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NIXON AND THE VIETNAM WAR
In 1968, the year that Richard Nixon was elected president to the United States the Vietnam War was becoming perceived as unwinnable and its cost, namely in lives, was becoming too high to justify continuing fighting. Nixon’s primary concern was not winning the war but finding an honorable way out. The cornerstone of Nixon’s policy was "peace with honor"— the notion that the United States had to keep fighting to fulfill its pledge to its ally, South Vietnam. To not do so would be a dishonorable betrayal and would undermine America’s credibility in the world. Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser, took credit for ending the Vietnam War on terms that he said made the region more secure and the international system more stable.
Robert Dallek wrote in the Washington Post, "Nixon campaigned in 1968 claiming to have a "secret plan" to end the war, but after entering the White House in 1969, he and Kissinger quickly accepted that a military victory in Vietnam was unattainable. "In Saigon," the new president told his national security adviser that year, "the tendency is to fight the war to victory. But you and I know it won't happen — it is impossible." [Source: Robert Dallek, Washington Post, May 20, 2007 <>]
"Such private honesty didn't mean public candor -- let alone withdrawal." Yet "despite Nixon's and Kissinger's behind-the-scenes pragmatism, they continued the fighting for four bloody years -- punctuated by their Cambodian "incursion" in the spring of 1970, a U.S.-backed South Vietnamese offensive in Laos in 1971 and the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972. Throughout, they knew that victory was impossible but hoped that military pressure on Hanoi would force the North Vietnamese into what Nixon called "peace with honor" -- a deal that could end the United States' commitment while preserving its international credibility. <>
"Having vowed during the 1968 campaign to bring U.S. troops home, he feared he might lose his reelection bid if the war was still raging in 1972. Although Nixon had privately given up on the Vietnam War early in his first term, he wanted to label Democrats as "the party of surrender." Nixon's national security team that a quick exit from Vietnam would undermine the United States' standing abroad -- turning a superpower, as Nixon put it, into "a pitiful, helpless giant." In fact, withdrawal did no such thing. What truly hurt America's international reputation on Nixon's and Kissinger's watch (Watergate aside) was the continuation of the conflict for four futile years, which encouraged major powers to conclude that the United States couldn't let go of a failed war. In fact, U.S. credibility was enhanced by ending a war that it could not win -- a war that was costing the country vital resources that it could better use elsewhere. <>
The so-called Nixon Doctrine— Nixon’s ‘secret plan’ to end the war—was unveiled in July 1969. It called for South Vietnam and other Asian nations to be more ‘self-reliant’ in defense matters through — Vietnamisation"—the South Vietnamese fight the war without US troops—while the U.S. sought a peace agreement with North Vietnam, using bombing and other heavy-handed means to pressure North Vietnam into making a deal that favorable to the U.S.
Robert K. Brigham wrote in the Washington Post, " Faced with a similarly hostile Congress and public, President Richard M. Nixon's administration was forced to pursue a political strategy in Vietnam. Nixon continued to apply military pressure against the North, but he also began a unilateral, phased U.S. troop withdrawal designed to force Saigon to take fuller responsibility for South Vietnam's security. Nixon also brought China and the Soviet Union into negotiations to end the war by making them partners in the solution. At the time, no one could have predicted that either communist superpower would be willing to trade Hanoi's interests for lessening cold war tensions in Southeast Asia. Nor could anyone have predicted in 1969 that the Nixon administration would eventually agree to a political settlement that required the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from South Vietnam without requiring North Vietnam to do the same. Yet that is what happened. [Source: Robert K. Brigham, Washington Post, January 14, 2007]
Despite promises to do the opposite Nixon escalated the Vietnam War in first half of 1969 after he took office. In April the number of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam reached an all-time high of 543, 400. While the fighting in Vietnam raged, Nixon’s chief negotiator, Henry Kissinger, pursued peace talks in Paris with his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho. This new escalation provoked yet more bitter antiwar protests. On May 4, 1970, four students were shot dead at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen. They were protesting the bombing of Cambodia. Organizations such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War showed that it wasn’t just "cowardly students fearing military conscription" who were behind the anti-war movement. [Source: Lonely Planet]
"Descalation" Under Nixon
In November 1968, Richard Nixon won a close election against Johnson's Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In the election Nixon promised to end the war in six months. In July 1969, he announced the withdrawal of 60,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam, while secretly ordering an bombing of Viet Cong positions in Cambodia.
The number of soldiers in South Vietnam dropped from a peak of 554,000 in April 1969 to 475,200 at the end of 1969. By this time 40,024 American soldiers had been killed. By the end of Nixon’s first term in 1972 the number of American casualties per months was reduced from 1,200 to 30. In 1973 the number of American troops in South Vietnam was reduced to 30,000.
In the meantime fighting raged on. Describing Hue in 1971, a U.S official told David Alexander of Smithsonian magazine, "All the royal tombs were a no- man's-land. You'd get in a copter. and you'd have to sort of fly around the mountain tops because the Viet Cong would be firing at you. And you didn't know from one day to the next whether you'd be able to land because the control of the area went back and forth so much." As for the state of the South Vietnamese Army, photographer Don McCullin recalled that by 1972, "They had thrown away their boot and weapons. They were fleeing the fighting."
The Vietnamization" program implemented by Nixon and his commander in Vietnam, Army Gen. Creighton Abrams, in the late stages of the war called for the U.S. to arm and train South Vietnam's forces to take care of their country's security. To achieve this the policy called for an influx of military advisors and a speeded-up handover to indigenous forces followed by a gradual U.S. withdrawal. Robert Dallek wrote in the Washington Post, "In effect, Nixon hoped that as the South Vietnamese stood up, the United States would stand down."
John A. Graham wrote in the Washington Post, "Sometime in 1969, the White House, faced with unrelenting facts on the ground and under siege from the public, had quietly decided that the United States couldn't win in Vietnam. President Richard M. Nixon and national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger didn't put it that way, of course. The United States was a superpower and could not lose a war to a third-rate nation whose soldiers lived on rice and hid in holes in the ground. So the White House conceived an elaborate strategy to mask the U.S. defeat: Slowly withdraw combat troops over several years, while the remaining Americans would focus on training the South Vietnamese to fight on their own. We gave the South Vietnamese a series of performance ultimatums -- call them benchmarks -- that, if unmet, would trigger full U.S. withdrawal and shift blame to the South Vietnamese for the debacle that would follow. [Source: John A. Graham, Washington Post, January 14, 2007, John A. Graham, a former Foreign Service officer, served in Vietnam in 1971-1977 ]
"To make the drama of Vietnamization work, the pullout had to be gradual and easily explained to the American public. The U.S. training force left behind had to be large enough to provide signs of our commitment on the 6 o'clock news. Pictures of unarmed advisers like me shaking hands with happy peasants would support the fallacy that Vietnamization was working. The White House hoped that this strategy would keep the house of cards upright for at least a couple of years, providing what Kissinger infamously called a "decent interval" that could hide the U.S. defeat by declaring that the fate of South Vietnam was now the responsibility of the South Vietnamese. If they didn't want freedom badly enough to win, well, we had done our best.
Peter Spiegel wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Abrams' shift in Vietnam after he took over from Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland in 1968—which involved an increased advisory effort and an accelerated pacification program, and the enlarging the South Vietnamese army—was finally beginning to work by the early 1970s, military scholars argue. Those efforts were undermined, their thesis goes, by a lack of political will at home, which forced the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the Saigon government to go it alone before they were ready. [Source: Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2006 >>>]
"Gen. Westmoreland preferred to fight the war with American troops he saw the advisory effort to help the South Vietnamese as very secondary," said Kalev Sepp, a counterinsurgency expert at the Naval Postgraduate School who has traveled to Iraq frequently to advise U.S. commanders. "When Abrams took over, he turned it back around, and he emphasized the advisory system as part of the way the Americans could disengage." >>>
"There's a considerable sentiment of those who really studied Vietnam and, ideally, served there, that the approach to the war after Westmoreland left was on a new track," said retired Army Col. Stuart A. Herrington, another Vietnam veteran who has advised the Pentagon on Iraq policy. "It was a radical change in the approach to the war, and there's no question that even [former North Vietnamese] adversaries now admit that the second approach was extremely, extremely damaging to them." >>>
"Veterans of later years of the Vietnam conflict, some of whom are now in positions at the military's leading war colleges, often describe a strategy that was beginning to work even as combat forces began to withdraw in the early 1970s. James Willbanks, a former military advisor in Vietnam who heads the history department at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College, argued that pacification efforts -- the strategy of pushing South Vietnamese forces into the countryside to provide a physical and psychological sense of security -- had largely succeeded by 1972. He adding that the ARVN was even able to hold its own without American combat troops until Congress decided to withhold military funding to Saigon shortly after U.S. troops withdrew in 1973. >>>
"Their fear is that, like the ultimately failed Vietnamization effort, an unwillingness by the American public to support the war. "The [Vietnam] war was so far along and the withdrawal was so far along that the U.S. advisory effort was losing its effectiveness," recalled retired Army Col. Walter Clark, who served as a provincial military advisor in the Mekong Delta in 1971 and 1972 before becoming commandant of the Citadel, the private military college in South Carolina. "I couldn't snap my fingers and get a bunch of helicopters the Vietnamese might need." >>>
Vietnamization in Practice on the Ground
During a typically inept South Vietnamese offensive against North Vietnamese forces in early 1971, Nixon privately seethed with frustration. "If the South Vietnamese could just win one cheap one," he fumed to his national security aides. "Take a stinking hill. . . . Bring back a prisoner or two." When the South Vietnamese air force failed to attack North Vietnamese trucks because they were "moving targets," [Source: Robert Dallek, Washington Post, May 20, 2007]
John A. Graham wrote in the Washington Post, "I was a civilian adviser in Vietnam, sent there by the State Department in early 1971 just as U.S. combat troops were starting to go home. I wasn't there to fight, but I soon learned that "noncombatant" didn't mean much in Hué, the provincial capital 50 miles south of the demilitarized zone where I was posted. A week into my stay, a sniper's bullet whistled past my ear on the main highway. Joe Jackson, the burly major who was driving the Jeep, yelled at me to hold on and duck as he zigzagged to spoil the sniper's aim. [Source: John A. Graham, Washington Post, January 14, 2007, John A. Graham, a former Foreign Service officer, served in Vietnam in 1971-1977 ]
The "Vietnamization" strategy cost at least 10,000 more U.S. lives and countless more Vietnamese ones, plus billions of dollars. And it was rigged from the start. All but Washington's wildest dreamers knew that the South Vietnamese could not meet our ultimatums -- especially our demand that they create a popular national state strong enough to control the rivalries that had long ripped the country apart. And more years of U.S. training could not possibly make a difference because the core missing element was not South Vietnamese combat or leadership skills — it was belief in a nation worth fighting for.
