An Overview on the US Involvement in the Vietnam War
An Overview on the US Involvement in the Vietnam War
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Copyright Beatrice-Camelia Arbore
Chapter I: The United States at War
I.1.“Americanizing” the Vietnam War
I.2. The Protracted War of Attrition
I.3. The American Antiwar Movement
I.4. The Tet Offensive
Chapter II: Withdrawal Without Victory
II.1. The Madman Theory
II.2. The Vietnamization policy
II.3. The Fall Of Saigon
The American leaders were not primarily interested in extending the blessings of democracy to the Vietnamese people but rather in maintaining an international order that they deemed essential to the survival of free enterprise in the United States. The American strategists feared that the Europeans might be tempted to reach an accommodation with the Soviet Union in the event of a Communist victory in Vietnam. Under these circumstances, the United States and its European allies would be denied access to important markets and the Soviet bloc would be strengthened at the expense of the West. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Vietnam conflict is the fact that a small country like Vietnam managed to defeat the greatest military power in history. The Americans lost the war because they used the wrong strategies. The army was trained, organized, and equipped primarily to fight a conventional war, not a guerrilla one. Moreover, they did not understand the realities in Vietnam and did not know anything about their enemy. Last but not least, the American policy-makers underestimated the power of nationalism and the capacity of the Vietnamese to fight against a technological superpower like the United States.
Chapter I: The United States at War
I.1.“Americanizing” the Vietnam War
Between November 1963 and July 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson transformed a limited commitment to assist the South Vietnamese in putting down an insurgency into an open-ended commitment to use American military power to maintain an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam. Within weeks after Johnson assumed the presidency, the United States faced a crisis in Vietnam for more dangerous than that which Kennedy had inherited in 1961. Many of Kennedy’s advisers had assumed that the removal of Diem and Nhu would restore domestic harmony and promote political stability in South Vietnam, but the effect was quite the opposite. During his nine years in power, Diem had systematically destroyed the opposition, and his death left a gaping political vacuum. Buddhists and Catholics comprised the most important groupings, but their hatred of each other was implacable and neither represented a viable political force. The Buddhists had no political organization and were splintered into a bewildering array of factions. Although tightly disciplined, the Catholics had no political program or mass appeal.
The North Vietnamese and Vietcong quickly exploited the confusion in South Vietnam and U.S. officials were alarmed to discover that the insurgents controlled far more people and territory than had been assumed. In the weeks after the coup, the Vietcong tightened its hold on the countryside. With North Vietnamese encouragement and support, the Vietcong launched a major political and military offensive in late 1963. Political cadres easily infiltrated the vulnerable strategic hamlets, and military units mounted a record number of attacks, inflicting on ARVN its heaviest losses of the war. In the critical delta region south of Saigon, government influence was reduced to the major towns and highways. Displaying growing boldness, the insurgents attacked a U.S. Special Forces training camp, capturing four Americans and large stocks of weapons, and brazenly established a checkpoint on Route 1 just fifty miles from Saigon.
A relatively popular general, Duong Van Minh, headed the junta that replaced Diem’s regime. In the closing weeks of 1963, the level of violence in Vietnam declined. The NLF and its allies in Hanoi were eager to explore the possibility of a negotiated peace with Minh, who had a brother active in the NLF. Minh and several of his colleagues were interested, desirous of ending the suffering of their people. They were not willing to turn South Vietnam over to the North, where Ho and his comrades had demonstrated their ruthlessness, or to accept Communist control, but they were less anti-Communist than Diem and Nhu had been. They could conceive of sharing power with the NLF, of a neutral southern Vietnam free of foreign soldiers, troops from the North, and of the war that had racked their country since 1946.
Asked by the advisers he inherited from Kennedy what he wanted to do about Vietnam, he told them that he did not want an escalation of the American role. His main concern was the presidential election scheduled for 1964; he wanted to concentrate on his domestic programs, on building the Great Society in America. Neither the Vietnamese nor the American military accepted Johnson’s timetable. American military men responsible for overseeing the Saigon regime’s war effort were disappointed by Minh’s lack of aggressiveness. They were deeply troubled by his interest in a negotiated settlement and by his willingness to ask the Americans to go home. Moreover, Minh and his colleagues were opposed to the Pentagon’s recommendation that the war be taken to the North, fearful of provoking a major attack across the seventeenth parallel by Hanoi’s regular army.
Despite U.S. aid, the situation in Vietnam continued to unravel in early 1964. Three months after Minh’s group seized power, General Nguyen Khanh mounted a successful coup against it with the assistance of American military advisers in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the United States was delighted with Khanh, particularly with his eagerness to receive American political advice, to increase the number of American military advisers in the country, and to participate in covert operations against Hanoi. American aid increased rapidly. Unfortunately for Khanh and his American sponsors, his popularity among Vietnamese never matched that which he enjoyed in Washington. Johnson did not want any major initiatives in Vietnam before November 1964, but he could hardly accept the loss of the country during the campaign.
It became increasingly clear that the major danger to his election came from the Right, from men such as Senator Barry Goldwater, who were demanding more vigorous prosecution of the war. Barry Goldwater declared that Johnson was about to lose Vietnam to the Comunists and called for air attacks and even floated the idea of using atomic bombs on the enemy. Johnson chose to pose as the peace candidate, the man who would prevent extremists like Goldwater from widening the war and costing the United States tens of thousands, perhaps millions of casualties. He consciously deceived the American people by declaring repeatedly that his intention was not to send American boys to fight in Asia. But as the collapse of the Saigon regime loomed, the need for American troops became harder to deny. Johnson and his advisers tried to halt the deterioration of the situation covertly. Rather than bomb the North, Khanh was encouraged to run small-scale guerrilla operations against the Hanoi regime without overt American assistance.
