Timed to coincide with the Vietnamese New Year holiday, the Tet Offensive 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 series of attacks aimed to encourage the South Vietnamese populace to rise up against their government; they also looked to weaken the resolve of the U.S.
And although the offensive was eventually beaten back by American and South Vietnamese forces, the pictures of chaos and slaughter that were beamed back to the U.S. undoubtedly had an effect on public opinion. Indeed, in the week leading up to February 18, 1968, 543 U.S. troops were killed and 2,547 were wounded. For America, these were to be the highest casualty figures in a given week during the whole conflict.
Yet there was one particular photograph and segment of news footage that shocked people worldwide more than any other. That brings us back to the Viet Cong prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem, whom we saw being marched along a Saigon street earlier in the article. What was about to happen to this man, and the images of the event, would reverberate around the world.