"By June 1971, the 101st Airborne Division, stationed just outside Hué, had all but stood down from active fighting. It had provided the security that allowed my training/advisory teams and me to continue building schools and roads and training local officials. Even as that protection ebbed, my teams were still expected to go into a countryside that was becoming more dangerous by the day. As the U.S. adviser to Hué, I was an easy target anytime the Viet Cong might have wanted to take me out. I kept a case of grenades under my bed, slept with an M-16 propped against the bedstead and had a dubious army of four Vietnamese house guards who I hoped would at least fire a warning shot before running away.
"On April 27, 1972, North Vietnamese forces swept south across the demilitarized zone, scattering the South Vietnamese army defenders in Quang Tri and pushing south toward Hué. By early May, the battle line arced 15 miles north and 10 miles west of the city. To the east was the South China Sea and to the south, the road to Danang -- Hué's last ground link to the outside world. More than 200,000 refugees poured into Hué. Hungry people fought for scraps of garbage and looted homes and shops. Among the refugees were hundreds of deserters from the South Vietnamese divisions shattered in Quang Tri, still wearing uniforms and carrying M-16s. A mob of drunken soldiers torched the main market at Dong Ba. The city's firemen had long since fled, and black smoke hung in a pall over streets now jammed with terrified people and echoing with gunshots and shattering glass. There was nothing we could do but watch the shouting, shoving mass of people stream past us toward the Danang road.
"No one knew it at the time, but the battle raging just north and west of Hué that night -- May 2, 1972 -- was the turning point in the war. If the city fell, the road to Danang would be open to the North Vietnamese army. My three American colleagues in Hué and I did not believe we would be pulled out in time if the city fell. We knew that any choppers sent to save us would be mobbed by Vietnamese desperate to escape. We're alive because U.S. carrier jets caught the advancing North Vietnamese at daybreak just short of the city walls and all but obliterated them.
Successes for the South Vietnam Government Behind the Headlines
In 1971 and 1972, the communists faced some serious problems unrelated to United States offensive operations. The Saigon government began to gain some support in the Mekong Delta because of the implementation of a "land-to-the-tiller" reform program pressed on the Thieu government by Washington in 1970. Almost 400,000 farmers received a total of 600,000 hectares, and by 1972 tenancy reportedly had declined from about 60 percent to 34 percent in some rural areas. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Mark Moyar wrote: "In March 1970, President Thieu enacted the momentous "Land to the Tiller" law. To all tenant farmers and to all villagers farming on land distributed by the VC, it gave legal ownership of the land they cultivated. The cultivators merely had to submit an application to the GVN to receive title to the land. Saigon paid the original owner a certain amount of money, and the compensation generally was large enough to satisfy most landowners. Land to the Tiller reduced the maximum allowable land holdings of an individual to 15 hectares, and anyone holding that much land could do so only if he and his family farmed the land themselves. By the end of 1973, the GVN had issued approximately 1.2 million hectares to roughly 950,000 titleholders, exceeding its redistribution goal of one million hectares. In the Mekong Delta and the provinces around Saigon, the program worked extremely well. It redistributed about one half of all riceland in the Delta. In most of I Corps and II Corps, however, the Government distributed relatively few parcels of land. In the highlands, the Government did not make a serious attempt to institute these reforms. In the lowlands, stiff opposition from village officials and landlords, along with the scarcity of arable land and non-agricultural employment opportunities, prevented the redistribution. [Source: Mark Moyar, Villager Attitudes During The Final Decade Of The Vietnam, Naval Institute Press, 1997 ++]
In addition, a People's Self-Defense Force Program begun about this time had some success in freeing ARVN troops for combat duty, as United States forces were gradually withdrawn. Although it wasn't clear at the time whether the withdrawal of United States troops would cause the ARVN to crumble instantly, as predicted by the communists, the decisive defeat of an ARVN operation mounted against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in March 1971 was an early indication. At the time of the ARVN defeat, however, the communists were coping with deteriorating morale and with dwindling numbers of troops a rising desertion rate and falling recruitment levels had reduced PLAF strength from 250,000 in 1968 to less than 200,000 in 1971. *
Successes of Nixon’s Vietnam Strategy Team: Ellsworth Bunker, William Colby and Gen. Creighton Abrams?
Lewis Sorley wrote in the New York Times: "Few seem aware of the many successful changes in strategy undertaken in the later years of the conflict. The credit for those accomplishments goes in large part to three men: Ellsworth Bunker, who became the American ambassador to South Vietnam in 1967 William Colby, the CIA officer in charge of rural "pacification" efforts and Gen. Creighton Abrams, who became the top American commander there in 1968. [Source: Lewis Sorley, New York Times, October 17, 2009, Lieutenant Colonel (U.S. Army, Retired) Lewis Sorley holds the following degrees: B.S. from the United States Military Academy, M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of "A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam" (1999) :/]
1) Fight one war: Abrams, Bunker and Colby agreed that the war would be fought — and won or lost — in the villages. They decided to put equal priority on all key aspects of the war — thus the improvement of South Vietnam’s armed forces and the elimination of covert Viet Cong bases and refuges in rural areas were given the same emphasis as large combat operations. 2) Rethink combat operations: The early strategy in Vietnam was to use large units in "search and destroy" sweeps — often on ground of the enemy’s choosing in the deep jungle. Abrams decided instead to try "clear and hold" operations, in which small patrols were sent to villages to protect the populace. These troops were followed by South Vietnamese security forces — which Abrams made sure would get better training and equipment and were integrated into the regular army — to provide the "hold." 3) Restrain the use of force: Early on, Abrams said, "My problem is colored blue." By that he meant that friendly forces (usually portrayed in blue on battle maps, as contrasted to the enemy shown in red) were causing undue "collateral damage" to the South Vietnamese people and their property. He reined in the use of heavy firepower like artillery and tactical airstrikes.:/
4) Create an effective central government: As Nguyen Van Thieu, who became South Vietnam’s president in 1967, gained experience and influence, senior Americans came to regard him as the "No. 1 pacification officer." He traveled extensively, promoting and evaluating local programs. And by 1972 his "Land to the Tiller" initiative had achieved genuine land reform, distributing two and a half million acres of land to nearly 400,000 farmers. 5) Support local governments: In Vietnam, rural hamlets were able to elect their own officials, who were sent to training sessions in the port city of Vung Tau. President Thieu spoke to every class, emphasizing that they had to be "little presidents" and make good use of the resources that the central government would provide for economic growth, health care and schools. 6) Gather intelligence: "The intelligence is the most important part of this whole damn thing," Abrams told a visiting officer. "And if that’s good, we can handle anything." The best way to root out the enemy’s secret bases in Vietnam was to get good information from villagers and "ralliers," former Viet Cong rebels who had switched sides. :/
7) Build the economy: Vietnam depended on rice, and widespread fighting and enemy gains in early years took many acres of land out of cultivation. Pacification efforts put some of that land back into production and re-opened local markets, while the introduction of genetically engineered "miracle rice" greatly increased yields. In Afghanistan, finding viable alternative crops for farmers now growing opium poppies would seem to be a first order of business. 8) Improve security: Protection of the people (not body counts, as in the earlier period) became the measure of progress in Vietnam. The appropriate metrics to watch in Afghanistan are probably economic growth, the percentage of children attending school and health data, along with freedom of movement within and between population centers. 9) Control the borders: In South Vietnam, allied forces were never able to seal off borders with Cambodia, Laos or North Vietnam. The self-imposed prohibitions against going outside South Vietnam with ground forces allowed the enemy to use border areas for training, supply routes and sanctuary. 10) Maintain political support at home: All that was accomplished on the battlefield in the latter years of Vietnam was lost when Congress, having tired of the whole endeavor, drastically cut support for South Vietnam. Neither Lyndon Johnson nor Richard Nixon was able to rally public and press support for the war. :/
Bombing of Cambodia
The secret bombing began on March 18, 1969. Between that time and 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, the United States dropped four times as many tons of conventional bombs (539,000 tons) on Cambodia as were dropped on the Japan during World War II. “Huge areas of the eastern half of the country were carpet-bombed, killing what is believed to be many thousands of civilians and turning hundreds of thousands more into refugees. Many of the bombs were dropped after the peace treaty with Vietnam was signed and American soldiers had been evacuated from Vietnam. As bad as this was Laos had even more bombs dropped on it.