Evidence of large numbers of northern Vietnamese regulars in Laos led to secret American bombing runs against suspected Communist positions. Of course, these covert operations were less a secret from their targets than from the American people and Congress. The executive was running its own war in Vietnam. Pressure to attack the North mounted through early 1964. Some of the president’s men thought an attack on the North would demonstrate American resolve; others thought it would bolster Khanh; the Joint Chiefs wanted to provoke Hanoi into acts that would justify systematic bombing; Ambassador Lodge thought nuclear weapons might be necessary. In May, Johnson’s advisers agreed to an eventual program of using selected and gradual force against the North. The principal barrier to an immediate attack was the President’s perception of his domestic political needs.
When that perception changed briefly in August and disappeared in November, no one could restrain the application of America’s great power against the Hanoi regime. In the autumn of 1964 the Johnson administration encountered a series of incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam that led to a more direct involvement in the war. On August 2, 1964, the American destroyer Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats while patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam. American analysts suggested that the assault was the result of an assumption by North Vietnamese leaders that the ship was involved in clandestine operations such as the South Vietnamese had just completed in the area. The ship was ordered to return to the same area, accompanied by a second U.S. warship, to demonstrate American resolve.
On August 4, the North Vietnamese allegedly launched a second attack. The incident came at night, and there was uncertainty about whether it had occurred, but naval authorities assured the President that it had. Almost reflexively, Johnson ordered reprisals against what he called aggression on the high seas. It was an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate American power and determination, to demonstrate North Vietnamese vulnerability, and to undercut Goldwater’s criticism. The peace candidate would leave no doubt that he would respond fiercely to provocation. The incident in the Gulf of Tonkin not only gave the Johnson administration the desired excuse to attack North Vietnam but also provided the occasion for the president to ask Congress for authority to take whatever steps he deemed necessary, including the use of force, to protect any endangered state in Southeast Asia.
The Senate resolution gave Johnson great latitude in expanding the war as he might see fit. Although Hanoi’s role in the insurrection in southern Vietnam bad been marginal – and American intelligence analysts knew that – the United States was preparing to go to war against Ho Chi Minh’s regime. The war in the South was going badly. On August 6, Khanh assumed near dictatorial powers and imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties. Thousands of Saigonese immediately took to the streets, and when an angry mob forced Khanh to stand atop a tank and shout “Down with dictatorships,” the humiliated General resigned. Johnson’s advisers, excepting only George Ball, could not accept defeat and would not countenance American withdrawal. They could not tolerate the “loss” of South Vietnam to the Communists, its domestic consequences, its impact on the credibility of the American imperium.
They could not believe that the greatest power the world had ever known lacked the means to crush a peasant rebellion. An attack on the North would probably reduce the rate of infiltration and cut the Vietcong off from supplies and reinforcements. It would warn the Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Soviets that the United States was determined to hold the line. It would raise morale in the South. The decision to attack North Vietnam was born of frustration and arrogance, taken by men who were losing a relatively minor skirmish and could not bear it. They chose instead to widen the war, to increase the stakes, to use America’s power to intimidate the Vietnamese, to impose an American vision of their future on an unwilling and uncomprehending people.
Johnson refused to retaliate when the Vietcong on November 1 attacked the U.S. air base at Bien Hoa, killing four Americans and destroying five aircraft. In the November 1964 election, the people gave Johnson the highest percentage of votes ever cast for a presidential candidate, sweeping him into office by a margin of more than 15 million votes.
By the end of November, however, the administration concluded that the United States must soon undertake what Taylor described as a “carefully orchestrated bombing attack” against North Vietnam. Some officials thought that bombings would raise morale in South Vietnam; others hoped that aerial attacks would reduce suspected North Vietnamese Army infiltration from the north and perhaps even cause the Hanoi regime to suspend its aid to the Vietcong. Even though administration critics disagreed, the truth is that the Gulf of Tonkin episode encouraged a North Vietnamese troop involvement.
The decision to bomb North Vietnam did not come without opposition. Undersecretary of State George Ball strongly objected to such tactics as pointless in dealing with a primitive industrial country and useless in trying to close the infinite number of infiltration routes into the south that wound through the dense jungles of Laos and Cambodia as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” It was certain, Ball said, to unite all Vietnamese against the intruder. Intelligence reports likewise warned that air assaults would have minimal effect on the fighting in South Vietnam. The Vietcong were an insurgency group with no air force, he reminded his colleagues, and bombings aimed at their believed whereabouts on the ground would alienate the area’s inhabitants and result in political calamity.
Some observers pointed out that if the Vietcong’s tools were primarily non-military – propaganda, terror, political subversion – then the key to victory lay in winning the people’s support. By the end of November, Johnson’s senior advisers had formulated concrete proposals for the use of American air power in Vietnam. They advocated a two-phase plan of gradually intensifying air attacks. The first phase, to last roughly a month, consisted of limited bombing raids against infiltration routes in Laos, along with reprisal strikes against North Vietnamese targets in response to any provocative acts. In the meantime, Taylor would use the promise of direct strikes against North Vietnam to persuade the South Vietnamese leadership to put its house in order. Once the Saigon government had reached an acceptable level of stability, the United States would move into phase two, a large-scale air offensive, lasting from two to six months, to be followed, if necessary, by a naval blockade of North Vietnam. Persisting instability in Saigon delayed implementation of the program for more than two months. At a National Security Council meeting on December 1, Johnson approved immediate initiation of bombing operations in Laos, but he would go no further. Although Johnson sincerely believed that the United States had to save South Vietnam from Communism in order to preserve world peace, he also knew that his country was not ready for a military commitment on such scale.
