. China promised to send 300,000 anti-aircraft and engineer troops (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid. p. 32.), together with 107mm and 240mm missiles, equipment, dry rations, and medicine, while Moscow pledged to provide 130mm guns, T54 tanks, MIG 21 jet fighters, and other heavy armament.(8) Besides, to express a closer friendship with Vietnam, Soviet leaders decided to award Ho Chí Minh their Lenin medal.(9)
Diplomatically, many campaigns were organized around the world to end the war that had been widened with the US direct involvement through intensive bombings on Hanoi. In 1967, North Vietnam announced it would negotiate only if the US bombings stopped unconditionally. To counter, the US stated it would suspend its air attacks if North Vietnam refrained from taking advantage of this bombing lull to send its troops into South Vietnam.
While diplomatic deals were exchanged, the NLFSV made a suggestion on 11-17-1967 for 3-day truces during Christmas, 1968 New Year, and 1968 Tet (Lunar New Year) (Don Oberdorfer, ibid. p. 70). The ROV government agreed on 12-15-1967 for 24-hour cease-fires during Christmas and New Year, and a 48-hour lull during Tet. (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid. p. 342.)
To mislead the world of their plot, the Vietnamese communists used a more diplomatic tone at the beginning of 1968. On New Year’s Day, North Vietnam Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Duy Trinh announced that Hanoi wanted to have open negotiations and secret contacts with the United States. Prime Minister Pham Van Dong (1906-2000) also expressed Hanoi’s readiness to negotiate in exchange for the US bombing discontinuation, and suggested that the Romanian representative play the role of mediator between the United States and North Vietnam.(10) Moreover, Hanoi made it known that it would free three US prisoners as a humanitarian act of appreciation for the American efforts in search of a political solution for the Vietnam issue. (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid. p. 342)
A wily trick was performed, in the mean time, by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government by changing the calendar to set the Lunar New Year one day earlier and loudly ordering the people to enjoy Tet “fully but economically, normally, simply and healthy to suit the condition of war.” (Don Oberdorfer, ibid. p..72)
In South Vietnam, however, a bloody battle took place in Loc Ninh, province of Phuoc Long, on 11-1-1967 that lasted several days. Near Tet, the Vietcongs launched simultaneous attacks against military bases in Central Highlands and deployed 3 regular divisions of 325C, 304, and 308 to surround Khe Sanh (Quang Tri province) with heavy shelling as of 1-20-1968. American, South Vietnamese and world leaders were worried that a bitter new Dien Bien Phu might take place.(11)
The VCs continued to prepare their attacks on cities in secret. A document found by the US forces on 1-2-1968 in the Highlands showed a comprehensive plan of attack on Pleiku and Kontum, and on 1-15-1968, a communist defector in Khe Sanh disclosed of a large military campaign near the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Together with other intelligence, the US Command in Vietnam decided to alert its army and request the ROV to cancel its truce plan for Tet. President Thieu and Gen. Cao Van Vien, ARVN General Chief of Staff, however, agreed to do so for the “hot zone” or I Corps area only, along with a reduction to a 24-hour lull for Tet elsewhere in the nation.(12)
Another sign of the Vietcong’s Tet offensive appeared with the capture on 1-29-1968 (Tet Eve) by the officials of Binh Dinh province (II Corps/Tactical Zone) of 10 communist cadres with important documents, including a prerecorded radio broadcast tape calling for a general uprising. An urgent report about the evidence was sent to II Corps commander, Gen. Vinh Loc, who, unfortunately, had already left for Saigon for Tet.
Despite all this, Vietnamese and foreign opinions expressed its confidence that the safety of South Vietnam would be guaranteed with the presence of over 500,000 US troops. Besides, the VC disguised their troop movement toward Khe Sanh as a threat to this area, making their enemy to turn its attention away from unusual activities around the busy cities in preparation for Tet.
For Hanoi, after 6 months’ study and preparation, the Labor Party Politburo decided at its meeting on 1-21-1968 to launch the general offensive against the South right on the transitional night between the old and new year. (i.e. 1-29 and 1-30-1968). Since North Vietnam’s calendar had been intentionally changed to make Tet occur one day sooner, Hanoi broadcast on the night of 1-28-1968 over its radio system a Tet wishing poem by Ho Chí Minh (see below), considered as a signal for the beginning of its surprise offensive:
CELEBRATING THE LUNAR NEW YEAR OF 1968
. “This Spring, more than any previous Spring,
Good news of battle victories will reach every family.
Southerners and Northerners are competing to fight American foe,
Move on! Total victory will definitely be ours .”(13)
For ROV, government restrictions about the Tet lull had little efffect on South Vietnamese people who kept celebrating Tet according to peacetime traditions, somehow neglecting their security vigilance. James J. Wirtz, author of The Tet Offensive, (Cornell University Press, New York, 1991, p. 28), said that the 1968 Tet offensive was one of the three most surprising events in the 1954-1975 Vietnam War
III.- THE TET MASSACRE IN HUE
1. AN OVERVIEW
The 68 Tet offensive began first in Quang Nam with the shelling of the refugee camp Tra Kieu, 30 miles South of Da Nang, on the night of Tet Eve,1-30-1968, and lasted until 2-25-1968 in Hue for nearly a month long. 44 points of attack occurred in all 4 Tactical Zone provinces:
- Zone 1: Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam, Quang Tín (Tam Ky), Quang Ngai.
- Zone 2: Bình Dinh, Bình Thuan, Tuyen Duc (Da Lat).
- Zone 3: Saigon-Cho Lon-Gia Dinh, Bien Hoa, Long Bình, Bình Duong, Ba Ria.