United States bombing of enemy troop dispositions and guerrilla sanctuaries in Cambodia-- particularly in the summer of 1973, when intense aerial bombardment (known as Arclight) was used to halt a Khmer Rouge assault on Phnom Penh--bought time for the Lon Nol government, but did not stem the momentum of the communist forces. United States official documents give a figure of 79,959 sorties by B-52 and F-111 aircraft over the country, during which a total of 539,129 tons of ordnance were dropped, about 350 percent of the tonnage (153,000 tons) dropped on Japan during World War II. Many of the bombs that fell in Cambodia struck relatively uninhabited mountain or forest regions however, as declassified United States Air Force maps show, others fell over some of the most densely inhabited areas of the country, such as Siemreab Province, Kampong Chhnang Province, and the countryside around Phnom Penh. Deaths from the bombing are extremely difficult to estimate, and figures range from a low of 30,000 to a high of 500,000. Whatever the real extent of the casualties, the Arclight missions over Cambodia, which were halted in August 15, 1973, by the United States Congress, delivered shattering blows to the structure of life in many of the country's villages, and, according to some critics, drove the Cambodian people into the arms of the Khmer Rouge. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]
The bombing was by far the most controversial aspect of the United States presence in Cambodia. In his book Sideshow, William Shawcross provides a vivid image of the hellish conditions, especially in the months of January to August 1973, when the Arclight sorties were most intense. He claims that the bombing contributed to the forging of a brutal and singlemindedly fanatical Khmer Rouge movement. However, his arguments have been disputed by several United States officials--including the former ambassador to Cambodia, Emory C. Swank, and the former Air Force commander in Thailand, General John W. Vogt--in an appendix to the second volume of the memoirs of then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. *
Impact of the Bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam War
The bombing of Cambodia coincided with Khmer Rouge’s five year drive to Phnom Penh and hurt the pro-American Cambodian regime. That government was too weak to carry on after the United States left Southeast Asia as South Vietnam fell. The bombing helped the Khmer Rouge win the sympathy of villagers and attract new recruits: One Cambodian scholar told AP, “It gave the Khmer Rouge the means to convince people to join them. They just had to say, ‘See they bombed our villages. join us and fight the United States.’”
The American bombing complicated and intensified the Cambodian Civil War and exacerbated problems and tensions within Cambodia. Many have blamed the United States recklessness in Cambodia as setting in motion a chain of events that led to the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. According to Lonely Planet: Undoubtedly, the bombing campaign helped the Khmer Rouge in their recruitment drive, as more and more peasants were losing family members to the aerial assaults. While the final, heaviest bombing in the first half of 1973 may have saved Phnom Penh from a premature fall, its ferocity also helped to harden the attitude of many Khmer Rouge cadres and may have contributed to the later brutality that characterised their rule. [Source: Lonely Planet]
Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “U.S. bombs dropped on Cambodia at that time caused widespread destruction and upheaval in the countryside, so the Nixon administration is partly to blame for what happened after the Khmer Rouge was left to clean up the mess in 1975. Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan said. "I think the responsibility must be shared to be just." He said the Khmer Rouge did what was necessary to save their country. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007]
The COSVN sanctuaries and headquarters turned out be collection of temporary huts that were quickly replaced. One villager who lost her son to an American bomb told AP, “My boy was beautiful. He had a big, round face. I could not sleep. I could not eat for months. I do not even swear at the Americans. There was no time. We had to keep running and hiding from place to place.” Some were sympathetic to what the United States was trying to do. One villager told AP, “There were lots of Viet Cong in the area—that’s why they were bombing. If they had wanted to kill the villager, no one would be here today. The Americans knew how to kill.”
President Nixon stopped the airstrikes in August 1973 after a U.S. federal judge ruled them unconstitutional and Congress refused to fund them. From the Khmer Rouge perspective, however, the severity of the bombings was matched by the treachery of the North Vietnamese. The Cambodian communists had refused to take part in the Paris peace talks. When North Vietnam and the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, bombing missions over Vietnam and Laos were terminated. The fighter bombers and other aircraft thus released were diverted to strike Khmer Rouge positions in Cambodia. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
Nixon Mulled Getting Out of Vietnam in 1972
The BBC reported: "President Richard Nixon discussed a Vietnam exit strategy before the 1972 election, a tape released to mark 30 years since he resigned shows. US forces had engaged in a huge bombing campaign that year in North Vietnam. But Nixon told his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that even with US backing, South Vietnam was unlikely to survive. Some historians see the conversation as evidence that Nixon sacrificed US forces in his quest for a second term. But Mr Kissinger, now a foreign policy consultant, told the Associated Press news agency that it was an informal conversation which did not reflect Nixon's policies. "Every once in a while he got discouraged and said 'chuck the whole thing,' but that was never his policy," he said. [Source: BBC News - August 08, 2004 |
"Nixon reportedly denied until his death in 1994 that the 1972 election affected his policies in Vietnam. In the Oval Office conversation recorded by Nixon's voice-activated taping system, the then president told Mr Kissinger that winning the election was crucial. "It's terribly important this year, but can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That's the real question," he said. Nixon started to draw back US ground troops from Vietnam in 1969. After winning the election in 1972, he agreed in 1973 to bring the rest of the troops home. South Vietnam fell two years later to North Vietnamese troops. |
"In the tape transcribed by the University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs, Mr Kissinger advised the president that they could avoid being seen as failures if South Vietnam held on to its independence for a few years. "If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74 no-one will give a damn," Mr Kissinger said. |
Bombing of Hanoi in 1972
Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi and bombing and mining of Haiphong Harbor during Christmas time 1972 in response to major North Vietnamese offensive across the DMZ into South Vietnam. Nixon believed his decision to bomb Hanoi would bring the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.
During the Christmas bombings in December 1972, the US dropped some 20,000 tones of ordnance in 11 days. More than 1,600 civilians died in the attack Rebecca Kesby of the BBC wrote: "The biggest ever bombing campaign by US B-52 aircraft took place over Christmas in 1972. Some claim the assault may have helped bring about the deal signed a month later that led to an end to US involvement in the war. Operation Linebacker II was President Richard Nixon's attempt to hasten the end of the Vietnam War, as the growing strength of the Viet Cong caused heavy casualties among US ground troops. The capture and torture of downed airmen in the north, regularly paraded on television, was also an embarrassment for Washington. Nixon was under pressure to bring the troops home. At the same time, long-running negotiations in Paris between the warring parties had broken down.[Source: Rebecca Kesby, BBC, December 24, 2012 ////]
"The relationship between American negotiator Henry Kissinger and the government in the south was strained, while Le Duc Tho - representing the northern Communist government - was refusing to budge on the issue of prisoner releases. So the Americans decided to take decisive action. On the evening of 18 December, 129 B-52s roared over Hanoi - huge bombers each capable of carrying many tonnes of explosives. They flew in formation, in successive waves made up of smaller cells, containing three planes. Thousands of metres below them, the sirens sounded and residents of Hanoi raced for the shelters. ////
"The US Air Force lost two B-52s that night out of a total of 15. A number of fighter jets and support aircraft were also destroyed during the 11 days of Linebacker II. At least 30 US airmen were killed and more than 20 went missing in action, others were captured after ejecting over North Vietnam. At the time the communist authorities said about 1,600 Vietnamese were killed, but many suspect the true figure is far higher. ////
"Linebacker II came to an end on 29 December and by 8 January all parties were back in the negotiating room in Paris. The Paris Peace Accords were signed by the end of the month, leading to the release of some US prisoners of war and paving the way for an end to US military involvement in Vietnam. The wording of the agreement was almost exactly the same as it had been at the beginning of December - before the Christmas bombing campaign. ////
Giap wrote in Newsweek, "In 1966, Ho told me that only when we can destroy the B-52 bombers over Hanoi will the U.S. withdraw. He was right. On Dec. 28 1972, I heard that we had brought down 17 percent of the B-52 attacking us. As soon as we received the news that the U.S. intended to negotiate its withdrawal. This shows how humans can win over steel weapons."