Therefore the President resisted a powerful argument for commencing systematic bombing of the North presented by McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara. Suddenly, on February 7, 1965, the Vietcong attacked an American installation at Pleiku, killing seven Americans and wounding more than one hundred others. Johnson immediately ordered attacks on barracks and staging areas in North Vietnam. A few days later he gave the order to implement the full-scale bombing plan, put into effect on February 28. In late February General Westmoreland urgently requested two Marine landing teams to protect the air base at Danang. After less than a week of apparently perfunctory debate, the President approved Westmoreland’s request and on March 8, two battalions of U.S. Marines went ashore at Danang to protect the airfields from which the bombing attacks were being launched.
Johnson and his advisers hoped that Hanoi and the Vietcong could be defeated without a major combat role for American ground forces. Rusk and Taylor worried that “white-faced” troops would be viewed with hostility by the local people, discredit the side on which they fought, and have trouble distinguishing between friendly and unfriendly villagers. First known as “Flaming Dart,” the air raids graduated from individual retaliatory missions to a sustained bombing campaign by the summer of 1965. The campaign, later known as “Rolling Thunder,” lasted until the end of the U.S. involvement in the war in 1973. In the course of eight years, the United States dropped eight million tons of bombs on the whole of Vietnam – four times the amount used in World War II. Besides hitting key military targets, the bombs eventually struck Hanoi, Haiphong (with Soviet vessels in the harbor), and the railroad from Hanoi to China, inflicting some damage a bare ten miles outside China’s borders.
Despite the pilots’ claims that they hit military targets with “surgical” accuracy, the bombings ultimately became indiscriminate and inadvertently included civilian centers. Intelligence reports soon indicated that the bombing had not affected Hanoi’s will, that North Vietnamese regular army troops were beginning to cross into the South. On April 1, the President approved the use of American troops for offensive operations. On election day, in November 1964, there had been 25,000 American military men in Vietnam. In July 1965 there were 75,000 and in November 1965 there were 165,000. Gradually Americans realized they were at war. Unhappiness with the American role in Vietnam manifested itself as early as March 1965 as student activists, religious pacifists, and academics specialized in Southeast Asian affairs began to challenge the administration.
A growing chorus of protests against the war came from the New York Times, numerous university students, and leading Democratic senators such as Frank Church of Idaho, Mike Mansfield of Massachusetts, and George McGovern of South Dakota. The first of the antiwar demonstrations was mounted in Washington in April. In May there was a national teach-in involving over a hundred campuses across the country. Opposition to the war grew in intensity as the Americanization of the struggle continued, slowly drawing more and more ordinary middle-class Americans into the antiwar coalition. Outside the United States, UN Secretary General U Thant of Burma called for a negotiated end to the war, as did Britain, Canada, and seventeen neutralist nations.
The administration worked vigorously to counter its critics. White House aides organized “Target: College Campuses,” sending their “best young troops” to speak at universities and bringing professors and student leaders to Washington for “seminars.” The President invited dissident Congressmen and newspaper editors and representatives of foreign governments in for sessions that sometimes lasted for three hours, vigorously defending his policies and reminding his visitors of past favors. In a speech at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, Johnson declared that “Our objective is the independence of South Vietnam, and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves – only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.” In early May, the President, with considerable reluctance, approved a five-day bombing pause, accompanied by private messages to Hanoi indicating that a diminution of North Vietnamese and Vietcong military activity could lead to a scaling down of U.S. air attacks.
As expected, the peace moves brought the two nations no closer to negotiations. The North Vietnamese had always made a sharp distinction between the legitimacy of their involvement in the south and the illegality of American intervention. No more inclined than the United States to make concessions under duress, Hanoi denounced the bombing pause as a “worn-out trick of deceit and threat,” and refused to curb its military activities. The extent to which North Vietnam was willing to negotiate at this point is unclear, but in any event the United States offered little inducement for negotiations. On April 8, Hanoi announced its four conditions for a settlement: withdrawal of United States military forces, no foreign alliances or admission of foreign troops by either side, adoption of the NLF program by South Vietnam, reunification of the country by the Vietnamese without outside interference. Since point 3 was exactly what the South Vietnam and the United States were fighting against, the Johnson administration saw no reason to discuss it further.
Meanwhile, the war in Southeast Asia threatened to escalate again as the governments in both Saigon and Washington adopted harder positions. For nearly a week in May 1965 the United States called off the bombing to encourage negotiations, but with no results. In June, Saigon’s government came under the control of Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, who had fought with the French against the Vietminh during the First Indochinese War. Ky became premier and General Nguyen Van Thieu, became commander in chief of the armed forces. Less than a week before Ky took over, the war took another dramatic turn upward: U.S. soldiers received authority to engage in full combat duty. On June 9, the White House publicly announced the fateful decision to authorize “combat support” of South Vietnam by American ground forces. In July the President announced an increase in draft quotas along with the addition of 50,000 troops. By the end of the year U.S. combat troops in Vietnam numbered more than 184,000, a figure that more than doubled a year later and continued growing. Thus had the administration thoroughly Americanized the war.
I.2. The Protracted War of Attrition
As American forces assumed direct responsibility for the outcome of the war in Vietnam during the autumn of 1965, the United States implemented a military strategy that involved three interrelated actions. First, American pilots carried out a steadily escalating bombing campaign against military facilities and supply lines in North Vietnam. This air offensive was launched in an effort to impede the movement of men and material into South Vietnam and to induce the Communist regime in Hanoi to stop supporting the Vietcong insurgents. Second, American troops conducted large-scale search and destroy operations against Vietcong regulars and North Vietnamese forces fighting in South Vietnam. These ground maneuvers were designed to kill enemy soldiers faster than they could be replaced and thereby to convince the Communists that they could not win. Third, the United States assigned ARVN the task of holding territory that had been cleared by American combat units in South Vietnam. This so-called “other war” was aimed at pacifying the countryside while the Saigon government attempted to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people.
