The Tet Offensive and the Media
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Tran Van Tra

People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army, PAVN) general; chairman, Military Affairs Committee of the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN) (1964-1976); minister of defense, Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG) (1969-1976). Tran Van Tra was born to middle-class parents in 1918 in Quang Ngai, a coastal province in south-central Vietnam. He received an elementary education and later became a railroad worker, but he quit his job to join the Viet Minh resistance during World War II. He quickly became a senior officer in the South and led a 200-man guerrilla band near the Laotian border.

In 1954 Tra became deputy chief of staff to Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap. He spent the next nine years in the North and studying in the Soviet Union and China. He also became an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong (Communist) Party. In 1963, under the alias Anh Thu, he took command of a Viet Cong (VC) cadre group in the Mekong Delta. He also used the aliases Tu Chi and Tran Nam Trung (loyal to the South).

In 1964 General Tra became chair of the Military Affairs Committee, Central Office of South Vietnam, a position he held until 1976. He commanded the VC attack on Saigon during the Tet Offensive in 1968. From 1969 to 1976 he was Minister of Defense for the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam.

In March 1973 Tra returned to Hanoi to plan the final attack on South Vietnam. Between 1973 and 1975 Tra's task was facilitated by growing economic woes in the South, increasing morale problems among the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and waning U.S. support exacerbated by the April 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Despite disagreement with other Communist leaders such as Le Duc Tho, Le Duan, and Giap, in October 1974 Tra began the final campaign. Supported by fresh supplies of Soviet weapons, the offensive moved forward with success throughout the remainder of the year. Tra planned the final assault on Saigon led by General Van Tien Dung and four crack PAVN divisions.

In spite of last-minute efforts by President Thieu to enlist U.S. aid, ARVN forces crumbled in March and were in full retreat by early April. On April 7, 1975 Le Duc Tho and Tra arrived at the battlefront to oversee the final phase of the taking of Saigon. On the 21st Thieu resigned. On April 30 General Duong Van Minh surrendered and Tho and Tra arrived that afternoon to end the war.

From May 1975 to January 1976 Tra served as head of the Military Occupation Force, Saigon (later Ho Chi Minh City). From 1976 to 1981 he served on the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and in the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam as chair, Inspectorate Council of Ministers.

In 1982 Tra published his controversial five-volume work, History of the Bulwark B2 Theatre. In it he criticized wartime policies of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), especially the 1968 Tet Offensive and the willingness (or, as Tra says, desire) to sacrifice Viet Cong manpower in what he believed was an ill-conceived and needless campaign. Such candor led to his ouster from the Politburo and the banning of the book in Vietnam. Even though the Vietnamese government rescinded the ban in the late 1980s and allowed Tra to participate in various conferences reappraising the Communist role in the Vietnam War, he lived under something of a "house arrest" situation. Tra, one of the "grand old men" of the revolution, was allowed to meet visiting dignitaries and veterans groups from the United States in controlled settings. After a long illness, Tra died in Saigon on April 20, 1996.

William Head


Further Reading
Tran Van Tra. History of the Bulwark B2 Theatre. Vol. 5. Concluding the 30-Year War. Ho Chí Minh City, Vietnam: Van Nghe Publishing House, 1982.
 

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