Year
1968

Tet Offensive shakes Cold War confidence

In coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam, communist forces launch their largest offensive of the Vietnam War against South Vietnamese and U.S. troops.

Dozens of cities, towns, and military bases–including the U.S. embassy in Saigon–were attacked. The massive offensive was not a military success for the communists, but its size and intensity shook the confidence of many Americans who were led to believe, by the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the war would shortly be coming to a successful close.

On January 30, 1968-during the Tet holiday cease-fire in South Vietnam-an estimated 80,000 troops of the North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front attacked cities and military establishments throughout South Vietnam. The most spectacular episode occurred when a group of NLF commandos blasted through the wall surrounding the American embassy in Saigon and unsuccessfully attempted to seize the embassy building. Most of the attacks were turned back, with the communist forces suffering heavy losses.

Battles continued to rage throughout the country for weeks–the fight to reclaim the city of Hue from communist troops was particularly destructive. American and South Vietnamese forces lost over 3,000 men during the offensive. Estimates for communist losses ran as high as 40,000.

While the communists did not succeed militarily, the impact of the Tet Offensive on public opinion in the United States was significant. The American people, who had been told a few months earlier that the war was successful and that U.S. troops might soon be allowed withdraw, were stunned to see fighting taking place on the grounds of the U.S. embassy.

Despite assurances from the Johnson administration that all was well, the Tet Offensive led many Americans to begin seriously questioning such statements, and to wonder whether American military might could truly prevail over the communist threat on foreign shores. In the 1950s, Americans had almost unconditionally supported a vigorous American response to communism; the reaction to the Tet Offensive seemed to reflect the growing skepticism of the 1960s, when Americans felt increasingly doubtful about the efficacy of such Cold War tactics. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, support for the U.S. effort in Vietnam began steadily to decline, and public opinion turned sharply against President Johnson, who decided not to run for re-election.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

King Charles I executed for treason

In London, King Charles I is beheaded for treason on January 30, 1649. Charles ascended to the English throne in 1625 following the death of his father, King James I. In the first year of his reign, Charles offended his Protestant subjects by marrying Henrietta Maria, a Catholic ...read more

Burma supply route cleared

A vital supply route linking India to China through Burma is finally cleared for Allied military transports on this day in 1945. The first convoy of 133 trucks under British General Mountbatten left Ledo several weeks earlier, but could not enter China until the Americans were ...read more

Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland

In Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators are shot dead by British Army paratroopers in an event that becomes known as “Bloody Sunday.” The protesters, all Northern Catholics, were marching in protest of the British policy of internment of suspected ...read more

Japan’s Mazda founded

On this day in 1920, Jujiro Matsuda (1875-1952) forms Toyo Cork Kogyo, a business that makes cork, in Hiroshima, Japan; just over a decade later the company produces its first automobile and eventually changes its name to Mazda. Today, Mazda is known for its affordable, ...read more

Gandhi assassinated

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu fanatic. Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi’s Vaishnava mother was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, ...read more

Tet Offensive begins

At dawn on the first day of the Tet holiday truce, Viet Cong forces–supported by large numbers of North Vietnamese troops–launch the largest and best coordinated offensive of the war, drivingg into the center of South Vietnam’s seven largest cities and attacking 30 provincial ...read more

Operation Dewey Canyon II begins

Operation Dewey Canyon II begins as the initial phase of Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos that would commence on February 8. The purpose of the South Vietnamese operation was to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, advance to Tchepone in Laos, and destroy the North ...read more

Dan Jansen skates world-record 500 meters

On this day in 1994, the American speed skater Dan Jansen sets a new world record of 35.76 at the World Sprint Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Born in 1965 in Wisconsin, Jansen had been the youngest skater to compete at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, where he ...read more

FDR is born

On this day in 1882, future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is born. Roosevelt grew up the only child in an upper middle-class family in Hyde Park, New York. He graduated from Harvard in 1904 and later received a degree from Columbia Law School. In 1905, Roosevelt married ...read more

Gene Hackman born

Gene Hackman, one of Hollywood’s most prolific and acclaimed actors for four decades, is born on this day in 1930, in San Bernardino, California. At the age of 16, Hackman left home to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for a three-year stint. He then studied journalism and ...read more

Plane crashes off Ivory Coast

A Kenya Airways Airbus A-310 crashes after takeoff into the Atlantic Ocean off the Ivory Coast on this day in 2000. Because the passengers did not have enough time to put on life jackets, only 10 people out of the 179 on board survived. Kenya Airways Flight 431 left Nairobi, ...read more

Gandhi assassinated in New Delhi

Mohandas Gandhi, the world’s chief advocate of non-violence, is assassinated in New Delhi by a terrorist sponsored by a right-wing Hindu militia group. The murder came only 10 days after a failed attempt on Gandhi’s life. Thirty-nine-year-old Nathuram Godse shot the great Indian ...read more

Nathaniel Banks born

On this day in 1816, Union General Nathaniel Banks is born in Waltham, Massachusetts. Banks was a political general–he had few military skills, but as an anti-slave Republican from Massachusetts, he helpedPresident AbrahamLincoln’s administration maintain support in that region. ...read more