Lien-Hang Nguyen, the Dorothy Borg Associate Professor in the History of the United States and East Asia at Columbia University, will discuss the history of the Vietnam War on CNN’s original series “1968,” which will premiere over two nights: Sunday, May 27, 2018, and Monday, May 28, 2018. The broadcasts will air from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM EST. The four-part docuseries goes back 50 years to explore 1968, a year marked by seismic shifts in American politics, social movements, global relations and cultural icons that changed the modern landscape. We thank Professor Nguyen for answering the questions below about the Vietnam War in 1968.
Since you will be discussing the Tet Offensive in CNN’s “1968” documentary, could you explain the historical significance of this event?
The Tet Offensive, which included approximately 80,000 communist troops launching a series of surprise coordinated attacks against nearly all of the cities and towns across South Vietnam during the 1968 Lunar New Year holiday truce, is perhaps the most well-known event of the Vietnam War. It heralded a new stage in the fighting and brought about the beginning of American withdrawal from the war.
What new evidence and perspectives about this pivotal event will you bring to light in your forthcoming book Tet 1968?
Although the Tet Offensive has been viewed as a major turning point in the Vietnam War, we know little about the planning of the attacks in Hanoi, its impact on the leadership in Saigon, and its repercussions on Washington in a critical election year. Using recently-declassified materials from Vietnam and the United States, my forthcoming book will explore how the Tet Offensive set off explosive political battles in Hanoi, Saigon and Washington.
How does the Tet Offensive connect to the protests and revolts that were taking place around the world in 1968?
War leaders in Hanoi launched the Tet Offensive to set off a mass insurrection that could topple the enemy government in Saigon to win the war. While a general uprising did not come about in South Vietnam, the communist offensive was a major catalyst in protests and revolts that transpired in cities and towns across the United States, Europe, Latin America, and East Asia, including our very own uprising here at Columbia University.
What do you think are the greatest public misconceptions about the Vietnam War?
There are many misconceptions about the Vietnam War, with the Tet Offensive lying at the heart of many of these flawed understandings. But the most egregious is perhaps our understanding of the leadership in Hanoi. Who was in charge of Hanoi’s war and of Tet 1968? It was not Ho Chi Minh or Vo Nguyen Giap, as many believe. Instead, General Secretary Le Duan called the shots and most of his war command sought to minimize the influence of Ho and Giap, particularly during the Tet Offensive planning.
What kinds of historical materials and stories do you still hope to uncover about the Vietnam War in your research?
Since the Party, Foreign Ministry and Military archives in Vietnam are closed to all scholars – Vietnamese and foreign – there are still plenty of materials we need to see before we can arrive at a fuller understanding of the Vietnam War.