- Zone 4: Phong Dinh (Can Tho), Vinh Long, Kien Hoa, Dinh Tuong, Kien Giang, Vnh Bình, Go Cong, Bac Lieu.
Of these, two most important objectives were Saigon and Hue.
Saigon, the ROV capital, was where the central government, foreign embassies, local and international media agencies were located. An attack on Saigon would bring about an uproar across the world, and because of its importance, Saigon was where the NLFSV highest command was set up and directed by such high ranking communists as Nguyen Van Linh (first Secretary in charge of the Saigon front), Vo Van Kiet (assistant secretary), Tran Van Tra (deputy commander of the NLFSV armed forces), Mai Chí Tho, Le Duc Anh... (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid. p.173)
The attack started at 2 am on 1-31-1968 against such objectives as the President’s Independence Palace, US Embassy, National Radio station, Navy Headquarters, ARVN General Staff, Quang Trung Training Center, and surrounding locations. While President Thieu had left for his wife’s home city of My Tho for Tet, Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky reacted fast enough to keep the radio station safe from being used by the VC to cause tremendous external and internal consequences with their nationwide broadcasting call for uprising. .
The ARVN, surprised at first, did respond timely and had the situation under control the following day. The VC units were pushed out of the perimeter of Saigon with heavy casualties and cleared within a week. A regrettable act happened, though, when Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, Commander of National Police, angrily killed with a close shot with his pistol a communist lieutenant who had been caught to have killed a non-commissioned policeman near the An Quang Temple in Saigon. The picture was taken by an Associated Press American reporter named Eddie Adams who later received a Pulitzer award for it. It was then shown around the world, causing enormous personal damage to the general and, especially, significant diplomatic harm to the ROV government.
2. HUE BEFORE TET
Hue was the city occupied longest and caused the most suffering in the VC offensive. It is in Thua Thien province, about 80 km South of the Ben Hai river that used to divide Vietnam. Political trends of its citizens prior to the Tet event were as follows:
+ Hue was the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), terminated with Emperor Bao Dai (1913-1997P. He was crowned in 1925, and was abdicated in 1945 under pressure form the Vietminh, and then in 1955 by a referendum organized by Ngo Dình Diem who removed him from the position of Chief of State. In spite of these political maneuvers, the royal family continued to enjoy significant influence in Hue thanks to numerous members of the royal family and descendants of mandarins living there. The Royal Family Commission was still active under the direction of Her Highness Princess Tu Cung, mother of former Emperor Bao Dai, residing in France. These people hoped the king could play an important role of mediation between two sides of the conflict.
Hue was also the long-time Buddhist center with many famous temples and institutions such as Bao Quoc, Tu Dam, Thien Mu, Tu Hieu, Tuong Van... Bao Quoc used to be largest and oldest Buddhist institution in Central Vietnam where Buddhist clergy was formed for all ROV, uncluding such well known high ranking officials of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) as Venerables Thich Tinh Khiet (1899-1977), Thich Tri Quang, Thich Thien Minh (1921-1978), and Thich Tri Thu (1909-1984). The Church was established on 1-4-1964 and recognized by the government on 3-14-1964. Some militant monks often encouraged students to stage anti-government demonstrations to demand peace and neutrality.
Hue was the location where a Catholic Archdiocese was set up in 1850 together with the Kim Long or Sulpice Senior Seminary where priests were trained. President Ngo Dinh Diem from the province of Quang Binh used to live and grow up in the village of Phu Cam, a well known area of truthful Catholics in the old capital.
Politically, Hue was where the Viet Quoc and Dai Viet parties maintained their strong activities, the latter used to ho;d a fighting zone in Ba Long of Quang Tri province nearby to resist against the Ngo Dinh Diem government in 1954-55.
The University of Hue, dedicated by President Ngo Dình Diem in 1957, became the center of higher education for students from all provinces in Central Vietnam. The number of students grew up rapidly; many of them often participated in or organized anti-government demonstrations from 1963 to 1967. With a long time education system, there existed in the city many high schools, both public and private, including the largest national Quoc Hoc High School established in 1898. Besides, there were also schools operated by religious monks and priests such as the Buddhist Bo De chain, and Catholic schools such as the Providence, the Pellerin, and the Joan of Arc.
The creation of a VC-influenced “National Salvation People’s Council” in 1964 that included teachers and professors like Le Khac Quyen, Ton That Hanh, Le Tuyen, Cao Huy Thuan, Hoang Van Giau ... and its Lap Truong (Stand) newspaper to support the peace and neutrality concept of some Buddhist militant leaders was regarded as a source of enticing furious frmonstration against Gen. Nguyen Khanh’s Vung Tau Charter in 1964.
Demonstrations were mostly organized by the Student Association, with energetic and fervent groups of students who might have been infiltrated by uncontrollable Vietcong sympathizers and covert agents, up to the point that the US Information Services office on Ly Thuong Kiet Street was set on fire on 6-1-1966.
After local authorities prohibited demonstrations and anti-American slogans and suppressed street agitation, a number of Buddhist leaders showed their opposition by calling on their faithful to display their Buddha altars on the streets to obstruct traffic, beginning early in 6-1966. Order was re-established late in the month in Hue and other provinces after Marines and Field Police were sent by the central government to determinedly quash the movement. As a result, many intellectuals and youths, for fear of being arrested, fled to the jungle to join the Vietcongs.
The chaotic situation helped the communists in Hanoi believe the time was ripe for an uprising to happen once a general offensive had taken place. They began, therefore, to plan very carefully their offensive in Hue with as much concern as Saigon..
