This Day in History 1968: Vietnam Tet Offensive and Nixon’s Treason

U.S. Embassy in Saigon, January 1968. Source: Consortium News

On the day of Tết (Vietnamese New Year) I encourage the reader to think about a 1968 Viet Cong breach of the US Embassy and how it relates to a violent 2021 Capitol Hill insurrection:

En route to the American Embassy, the sappers were spotted driving without lights by a South Vietnamese civilian policeman. This member of the South Vietnamese National Police force, referred to as the white mice, chose to avoid problems and stepped back into the shadows as the truck and taxi passed by. The sappers had similar good fortune confronting the embassy’s first line of defense. After turning onto Thong Nhut Boulevard, they encountered four police officers, but the policemen fled without firing a shot.

This day in 1968 had a profound impact on American sentiment and consequences of the Vietnam War, due to reporting like this.

It abruptly became abundantly clear to Americans sitting at home that things were not going well for their government.

In other words sentiment shifted to ending US operations and talk about a withdrawal. We need to remember how a breach of the US Embassy had an outsized role in that shift.

The policemen did not stop the insurrectionists.

The US government building was breached.

Now hold those two thoughts.

Historians have since revealed also in 1968 (given the shifting sentiment during a Presidential campaign year) the GOP intentionally destroyed chances of peace, killing tens of thousands of Americans needlessly, just to get themselves into office:

…the Paris Peace talks, intended to put an end to the 13-year-long Vietnam War, failed because an aide working for then-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon convinced the South Vietnamese to walk away from the dealings.

The GOP Presidential candidate blew up peace talks of the US intentionally to make more Americans suffer and in pain elect him president on a false promise he would fix the mess he created (a lie quickly revealed as he instead expanded the war and increased deaths 10s of thousands more).

Here’s a more detailed account:

…Chennault — the China-born widow of World War II hero Gen. Claire Chennault of the famed Flying Tigers and a major Nixon fund-raiser — passed word to South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu that if he boycotted planned peace talks in Paris, he could count on the support of a President Nixon. The Nixon campaign feared that Thieu’s presence would result in a deal that would end the war and swing the election to Humphrey. President Lyndon Johnson had ordered a halt in the bombing of Hanoi, also raising those hopes. But when Thieu indeed stayed away, the talks collapsed and Nixon was elected by 0.7 percent of the vote.

It gets even worse:

Nixon, in getting away with the Chennault caper, may have convinced himself he could do so again in Watergate. “If only we had known,” Mr. Hughes wrote. “Nixon wasn’t a rogue with a redemptive streak of patriotism. He played politics with peace to win the 1968 election. He did the same to win re-election in 1972 at the cost of thousands of American lives.” The tragedies that marked 1968 were horrible enough, without evidence that the winner of its presidential election did so by engaging in an illegal and despicable scheme to sabotage a sitting president’s efforts to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon was breaking the law, not to mention acting obviously immorally.

President Johnson himself privately called Nixon treasonous yet never publicly dropped this word because he underestimated the GOP threat to democracy.

After Johnson privately deemed Nixon’s actions as treasonous, an extraordinary call occurred between Johnson and Nixon, in which Nixon did enough to satisfy the President’s concerns to prevent Johnson from going public about the Chennault actions. 
Johnson had hoped that, to the extent possible, Vietnam would not be an issue in the fall campaign, and that the three candidates (Nixon, Humphrey, and George Wallace) would not interfere with his attempts to achieve a peace settlement before he left office.

Nixon was predictably turning the GOP into exactly what Truman in 1952 publicly blasted Eisenhower for allowing (with Nixon as VP candidate) — the same kind of party behavior (fascism) that the US had just fought WWII to remove from power.

The Republican candidate [Eisenhower] for the Presidency cannot escape responsibility for his endorsements. He has had an attack of moral blindness, for today, he is willing to accept the very practices that identified the so-called ‘master-race’ although he took a leading part in liberating Europe from their domination. I do not withdraw a word of that statement. […] …Senator Nixon [candidate for Vice President] and most Republicans, voted to override any veto of the McCarran bill, which is recognized everywhere as discriminatory.

Eisenhower was too soft on Nixon. LBJ was too soft on Nixon.

Nixon let tens of thousands of Americans die and delayed their safety so that he could take control of government.

And just for reference, Ronald Reagan would repeat this strategy for the GOP in 1980 when he delayed the safety of hostages in Iran in order to take control of government.

I am not trying here to minimize the impact of the 1968 military “Tet Offensive” (or all the warnings that it was coming) as hugely impactful to American sentiment and strategy in the Vietnam War.

Here’s a fine example of what that narrative looks like from the Army War College:

In contrast to the Viet Cong’s previous strategies of raiding, the Viet Cong occupied Huế and captured thousands of civilians and prisoners of war. Bullington was serving as a Foreign Service Officer at the time, and found himself in Hue in unusual circumstances. In this podcast, Bullington tells both his personal story (a love story in the midst of a war) and about the broader implications of the battle. While historians still debate the impact of the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hue on the conduct of the American War in Vietnam, this story reminds us of the personal narratives and consequences that are also central to war.

Here’s another first-person narrative: “…the longer we stayed in Vietnam the more Viet Cong there were because we created them, we produced them…”

I am trying to draw attention to the fact that a US Embassy breach, and its reporting, should not be lost on anyone looking for insights from history.

If only more Americans could have understood how their personal narratives and consequences were being shaped by the domestic variant of fascism after 1948 — anti-democratic forces infiltrating and taking control of the GOP… now it’s just history.

Or is it?

Last I heard today’s GOP still are playing some of these games. Not to mention police didn’t stop the insurrectionists attacking an American government building on January 6, 2021…

53 years after a January violent offensive overran US government facilities, and a GOP ruthlessly and intentionally lied to undermine democracy, current news basically has us still talking about the same things.

Even more detail here:

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