“The editorializing that I did on the Tet offensive in Vietnam and I think helped speed the end of that war. That, I’m proudest of,” said a preening Walter Cronkite -- once known as "the most trusted man in America" -- earlier this year, fondly recalling his time anchoring "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" and his famous "we are mired in stalemate'" editorial regarding the Tet Offensive. (Walter Cronkite and a CBS Camera crew use a jeep for a dolly during an interview with the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, during the Battle of Hue City, 02/20/1968, National Archives and Records Administration photo)
"There are so many agendas lurking in this thing that whatever you say or don’t say, someone’s going to say you meant it differently," observed US Ambassador to the Holy See* Francis Rooney with perfect diplomatic understatement in a recent National Catholic Register interview. He was responding to a question re the Regensburg affair but could just as well have been talking about the lurking agendas and history-challenged misinterpretations that fester in the febrile forebrains of the commentariat whenever Rooney's boss, President Bush, opens his mouth. TigerHawk skillfully dissects a recent example of the species, a willful distortion of GW's response to a question by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos:
Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.
"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."
Hearing what they wanted to hear, lefty bloggers missed the point and ran out of bounds with it. Wrote one:
Bush is right to finally admit that violence in Iraq has reached a tipping point, and that the U.S. is not winning the war as he has claimed.
TigerHawk took it from there:
That is, of course, not what the President said. He merely agreed that there was an appropriate comparison to be made between the Tet offensive and the violence we are seeing in Iraq today. I agree. The question is, what was the lesson of Tet?
But don't confuse our friends on the left side of the aisle with the facts. TH continues:
At the time the media perceived and promoted the Tet offensive as a great victory for the enemy. In an age when the network anchors deployed truly awesome power, Walter Cronkite destroyed Lyndon Johnson's chances for re-election when he editorialized that we were "mired in stalemate." President Johnson declared "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America" and withdrew from the 1968 presidential campaign.
Tet, however, was not a military disaster for the United States.
As the well-sourced Wikipedia entry quoted by TH summarizes, "The Tet Offensive is frequently seen as an example of the value of propaganda, media influence and popular opinion in the pursuit of military objectives." Then as now, so many lurking agendas, so little time. TigerHawk concludes:
Not surprisingly to me but shocking to many, the President obviously knows more history than his interviewer. When President Bush "accepts" the analogy of the surge in violence in Iraq to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, he is not "accepting" that Iraq is an unwinnable struggle against a noble enemy. He is saying that victory or defeat in Iraq will not be a function of the amount of violence that the enemy is able to do during any given period, but our will to keep fighting notwithstanding that violence. In that one regard, Iraq is dangerously similar to Vietnam, which fact the mainstream media would know if the typical editor read military history instead of the journalism pretending to be history that fills the bestseller lists.
Unfortunately, military history is not on their agenda. We're reminded of the left's dismissal of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the Kerry campaign. As we blogged back then, relevant to the MSMs current, willful misreading of the meaning of Tet:
We continue to believe that Vietnam sticks in the national craw because of the pivotal role it played in the sixties leftists' sense of their own importance. They were going to change the world. If they were wrong about Vietnam, their entire worldview is in question. Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill comes to mind. Can't have that. As we blogged here a couple of weeks back, quoting Bruce Thornton in his article "Embedded and Elitist Left: The Long March through Schools of Journalism":
For those stuck in the amber of the radical sixties, Vietnam is their most glorious memory, a time when they rose up and confronted the military-industrial complex and forced it to retreat from its neo-colonial and imperial ambitions. That's why at every opportunity Vietnam is trotted out, surely the most overused false analogy ever.
With hindsight, historians recognize the old boy's emotionally-charged "mired in a stalemate" editorial was based upon a willful misreading of how things were going on the ground in Vietnam. Nevertheless it signaled -- as AaronVB of RedState wrote recently -- a "subtle shift in tone the debate over the war took post Tet: from winning the war to how to 'securely withdraw.'" Echoes of John "Withdraw Now" Murtha & Company's recent campaign to dampen the homefires and sap the armed forces' morale.
Willful misreadings happen when you don't study history. And that's the way it is.
*Formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See were established in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II.