3. GENERAL OFFENSIVE
Before Tet, the Vietcong commander of the Tri-Thien-Hue (Quang Tri-Thua Thien-Hue) special zone was Major General Tran Van Quang, seconded by Le Minh, Labor party secretary of the Thừa Thiên.- Huế zone, commander of the Thừa Thiên-Hue front. He divided the zone into three areas: the Quảng Trị front, commanded by Ho Tu Nam; the Phu Loc front (South of Thừa Thiên) in the charge of a cadre named Chi; and the most important front was Hue, personally directed by Le Minh who divided the city into North side and South side (left and right of the Perfume river respectively).
The VC forces North of Hue, commanded by a cadre named Thu and party political commissar Tran Anh Lien, included Regiment 6 (3 battalions), 1 Commando battalion, 1 artillery company and local guerrillas from two disricts of Hương Trà and Hương Điền. They left their hiding location in the forest West of Hue at midnight on 1-29-1968 (Tet Eve) to strike in 4 directions: the West Gate (left side of the citadel from the Flag Monument) and An Hoa Gate (North-West), the Flag Monument, Tay Loc airstrip, and Mang Ca military station, Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division commanded by Brig. Gen. Ngo Quang Truong. This post remained under his control and later became the solid base for ARVN and Allied counterattacking forces.
Through the West Gate, the VC advanced toward the inner citadel, moving along the walls next to the Flag Monument that they had taken on 1-31-1968 and displayed a big NLFSV flag on the top of the pole.(14) They then occupied the Dong Ba Market police station on the left (North) side of the river and got in touch with the forces of the 6th Regiment to place the whole Dong Ba-Gia Hoi area under their control.
In the South of Hue, the attackers, under the command of Than Trong Mot and political commisar Nguyen Van, included the 9th Regiment of the 309th Division, 4 battalions of 5th Regiment, 1 artillery battalion, and 4 Commando companies.(15) They planned to start also at midnight of 1-29-1968 but were discovered by US reconnaissance airplanes and attacked, forcing them to delay their advance towards Hue until the morning of 30-1-1968.
After 4 days of fighting, the VC occupied most of the south side of Hue, including the provincial penitentiary (behind the province chief’s office). They freed about 2,000 prisoners and armed them for their service. Under ARVN control were the Radio Station, the Thua Thien Military Sector, the US MACV office inside Thuan Hoa Hotel, and the local Navy dock.(16)
4. NO GENERAL UPRISING
On 1-31-1968, the second day of Tet, the communists set up the so-called People’s Committees for two districts on the left (North) side of the Perfume River headed by music teacher Nguyen Huu Van and Law student Nguyen Thiet, for 1st and 2nd district respectively. No such committees were set up for the right side of the river; instead, search and control of prisoners and surrenders were enforced intensively.
On 2-1-1968, Hanoi Radio announced the organization of the Alliance of Nationalist, Democratic, and Peace forces in Hue, chaired by Le Van Hao, a University of Hue Faculty of Letters professor, with Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong as general secretary.(17) On 2-14-1968, the professor was announced by Hanoi to have been made Chairman of the Hue Revolutionary Committee, assisted by Mrs. Dao Thi Xuan Yen, also called Tuan Chi, and Hoang Phong Thao (communist commissar for Hue). (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid.p. 131)
Nguyen Dac Xuan, a former student who had led the “Suicide Buddhist Squad” in 1966 to resist the Thieu-Ky regime and then escaped to join the Vietcong, was in charge of the “Youth Mission” group and the “Militia Police”, with the intent of gathering stuck ARVN soldiers to form what they called “1st Division Mavericks”. After issueing on 2-4-1968 an anti-Thieu-Ky regime proclamation, these mavericks were immediaely disbanded for fear of their possible anti-communist activities. The “Mobile Police” then worked only to stop the citizens’ escape during counterattacks by ARVN and the allies.
During their temporary occupation of Hue, the VC security units, led by Le (Tu) as general commander with Tong Hoang in charge of the left side of the river and Nguyen Dinh Bay (Bay Khiem), the right side, concentrated their effort on searching for and killing all ROV government employees, and those working for American offices, or cooperators of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It was these units that caused the most horrible massacres in Hue, especially before their withdrawal.
Contrary to the communist prediction, Hue citizens attended their meetings only under force and kept refusing to participate in the general uprising. They even clearly tried, whenever possible, to run over to the ARVN side in the Mang Ca area, the Model School between the Thừa Thiên.Sector and the Navy dock, or the Phu Bai airport over 10 km South of Hue
On 2-1-1968, the counterattacks began, and 2 days later, the An Hoa Gate was retaken by ARVN airborne troops, and MACV by the US Marines from their landing at the Navy dock. Fearful of the US advancement across the river, the VC started to move their casualties, prisoners, and war booties out of Hue before blowing up the Truong Tien Bridge on the night of 2-7-1968.