Although American troops were able to sweep through extensive areas controlled by Communist forces in South Vietnam, however, the results of these actions were almost always transitory. The South Vietnamese army could not provide security in areas that had been penetrated by American soldiers. Nor could the Saigon government win popular support after the Communist forces had been driven away. According to John Paul Vann, a former adviser to the South Vietnamese army and a coordinator for the United States Operations Mission, “many patriotic and non-Communist Vietnamese were literally forced to ally themselves with a Communist dominated movement in the belief that it was their only chance to secure a better government.” As a consequence, Communist forces usually reoccupied areas soon after American troops had completed their clearing operations and moved into other regions to begin similar maneuvers.
When it became apparent that American ground operations were yielding little in terms of permanent territorial control, the United States began employing an overwhelming amount of firepower in an attempt to prevent the Communists from using the land and the people of South Vietnam. American artillery and B-52 bombers pounded the South Vietnamese countryside as more and more rural areas were defined as “free fire zones” subject to harassment and interdiction. American aircraft dropped more than 1 million tons of bombs on South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 while American herbicides such as Agent Orange destroyed approximately half of the South Vietnamese timberlands. Besides disrupting Communist base areas and logistical networks, the American bombs, shells, and defoliants forced many peasants in South Vietnam to flee from their villages and rice fields. About 4 million civilians, roughly 25 percent of the South Vietnamese population, sought safety in overcrowded cities or in refugee camps on their outskirts. Driven from their homes and farmlands by the American war machine, these displaced peasants harbored deep feelings of hostility toward the United States.
As death and destruction spread, Buddhist leaders gave vent to the rapidly growing antiwar feeling in South Vietnam. But the monks did not openly articulate their intense desire for peace because they wanted to avoid a direct confrontation with the United States. During March 1966, the Buddhists and their student allies organized massive demonstrations in Danang, Hue, and Saigon. The protestors demanded free elections and the establishment of a civilian government to replace the military junta headed by Ky and Thieu. Although their ultimate objectives remained unstated, the Buddhists and their supporters looked forward to the creation of a neutralist government that would seek a political accommodation with the National Liberation Front and ask the United States to get out of South Vietnam. Their strong anti-American feelings found expression in numerous banners calling for an end to the foreign domination of South Vietnam.
Along with their American patrons, Ky and Thieu became increasingly alarmed when many ARVN soldiers stationed in the northern provinces showed their support for the democratic movement to elect a civilian government. The military rulers of South Vietnam were determined to maintain their political authority and to sustain the war effort against the Vietcong. After obtaining American approval and support, Ky decided to suppress the Buddhists and those who had rallied around them in Danang, Hué, and Saigon. His troops moved into the Buddhist strongholds during May and June 1966, arresting several hundred monks and students. Then, as soon as order was restored, the military chiefs turned to the political arena to consolidate their power. They carefully selected a list of candidates, and in September 1966 elections were held for a constituent assembly. After deliberating for a few months, the assembly drafted a new constitution that disqualified anyone branded as a Communist or neutralist sympathizer.
One of the criticisms levelled at the Americans’ involvement in Vietnam was the claim that they were supporting a government which was not democratic and was unresponsive to the people. The United States subsequently put pressure on General Nguyen Cao Ky to hold elections and in September, 1967, general elections were held in South Vietnam. Nguyen Van Thieu became President and Nguyen Cao Ky Vice President on the basis of about 35% of the votes; the remaining votes were divided among ten civilian candidates.
The United States was by then waist deep in a bloody struggle that many had come to call “Mr. McNamara’s War.” McNamara predicted a rapid expansion of Communist forces both by heavy recruitment in South Vietnam and by increased infiltration from North Vietnam. To hold the line against the enemy buildup, McNamara recommended that the United States should intensify the bombing of North Vietnam and send a substantial number of additional troops to South Vietnam. Acting on the advice of his influential defense secretary, Johnson carefully laid the political foundations for a sharp escalation in the American war effort. The President hoped to defuse his domestic and foreign critics by calling a temporary halt to the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam.
During the bombing pause, which began on Christmas Eve 1965 and lasted for thirty-seven days, Johnson launched a dramatic peace offensive. He dispatched prominent envoys to more than forty different countries to spread the word that the United States desired peace. Hoping to convince the American people that he had explored every alternative to escalation, Johnson repeatedly insisted that he was ready to enter into discussions to bring an end to the fighting. But his peace gestures were bogus. Johnson was not willing to negotiate a peace settlement that would allow the formation of a neutralist government in Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam under Communist leadership. Indeed, his public relations campaign was primarily designed to provide a justification for a major American military escalation. During the months following the bombing pause, Rolling Thunder gradually assumed massive proportions. The number of American air strikes increased from 25,000 in 1965 to 79,000 in 1966 and 108,000 in 1967; the tonnage of bombs dropped increased from 63,000 to 136,000 to 226,000.
The list of targets was simultaneously expanded to include supply depots, transportation networks, manufacturing plants, and power stations. The steadily intensifying air campaign against North Vietnam destroyed factories, disrupted agriculture, leveled cities, and scarred the countryside. Besides inflicting severe economic damage, the bombing raids maimed and killed many noncombatants in North Vietnam. American pilots did not direct their attacks against major population centers, but the huge payloads dropped from high altitudes by giant B-52 bombers seldom hit targets with pin-point accuracy. Although American officials publicly stated that civilian casualties were minimal, Secretary of Defense McNamara privately estimated that they were as high as 1,000 a month during peak bombing periods.