Eyewitess Accounts of the of Bombing of Hanoi in 1972
Rebecca Kesby of the BBC wrote: Among those who witnessed the Hanoi bombing "was Ha Mi, who was 10 years old at the time and remembers sheltering under the stairs of her family home with her sister, listening to the bombers overhead. "You can hear them coming from very far away," she remembers. "Advancing, they are looming, coming towards you with a very low hum. It's frightening."The Americans had been using fighter jets over Hanoi for years, targeting fuel depots and munitions stores, but Ha Mi recalls it was the B-52s, and their massive payloads of bombs, that struck terror into Vietnamese hearts. [Source: Rebecca Kesby, BBC, December 24, 2012 ////]
"The fighter jets were faster and would only drop one or two bombs, then they were gone," says Ha Mi, who works as a journalist for the BBC Vietnamese Service. Ha Mi Ha Mi saw the destruction on a busy shopping street - including the ruins of a friend's house "The B-52s were slower. and the bombing is more regular. Boom, boom, boom, for a longer period of time. It's more threatening," ////
"The bombing was suspended on Christmas Day, but during the days either side, the US Air Force flew 729 night-time sorties over North Vietnam with devastating effect. Later, Kissinger would describe the communists as being "on their knees" as a result.But it was a dangerous mission for the American airmen. The North Vietnamese had sophisticated Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles or SAMs, and plentiful supplies of anti-aircraft artillery. They also had a number of Soviet MiG-21 fighter jets. The lull on Christmas Day gave the Vietnamese a chance to regroup. When bombing resumed on 26 December, they put up strong resistance. A rare recording of the radio communications inside one of the US B-52s survives from that night. One airman can be heard saying, "I've never seen so much triple A [Anti-aircraft artillery] in my life." Another comments: "Those SAMs came right up past my window, they were damn close." ////
In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street in Hanoi. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. Ha Mi had a friend, whose house was hit. "There were a few houses still standing, but most of it was just rubble, flattened on the ground - or even just a big hole. Houses were just gone, it was horrible. I remember seeing people just standing there looking at it - but there was nothing there. Everything was just gone." ////
Jon Meacham wrote in Newsweek, Col. Bud Day, who was in the POW prison dubbed the Hanoi Hilton with future U.S. Senator John McCain "when America began the Christmas bombings of '72, said the future senator's reaction to the Christmas raid was joyful despite the dangers. "I was the squadron commander at the time," Day recalled. "The bombardments started the night of Dec. 19th. They were falling very close to the camp. Shrapnel was coming into the windows … A lot of stuff was falling off the ceiling. We were wildly ecstatic because that was the airline ticket home. John was like all of us—deliriously happy … Everyone was hysterical and jubilant that finally the right thing was happening because this was the only way we'd get out. We knew that and the Vietnamese knew that. We were slapping each other on the back … They went berserk. They told everyone to sit down as soon as we started laughing and everything. They immediately stuck guns through the window and started yelling at us in Vietnamese … They were always worried we'd riot … I told everyone, 'Sit down against the wall. I don't want anyone to get killed. We're going home in a few days. I don't want anyone getting hurt'." [Source: Jon Meacham, Newsweek, September 8, 2008]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
How anti-Vietnam War protests thwarted Nixon’s plans and saved lives
“Demonstrations don’t work.” Next time you hear someone (or yourself) say that, you might consider the Moratorium and Mobilization demonstrations in the fall of 1969 — both commemorating their 50th anniversaries this year.
On Oct.15, 1969, more than two million citizens took part in the Moratorium — a one-day national strike against the war. In hundreds of cities, towns and campuses throughout the country, people from all walks of life took the day off to march, rally, vigil or engage in teach-ins. Until the Women’s March of 2017, the Moratorium held the title as the biggest nationwide demonstration in American history.
Exactly a month later, on Nov. 15, more than a half-million war opponents flooded the nation’s capital for the Mobilization. That was more than double the number of marchers who participated in the famous 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. More than 100,000 rallied in a simultaneous antiwar demonstration in San Francisco.
It’s not just the enormous size of these antiwar protests that make them worth recalling. I was on the staff of the coalition that organized the Mobilization action. Though none of us involved knew it then, these demonstrations foiled Richard Nixon’s plans to dramatically escalate the war.
At the time, I was delighted with the massive turnouts. I’d been working full-time as an antiwar organizer for the previous two years and would continue doing so for four more. I believed the antiwar movement was making progress as more and more people from an ever-broadening cross-section of the public were joining the actions. It seemed the tide of public opinion was shifting in our favor.
But was the dissent having any impact on the warmakers? After all, the war was continuing to send both Americans and Vietnamese to early graves every day. I sometimes wondered whether the peace movement was no more than a side show. The government always pooh-poohed our influence. Nixon even claimed to have watched a football game while a half-million of us marched and rallied within earshot of the White House.
Few could have predicted earlier in the year that the peace movement would have launched such massive protests. When Nixon entered the Oval Office in January, the national peace movement was in disarray. It’s well worth telling the story of how the movement transformed itself over the ensuing months. It certainly illustrates why it’s so crucial for mass protests to be creatively nonviolent.
Fewer than 10,000 people showed up for “Counter-Inaugural” actions, which were held in Washington, D.C. when Nixon took office. It was sponsored by the Mobilization coalition that had called other national demonstrations. (The two coalition protests in 1967 each drew more than 10 times that number). And the Counter-Inaugurals were widely considered a flop. The most publicized actions were minor street skirmishes between the police and small bands of protesters, some of whom threw objects at Nixon’s car as it made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
Even before the Counter-Inaugurals, the Mobilization’s leadership had little credibility. Opponents of the war were wary of a repeat of the violence that occurred the previous summer at the Chicago Democratic Convention. The Chicago demonstrations had also failed to attract more than 10,000 in part because of the violent rhetoric and provocative statements made by Mobilization leaders. At one point, Tom Hayden exhorted a crowd: “Make sure that if blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city.”
Most antiwarriors understood that Mayor Richard Daly and the Chicago police were responsible for the violence, not the protesters. (A government commission called it a “police riot.”) Still, it’s hard to recruit large numbers of people to an event where you think you might get your head bashed in. And the Mobilization leadership had done little either in Chicago or at the Counter-Inaugural to dissuade those within the antiwar movement who spouted violent rhetoric (“Off the pig” was a favorite chant) or advocated violent tactics.
During the first months of the new administration, some antiwarriors were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt to see whether he would become the “peacemaker” he so eloquently proclaimed in his inaugural address. Believing in his powers of persuasion, Nixon’s aide Henry Kissinger met with a group from the major antiwar religious coalition to urge patience. His effort backfired. Two weeks later, the group announced a series of demonstrations in the spring, as did other antiwar groups who had concluded that Nixon — like his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson — hoped to win a military victory despite his talk of turning responsibility for the war over to the South Vietnamese, as well as enacting token troop withdrawals.
Kissinger had the same luck several weeks later with a group of student leaders. They represented more than 250 student body presidents and college newspaper editors who had signed a petition saying they would refuse to be drafted into the military. Meeting in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House, Kissinger gave his spiel about patience. It did not go over well with students who faced being drafted and possibly being sent to prison or Vietnam while Nixon and Kissinger were patiently trying to achieve “peace with honor.” After Kissinger left the room, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s senior aide, told the group, “If you people think you can break laws just because you don’t like them, you’re going to force us to up the ante to the point we’re handing out death sentences for traffic violations.” He slammed his hand on the table and the meeting was over.
Leaders of the student group soon organized the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and called for people to stop work or school on Oct. 15 to protest the war. They intentionally picked the word “moratorium” rather than “general strike” to appeal to a broad cross-section of the public, especially those who’d never previously taken to the streets. Leaders of the Moratorium saw the potential for enlarging the movement after having worked on the 1968 electoral campaign of antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy. They urged people to protest in their own communities with the Moratorium functioning as a clearinghouse to support local groups.
Meanwhile, a newly formed coalition emerged with a wide spectrum of community, religious, professional, labor, political and student groups. Called the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, its organizers went to great lengths to eliminate the violent rhetoric and confrontational street tactics that had marred previous coalition actions.
The Mobilization called for major rallies in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco for Nov. 15. To set a peaceful tone, they added a solemn two-day March Against Death immediately prior to the mass rally in Washington. The plan was to march from Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol via the White House with marchers holding placards with the name of a U.S. soldier who’d been killed in the war or the name of a Vietnamese village that had been destroyed.
Earlier that spring, some local groups had adopted the tactic of reading the names of the war dead in front of government buildings. The tactic served to remind the public that the war was not over, that the killing was continuing. The tactic got national network coverage when a group of Quakers did it on the steps of the capitol and were joined by a handful of Congresspeople. Because it was then illegal to demonstrate on the Capitol grounds, the demonstrators were hauled off to jail, but the representatives could not be arrested because of congressional immunity. (The Quakers successfully challenged their arrests, and a judge found in their favor — making it legal to exercise one’s First Amendment rights at the Capitol.)
While antiwarriors were making plans for the fall, Nixon had initiated what he called his “Madman Theory,” which involved threatening the other side with massive destruction if they didn’t agree to his peace terms. The president gave the communists a deadline of Nov. 1 to agree to the American peace terms or face “measures of great consequence and force” and had his aides imply that the fervently anti-Communist president could be unpredictable or even act irrationally if angry.
Nixon then had the Pentagon and his National Security Council led by Kissinger draw up plans to deliver a “savage, decisive blow” against North Vietnam because, in Kissinger’s words, “I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.” Plans included bombing the country’s dikes — which could have killed tens of thousands of civilians — as well as dropping so-called tactical nuclear bombs near the Chinese border, which could have provoked the nuclear-armed Chinese or Soviets to retaliate.
