Launched on January 30, 1968 by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) acting in coordination, the Tet Offensive was a massive surprise attack against military and civilian targets in South Vietnam. All told, more than 100 towns and cities were struck, including the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon and 36 of 44 provincial capitals. South Vietnamese and American forces were unprepared for the assault, and by the second week of February, when the offensive was over, had suffered some 20,000 casualties. The offensive was in many ways a failure for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong: Their losses were much higher, they gained no lasting territorial advantage, and the South Vietnam government did not collapse as anticipated. The strategic impact was nevertheless enormous, as the Offensive gave the lie to the claims of American leaders that the war was under control and amplified their growing “credibility gap”, catalyzed growing protests in this country, and contributed to the resignation of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Johnson’s decision in March not to run for re-election.
This broadsheet, apparently extremely rare here in America, was issued for consumption by the broad Chinese public, who were “conditioned to view themselves as the citizens of the world’s leading inspirational force in the strategy of People’s War for world liberation.” (Alexander Akin, Bolerium Books) In this war the primary enemy was, of course, the United States, which Tet had shown—so it was claimed—to be a paper tiger.
Both sides feature a large map of Vietnam and extensive captions in Chinese. The map on the front bears a title translating roughly to “Vietnam in Battle” and depicts North and South Vietnam as a single country, surrounded by a heavy red border, along with adjacent regions of China, Laos and Cambodia. Red flags denote cities and towns attacked and held, however temporarily, during the Offensive, and small explosions indicate areas that were bombed. At center left several text boxes with small illustrations praise NVA and Viet Cong victories and provide grossly-inflated statistics of South Vietnamese and American losses of men and materiele during the previous seven years of conflict (a tactic also employed by Westmoreland and other American military leaders at the time). At the top a quote attributed to Mao reads:
“You are putting up a good fight! Under exceptionally difficult conditions, you have, by relying on your own strength, battered U.S. imperialism, the most ferocious imperialism in the world, so that its forces are in disorder and it has no way out. This is a great victory. The Chinese people salute you.
“Your victory manifests once again that a nation, big or small, can defeat any enemy, however powerful provided only that it fully mobilizes its people, relies firmly on the people, and wages a people’s war. By their war against U.S. aggression and for national salvation under the wise and able leadership of the great leader President Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese people have set a brilliant example for the oppressed peoples and oppressed nations the world over in their struggle for liberation.” (Translation from Peking Review, no. 52, 1967, p. 5.)
The map on the back depicts only South Vietnam, with the title “The Power of People’s War is Incomparable; The Tet Offensive Victory is Earth-Shaking.” Small red explosions mark air bases attacked during the offensive, while a table below the map lists exaggerated figures for South Vietnamese, American and allied losses between January 29 and February 4, the first days of the Offensive. To reinforce the point, a fierce-looking NVA soldier and a Viet Cong guerilla, both armed with assault rifles, are shown striding toward a disheveled caricature of President Johnson, who kneels and raises his arms in surrender.
A rare and vivid piece of Communist Chinese propaganda from one of the most fraught moments of the Vietnam War.
Not in OCLC. Thanks to Alex Akin of Bolerium Books for his generous assistance in translating and interpreting this item.