Yesterday was lunar new years, the beginning of the year according to the Chinese zodiac. And the year that has just begun is the year of the rat. That makes it my year. According to my birth date, the rat is my zodiacal sign. I am a rat. That makes me clever and resourceful but not very brave.
In Vietnam, the beginning of the lunar year is also the start of spring. The Vietnamese call the day Tết. It is far and away the biggest holiday in the Vietnamese calendar. The celebration lasts for days.
We Americans know the word Tết because the North Vietnamese in 1968 launched a country-wide offensive coincident with the Tết holidays taking the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces by surprise. As I have reported elsewhere in this blog, the National Security Agency (NSA), my employer, had, at my behest, put out a series of reports starting five days before the first attack warning that a country-wide offensive was coming. The reports were largely ignored.
The offensive was a military failure. The North Vietnamese were repulsed with great losses. But the offensive was a political success. The U.S. government had been telling the American citizenry that the North Vietnamese were losing the war which wouldn’t last too much longer. The Tết Offensive proved the opposite was true. U.S. public opinion turned against the war. We ended up withdrawing from Vietnam and ceding the country to enemy. It was the first war the U.S. had ever lost.
So every year, toward the end of January or the beginning of February, when the new year, according to the Chinese zodiac, arrives, I remember the Tết Offensive. I can never forget it.