But the widespread bombardment did not destroy the morale of the North Vietnamese people. They responded to the American bombing onslaught in much the same way that the British had reacted to the Nazi air assault during World War II. Rather than disheartening the people of North Vietnam, the bombing missions seemed to stiffen their will to resist the American colossus. The North Vietnamese demonstrated remarkable determination in coping with the aerial attacks on their homeland. After evacuating many civilians from the cities, they constructed individual bomb shelters along the streets to protect those who remained to perform essential tasks. Small factories and storage facilities were dispersed across the countryside while trenches and tunnels were cut through rice paddies to safeguard peasants from shrapnel and napalm.
Major roads were repaired within hours after bombs dotted them with craters, and damaged bridges were quickly replaced by bamboo pontoons and ferryboats. Although the American bombing attacks crippled industrial production in North Vietnam, Rolling Thunder had very little impact on the ground war in South Vietnam. The Communist forces needed only about fifty tons of supplies per day to sustain their military operations in South Vietnam, and the bulk of the heavy equipment that they received came from a vast stockpiling area on the Chinese side of the Tonkin border. The Chinese shipped large quantities of arms and ammunition into Tonkin by rail and truck, and these materials were stored in scattered dumps until they could be reshipped to their final destination below the Demilitarized Zone.
The Chinese also stationed 50,000 technicians and soldiers in North Vietnam to operate and defend their supply lines reaching southward. Despite the intensification of the American air campaign, North Vietnam continued to serve as a vital highway carrying weapons and munitions into South Vietnam. Yet the United States paid a high price for the physical damage that Rolling Thunder caused in North Vietnam. In response to the American bombing campaign, the Soviet Union provided North Vietnam with anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles, MIG fighters, and sophisticated radar equipment. Thus American pilots encountered stiff resistance as they flew closer to Hanoi and Haiphong. Armed with Russian weapons, the North Vietnamese were frequently able to drive off American warplanes or shoot them down before they reached their targets.
The United States lost more than 500 aircraft between 1965 and 1966 while the direct cost of the air war mounted to over $1 billion. Summarizing the effectiveness of American air strikes conducted during 1966 the Central Intelligence Agency calculated that the United States spent nearly $10 on bombing missions and warplane replacements for each $1 in damage inflicted upon North Vietnam. After making the momentous decision to dive into full-scale warfare in July 1965, President Johnson sent logistical experts to South Vietnam to construct facilities to handle huge numbers of American troops and enormous quantities of military equipment. Soon supplies at the rate of 1 million tons a month were pouring into South Vietnam to provide American soldiers with a mighty arsenal of weapons. McNamara’s strategy has been called “Computer Strategy” due to the large numbers of B-52s, jet fighter-bombers, radio-controlled scouting planes, computers, etc., used by the American soldiers.
The number of American combatants in South Vietnam simultaneously jumped from 185,000 at the end of 1965 to more than 485,000 by the end of 1967. As the American military buildup proceeded apace, General Westmoreland ordered his troops to conduct massive sweeps through the South Vietnamese countryside in an effort to entrap and eliminate main force enemy units. He sought to engage large concentrations of Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers in relatively unsettled areas where mobile American forces would be able to use maximum firepower while keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. Aided by an impressive intelligence network, Communist units could usually determine the location, timing, size, and duration of each battle against American troops. If their casualties reached unacceptable levels, they could melt away into the jungle or retreat across the border into sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia.
Although the Communists were able to exercise control over the rate of their losses, General Westmoreland remained determined to pursue a strategy of attrition. He aimed to achieve a military victory by destroying enemy units faster than they could be replaced through either recruitment in South Vietnam or infiltration from North Vietnam. Engaged in a war without front lines, American army officers measured progress by counting bodies rather than by taking and holding land. Their main goal was to locate and liquidate the enemy. American commanders sought a favorable kill ratio by exterminating a large number of enemy soldiers without losing a correspondingly high number of their own men. Having no territorial objectives to attain in South Vietnam, American ground troops found themselves pitted against hordes of Orientals in a killing contest on the Asian mainland. After making contact with Vietcong regulars or North Vietnamese forces, American ground troops generally fell back into a defensive perimeter to call for air strikes and artillery support. Large enemy units were therefore rarely pinned down by American infantrymen.
Given their ability to choose when and where to fight, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese maintained the strategic initiative throughout most of the war. The Communists employed hit-and-run tactics with the hope that American troops would dissipate their energy in endless search anu destroy operations. While avoiding major clashes unless having a clear numerical advantage, these elusive warriors were constantly darting out of tunnels and bunkers to ambush American patrols. They not only depended upon the element of surprise, but they also tried to maintain close and continuous contact when attacking isolated platoons so that American officers could not call for air strikes or artillery support without endangering their own men. To compensate for their military inferiority, the Communists likewise relied upon an assortment of ingenious mines and booby traps that took a heavy toll on American grunts tramping through the rice paddies and along the jungle trails of South Vietnam.
As the number of casualties steadily mounted on both sides, the conflict became a protracted war of attrition. General Westmoreland clung to his assumption that American forces could sap the strength of the enemy by attacking him with a phalanx of fire. But General Giap remained confident that he could overcome American firepower with Vietnamese manpower. Although a great many of his men were killed or wounded, Giap continued to replace his losses with fresh troops. American intelligence experts estimated that the infiltration of North Vietnamese soldiers into South Vietnam increased from about 35,000 in 1965 to around 90,000 in 1967 even as the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail grew in intensity. Giap had the capacity to match each American troop increment in South Vietnam with one of his own because approximately 200,000 potential recruits reached draft age every year in North Vietnam. Realizing that he could draw from a vast pool of men, Giap hoped to exhaust the patience of the American people in a prolonged struggle far away from their homeland.
