Primary Source: Walter Cronkite's 'We Are Mired in Stalemate' Editorial

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The year 1968 was the point of the Vietnam War when the United States had committed the most soldiers to the fighting. It also saw the Tet Offensive, which ultimately turned the war into a communist victory.

The Vietnam War in 1968

In 1968, the United States had over half a million soldiers stationed in South Vietnam fighting the communist forces of the Viet Cong guerillas and the North Vietnamese Army. Furthermore, it also supplied the government of South Vietnam with military equipment and money. Even so, the American military had not made any major progress towards halting or reversing the communist takeover of South Vietnam, despite frequent reassurance from both politicians and military leaders that victory was near.

The North Vietnamese military made a major gamble in the hopes of winning, planning an all-out attack on many key cities and bases in the early weeks of 1968, during the Tet New Year celebrations. Despite the NVA and Viet Cong's inability to match American firepower, the North Vietnamese leadership believed it was possible for a surprise attack to seize control of cities, incite the South Vietnamese population to revolution, and inflict such a morale loss on the American military that they would pull out of the war. Known as the Tet Offensive, the first few weeks of 1968 involved some of the fiercest fighting of the war, and resulted in communist forces taking and holding territory for the first time in the conflict.

The Tet Offensive was thoroughly covered by Walter Cronkite, at the time on assignment in Vietnam. Cronkite was perhaps the most respected journalist in the United States. His coverage of the conflict revealed to the American audience how greatly many had misperceived the state of the war: if victory was so near, how could the communists suddenly undertake this major offensive? Cronkite returned to the United States in February of 1968. He gave an on-air editorial during the CBS evening news that summed up his feelings, as well as the feelings of millions of Americans frustrated with the Vietnam War. Let's read it now.

Text of Walter Cronkite's 'We Are Mired in Stalemate' Editorial

'Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective.

Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Viet Cong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarised Zone. Khe Sanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff.

On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.

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