Unfortunately for Nixon, his ultimatum date of Nov. 1 was sandwiched between the dates for two antiwar demonstrations. When Nixon learned from CIA infiltrators that the Moratorium was “shaping up to be the most widely-supported public action in American history,” he saw trouble ahead. As Nixon later wrote, he saw that “the only chance for my ultimatum to succeed was to convince the Communists that I could depend on solid support at home if they decided to call my bluff.”
“Solid support at home” was not forthcoming. The size and breadth of both the October and November protests surpassed the organizers’ most grandiose expectations. Reading the names of the war dead was used extensively during the Moratorium protests. And the March Against Death drew more than 45,000 protesters who walked single file along the four-mile route with their candles and placards for 36 hours.
The Mobilization also attempted to create a highly disciplined action by recruiting and training more than 4,000 marshals to keep order. Their one-and-a-half hour nonviolent training sessions included several role-playing scenarios about how to deal with potential disrupters, whether police, agents provocateurs or radical activists. (The latter was a major concern, as Bill Ayers of the newly formed Weatherman faction tried to extort $20,000 from demonstration leaders in exchange for agreeing not to disrupt the action. He was turned down.)
As a result of the demonstrations, Nixon cancelled his war plans. He wrote in his memoirs that the protests had “undercut the credibility of the ultimatum.” Several other researchers have verified that in this instance at least, “Tricky Dick” (as he was then called), had told the truth.
What about Nixon’s claim to have ignored the Nov. 15 Mobilization? “Untrue,” according to Daniel Ellsberg, who was then working for the Nixon administration: “Every 10 minutes he [Nixon] was calling the Situation Room and finding out what was going on, getting the reports from the U-2s on crowd size… He was totally absorbed.”
Of course, the fall 1969 demonstrations did not end the war. It was one battle in a 10-year nonviolent struggle that ultimately helped to stop the bloodshed in Indochina. Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Nixon administration, acknowledged that the government always was concerned about how the antiwar movement would react. He said that the movement “served to inhibit and restrain the decision makers… both in the executive and legislative branches of the government.”
It’s worth reflecting on the implication of Admiral Moorer’s statement. To “inhibit and restrain” warmakers in wartime meant less violence. Put another way, the anti-Vietnam War movement saved lives.
Sadly, few of us who were involved in American’s largest nonviolent struggle knew then or know today that we had such power. At the time, we knew opposing the Vietnam War was the right thing to do. But it sure helps to realize that it made a real difference to have marched and rallied, petitioned and lobbied, sat through countless meetings and engaged in civil disobedience.
Hopefully, those involved in today’s struggles will find some helpful lessons from our experiences.
Episode Eight: “The History of the World” (April 1969-May 1970)
Premieres September 26 at 8/7c
Privately, Nixon knew that military victory was impossible.
NARRATOR: “Privately, Nixon knew that military victory was impossible, that things would have to be settled at the bargaining table in Paris. He had to find a way to extricate Americans from Vietnam without seeming to surrender.”
If Mr. Burns, Ms. Novick, or Mr. Ward are somehow privy to what President Nixon knew privately, they have the duty to provide the sources and citations to support this statement.
In 1985, the former President wrote in No More Vietnams, “If our cause was unjust or if the war was unwinnable, we should have cut our losses and gotten out of Vietnam immediately. As President, I could not ask any young American to risk his life for an unjust or unwinnable cause.”
The Burns/Novick/Ward version of Vietnam is based on what they believe to be desperation and duplicity on the part of President Nixon. They purport to know what he thinks privately, and what he thinks privately turns out to be what they think he thinks privately, which is trying to find a surreptitious way to surrender.
“Surrender” never occurred to President Nixon. The word was not part of his vocabulary.
According to Tom Vallely, identified throughout the film as a Marine, Nixon and Kissinger developed a secret strategy to surrender without saying that they surrendered.
TOM VALLELY: “Nixon and Kissinger. Their job is to clean up. The war’s over. Okay. When Nixon and Kissinger, when they come, they’re not going to win the war. So they develop a secret strategy to surrender, without saying they surrendered. This is not a bad strategy. This is the only strategy.”
There is no factual basis for this statement. Even among Nixon critics this is an extreme statement. It is an opinion to which Mr. Vallely is entitled. But Mr. Vallely expresses it as fact, which should oblige the filmmakers, at the very least, to acknowledge that there are different opinions.
Further, Mr. Vallely, in addition to being an articulate and compelling interviewee, is also the film’s Senior Advisor. Unless viewers stay tuned through the credits, where this role is acknowledged, it is perhaps misleading to include him among the other interview subjects without disclosing that association.
President Nixon had a clear strategy for Vietnam. It included not just ending the war, bringing the POWs home, and securing the right of the people of South Vietnam to determine their own political future. Through achieving better relations with China and the Soviet Union –what became known as “linkage”—Nixon planned to build the framework for a generation of peace.
If President Nixon had decided to “surrender” he could have announced the immediate withdrawal of all American troops in his Inaugural Address in 1969, or following it. He well knew what he was told by Democrats and Republicans: that he had about six months after he became President until “Johnson’s war” became “Nixon’s war.” He accepted that responsibility because he believed a dishonorable peace, such as one achieved by surrender, might be temporarily popular but would inevitably lead the way to future and even more difficult wars.
According to Vincent Okamoto, identified as an Army solider, justification for the war shifted in its latter days to maintaining America’s credibility.
VINCENT OKAMOTO: “No 19, 20 year old kid wants to die to maintain the credibility of Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon.”
From his first days as President (indeed, foreshadowed by his seminal article “Asia After Vietnam” published in the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs), Nixon felt that America’s reputation as a dependable ally, and role as a great power working for peace around the world, would depend on the way the United States dealt with ending the Vietnam War.
Nixon would have had considerable domestic and international support if he had decided to leave Vietnam on any terms and begin his new administration with a clean slate. But, as Nixon wrote in his Memoirs, “To abandon South Vietnam to the Communists now would cost us inestimably in our search for a stable, structured, and lasting peace.”
He elaborated in a 1983 interview: “I had been there [Vietnam] going back to 1953. I was there in , , and four times in the sixties, and I knew that if we were to get out of Vietnam then, the Communists would overrun it. I also knew that if we got out under those circumstances, it would have a devastating effect on our other allies in that area — the Thais, for example, the Filipinos, and so forth. And I also knew, and this is a conviction I have even today, I knew it would have a devastating effect on American morale, on our willingness to play a credible role in the world, because there’d be instant relief for a while, and then there would be a turning inward and saying ‘Why did we have this loss of life for nothing?’”
The narrator says that Nixon ended up widening the war, just as his predecessors did.
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon, having promised a swift end to the war, would, like all the presidents who came before him, end up widening it. In the process, he would reignite opposition to the war on American campuses that threatened to tear the country apart again.
President Nixon’s predecessors, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, began the Vietnam War and expanded it until, when Richard Nixon was inaugurated on January 20th 1969, there were more than 500,000 Americans in Vietnam. Beginning in his first year as President, Nixon began withdrawing U.S. troops, until there were only some 23,000 by the time he was able to end the war in 1973.
The idea that Nixon widened the war is based on his announcement of the Cambodian incursion in April 1970. This incursion sent American and South Vietnamese troops a limited number of miles across the Cambodian border, where invading North Vietnamese soldiers had established sanctuaries (supplied via the Ho Chi Minh trail which extended from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia). More than one thousand Americans were killed during his first two months in office, many of them the result of attacks staged from these sanctuaries.
Nixon announced a timetable by which the sanctuaries would be destroyed and the Ho Chi Minh trail interdicted, and the American and South Vietnamese forces would then return to their bases in South Vietnam. Following that timetable, the troops moved into the Cambodian sanctuaries on the 29th of April, and had been completely withdrawn from Cambodia by July 22nd.
In No More Vietnams, the former president wrote, “Our incursions into Cambodia in 1970 did not widen the war. Since 1965, North Vietnam’s forces had occupied the border areas of Cambodia. In March 1970, Hanoi infiltrated into Cambodia over 200,000 Khmer Rouge guerillas who had been trained in North Vietnam. In April, after Cambodia’s government tried to assert its authority over its own territory — hardly an unreasonable demand — North Vietnam launched an invasion of the country. Hanoi’s delegate to the private peace talks freely admitted to us that North Vietnam intended to bring down the government of Phnom Penh. In May and June, when American and South Vietnamese forces cleared out the Communist sanctuaries, Cambodia was already swept up in the war.”
Nixon used the POW issue to change the narrative about the war and rebuke the anti-war movement, “who seemed more sympathetic to North Vietnamese civilians than those who were doing the bombing.”
NARRATOR: The Johnson Administration had generally downplayed the issue, hoping quiet diplomacy might bring the men home. The Nixon Administration launched a “go public” campaign instead, meant to put the plight of American prisoners and those missing in action at the center of things. It also provided a rebuke to those in the antiwar movement who seemed more sympathetic to North Vietnamese civilians who had been bombed, than they were to U.S. airmen who had been shot down doing that bombing.
After three years, the Johnson administration’s general downplaying of the issue, and counting on “quiet diplomacy,” had clearly failed.