President Johnson offered to make a deal with North Vietnam when he began to realize just what the United States was up against. In a letter to Ho Chi Minh in February 1967, Johnson indicated that the United States would cease bombing North Vietnam and refrain from augmenting its troop strength in South Vietnam as soon as North Vietnam stopped sending men and material into South Vietnam. He concluded that such acts of restraint on each side could set the stage for serious peace discussions. In a telegram to the American embassy in Saigon, Secretary of State Rusk explained the rationale underlying the proposal: “Deprived of additional men and of urgently needed equipment from the North, we believe NVA/VC forces would be significantly weakened in concrete terms and would probably suffer serious adverse effects on their morale.” But Ho Chi Minh refused to take the bait. He replied to Johnson that before peace talks could begin the United States would have to stop unconditionally its bombing raids and all other acts of war against North Vietnam. “The Vietnamese people will never submit to force,” Ho declared. “They will never accept talks under the threat of bombs.”
I.3. The American Antiwar Movement
As the American commitment in Vietnam expanded, so did dissatisfaction with the war within the United States. Although dissent had surrounded every war in which America had engaged, the Vietnam conflict established a record for internal dissension, public acrimony, lack of confidence in presidential leadership, legislative discontent, and general dissatisfaction with the course of events in Southeast Asia. With no end to the military struggle in sight, the American people found themselves paying an escalating price for the war in terms of both men and money. More than 13,000 Americans had died in Vietnam by the summer of 1967, and draft calls exceeded 30,000 each month. While deploying nearly a half million troops in South Vietnam, the United States was spending over $2 billion a month on the conflict.
Yet President Johnson insisted that the United States could afford to support a comprehensive domestic welfare program while at the same time financing an open-ended war across the Pacific. Determined to build a Great Society at home without withdrawing from the New Frontier in Southeast Asia, Johnson decided in August 1967 that a 10 percent surtax needed to be placed upon individual and corporate incomes. The American people were subsequently forced to bear the burden of higher tax levies as well as continuously rising conscription quotas and death rates. The huge price of the Vietnamese conflict made the American people increasingly critical of the Johnson administration. Only a few had objected in March 1965 when the United States began dispatching combat troops to South Vietnam. But when the American military effort failed to yield quick results, public support for the war gradually eroded. While some militants advocated even greater effort to achieve victory, most Americans simply did not understand why their country was plunging deeper and deeper into the quagmire in Southeast Asia. As the credibility gap produced a crisis of confidence, more and more Americans came to the conclusion that the decision to intervene in Vietnam had been a mistake. Their confusion and disenchantment continued to grow, and consequently by October 1967 public approval of the way President Johnson was handling the war had plummeted to only 28 percent.
As the struggle in South Vietnam became an escalating military stalemate, the rippling antiwar movement in the United States reached huge proportions. Antiwar rallies on university campuses increased enormously during 1966 and 1967 in both size and intensity. Many older Americans joined hands with college students and marched side by side down the streets of New York, Washington, and other major cities in huge demonstrations protesting American military involvement in Vietnam. At the same time, numerous metropolitan newspapers shifted their editorials on the war from support to opposition. The antiwar campaign received strong backing from many prominent figures including Dr. Benjamin Spock, Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Joan Baez, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As more and more people joined the antiwar crusade, many young American men attempted to evade conscription by claiming to be conscientious objectors or fleeing to Canada. Some even preferred serving jail sentences over fighting in Vietnam.
Many Americans continued to accept the official State Department argument: the United States had a commitment to protect democracy in South Vietnam from a Communist invasion; and if South Vietnam fell to the forces of Communism, China and Russia would be encouraged to sponsor aggression in other parts of the world. But an increasing number of Americans began to challenge the State Department position. Critics insisted that the Vietnam War could best be described as either a civil war or a social revolution rather than as a crucial front in the global struggle against Communist aggression. They also charged that the United States was supporting a corrupt and repressive dictatorship in South Vietnam. Their accusations received strong support when Nguyen Cao Ky told American news reporters that Adolf Hitler had been his childhood hero. An increasingly influential group of young American radicals saw the Vietcong as indigenous peasant rebels who accepted the support of the Soviet Union only because the Soviets were the enemy of American “imperialism.”
Those opposed to the war questioned both the morality and rationality of American military action in Vietnam. Some argued from a humanitarian perspective that American bombs and shells were killing and maiming thousands of innocent civilians each month. Others argued on pragmatic grounds that the costs of the conflict far exceeded the benefits for the United States. Secretary of Defense McNamara himself started to search for a way out of the conflict that had come to bear his name. He realized that the American bombing program had failed either to break the will of the Communist leaders in North Vietnam or to prevent them from increasing the infiltration of soldiers and supplies into South Vietnam.
In a memorandum prepared for President Johnson in October 1966, he warned that a more intensive bombardment of North Vietnam would provoke tremendous public criticism and “involve a serious risk of drawing us into open war with China.” McNamara soon began to advocate restraint in the exercise of American military power in Southeast Asia. In private meetings, he urged Johnson to limit the area of bombing in North Vietnam and to place a ceiling on the level of American troops deployed in South Vietnam. McNamara also proposed a basic shift in American military operations toward controlling South Vietnamese population centers. But General Westmoreland was still confident that his strategy of attrition would prove successful.
During a meeting at the White House in April 1967, he warned President Johnson that without a major increase in American troop strength in South Vietnam the war might drag on for another five years or more. But Johnson seemed reluctant to escalate. “When we add divisions, can’t the enemy add divisions?” Johnson asked. “If so, where does it all end?” Westmoreland replied that during the last month it appeared that the “crossover point” had been reached in most parts of South Vietnam. Defining the “crossover point” as the moment when enemy attritions became greater than enemy additions, he argued that in the future the American forces would be destroying enemy units faster than they could be replaced. The more troops he had under his command, Westmoreland reasoned, the sooner he could win the war. Westmoreland calculated that he needed another 200,000 American soldiers in order to achieve a victory in the next two or three years.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, besides supporting Westmoreland’s request for additional troops in South Vietnam, advocated stepped-up attacks against North Vietnam. In a memorandum drafted in May 1967, the JCS recommended the interdiction of land and sea lines of communication entering and departing from the Hanoi-Haiphong area. They urged first the shouldering out of foreign ships from Haiphong by a series of air attacks around the port and then the mining of approaches to the harbor. In addition, they called for a systematic attack on the eight operational airfields in North Vietnam and an intensive bombing campaign against the roads and railroads extending down from China. But the Central Intelligence Agency responded negatively to these proposals. While acknowledging that such a program of mining and bombing would have serious economic consequences, the CIA concluded that it probably would not significantly weaken the military establishment in North Vietnam or prevent Hanoi from supporting the struggle against the Saigon government and its armed forces in South Vietnam.
