The 1968 Exhibit: Tet and death in Vietnam: TIME, February 1968

1101680209_400The shocking numbers of February 1968

Forty-two years ago, over the last two weeks of February 1968, Americans were reeling from staggering statistics coming from the war in Vietnam. *During the week ending Saturday, February 17th, 543 American servicemen were killed--the highest weekly American death toll in the war, a grim pinnacle that would not be surpassed for the duration of the war. *The following week proved to be the second highest total--470 dead, many of them in the bloody disaster at Hue, the lovely French colonial town that was flattened, largely by U.S. bombs, in 1968. *Also reported in American papers was the fact that the U.S. death toll exceeded that of the South Vietnamese forces--434--who were fighting alongside them, a force supposedly more numerous and more engaged in a war for their own country.

Tet: *"An extraordinary tour de force"

The February numbers followed hard on the heels of the shocking Tet Offensive launched by more than 36,000 Viet Cong forces throughout South Vietnam, beginning on January 30, or "Tet," the Vietnamese New Year celebration. *TIME called it "an extraordinary tour de force, unprecedented in modern military annals: the spectacle of an enemy force dispersed and unseen, everywhere hunted unremittingly, suddenly materializing to strike simultaneously in a hundred places throughout a country."

A "charismatic" cover subject (even if he was the enemy)

As fighting intensified throughout Vietnam, TIME's cover story for February 9th was a lengthy analysis of the Offensive-- and somewhat surprisingly, the cover subject was not an American soldier or general, but rather*North Viet Nam's Defense Minister,*General Vo Nguyen Giap. *TIME characterized Giap as the "creator of the North Vietnamese Army," who had been the "charismatic victor over the French at Dienbienphu in 1954."

"The war is in a stalemate"

As TIME's editors report: *"In its surprise, its boldness, the sweep of its planning and its split-second orchestration, the general offensive bore all the unmistakable marks of Giap's genius.*Some of Giap's political aims were evident: to embarrass the U.S. and undercut the authority of the South Vietnamese government, to frighten urban South Vietnamese and undermine pacification in the countryside, to give the impression to the U.S. public that the war is in a stalemate."

There's that word: *stalemate. *Americans would hear the military situation in Vietnam described that way repeatedly in the coming weeks, most stunningly by the venerated TV anchor Walter Cronkite, in his widely seen and quoted "Special Report" on the war in Vietnam, which aired on February *27, 1968.