Saturday, February 13, 2021

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

In Vietnam, where I spent the tail end of 1969 and much of 1970, the lunar new year celebration is known as Tet. And "Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!" is a traditional greeting.
More generally known as the Chinese New Year, Tet 2021 launched yesterday, ushering in the Year of the Ox. If you're an ox (born during the lunar confines of 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997 or 2009), here's a little description of your attributes that I swiped online this morning:

"Oxen are honest and earnest. They are low key and never look for praise or to be the center of attention. This often hides their talent, but they’ll gain recognition through their hard work. They believe that everyone should do what’s asked for them and stay within their bounds. Though they are kind, it’s difficult for them to understand persuasion using pathos. Rarely losing their temper, they think logically and make great leaders."

That description, like all mythology both East and West, is aspirational rather than actual, I'm afraid.

Tet 1968 (a year of the Monkey) brought with it the Tet Offensive, launched on Jan. 30-31. On Feb. 18, MACV posted the highest U.S. casualty figures for a single week during the entire war: 543 killed and 2,547 wounded. The year was deadliest of the war for US forces with 16,592 killed.

Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese regulars, Viet Cong guerrillas and local Communist militias had  launched some 100 simultaneous attacks on South Vietnamese cities and U.S. military bases. The theory behind the offensive was that the general population would join in, overthrow the South Vietnamese regime, defeat and drive U.S. forces from the country.

That did not happen and allied forces, although taken by surprise, managed to quell the assault effectively.

What Tet did do was change the nature of the conversation within the United States where a largely complacent population had heretofore believed reassurances from their leaders that victory was imminent and achievable. Tet exposed fatal weaknesses in the strategy of the U.S. commander, Gen. William Westmoreland, and cast serious doubt on the integrity and truthfulness of the U.S. leadership.

It was against that background that I arrived in Saigon and stuck around for a year.

The last U.S. troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973 (I'd gone home more than two years earlier); Saigon --- for a time my hometown --- fell on April 30, 1975. And the rest, of course, is history.

But I still observe Tet in a modest way --- and wonder at the bloodly absurdity of it all.

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