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The Tet Myth

by Mackubin Thomas Owens

This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, by James S. Robbins (Encounter, 360 pp., $25.95)

Will Rogers was right: It’s not the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, but the things we know that “just ain’t so.” In this remarkable new book, James Robbins shows how accurately this observation applies to the Vietnam War in general, and to the 1968 Tet offensive in particular. The book is a worthy successor to the definitive study of the press’s failures during Tet, Big Story, by my late friend Peter Braestrup.

Tet is the cornerstone of the Vietnam-defeat narrative, which, as Robbins observes, has provided American commentators with a shorthand means of conjuring the specter of inevitable U.S. failure in wars against weaker unconventional enemies. Whenever terrorists or insurgents lash out in dramatic fashion, regardless of how swiftly they are crushed, the Tet analogy is sure to follow. Writes Robbins: “Tet is kept alive by the pervasive use of analogy in public discourse, not as an analytical framework to better understand or conceptualize events but as a form of shorthand used to brand those events for media consumption. Such analogies are exercises in perception management, whether or not they have anything to do with the course and conduct of the insurgency or terrorist threat in question.”

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