Edwin E. Moïse

The Myths of Tet: The Most Misunderstood Event of the Vietnam War

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017. xi, 276 pp. ISBN 9780700625024.


This book deals with the effort of the U.S. government to present a very optimistic picture of progress in the Vietnam War during 1967, the way this left the United States unprepared for the magnitude of the Communists' Tet Offensive in 1968, and the way these events have been remembered and interpreted (often very inaccurately) up to the present.

Table of Contents:

Abbreviations Used in the Text     (ix)

Acknowledgements     (xi)

Introduction: The Problem     (1)

Chapter 1. Escalating the Vietnam War, 1964–1967     (9)

Chapter 2. The Order of Battle     (19)
      The Self-Defense Militia     (22)
      Evolution of the OB Summary     (25)
      Sam Adams     (33)
      Spring 1967 at MACV     (37)
      Two Kinds of Intelligence Officers     (46)
      Choosing the Metrics: The Gain and Loss Methodology     (48)
      A Stalemated War?     (53)

Chapter 3. The Special National Intelligence Estimate     (58)
      Negotiating the SNIE     (59)
      The SNIE: Final Version     (66)
      The Role of the Pentagon     (72)
      Arguments in Defense of the MACV Estimates     (73)
      Publicizing the SNIE     (88)
      Distracting the Media     (90)

Chapter 4. The Optimism Campaign     (94)
      The Short-Term Focus in Public Relations     (103)
      What Did Westmoreland Believe?     (104)
      Two kinds of Journalists     (106)

Chapter 5. Preparing for the Offensive     (109)
      Le Duan's Optimism     (111)
      Expanding Communist Forces     (115)
      Infiltration     (119)
      The OB and the Size of the Tet Attack Force     (124)
      The Warning     (129)

Chapter 6. The Tet Offensive, 1968     (134)
      The Rand Interviews     (140)
      Continuing the Offensive     (144)
      The Shock in Washington     (152)

Chapter 7. The Myths of Tet     (156)
      Communist Losses     (158)
      American Losses     (164)
      The Order of Battle after Tet     (166)
      Exaggerating the Changes in US Strategy     (169)
      The Effects of Tet on Pacification     (171)
      Infrastructure     (172)
      MACV's Optimism Continues     (174)
      Reconciling the Figures     (175)

Chapter 8. The Mythical Myth: Supposed Media Portrayals of Tet     (178)
      The Cronkite Broadcast     (182)
      The Attack on the US Embassy     (185)
      The Giap Variant     (187)

Chapter 9. The War Continues     (190)
      The Wheeler Mission     (197)
      "Mini-Tet"     (202)

Chapter 10. Aftermath, Lessons, and Questions     (207)
      Estimates Going Forward     (207)
      Tet in Retrospect     (209)
      Lessons     (210)

Notes     (213)
      Abbreviations Used in the Notes     (213)

Bibliography     (257)

Index     (269)


Map 1.1: South Vietnam: Corps Tactical Zones     (8)

Map 6.1: The Tet Offensive: Premature and Delayed Attacks     (136)

Map 6.2: The Attack on Saigon: Key Locations     (138)


Figure 2.1. Combat Forces, May 1966 to September 1968, Current and Retroactive Figures     (31)

Figure 2.2. Administrative Services, May 1966 to September 1968, Current and Retroactive Figures     (31)

Figure 2.3. Guerrilla Strength, May 1966 to September 1968, Current and Retroactive Figures     (32)

Figure 4.1. Americans killed by hostile action, by month, 1966-1967     (101)

Figure 5.1. Military Forces, May 1966 to September 1968, Current and Retroactive Figures     (116)

Figure 6.1. Americans killed by hostile action, weeks ending on specified dates     (146)

Figure 6.2. Americans killed by hostile action, by month, 1967-1969     (150)

Figure 6.3. RVN personnel killed by hostile action, by month, 1967-1969     (151)


Table 2.1: MACV Figures for Communist Strength, Old Categories, January 1966 to September 1967     (27)

Table 3.1: Strength figures in Office of National Estimates draft NIE, June 14, 1967     (60)

Table 3.2: Order of Battle presented by Gains Hawkins to the SNIE Conference, August 9, 1967     (63)

Table 3.3: MACV OB Summaries, May 31 and September 30, 1967     (71)

Table 5.1: Current and Retroactive MACV Estimates for PAVN Regular Combat Strength     (117)

Table 7.1: Communist strength in January 1968: Contemporary and Retroactive MACV Figures     (177)

Table 8.1: Gallup Polls on How the War Would End     (185)



p. 47: I referred to "Master Sergeant Howard Daniel." He did not yet have that rank in 1967, so I should have called him "Sergeant First Class Howard Daniel."

p. 113: I wrote "Bloody fighting began on October 27 at Loc Ninh..." This was not quite correct. The Communist offensive in northern III Corps began on October 27, 1967, but near Song Be, well to the east of Loc Ninh. Fighting actually in the vicinity of Loc Ninh did not begin until October 29.

p. 250, note 36, second to last line: The word "Lost" has been dropped out of a book title that should have been given as Tiger Hound: How We Won the War and Lost the Country.


Are the Myths Still Being Repeated?

My book discusses a variety of myths that are widespread in the literature of the Vietnam War. But which of them are still being actively circulated? I thought it would be worth noting which of them have appeared in works that have come out since I finished writing my book.

The one that has been most conspicuous is that the United States reacted to the Tet Offensive by abandoning its effort to win the war. In fact President Johnson responded to the Tet Offensive by escalating his use both of ground troops and of air power. He continued pushing hard militarily, trying to win the war, until he left office in January 1969.

I have seen two books that repeat the myth that the Tet Offensive was a well-coordinated wave of simultaneous attacks, throughout South Vietnam:

I have seen one example of the myth that the American media over-reacted to the Tet Offensive, treating it as a much worse disaster than it actually was.

I have seen exaggerations to varying degrees of the losses suffered by the Viet Cong, particularly the infrastructure, in the Tet Offensive:

I have seen understatements of the losses suffered by US forces, one for the Tet Offensive narrowly defined and one for a much broader period, counting all three waves of the Communists' 1968 general offensives:

I have seen one spectacular statement of the myth that the dispute between MACV and CIA analyst Sam Adams over estimates of enemy strength was essentially based on differences in the categories of enemy personnel counted:



c.v. for Edwin E. Moïse

Bibliography of the Vietnam War


Revised April 5, 2024.