Intensive counterattacks by ARVN and US troops made the south side of the city relatively safe as of 2-14-1968, except for Than Trong Mot’s staff still in hiding around the Tu Duc tomb area until 2-25-1968. ARVN airborne units were flown South and replaced by Vietnamese Marines who together with US counterparts landed on 2-12-1968 in Bao Vinh, a distance from Mang Ca, starting the “Song Than 739/68 campaign” to wipe out remaining communist troops in the citadel. The fighting was fierce, at times the distance betwwen two sides was only a few dozen meters. On 2-18-1968, the US Marines retook Dong Ba Gate, leaving the Thuong Tu Gate as the only corridor for the VC inside the citadel to communicate with their friendly force in Gia Hoi
Facing approaching failure, the communists planned to withsraw by moving on 2-6-1968 their wounded, prisoners, and war booty out of Hue. Meanwhile, in the mountainous region west of Quang Tri provinve, their troops succeeded on 2-7-1968 in occupying Lang Vei, a strategic position at the Khe Sanh outpost. However, US jets began on 2-14-1968 to attack Hanoi’s vicinities, forcing the VC Military Central Committee to send the local party commissar of Thừa Thiên.- Hue the following message: “Retain the citadel, stay in place to serve the national political mission.” (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, sđd.146)
The situation turned more and more unfavorable for the communists. The Thừa Thiên.- Hue commissar, Le Minh, expressed his desire to withdraw in a meeting on 2-19-1968, pending order. The US and ARVN forces kept pushing the enemy out of the citadel and were successful in placing the ROV flag back on the pole at the Flag Monument, replacing the NLFSV banner. They actually had the situation in the citadel under control. For the communists, “orders were given to retreat to the mountainous region in the West with complete strength and unsed weapon. Chaos did happen when the retreat began on 2-25-1968”.(18)
Gia Hoi was an entirely vicilian area with no important military, adminstrative, or economic structures. ARVN and US commanders believed once the enemy headquarters in the citadel had been eliminated, its forces in Gia Hoi would immediately flee. Unfortunately, 2 ARVN Ranger battalions could not be deployed in the area until 2-22-1968, thus allowing the communists enough time to carry out the most ruthless massacre in the city.
5. COMMUNIST MASSACRES
Statistics of the fighting in Hue showed for ARVN, there were 384 dead and 1,830 wounded; and for US Army, 74 killed in action (KIA), 507 wounded; US Marines, 142 KIA, 857 wounded. For North Vietnamese and VC troops, the losses were about 5,000 dead and uncountable wounded.(19)
War casualties are unavoidable; however, Hue bore more victims of brutal massacres by the communists during their short occupation of the city, especially government employees, police, ARVN soldiers on leave for Tet, unprepared to fight against them, and an unusually great number of unarmed civilians running away from the war.
Up to the present, no one has been able to account for non-fighting victims. According to an analysis in the memoir of Mr. Nguyen Tran, an ROV political activist, “About 5,000 civilians were killed, of which 2,800 buried in mass graves, including 790 members of provincial, municipal, and village councils accused of being “local tyrants”; 1892 administrative officials, 38 police, hundreds of military prospects, one Vietnamese Catholic priest (Buu Dong), two French priests, a German doctor and his wife, and many Filipinos.”(20)
Slight differences might exist among those figures, however, the true numbers of victims killed and buried together were undoubtedly enormous. Following is what was found by a foreign doctor after the communist withdrawal from Hue: (21)
Locations # of victims
Gia Hoi School 203
Theravada Temple (Gia Hoi) 43
Bai Dau (Gia Hoi) 26
Con Hen (Gia Hoi) 101
Little Seminary (Gia Hoi) 6
Left River Bank District 21
East of Hue 25
Tu Duc & Dong Khanh tombs areas 203
An Ninh Bridge 20
Dong Ba Gate 7
An Ninh Ha School 4
Van Chí School 8
Chô Thong 102
Gia Long tomb area < 200
Tu Quang Temple 4
Dong Di 110
Vinh Thai 135
Phu Luong 22
Phu Xuan 587
Thuong Hoa 11
Thuy Thanh - Vinh Hung 70
Da Mai Creek 426
Total < 2,236
IV.- WHY MASSACRE?
It is an unanswerable question, as the communists always tried to avoid discussing the issue. Perhaps it would be convenient to relate the intentions of killing to a list of motives:
1. PERSONAL HATRED
Clashes and conflicts naturally cause inevitable casualties, including victims of personal hatred from individual members of either side. The Hue massacres belonged to this rule.
For Hue, there had been many political events and “changes” after 1954, with clashes, cantradictions, and struggles. As a result of the Geneva Accords in 1954, many families in Hue had to be separated with members going North, causing the South Vietnamese government to suspect them. The offensive was a good opportunity for them to revenge on those who had denounced or suspected them. Specifically, Thừa Thiên-Hue was the home place of such communist leaders as Nguyen Chí Thanh, To Huu, Tran Huu Duc, Hoang Anh.
In addition, revenge might come from house maids against their former masters; employees against their bosses; or those arrested or ticketed by the police or government officials... Most unusual of all were University students who had escaped into the jungle for fear of retribution due to their participation in anti-government demonstrations. These students took advantage of the general uprising to use weapons against former political rivals for their crimes of being lackeys of the ROV and Americans.
2. PLANNED MASSACRES
* To disrupt and destroy the government system: In a meeting on 2-26-1968, 3 days before Tet, the Thừa Thiên.party commissar carried out the general offenve-general uprising plan on the right side of the Hue river with a prediction that it would be unable to keep Hue under control for a long time. Orders were therefore given to cause maximum disruption to the local recently stabilized government infrastructure, meaning to create service crisis and inefficiency by killing military and administrative personnel. According to Mr Nguyen Tran, “790 members of the provincial, city, and village councils accused of being “tyrants”, and 1,892 administrative officials, and 38 police officers” were killed.
A communist soldier’s personal notebook, obtained by the US 1st Cavalry Division on 6-12-1968 in Thua Thien, noted: “The whole system of local enemy government was destroyed or disrupted with more than 3,000 killed, making it forever unable to rebuild it or overcome its failure. Even if inexperienced members were available instantly for replacement, they could still do nothing.”(22)
* To kill for terrorism and warning: Victims including soldiers, government employees and innocent civilians suspected of providing assistance or intelligence, or cooperating with the government, were killed as a warning to prevent civilians from ever joining ARVN or participating in and cooperating with the ROV government under any circumstances.
