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The ‘Frustrated Hawks,’ Tet 1968, and the Transformation of American Politics

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2008
JournalEuropean Journal of American Studies
Journal numberSpecial issue
Volumen/a
Number of pages12
Pagesn/a
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article examines the effects of the 1968 Tet Offensive on U.S. public support for the Vietnam War. Although Tet has often been referred to as a turning point in American support for Vietnam, an examination of trends in public opinion demonstrates that the post-Tet shift in public opinion was consistent with the pre-existing trends. Tet marked a milestone—the point at which an enduring plurality of American public opinion decided that becoming involved in the Vietnam War was a mistake—but it did not create a subsequent steepening in the trend line. The article traces in particular the relationship between support for presidential war policies and the stance of the “hawks” who wanted a swift and decisive conclusion: a victory. The growing opposition to presidential war policies was fed by the frustration of these hawks. There was never a “dovish” majority against the war—the antiwar majority was constituted by the aggregate of doves and frustrated hawks. This helps to explain why, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, no new postwar consensus replaced the orthodox Cold War orientation of American policy. The article therefore underlines recent historical interpretations of the roots of the modern conservative movement in the late 1960s, a period that should not therefore be thought of only as a time of rebellion.