President Johnson was torn by divided counsel. While Westmoreland and the JCS advocated the application of greater American military force, McNamara and the CIA expressed doubt that the strategy of attrition would work. Civilians in the Departments of State and Defense also warned that a major American escalation might provoke a massive Chinese intervention. However, Johnson chose to take a middle course. To increase the pressure on North Vietnam, he decided in June 1967 to authorize expanded air strikes in the Hanoi-Haiphong region. But Johnson remained reluctant to call up the Reserves, and in July 1967 he approved only a 55,000 increase in American troop strength in South Vietnam instead of giving Westmoreland the 200,000 additional men he had requested. Thus Johnson proceeded with caution in hopes of achieving a victory without risking a war with China or adding fuel to the flames of the antiwar crusade in the United States.
Hoping to shore up the home front, Johnson summoned Westmoreland to Washington in November 1967 to assure the American people that his troops were making real progress in Vietnam. Westmoreland played his role to the hilt. In a command performance before Congress, he claimed that “we have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.” Westmoreland continued to exude great optimism during his campaign to win public support for the American war effort. In a television appearance, he said that the United States might be able to start withdrawing troops from Vietnam within two years or less. Westmoreland repeatedly professed to see “light at the end of the tunnel” in an attempt to convince the American people that his forces had the Vietcong and North Vietnamese on the run. “I hope they try something,” he told an American journalist, “because we are looking for a fight.” It would not be long before Westmoreland got his wish.
I.4. The Tet Offensive
During the summer of 1967, the Communist leaders in Hanoi decided to abandon their protracted war strategy and make an all-out effort to win a quick victory. General Giap promptly began developing plans for a massive offensive scheduled to take place in the winter of 1968 after the rainy season ended. He aimed to precipitate a general uprising by launching a general offensive throughout South Vietnam. During Phase I, North Vietnamese soldiers would conduct aggressive operations near the borders of Laos and Cambodia in an attempt to draw American troops away from the centers of population in South Vietnam. During Phase II, after the United States had rushed forces to the mountainous regions on the periphery, the Vietcong would begin coordinated attacks on the major cities and towns sprinkled along the seacoast. Giap hoped that the South Vietnamese government and army would collapse during the urban assaults and that the South Vietnamese people would rise up and support the Vietcong insurgents.
The first phase of the offensive worked perfectly. In the autumn of 1967, Giap ordered North Vietnamese army units to go into action in remote areas along the western frontier of South Vietnam. His troops mounted a series of attacks, though they sustained heavy losses in order to accomplish their objective. While these bloody battles were raging, American intelligence reports indicated that about 40,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were converging on a small United States marine base located on the Khe Sanh plateau in the far northwest corner of South Vietnam. Westmoreland immediately sent reinforcements into the region, and he soon had half of his combat troops stationed in the northern sector of South Vietnam. Westmoreland looked forward to a decisive engagement.
Delighted by the prospect of using American firepower on a large concentration on enemy soldiers, he eagerly drafted plans to deluge the North Vietnamese forces in a spectacular bombing cascade code-named “Operation Niagara.” During the first month of 1968, Americans became fixated on Khe Sanh. The North Vietnamese attacked one of the hills serving as an outpost for the American Marines on January 21, and then they began a continuous shelling of the base at Khe Sanh. As the North Vietnamese assailants crept closer and closer to the beleaguered marines in approaching trenches and tunnels, Westmoreland assumed that Giap was maneuvering to grab as much territory as possible prior to the opening of peace negotiations just as he had done when fighting the French a decade and a half earlier. The American press noted that the similarities between Khe Sanh and Dien Bien Phu were striking in terms of both physical terrain and enemy tactics. As public interest in the battle flared, officials in Washington feared that the United States might suffer a humiliating defeat.
Demanding that the Joint Chiefs of Staff assure him that Khe Sanh would not fall, Johnson declared that he did not want “any damned Dien Bien Phu.” Confident that he possessed ample firepower to hold the line at Khe Sanh, Westmoreland hoped that Giap would go all-out in an attempt to take the marine base. American forces stood poised to strike a dramatic blow that would cripple the North Vietnamese army. But Giap never had any intention of having his troops capture the encircled marine base. He simply wanted to direct American resources away from the population centers located in the lowlands of South Vietnam. So while American eyes were riveted upon Khe Sanh, Vietcong units moved into position around the principal cities and towns in preparation for the second phase of the offensive. And they succeeded in taking the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies by surprise. In fact, when the Vietcong attack on the urban areas commenced, Westmoreland thought it was a trick to distract him from the battle at Khe Sanh. He had fallen for Giap’s ruse.
