What we in the U.S. call the "Tet Offensive" began on this date 40 years ago. Actually, it's hard to pin down an actual date ... the best I can figure, it was supposed to begin on January 31, but the scope was so great, and the ability to coordinate everything so stretched, that a few attacks began a day early.
The Tet Offensive was the largest military operation by the North Vietnamese, or anyone else for that matter, in the war to that point. The hope was that the battle would encourage an uprising among the people of South Vietnam which would result in the fall of the government in Saigon.
The South Vietnamese and the Americans were surprised by the scope of the Offensive, but eventually rejected the invaders. Many lives were lost on both sides. Looking to the apparent aims of the Offensive, one might conclude it was a dismal failure. But ...
The American people had been led to believe by their government and an often compliant press that the war was going well, that we were "winning," and equally important, that the North was "losing." We were told that the Communists did not have bottomless resources, and they were coming to the end of their rope. For this reason, when word reached Americans that the North Vietnamese had put together an enormous offensive, we put two and two together, realized that the government's version of the war wasn't necessarily the true story of the war, and with that, we became harder to convince, even when, as was ultimately the case for the military aspects of Tet, the American/South Vietnamese armies were victorious.
Obviously, none of this happens in a day. There were people skeptical of the war effort before the Tet Offensive. And the tendency to put clear markers in place where a more gradual progression was happening is an unfortunate aspect of our sense of the past (the fact that I am blogging about "1968" as if it stood for something outside the context of its past and future is an example). Perhaps Tet was less a slap in the face of the average American, and more the straw that broke our backs. In any event, things moved quickly over the next couple of months, as will be seen later.