In its political history, Hue was the place of many disturbances, especially since 1963. The VC massacres were to warn Hue citizens as well as all the whole ROV population never to become anti-communissts, and to prepare for a dictatorship in the future once the South had been invaded. Their “red message” was: demonstration and opposition meant death. It was quite an effective suppressive measure after 4-1975 as rare opposition took place against the communist brutalities, namely no demonstration, hunger strike… as under the ROV time.
* To annihilate Christians: The communists always try to systematically and mechanically suppress religions, particularly those who had powerful political influence, perfect civic organization and disciplne, or close connections with the government. In Hue, Ngo Dinh Diem was from a Catholic family in Quang Binh but growing up in the village of Phu Cam. He was in power in 1954 with strong support from Catholics. His brother Ngo Dình Can was a clever man in creating in 1960 the “Central counterespionage teams”, led by Duong Van Hieu, causing severe damage to the VC intelligence effort from Ben Hai throughout South Vietnam.
Therefore, the plan devised by the Thua Thien - Hue communist commissar on 1-26 mentioned above stressed that “reactionary Catholics must be surrounded and isolated, and places like Phu Cam, Providence [Thien Huu] and Pellerin [Bình Linh] schools watched...” (Don Oberdorfer, ibid. p. 206). The plan was also wily and discreetly carried out.
During their first days of occupation of Gia Hoi, every house was forced to replace the ROV flag with the NLFSV banner, and since it was unavailable, Buddhist ones could be used. It was a crafty plot, serving 3 purposes: 1) The communists had known well that the NLFSV banner was readily unavailable, making like they were forced to accept the Buddhist one as replacement, and 2) With the Buddhist banner to display, they would easily detect Catholic families that naturally did not have it; and 3) they pretended to be friendly with the Buddhists to make look pro-communists, creating division between the two major religions in Vietnam.
A witness in Phu Cam disclosed that on the 7th or 8th day of Tet, over 300 youths hiding in the Phu Cam cathedral were arrested and taken away without trace.(23) Two Vietnamese priests, Hoang Ngoc Bang and Le Van Hos; two French missionaries, Urbain and Guy; were murdered, and the Thien An church burned.(24)
* To cause an uproar in the world and in the US: In their Tet Offensive in Hue, the VC carried out an indiscriminate killing scheme against allied troops including American and Filipino, and, such foreign civilians as 2 French missionaries cited above, and especially 4 Germans (Dr. and Mrs. Hort Gunther Krainick, Dr. Raimund Discher, and Dr. Alois Alterkoster), all but the lady were voluntary professors at the Hue University. Their bodies were found later near the Tuong Van Temple area.
Due to its Vietnamese cultural, historical, and political heritage, Hue was a center of international attention. The communists’ occupation and massacres there served their intents of gaining superiority at the negotiations, and especially of threatening the American people, causing them to worry about their military relatives in Vietnam up to the point of urging the US government to promptly bring US troops home.
* To impose loyalty on their followers: Following the failure of the anti-government demonstrations in 1966, many intellectuals and student leaders had fled to join the communists, such as brothers Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong (Quoc Hoc High school teacher), Hoang Phu Ngoc Phan (his brother, a student), Nguyen Dac Xuan (student), Le Van Hao (Faculty of Letters professor), Nguyen Doa (former Quoc Hoc school supervisor).... In addition, there were indecisive opportunists, who all were used but not trusted by the VC.for their being intellectual bourgeois who likw to struggle according to Wesrten type of democracy as a result of living under a nationalist regime with more or less freedom and favor in schooling. If they had been disloyal to the nationalists, they would do the same thing, with the communists who had provided them with no training and permission to stage demonstrations.
Public opinions and the media in Hue often alleged that the authors of the massacres were the Hoang Phu brothers and Nguyen Dac Xuan, but no evidence has been found to confirm their brutal role. Suppose it had, they were probably forced to carry out the communist orders since otherwise, they would have been killed. They were just playing cards in the communist games.
In the communist system, only party members, particualrly party commisars, have the power of decision for critical issues, and such new participants like the Hoang Phu brothers and Nguyen Dac Xuan would never have any voice, especially in the life of a large public group, except some minor personal revenge. The proof was no job was given to them after 1975.
The Tet Offensive was an opportunity for the VC to turn followers ans indecisive opportunists into communists against their will, allowing them no return to the ROV side whether they had or had not been present in Hue and killed anybody during the offensive.
3. MASSACRE DURING WITHDRAWAL
Geographically, Gia Hoi area and its neighboring Bai Dau were where most killings in Hue took place with the most mass graves found. Clearly due to being under the VC occupation longer, Gia Hoi suffered with more victims. Mass graves were also found elsewhere around the city, showing the retreating communists had taken along with them lots of arrests, up to several thousand, to use as porters and as hostages against ARVN and American shelling and attacks. Before they disappeared in the jungles, the communists killed their victims to cover up their whereabouts, for “self-defense purpose” (?) as they explained later. To save time in categorizing the victims, and particularly based on their inhuman principle of “rather killing than freeing somebody by mistake”, the communists wanted to be certain no hostages knew anything about them: origin, family relationship, and crimes committed. They feared survivors would break up their secret organizations or worse, denounce them to the public opinion in Vietnam and the world. For them, hostages should be silenced to avoid dire consequences.
The method of their killings was unusual, too. They ordered the victims to dig what they called air-raid shelters or irrigation works for the peasants. Upon finishing, the victims had their arms and legs tied tightly before being pushed down into the trenches and buried alive, no shots were made to cause sound and disclose location to alarm ARVN and the US units in the area.(25)
Based on the mass graves found, the communist retreat followed 2 directions: (1) Southward, across the Nam Giao Street toward the royal tomb area in the mountains, where 428 bodies were discovered at the farthest point, Da Mai creek, south of the Nam Hoa district, about 40km from Hue; and (2) Eastward, through Cho Cong or Da Le, with the farthest grave of 135 bodies was found in Vinh Thai of Phu Thu district, also about 40km south-east from Hue. According to Holland-born Canadian Doctor Elje Vannema, who was in Hue during the Tet Offensive, 19 collective burials were found in Hue, each had several different graves.(25) Other sites might never be found.
