Tet Offensive

In this module, students will examine the Tet Offensive and its impact on the course of the war. While the offensive is regarded as a military failure, it nonetheless led to a dramatic shift in public opinion against the war. Students will conduct a close reading of a press conference with President Lyndon Johnson, then compare his account with a commentary by Walter Cronkite, as well as with Gallup opinion polls and a retrospective by Vietnamese commander Tran Van Tras.


The Tet Offensive (1968)

Essential Questions

  • Why is the Tet Offensive a turning point in the Vietnam War?
  • Why did public opinion change after the Tet Offensive?
  • Was the U.S. public misled about the outcome of the Tet Offensive?


  • 5.D.1.a. Objective: Analyze the significance of key events during the Vietnam War, including the Tet Offensive (1968), the My Lai Massacre (1968), the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and the invasions of Cambodia and Laos (1970).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 : Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information. (Grades 9/10)
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 : Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (Grades 11/12)
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8 : Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information. (Grades 11/12)
  • D2.His.1.9-12: Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by the unique circumstances of the time and place, as well as by broader historical contexts.
  • D2.His.4.9-12: Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspective of people during different historical eras.
  • 8.1 The United States responded to an uncertain and unstable post-war world by asserting and working to maintain a position of global leadership, with far-reaching domestic and international consequences.
    1. United States policymakers engaged in the Cold War with the authoritarian Soviet Union, seeking to limit the growth of communist military power and ideological influence, create a free-market global economy, and build an international security system.
      1. Post-war decolonization and the emergence of a powerful nationalist movement in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East led both sides in the Cold War to seek allies among new nations, many of which remained nonaligned.
    2. Cold War policies led to public debates over the power of the federal government and acceptable means of pursuing international and domestic goals while protecting civil liberties.
      1. Americans debated policies and methods designed to expose suspected communists within the United States even as both parties supported the broader strategy of containing communism.

Tips for using this module in your classroom


Documentary Clip

As students watch the documentary clip, have them collect evidence about the following topics:

  • The cultural significance of Tet to the Vietnamese
  • The scope and intensity of the Tet Offensive
  • The outcomes of the Offensive

Interview transcripts: Charles Shyab, Randy Elliot, John Bolte, Wayne McNeir, Dennis Noah, Tom Glenn

Close Reading Primary Source Analysis

Conduct a close read of President Lyndon Johnson’s News Conference from February 2, 1968 .
  • Does President Johnson view the Tet Offensive as a success or failure? Cite at least three pieces of textual evidence.
  • Why is the point of view of the author important to consider in this source?
  • What may be the author’s purpose in having this news conference?
View the Walter Cronkite Broadcast from February 27, 1968 .
  • How does the author view the Tet Offensive and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam?
  • How does the author’s point of view compare to that of President Johnson’s?
  • How might Cronkite's status as "the most trusted man in America" impact public opinion of this broadcast?
Examine the Gallup public opinion polls on the Vietnam War .
  • What impact did the Tet Offensive have on public opinion? Cite specific polls in your response.
  • How do these polls reflect a “credibility gap” between what the government said and what the public believed?
Read “Comments on Tet 68 ,” by Tran Van Tra, a Vietnamese commander in the Tet Offensive.
  • Does the author view the Tet Offensive as a success or failure? Cite at least three pieces of textual evidence.
  • Does this source support or contradict the contentions made in other sources?
  • Why is the point of view of the author important to consider in this source?
  • What may be the author’s purpose in writing this memoir in 1982?