The North Vietnamese insisted that the POWs were “war criminals” rather than prisoners of war, and treated them accordingly. During this period of “quiet diplomacy,” the American POWs were tortured, starved, denied medical treatment, mentally abused, subjected to beatings. Some were beaten to death and others died as a result of inadequate, or no, medical attention.
These facts rebuked the anti-war movement, not Nixon’s decision to “go public” with them.
During his first weeks in office, President Nixon met with wives, mothers and sisters of POWs and responded to their concerns. In No More Vietnams, he described that meeting: “It was an emotional and heartwarming experience to hear them express support for the administration’s policies and reject the demands of the antiwar politicians that we accept defeat and simply withdraw our forces in exchange for our POWs.”
In May 1969, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird announced the “Go Public” policy at a Pentagon press conference, saying that, although “the North Vietnamese have claimed they are treating our men humanely,” there was “clear evidence that this is not the case.” They had not identified the names of the prisoners they held, nor had they complied with requirements of the Geneva Conventions. The “prompt release of all American prisoners” became a non-negotiable contention at the Paris peace talks.
The first improvements in the conditions of the POWs finally began as the result of public pressure after stories about their inhumane treatment continued.
NARRATOR: A Gallup Poll now found that most Americans believed Vietnam had been a mistake.
This is correct. A Gallup poll taken February 1-6, 1968 was first time that most Americans agreed that the Vietnam War had been a mistake. That was the belief of most Americans from that point on.
Beginning in January 1969, the Gallup Poll also asked on 20 separate occasions, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Nixon is handling the situation in Vietnam?” Eighteen of the 20 times, more Americans said they approved than disapproved of Nixon’s handling of Vietnam.
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon knew he needed to signal to the public that an end was in sight. The National Security Council had warned Nixon that the joint chiefs of staff, the secretaries of State and Defense, the CIA, and the U.S. embassy in Saigon all privately agreed, that without U.S. combat troops, the South Vietnamese cannot now, or in the foreseeable future, stand up to both Viet Cong and sizable North Vietnamese forces.
At best, this is a non sequitur. The narration jumps, without notice, from February 1968 when Nixon has just announced his presidential candidacy, to early 1969 when he is already President and Commander-in-Chief.
The only document that we can find in the archives that matches the description in the Burns/Novick/Ward film, is “Vietnamizing the War (NSSM 36)” from Henry Kissinger to the President on June 23, 1969. This document, which was top secret at the time, was declassified in 2012. You can read it here: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/LOC-HAK-502-1-5-7.pdf
If the film’s producers are referring to a different document, they should cite it.
This document begins, “Secretary Laird has forwarded you the outline plan (Tab A) prepared by the Joint Chiefs for Vietnamizing the war. This plan has been coordinated with the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency.”
On the first page of Secretary Laird’s covering memo, he describes his reservations about the situation he had observed during a recent trip to South Vietnam. All the contributors (the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of State) were understandably cautious and wary. But far from sending a warning, the document expresses a prudent optimism about the possibility of success and a guarded enthusiasm about the benefits of the policy.
Nixon needed no warning, or reminding, of the difficult situation he had inherited.
NARRATOR: Nonetheless, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird said, the war was now to be Vietnamized. Saigon’s troops would gradually take over responsibility for engaging the enemy.
“Nonetheless” is misleading, because it implies that the prudent reservations —that were expressed about a policy that would be unfolding against the background of an ongoing war— were the point of this document.
The risks were clearly understood, but the possibility of success made the risks acceptable:
“Positive effects of Vietnamizing the war could include improving the negotiating climate encouraging mutual withdrawal of North Vietnamese Army forces stimulating RVNAF leaders resolve to fight while reducing their dependence on the United States promoting additional US public support for the US effort in Vietnam and saving US lives. The Vietnamese public could be led to accept the gradual approach if such reductions appears to be in each instance the result of a joint assessment and agreement between the United States and the Government of Vietnam and if the public were persuaded that the plan considered such factors as the military situation, the RVNAF’s capabilities, and progress in Paris.”
In a clear example of presenting advocacy as fact, from its first mention in the Burns/Novick/Ward film, the Nixon policy of Vietnamization is described only in negative terms and characterized as a secret and face-saving way concocted to protect President Nixon’s reputation.
MERRILL McPEAK: The reason I was ordered home early was because President Nixon announced the policy of Vietnamization. Now, Vietnamization was a lie. But it had an element of truth in it. We were leaving, okay? And that sealed the South’s fate. I knew it. And I think anybody who was conscious and could see what was going on, knew it.
General McPeak deserves respect for his service in Vietnam and later as Air Force Chief of Staff. Viewers will have to decide how they feel about his statement in the documentary that “we were fighting on the wrong side.”
That opinion may inform this extreme and simplistic statement about the policy of Vietnamization that was developed by many military and civilian experts and leaders over four wartime years. The fact that Vietnamization was a complex, sophisticated, and controversial policy is totally ignored.
Calling an official policy of the United States and South Vietnamese governments “a lie,” which “sealed the South’s fate,” does little to facilitate a national conversation about Vietnam.
To see errors and omissions from the previous episode, click here.
The Vietnam War and Its Impact - Nixon's peace with honor
Prior to 5 May 1968, Nixon spoke of seeking a "victorious peace" in Vietnam. But on that day, speaking in New Hampshire, the nation's first primary state, he used the term "honorable peace" for the first time. Crucial to his plan was the concept of linkage—using the Soviet Union to get the North Vietnamese to negotiate seriously.
In what Nixon believed was an off-therecord discussion with southern delegates at the 1968 Republican Convention, the nominee described another way to end the war:
How do you bring a war to a conclusion? I'll tell you how Korea was ended. We got in there and had this messy war on our hands. Eisenhower let the word get out—let the word go out diplomatically to the Chinese and the North Koreans that we would not tolerate this continued round of attrition. And within a matter of months, they negotiated.
When Nixon took office in January 1969, the United States had been involved in combat operations in Vietnam for nearly four years. U.S. military forces totaled 536,040, the bulk of which were ground combat troops. More than 30,000 Americans had lost their lives to then and the war cost $30 billion in fiscal year 1969. In 1968 alone, more than 14,500 U.S. troops were killed.
Richard Nixon was determined that Vietnam would not ruin his presidency, as had been the case with Lyndon Johnson. The Nixon plan was to "de-Americanize" the war, an approach that became known as Vietnamization. It involved building up the South Vietnamese armed forces so that they could assume greater combat responsibility while simultaneously withdrawing U.S. combat troops. The U.S. military role would shift from fighting the DRV and VC to advising the South Vietnamese and sending in a massive influx of military equipment and weaponry. Perhaps most important, Nixon changed the political objective of U.S. intervention from guaranteeing a free and independent South Vietnam to creating the opportunity for South Vietnam to determine its own political future. Vietnamization along with negotiation were Nixon's twin pillars for achieving an honorable peace.
During the first weeks of his presidency, Nixon also began to consider options for dealing with Cambodia, including the feasibility and utility of a quarantine to block equipment and supplies coming from that nation into South Vietnam. Under code name MENU, B-52 strikes began on 18 March 1969 against enemy sanctuaries in that country. They were kept secret from the American public, in part because Cambodia was a neutral country, but even more important because Nixon had not been elected to expand the war after just three months in office.
Halfway through Nixon's first year in the White House, President Thieu requested that a meeting be held in Washington, D.C., but Nixon, fearful of demonstrations, selected Honolulu, which the Vietnamese rejected because they did not want to meet on a U.S. resort island. Nixon next suggested the remote island of Midway, where Nixon won Thieu's public acquiescence for Vietnamization. When Nixon proposed that secret or private contacts be started between Washington and Hanoi in an effort to secure a negotiated settlement, Thieu asked that he be kept fully informed on the details of these meetings and that he be consulted on any matters internal to South Vietnam. He received assurances that this would most certainly be the case. By January 1972 the United States had conceded on almost every major point, including, at least implicitly, that any cease-fire would be a cease-fire in place, which meant that North Vietnamese troops then in the South would stay there. What came next was predictable: The North Vietnamese could not get the United States to dispose of Thieu for them. They did not intend to stop fighting until they regained the South. Thus, they had one obvious strategy: stall the peace, pour forces into the South, and strike a deal only when a cease-fire in place virtually amounted to a "victory in place." In an announcement made on national television on 25 January 1972, President Nixon revealed that Henry Kissinger had been holding private talks with the North Vietnamese starting in August 1969 and that every reasonable American proposal to end the war had been turned down. Nixon offered the details of a secret proposal made on 11 October 1971 that called for internationally supervised free elections in which the communists would participate and before which President Thieu would resign.
On 30 March 1972, Easter Sunday, the North Vietnamese began their biggest attack of the Vietnam War. It was a conventional military assault, designed to inflict a crippling blow against the army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and would last six months. On 8 May, President Nixon met with the NSC and told of plans for mining Haiphong harbor and resuming the bombardment of Hanoi and Haiphong. He also told the council that he would inform the public of his decision in a televised speech that evening.