V.- A COMPARISON
In Vietnam’s history, the first recorded massacre happened in 1232 when Tran Thu Do tried to kill all relatives of King Ly (1010-1225), following a coup to establish the Tran dynasty (1225-1400). He held a big ceremony for the Ly ancestors to allow their descendants to commomerate and then ordered the site to be demolished, burying at most about a hundred victims. After over 700 years, his criminal act has still been a black mark on the Tran dynasty’s glorious achievement against the Chinese Yuan invaders.
In 1884, under the French domination, Emperor Ham Nghi (reign 1884-1885) and the court led by Royal Assistant Ton That Thuyet started an unsuccessful military attack in Hue against the French on the night of 7-4-1885. The king had to flee the citadel while a great number of court soldiers and civilians were crushed, resulting in the event becoming commemorated annually by Hue citizens in what is popularly called “souls worhip”..
Despite ardent fightings took place against foreign invaders of former capitals Thang Long or Hue, there were no recordings of blunt and open ruthless massacres or brutal killings by foreigners against citizens in war zones, even after Ho Chi Minh’s sudden attacks on 12-19-1946 against the French in Hanoi that caused them to retaliate, but not to revenge on civilians. The communist Việt Minh vigorously blamed the French colonialists for many things, but comparing the latter’s treatment of the people in Hue in 1885 and in Hanoi in 1946 with the Vietnamese communist Tet offensive in 1968 in Hue, the French colonialist troops were far more civilized and human than those who have proudly claimed themselves “progressive’.
Internationally, four significant massacres were known to have happened: first, in Nanking on 12-13-1937, about 300,000 Chinese, including children, were brutally killed by the Japanese in various forms of rapes, shootings, beheadings, and belly openings;(26) second, millions of Jews were slaughtered by the German Nazis in WW2 (1939-1945); third, nearly 15,000 Polish officer and troop prisoners were disposed of by the Soviet Red Army from 4-3 to 5-13-1940;(27) and fourth, over a million Cambodians were murdered in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge.
The Japanese militarist invaders killed the Chinese in Nanking, then the capital of China under Kuomingtan government who had strongly resisted their advances, simply as a requital. The German Nazis killed the Jews because they wanted to protect their Aryan race based on Hitler’s concept. The Soviets killed Polish soldiers to replace Poland’s patriotic army with Soviet-led forces. All those massacres were brutal in violation of humanity norms among men. Nevertheless, they were acts performed by foreigners of a different race for their own national interest.
Only the Khmer Rouge killed their own Cambodian compatriots and so did the Vietnamese communists, against their brothers and sisters. It has been known the Khmer Rouge were once under the control of the VC, and both had been trained and aided by communist China. It was through Ho Chi Minh and his Labor party that Marxism-Leninism and Maoism entered Vietnam, and became sole guidance for the VC.(28)
Even though the number of victims of the Hue m¬assacre was much smaller as compared to other killings mentioned above, but considering the population (only 130,000) of a small and quiet city like Hue and the short VC occupation there (twentysome days), the VC atrocities showed no less severe in intent.
The VC massacres in Hue in 1968, viewed generally and individually, were clearly as savage as any one in WW2, exhibited through manners and objects of killings, including murders of women and children,(29) extraction of body parts alive,(30) and burial of living victims.(31)
The killings of women and children and the Middle Age body part extractions were reported by the victims’ relatives and witnesses. The cases of burying alive were disclosed by two sources: escapees from VC detention and survivors among victims in mass graves, where some bodies showed traces of severe beatings and blood, while others tied but nearly free of wounds, meaning they had been thrown down the graves still alive. It should be noted here that the graves were dug out of dirt, not of mud or sand that can conceal all cracks in the filling earth shortly. Therefore, living victims still had air to breathe and could struggle to get out, unless tied or too exhausted to avoid death.
Nowadays, slaughter houses have tried to help the animals die as fast and less painful as possible. Meanwhile, communist victims of living burials remained alive and conscientious for an unknown period of time in pain and darkness. Their horror before actual death should be unimaginable..
At the beginning of the 20th century, the most notoriously savage death sentence in Vietnam’s history was described in books, with the French excecution of patriot Tran Quy Cap in Khánh Hòa.in 1908. One of the ways was to cut across the victim’s back with a sword, causing him tremendous pain before death , but it last much shorter than burying alive in which the victim had to suffer too long, especially mentally. That was the brutal nature of the Vietnamese communists who, perhaps the only ones in the world, have enough heartlessness to resort to burying their innocent compatriots alive.
Following the 1968 Tet Offensive, made public only one year later, the VCs continued to carry out other attacks in the ROV. In an anti-guerilla operation on 3-16-1968 in the province of Quảng Ngãi, a US platoon of the 1st battalion, 20th Infantry Division, under the leadership of Lieutenant William Cally, mistakenly killed several hundred people of the My Lai 4 hamlet in the Son My village, Son Tinh district. Though the event was for self defense, it was a black mark in the history of the US army in Vietnam. .
* When the My Lai case was learned one year later, the US command in Vietnam admitted its responsibility by immediately taking Lt. Cally to court. In contrast, even 40 years has passed, the Vietnamese communists have never admitted their responsibilities in the 1968 Tet massacre before the Vietnamese people, and nobody has been taken to court.
