Thursday, May 4, 2017

This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, by James S. Robbins

In This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, author James S. Robbins offers a revision of the famous Viet Cong, NVA surprise offensive of 1968, a battle which supposedly uncovered the impossibility of winning the war in Vietnam.

Robbins writes many things that make sense: Tet was a decisive loss for the NVA and VC.  In fact, the VC were essentially destroyed as an operating force in South Vietnam following Tet.  Robbins then enumerates the many ways that Tet was lost, even though the US won.  Not surprisingly, he points out that the media was firmly anti-war.  Robbins contends the media did not have the right facts in its evaluation of the war and Tet.  The media was looking for quick, black and white headlines.   

As one form of proof, Robbins extensively examines the famous “Saigon Execution” photograph taken during the Tet Offensive.  He argues that in a very short time, the photo’s context was eliminated or altered.  The media molded the photo to further its own narrative.  People did not understand the moral complexity of a summary execution, on a street, in a city under martial law.

Perhaps that is true, but I wonder what Robbins hopes to accomplish.  Everything is understood in context, and through the informed or uniformed perception of the viewer.  Robbins does not make a profound point here.  Is he saying that the US lost the Tet Offensive because of photos like “Saigon Execution”?  This may be the case, but what do we really learn from this?  Ultimately, every human event is a matter of perception.  I am not sure what to do with Robbin’s analysis and conclusion.

Still, this is a vastly informative book about a momentous time in our history.  Robbins delves deep into Tet and the events before and after the offensive.  Readers unfamiliar with this battle will learn much useful information and explore complex issues.

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