After the NSC meeting Nixon brought his cabinet together and stated frankly, "We've crossed the Rubicon." As Nixon would put it to Kissinger the next day, he wanted to "go for broke" and "go to the brink" to "destroy the enemy's warmaking capacity." He wanted to avoid the previous mistakes of "letting up" on the bombing that he and Johnson had made in the past. "I have the will in spades," he declared. Nixon was determined not to repeat LBJ's mistakes. "Those bastards are going to be bombed like they've never been bombed before," gloated Nixon. What followed, starting in May, was the most successful use of airpower during the Vietnam War and one of the largest aerial bombardments in world history—Operation Linebacker. Targeting roads, bridges, rail lines, troops, bases, and supply depots, the attack was the first large-scale use of precision-guided laser bombs in modern aerial warfare.
In the short term, the offensive was clearly a military defeat for the North Vietnamese and would cost General Vo Nguyen Giap his job as chief strategist. On the other hand, although Hanoi never retained control over a provincial capital, the North Vietnamese did gain ground along the Cambodian and Laotian borders and the area just south of the DMZ. Hanoi remained in control of this territory for the rest of the war, and in 1975 would use it to launch a successful attack on Saigon.
A week before the 1972 presidential election, Kissinger stated that "peace is at hand," but again the talks stalled and Nixon turned to "jugular diplomacy." Nixon decided that no treaty would be signed until after the November 1972 election, when his position would be strengthened by what most observers expected to be an overwhelming election victory over Democratic challenger and antiwar leader George McGovern. Reelected by just such a landslide, Nixon moved swiftly against North Vietnam.
On 13 December the peace talks broke down, and on the following day Nixon ordered that the bombing be resumed. Now his only goal was to bring Hanoi back to the bargaining table. On 18 December, Linebacker II—widely known as the Christmas bombing—began with B-52 bomber sorties and fighter-bomber sorties on the Hanoi-Haiphong area. The day prior to the start of the Christmas bombing, Nixon told Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "I don't want any more of this crap about the fact that we couldn't hit this target or that one. This is your chance to use military power effectively to win this war, and if you don't, I'll consider you responsible." Admiral Moorer called for expanded air attacks with an objective of "maximum destruction of selected military targets in the vicinity of Hanoi/Haiphong." He ordered that B-52s carry maximum ordnance with preapproved restrikes of targets. Kissinger wrote later that "the North Vietnamese committed a cardinal error in dealing with Nixon, they cornered him." The B-52s were his last roll of the dice.
Bring It On
I n a discussion that is buried in the basement of the blogs I suggested that politicians lie to get elected. I used the example of Richard Nixon lying about his secret plan to end the Vietnam War. People throughout the US were sick and tired of this war and many of them thought that perhaps this “secret plan” would bring our solders home. As history tells us Richard Nixon won this election and the Vietnam War did not end until April 30, 1975 when the US pulled its troops out of Saigon. The nutty part of this is that one Right Wing supporter of Richard Nixon’s secret plan tells us that the plan worked, because Nixon was president at the end of the Vietnam War. But, history tells us that Nixon actually resigned August 28, 1974, before the end of the war. This means that Gerald Ford was actually president at the end of the war. Most people would think that the discussion would be over here, but some people just won’t give up. Somehow they must find a way to be right even when they are clearly wrong. So, the next nutty thing another guy did was to suggest that the war actually ended when the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 23, 1973. If this is actually what this guys believes, then all of the solders that died after the Peace Accords were signed didn’t die in the Vietnam War. I don’t know what conflict they died in, but they should have their names removed from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. I am fairly certain that veterans would not be happy with this idea. So, it comes down to admitting that you are wrong, or living up to the statement that you are making. To what ends are the
right wing nuts willing to go to to prove that they are right? Well, since its thirty years later and we have quite a bit of information that we didn’t have during the 1968 election we certainly know now what Nixon’s secret plan was. This was Nixon’s secret plan:
“Nixon's secret plan, it turned out, was borrowing from a strategic move from Lyndon Johnson's last year in office. The new president continued a process called "Vietnamization", an awful term that implied that Vietnamese were not fighting and dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia. This strategy brought American troops home while increasing the air war over the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) and relying more on the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) for ground attacks.”
So, Nixon’s secret plan was to continue using Lyndon Johnson’s strategy of increasing the air war over North Vietnam. I suppose that you should judge for yourself whether this was a lie or not. But, the way that Nixon presented this secret plan made voters think that there was something more than just continuation of the current policy in Vietnam. And, the secret plan did not work. The secret plan was not the Paris Peace accords, those were an after thought. Not only that, but Nixon even lied to Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN or South Vietnam) by telling them that they would not abandon them if they signed the Peace accord. This guy couldn’t stop himself from telling lies, but these lies are not the subject of this discussion.
Posted by The Bastard at 02:45 PM in Right Wing Nut | Permalink
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Richard Nixon in 1968 had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War but 31,000 American dead when he was elected grew to 58,000 by the Paris Peace Accords. Nixon lost almost as many Americans in four years getting the U.S. out of Vietnam as Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and LBJ lost in 23 years getting the U.S. into Vietnam. That Nixon almost doubled the American dead is largely forgotten, likewise that Vietnam started a chain of events ending in Watergate is largely unknown.
Beverly Deepe, a Christian Science Monitor reporter in Vietnam for seven years, learned shortly before the 1968 election that Nixon had Anna Chennault encourage the South Vietnamese to avoid signing any Paris agreement, that Nixon would get them a better deal after he presumably won. Deepe reported this but the Monitor did not publish it. However this story turned out to be true and had it been published, Hubert Humphrey might have been president. Her book Death Zones and Darling Spies (2013) and “The Almost Scoop on Nixon’s Treason,” a long 2012 article by Robert Parry, have the details. Wiretaps with the Chennault information that Deepe had learned were reported to LBJ but LBJ and Humphrey did not publicize the information lest it be thought a desperate last-minute smear campaign effort.
But Nixon had committed treason, according to LBJ. (Once asked his opinion of Nixon, LBJ replied that he could tell the difference between chicken salad and chicken manure.) According to the Logan Act of 1799, it is a crime for a private citizen, which Nixon was at the time, to interfere with U.S. government diplomatic negotiations. Of course Nixon went on to lead an assault on the U.S. Constitution, ie the Huston Plan, which led to the Plumbers and Watergate.
Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (2014) by Ken Hughes, a University of Virginia researcher, tells the full story. Anna Chennault, the widow of General Claire Chennault of World War II Flying Tigers fame, and a well-known Republican activist, was at a secret meeting in New York in July 1968 with Nixon and the South Vietnamese ambassador. Nixon told the ambassador that Chennault was his designated link with the South Vietnamese government. The “Chennault affair’ followed by Nixon’s proposed break-in at the Brookings Institution is mentioned in the memoirs of John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman as well as those of Chennault herself and also Theodore White’s “The Making of a President 1968.”
After the 1971 publication of “The Pentagon Papers” Nixon feared a leak of the 1968 Chennault affair. He ordered a break-in at the Brookings Institution where he thought the Chennault files might be found revealing his sabotaging negotiations that could have shortened the war. (Charles Colson suggested firebombing the Brookings and seizing the files sought in the confusion.) Nixon staffers ignored his Brookings order but initiated other measures at his instigation, notably the Huston Plan, to utilize federal agencies in concert to counter political opponents. J. Edgar Hoover, the designated Huston chief, in a brief shining moment as a civil libertarian, refused to share information with other agencies, part of the fallout from his 1969-1970 dispute with the CIA in Colorado, the Thomas Riha Affair. The death of the Huston Plan led to the Plumbers and Watergate when Nixon said if they won’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves.
In 1972 it was still essential for Nixon to keep the Chennault affair under wraps and to stall off signing the Paris Peace Accords until after the 1972 election. Nixon ended the war in January 1973 on approximately the same terms LBJ might have gotten in 1968 having almost doubled the American dead for naught. Had this been widely recognized, George McGovern might have been president. Author Hughes concludes that the Brookings break-in that Nixon ordered that was NOT carried out led to the Watergate break-in that he had NOT ordered that was carried out. Vietnam had directly destroyed LBJ and indirectly destroyed Nixon via Watergate as the Hughes book makes clear starting with its title.
For more information on the Chennault event, see “Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery” by John A. Farrell in the December 31, 2016 New York Times Sunday Review.
Fred Donner, with two degrees in East Asian studies, served seven years in Vietnam as an air force officer, an airline manager, and a church group staffer followed by five years in the State Dept. and ten years in the Defense Intelligence Agency, all in East Asia assignments.
State of the Vietnam War Edit
Tensions from the Vietnam war remained high and served as a large catalyst behind Nixon's deployment of the operation.  The war was one of Nixon's primary objectives in his entrance to the office and led to Nixon devising a plan to both end the Vietnam war and gain international and domestic credibility for the United States as a result.  By launching an offensive being Operation Giant Lance, Nixon aimed to increase tensions within the war by raising the United States' nuclear threat through a "show of force" alert.  These operations acted as a prequel to Nixon's eventual Operation Duck Hook, declassified in 2005.  The primary goal of these operations was to primarily pressure the Soviets in Moscow, to call upon peace terms favourable for the United States with Hanoi in Vietnam.   With Operation Duck Hook being declassified in 2005, it was revealed that the "show of force" alert including Operation Giant Lance was meant to prepare for any military confrontation from the Soviets.  