* The case was freely reported, commented, and blamed by the ROV and UR mass media, against the complete silence from Hanoi in regards to the Tet large-sacle massacre. Communist media are allowed, instead, to praise the 1968 offensive, calling it a great “victory” of the revolutionary army. Not only in the case of the Tet event has the communist media kept entirely silent, it has always held its voice mute because under the state’s management, only one-way information from the government is permissible.
The ARVN General Staff reported that by the end of March 1968, the total casualties of all sides in the 1968 Tet offensive over all of ROV were: 4,954 ARVN soldiers, 14,300 civilians; 58,373 NLFSV members and North Vietnamese troops; 3,895 US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine men; 214 people of the South Korean, Australian, New Zealand, and Thai military aid groups in ROV. Among 14,300 Vietnamese civilians, about 2,000 were killed in Hue.(32)
In Hue only, according to author Douglas Pike, the civilian casualties were:
- 7,500 total, dead
- 1,900 wounded by the war
- 844 killed
- 1,946 missing (33)
Author David T. Zabecki, in his article in the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, stated that in addition to thousands of people missing in Hue, 2,810 bodies were found in mass graves. As for ARVN, the casualties were 384 dead and 1,830 wounded. For the US Army, 74 dead and 507 wounded; and US Marines, 142 dead and 857 wounded. North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops suffered 5,000 dead and uncountable number of wounded.(34)
These figures are indeed incomplete since the missings have not been reported. As for Hue, if the number of bodies found in mass greaves were 2,810, then the real number of deaths should be much higher due to many grave undiscovered and never would be, and those taken along by the VC out of Hue who would never be found. In addition, a significant number of victims were known to have been quietly buried by relatives. Even many authors claimed the minimum civilian casualties in the 1968 Tet offensive were over 3,000, (35) the actual figure must be far higher. .
In a rare interview with a Western journalist in 1969, General Vo Nguyen Giap, Hanoi’s former Minister of Defense, denied any involvement by Hanoi in the Hue general offensive by saying: “We had nothing to do with it. The [National Liberation] Front put it on.”(36)
Current documents, however, proved that the plan was designed by Nguyen Chi Thanh and continued by Vo Nguyen Giap himself after Nguyen Chi Thanh died suddenly. The Hanoi Politburo approved the plan and Ho Chi Minh himself gave order of execution through a Tet wishing poem broadcast over Hanoi Radio. Politburo member Pham Hung, leader of the communist command in South Vietnam, was in charge of the whole situation. While the present authorities in Hanoi keep celebrating the Tet offensive “victory” in public, would Vo Nguyen Giap some day have enough honesty to admit his general’s “white lie” he made?
On the issue of mass killings, Mr. Bui Tín, former Colonel of the North Vietnamese Army and Deputy Editor General of the newspaper Nhan Dan before 1990, wrote: “...Collective killings possibly happened at the battalion level in retreat amid chaos. Some units decided to kill prisoners to ensure secrecy, safety, mobility, and survival. Eventually, a small number of prisoners were brought by the units back to their bases to dig trenches or act as proters…with some finally freed.”(37) By such an explanatin, what would he say about the communists’ massacres and burials of thousands of victims in Gia Hoi during their temporary occupation of the area?
Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong, likewise, claimed: “Mistakes are naturally indefensible, according to the people’s conscience and the viewpoint of the revolutionary war. But I believe they were local mistakes committed by leaders of the Tet offensive in Hue, not a comprehensive policy of the revolution. Such easy-going killings did not happen elsewhere even in a large and complicated area like Saigon then.”
Aside from the people’s conscience, inappropriate here, communists and their followers like Hoàng Phu Ngọc Tương must first admit that the communist-led war was not a “revolutionary war” but an ideological one for the benefit and expansion ambitions of those in North Vietnam. His blame of local intentions follows exactly the communist technique. In every plan of action, the communists always claim success comes from their leadership, and failure is caused by local member. Vietnamese peasants have sarcastically said :”Bad crops are caused by nature, good crops are gained thanks to the party’s talent.”
The statement that “Such easy-going killings did not happen elsewhere…” ia misleading since nowhere else was occupied by the VC long enough for them to perform the atrocities at will like in Hue. From 1945 to 1975, the communists did carry out mass killings and buryings alive brutally, including the numerous elimination of non-communist patriots nationwide,(38) the murder of CaoDai faithfuls in Quảng Ngãi, the burying alive of 4th International Communists in the Long Song River area of Bình Thuận province,(40) and the massacre of CaoDai and HoaHao followers in the South.(41) In many cases, even innocent people were killed because of their abilities, potentially harmful in the future. These crimes are called “potential killings” by the communists.
Le Minh, the communist secretary of Thua Thien - Hue in charge of the Hue front, has confirmed that the killings of civilians and prisoners did happen in Hue, and pleaded responsible for them. He defended himself, however, by claiming that the communist troops “were in an extremely difficult situation, unable to control rude actions.” (Chính Đạo, Mậu Thân, ibid. p.137.)
Actually, these were not first-time brutalities. And where did they come from? Normally, they come from brutal persons, trained under brutal aims and policies, and encouraged by unpunished brutal acts. The truth is the communists don’t have to be in difficult situation to act brutally.
Le Minh has at least some courage to admit in public the communists have acted brutally, a rare admission made by communist leaders. His confession was made in 1988 when the communists in Hanoi began their ‘innovation’ and printed in the Song Huong (Perfume River) magazine in Hue together with an English translation on the Newsweek in the US.
