The Tet Offensive, timed to coincide with the Vietnamese New Year holiday, was launched by North Vietnamese communist forces on January 31, 1968. It involved some 70,000 Viet Cong soldiers attacking towns and cities throughout South Vietnam. The attack aimed to encourage the South Vietnamese populace to rise up against their government, as well as to weaken the resolve of the U.S.
Although the offensive was eventually beaten back by American and South Vietnamese forces, the pictures of chaos and slaughter beamed back to the U.S. undoubtedly had an effect on public opinion. Indeed, in the week up to February 18, 1968, 543 U.S. troops were killed and 2,547 wounded. These were to be the highest casualty figures of the whole conflict.
There was one particular photograph and segment of news footage that shocked international opinion more than any other. That brings us back to the Viet Cong prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem, who we saw being marched along a Saigon street earlier in the article. What was about to happen to him, and the images of the incident, would reverberate around the world.