Earle Wheeler, a United States Army general, ordered the operation as a part of the raised nuclear alert.  Under secrecy, Operation Giant Lance was a part of numerous escalations of nuclear threat, launched according to Nixon and Wheeler's decision to initiate a "Show of Force" alert on the 10th of October 1969.  This was a series of operations to increase military pressure, including the airborne Operation Giant Lance.   Initiated on October 13, eighteen B-52 bomber aircraft were deployed in preparation for the operation, requiring accompanying KC-135 tankers to refuel and support the extended patrol of the squadron.   To prepare for the operation, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) were used to collaboratively deploy the aircraft from air bases both in California and Washington State in secrecy.  Further increasing the readiness of the bombers, the aircraft were checked throughout the day, standing by for immediate deployment. 
The purpose of Operation Giant Lance was to intimidate the foreign contenders in the Vietnam War, primarily the Soviets through a display of radical military escalation. By using seemingly irrational actions as a part of Nixon's madman diplomacy, he aimed to push both the Soviet and the Vietnamese to end the war on favourable terms. This operation utilised a squadron of eighteen B-52 bomber aircraft which poised an extreme nuclear threat. These bombers were to patrol the Northern polar ice caps to survey the frozen terrain, whilst armed with nuclear weaponry.    The patrols consisted of eighteen-hour long vigils, which were executed with the intention of appearing as suspicious movements from the US.  These movements were kept secret from the public, whilst also remaining intentionally detectable to the Soviet Union's intelligence systems.   The operation was also intended to be a precautionary measure boasting operational readiness in case of military retaliation from either East Asia or Russia.    The operation’s intended goal was also to directly support project Duck Hook as a part of the 'Show of Force' alert. Nixon believed that this would indirectly coerce Moscow and Hanoi to enter a peace treaty through the Paris peace talks with the Soviets, on terms that were advantageous to the United States.  This outcome was also thought to possibly benefit the United States as well by promoting the credibility of the United States intervention in the Sino-Soviet conflict to its general public in the war. 
President Richard Nixon was infamous for his radical measures which heavily influenced his diplomatic course of actions.  The radicality of sending eighteen armed bombers on patrol stemmed from Nixon's intention to pressure foreign forces by displaying extreme military prowess.   Henry Kissinger, the national security advisor, was advised by Nixon at this time about Nixon's willingness to use nuclear weapons in order to end the war.  This madman theory attributed president Nixon with a type of diplomacy in which he would often take irrational options, even to the United States' own authorities.   This perception allows foreign forces to be unable to predict Nixon's intended motives or whether he would execute his actions, allowing Nixon to have a unique strategic advantage.  This diplomacy served as an indirect threat coupled with Nixon's decision to raise the nuclear alert, as the Soviets would not be able to completely understand his course of action.   Nixon used this unpredictable diplomacy to end the war in Vietnam, specifically constructing the impression he was willing to take desperate measures and irrationally threaten enemy forces with the United States' excessive nuclear threat.  This would result in an increased possibility that they may abide by the United States' demands on the basis that Nixon would declare nuclear warfare if his threats were not complied with.    The operations elevating the nuclear threat would also act as a display of Nixon's reputability as a tough and "mad" leader.  This was intended to lead both the North Vietnamese and Soviets that he was indeed an irrational leader, capable of escalating the nuclear threat.  
Due to Nixon's history of enacting this diplomacy such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the threat of his "madman" actions served as a real warning as he was socially recognised as a madman figure.  This diplomacy was effective during the Vietnam war due to the growing fear over the usage of nuclear warfare, amplified by the numerous 'Show of Force' operations.   Although this diplomacy could have been passed off to foreign forces as a bluff, the risk of uncertainty to them is much larger than the risk to the United States.   Ultimately, Nixon possessed an objective advantage as the US could gauge the effectiveness of their threats based on the reactionary implications of both the Soviets and Vietnamese. 
Giant Lance's success Edit
The operation did not directly cause any obvious, significant change due to its cancellation the impact it may have had on the Soviets or the Vietnamese cannot be accurately measured.  The operation was terminated on October 30 suddenly without any known reason.   The abrupt halt to the operation may have been due to the fact that the Soviets did not show any significant changes in their actions, which could be speculated that the Soviets suspected Nixon of his bluffs, thus undermining the overall success of the operation.   However, other historians have argued that the sudden withdrawal of the SAC's squadron was an intentional effort to display the maneuverability and freedom the US possessed when it came to nuclear warfare. 
Operation Giant Lance would later be revealed to be a tool in terms of escalating the nuclear threat towards the Soviets and North Vietnamese.    Giant Lance was intended to jar foreign forces into favourable diplomatic agreements to end the war, before it led to Nixon's decision to carry out Operation Duck Hook.   Despite the operation ending as a bluff tactic, the operation served to add credibility both to Nixon's madman threats and the proactiveness of the US.  Despite this, this may have not amounted to much success due to the large anti-war movement at the time, which served as a large catalyst to the reprieve of the nuclear operations.   Seymour Hersh, a modern journalist, believed that the operation also served as an underlying offensive to Operation Duck Hook, in case Nixon decided to carry out the mining and bombing operation. 
In response to the patrols from Giant Lance, the Soviets showed no clear reactionary actions.  Whilst there may not have been a direct response to Operation Giant Lance, there was a reaction from the Soviet intelligence due to the sudden heightened nuclear alert.  This was effectively the goal of the operation, to remain publicly secretive but expose the movements purposely to the Soviet intelligence.   Moscow did not undertake any steps towards the US despite this.  Roger Dingman speculated that whilst the Soviets showed no reaction, the threat and Nixon's madman diplomacy may have impacted both the decisions of the Soviets and Vietnamese. The lack of any retaliation may be due to Nixon's history of his bluffs attributed to the madman diplomacy, in which previous nuclear alert threats such as the DEFCON alert initiated during the Cuban Missile Crisis served as a missile scare.  In October 1973, a soviet official exclaimed that "Mr. Nixon used to exaggerate his intentions regularly. He used alerts and leaks to do this", which may have driven the avoidance of the US operational threat. 
Social perception to nuclear warfare Edit
Although both Moscow and Hanoi did not show any reaction or impact of Operation Giant Lance, the uncertainty of Nixon's nuclear power posed a significant threat.   As Nixon was socially recognised as a "madman", the risk of Nixon's continuous nuclear threat towards Hanoi was undermined by the anti-war sentiment on US home soil.  This implied to Hanoi that the US did not wish for further war, or risk of nuclear warfare.  The heightened fear of nuclear warfare brought upon a shared parity of nuclear avoidance across all participants of the war.  Neither participant willed a military confrontation that would escalate to that level, exemplifying the significance and extreme measures of Nixon's "mad" actions in social perceptions at the time. 
There also existed the political danger of nuclear reliance in terms of war, with increased usage of nuclear weaponry as a threat, other international governments would begin to accept this as the norm.   Nuclear fear would bring the possibility of increased nuclear use both offensively and defensively as a means of protecting themselves, engaging or retaliating in military engagements.   Continual development of nuclear technology and reliance would inevitably lead to increasing overall paranoia and risk of danger.  Military escalation could lead to catastrophic implications, as the presence of nuclear warfare allows for “the threat that leaves something to chance”.  
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Guest Opinion: Nixon’s Vietnam strategy destroyed American lives
Two recent letters to this newspaper have reminded readers of Richard Nixon's actions during the Vietnam War: how he escalated the terrible conflict and expanded it into Cambodia and Laos before finally agreeing to the long overdue settlement that ended it.
The year of 1968 was unforgettable to history. There were so many events happening then: the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Tet Offensive, the riots after King's murder, the unrest at the Democratic convention after Kennedy's slaying where Humphrey took the nomination from Eugene McCarthy, the presidential campaign between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson's attempts to reach a settlement to end the war. These topics were well reported in the news media.
Throughout the run for The White House, Richard Nixon kept insisting that he had a solid plan to end the war, but he could not talk about it during the campaign. He was also very critical of Johnson's actions on that front.
The actual truth was this: instead of having a secret plan to end the war, Nixon sent his own private messenger, Anna Chennault, to representatives of the government of South Vietnam telling them to reject Lyndon Johnson's peace plan. In his message to the South Vietnamese, he insisted he would give them a better deal if elected president. Mr. Johnson knew exactly what was happening, but remained silent in order to protect the cover of sensitive intelligence connections. The public knows about it now due to papers recently opened in the Johnson Library.
Everyone knows what happened when Nixon became president: he not only continued the war but also expanded it beyond Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos, prolonging the conflict until it was time for him to be re-elected. Yes, I know John F. Kennedy sent the first military advisers to Vietnam, and Lyndon Johnson was behind building American involvement. However, it must remembered that Nixon kept that involvement and destroyed many lives.
The LeakDaniel Ellsberg reading at the Beyond Orwell panel, Georgetown University. GFDL 1.2
Daniel Ellsberg was well-acquainted with the existence of the Pentagon Papers as he was an associate of many members of the Task Force ordered to assemble the files. In 1971, Ellsberg gave 43 publications of the files to the New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan. Even though the newspaper’s legal team strongly advised not go with the publishing, they decided to do so. The article titled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement” was published on June 13, 1971. Street protests, political controversy, and lawsuits followed. Daniel Ellsberg gave himself into the Boston Police Department stating:
“I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”
Under public pressure, all charges against Ellsberg were dropped. The Pentagon Papers were fully published in 2011.