Later, events happened intensively in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Unon collapsed in 1991. As a consequence, the hard-line communists in Hanoi returned to their former stand, closing again the 1968 Tet offensive file, confiscating Le Minh’s published diary, ridding him of favor, and isolating him. Presently, at the annual Tet festival, the communists keep celebrating it in shameful disregard of the people’s sufferings, since these days are the time to commomerate about 80,000 deaths for the Tet offensive from both North and South of Vietnam, civilian as well military.
Despite the stubborn denial of Vo Nguyen Giap and defenses of Bui Tín, Le Minh, and Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong for the communist troops’ massacres in the Tet Offensive, anyone who has lived with the communists knows without doubt that:
* Under well organized and bloody communist leadership, no party members can be out of cintrol, no one under the communist control can do anything based on his thinking., instead, instructions must always be respected. The 1968 massacres, therefore, must have completely been Hanoi’s sole responsibilities.
* The Vietnamese communist party (VCP) is a well organized and disciplined political paety. There is always a political commissar in every army unit to take care of everything, more powerful than the military commander. It’s impossible to blame the communist troops in retreat for the easygoing killings, or the local units or the Thừa Thiên-Hue party leaders for the mistakes or defensive killings. Policies from the party central or commisars should have been involved in all decisions for subordinates to follow relating to advances, retreats, or causing the most inhuman and brutal killings of civilians in Vietnam’s as well as the world’s history. Easygoing and bloodthirsty killings are communists’ basic nature learned from such leaders as Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Ho Chi Minh. The Labor or communist party must therefore take all responsibilities before the people and history for its savage massacres in the 1968 Tet offensive.
This unusual bloodthirstiness of the communists has been displayed throughout the years, from the elimination of several thousand politicians in 1945, the massacres during the Land Reform in North Vietnam of up to 200,000 peasants, to the Nhan Van magazine case that put many writers and poets in prison, including dissident army officers and intellectuals. The Vietnamese communists’ brutal nature was a true copy of the one initiated by the Soviets in World War 2 against Polish patriots to replace them with Polish communists, now applied faithfully by the VCP against its own compatriots.
The 1968 Hue massacre was a black mark in Hanoi’s scheme of invading ROV to put the entire nation under its dictatorshipit After the French withdrawal and the division of Vietnam following the Geneva Accords in 1954, instead of both sides competing to rebuild the country devastated by the 1946-1954 war and getting prepared for the peaceful unification of the nation in brotherhood, the communist leaders in Hanoi had decided to use force to take over the South.(42)
They could not resort to deceitful political maneuvers to blame their low ranking subordinates. In Hue, for instance, they used propaganda to make Le Van Hao, Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong, and Nguyen Dac Xuan culprits, while everyone knew quite well these were just followers and opportunists. Hoang Phu Ngoc Phan (brother of Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong), and Nguyen Dac Xuan, especially, had openly shown themselves in searches and attacks, and therefore been unable to conceal their notoriety. They were actually abused by the communists who have hoped time would gradually cover their crimes
About the armed forces involved in the Tet offensive:
1) The communist guerillas in the NLFSV were almost completely wiped out, and the Front itself was nearly paralysed by the event, according to some communist documents.
2) Despite being attacked in surprise, ARVN had been capable of reacting timely, promptly, and powerfully. In his comments on the offensive, French General Yves Gaves wrote: ”The South Vietnamese held the main role in breaking the North’s attacks in the Tet offensive in 2-1968.”(43).On the US presiedent’s order, Gen. Earle G. Wheeler made an inspection of the battlefields in Vietnam on 2-23-1968, and in his report sent to Washington, he wrote with emphasis: “The ROV armed forces resisted the initial phase of attacks with tremendous force.”(44)
3) The communist attack on the US Embassy in Saigon was for political purposes, but in the Tet offensive, their targets were ARVN, not the US forces whom they tried to avoid at all cost. The US army, therefore, suffered relatively small losses; however, the American people became worried about Vietnam’s cities being attacked by the VC and the missing opportunities for investment and trade caused by ensuing insecurity. More important was their misgiving for their relatives on duty in Vietnam as army reservists, encouraging the anti-war movements to increase their demand for the withdrawal of all US forces from Vietnam Only until then would the VC hope to win in the South. Meanwhile, the US political stage suffered a spreading affect from the Tet offensive, beginning with the announcement on 3-30-1968 by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) of his decision to stop running for another presidential term and to search for a political solution for the war through.negotiations at conferences..
4) As mentioned above, the ones that benefitted the most from the Tet offensive were the communists in Hanoi. After 1975, Doctor Duong Quynh Hoa, an important member of NLFSV, declared: “Ha Noi was guilty of wrong decision to spend the NLFSV’s strength.”(45) Nevertheless, Ha Noi did not make error. Ha Noi foresaw this situation and well calculated. After the NLFSV military forces were eliminated by ARVN, Ha Noi immediately made intensive military infiltration in the south for reinforcement, replacement, and maintenance of their communist gueriallas’ morale. They then took complete control of the NLFSV and removed all southern untrustful elements in their rank. In addition, they tried to exploit their advantageous position internationally for a political solution to the war.
Eventually, whether either side won in the Tet offensove, the Vietnamese people, Northerners and Southerners alike, were still the losers bearing lots of damage and sufferance. “The cost of a military general’s victory is tens of thousands of deaths,” the popular saying goes. The Tet offensive, nevertheless, was only a battle among numerous insignificant ones throughout 30 years, caused by Ho Chi Minh and his VCP, with some 3 million fatal victims.
Vietnam’ s history keeps forever in its records notorious mass killing cases, outstanding among which are the Tran Thu Do’s murder of King Ly’s several hundred descendants in 1232, over 7 centuries ago, and particualrly, the recent most brutal 1968 Tet massacre ordered by the communist leaders in Hanoi.