On January 30, 1968, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese forces violated the truce during Tet, or the lunar new year holiday, by launching a massive surprise offensive against the cities and provinces of South Vietnam. Giap’s strategy, inspired by the Chinese doctrine, was based on the concept of inside offensive followed by general insurrection. Shortly after midnight on January 30, nineteen Vietcong members exploded a hole in the thick-walled barricade around the U.S. embassy in Saigon, killing two military policemen. Using antitank guns and rockets, the Vietcong entered the courtyard but never managed to seize the embassy building, which at the time housed only a few CIA and Foreign Service officers. U.S. soldiers retaliated at daybreak. Marines and paratroopers landed by helicopter on the embassy roof and regained control of the grounds a little after 9 A.M. Five Americans died in the heated exchange; all nineteen Vietcong were either killed or seriously wounded. The greatest casualty of the Tet Offensive was the Johnson administration’s credibility at home.
Although the furious U.S.-ARVN counter-offensive was enormously successful, it further highlighted the ghastly nature of the fighting and, almost paradoxically, increased opposition to U.S. involvement in the war. Using rockets and gas, the combined armies regained control of the city of Hué, but only at the heavy cost of three weeks of vicious street-to-street fighting that led to 4000 civilian deaths. The offensive and the U.S. response created an estimated 7000,000 new refugees. By the middle of March, more than 40,000 Vietcong, or half of their forces, lay dead throughout the country. The American dead numbered 1000, and the ARVN’s was twice that amount. Mass graves uncovered in Hué yielded close to 3000 bodies of civilian men, women, and children, all executed by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong and many buried alive. Another 2000 of Hue’s citizens were missing and probably murdered. But even more shocking was an NBC news program in February that showed footage of Saigon’s police chief executing a handcuffed Vietcong prisoner in the street by a pistol shot to the head. In the provincial capital of Ben Tre, U.S. and ARVN troops killed 1000 civilians while rooting out the Vietcong.
In the United States, however, the three-week offensive was a devastating psychological victory for the Communists and convinced many Americans, including politicians and policy-makers, that the war was unwinnable. With American casualties having risen from 780 per month during 1967 to 2,000 a month in February 1968, it was hard to believe official military pronouncements that Tet was by no means a defeat. Air force performance was even worse. Tet hardened public opposition to the war and sharply divided legislators, with “hawks” on one side, and “doves” on the other. When a somewhat distorted news story broke in March, announcing that General Westmoreland was asking for 200,000 men to be committed to the Vietnam War, a wave of outrage swept the American public. Antiwar demonstrations became increasingly frequent, bigger, and more boisterous.
By the middle of March, public opinion polls revealed that 70 percent of the American people favored a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, and at the end of the month, President Johnson initiated a process designed to take the United States out of the war. Although the President did not give Westmoreland anything approaching the number of troops he requested, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam would reach a high of 536,000 by the end of 1968. On March 31, 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson made two surprising television announcements. He declared that he would restrict bombing above the twentieth parallel, thereby opening the door to a negotiated settlement of the war, and he announced that he would not seek another term as President. His stated reason was that his removal would aid the cause of peace and help repair the division that had sundered and embittered the American people.
Good evening, my fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia. For years, representatives of our Government and others have traveled the world – seeking to find a basis for peace talks. Since last September, they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio. That offer was this: That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions – and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint. Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government, and the allies of South Vietnam.
Their attack – during the Tet holidays – failed to achieve its principal objectives. It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army – as the Communists had hoped. It did not produce a ‘‘general uprising’‘ among the people of the cities as they had predicted. The Communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. And they took very heavy casualties. But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities. They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of a half a million human beings. The Communists may renew their attack any day. They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam – the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle. This much is clear: If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies. But tragically, this is also clear: Many men – on both sides of the struggle – will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on. There is no need for this to be so. There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and this bloody war. Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August—to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not take advantage of our restraint. We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to deescalate the conflict. We are reducing – substantially reducing –t he present level of hostilities. And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once.
Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat. The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam’s population, and most of its territory. Thus there will be no attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam. Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end – if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events. Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists.
It is to save the lives of brave men – and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement. And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union – as cochairmen of the Geneva Conferences, and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – to do all they can do move from the unilateral act of deescalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia. Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end. I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place – just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference.
I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace. But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible. Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing 600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese troops in defending their little country. Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them – by the South Vietnamese themselves. We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts – on their determination and resourcefulness – the outcome will ultimately depend. That small, beleaguered nation has suffered terrible punishment for more than 20 years. I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men – and I call your attention to the fact that this is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North.
There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last 3 years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy’s Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack – and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought.
The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required:
– to expand their own armed forces,
– to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible,
– to increase their taxes,
– to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility,
– to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and
– to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South Vietnam’s control over its own destiny.
Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of 135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach – as soon as possible – a total military strength of more than 800,000 men. To achieve this, the Government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st, the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year olds. Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service – that was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces – and nearly half of them volunteered to do so. All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war, and reserves are now being called up for immediate active duty.
President Thieu told his people last week: ‘‘We must make greater efforts and accept more sacrifices because, as I have said many times, this is our country. The existence of our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese responsibility.’‘ He warned his people that a major national effort is required to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of government. We applaud this evidence of determination on the part of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support their effort. We shall accelerate the reequipment of South Vietnam’s armed forces – in order to meet the enemy’s increased firepower. This will enable them progressively to undertake a larger share of combat operations against the Communist invaders. On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000. Some weeks ago – to help meet the enemy’s new offensive – we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours, on an emergency basis. But the artillery, tank, aircraft, medical, and other units that were needed to work with and to support these infantry troops in combat could not then accompany them by air on that short notice.
In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we should prepare to send – during the next 5 months – support troops totaling approximately 13,500 men. A portion of these men will be made available from our active forces. The balance will come from reserve component units which will be called up for service.
The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year
– to reequip the South Vietnamese force,
– to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam,
– to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying reserve forces,
– to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need,
all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures.
The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year, and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year. These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the Nation’s need for immediate action: action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar. On many occasions I have pointed out that, without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year’s deficit would again be around $ 20 billion. I have emphasized the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act and to act promptly and decisively would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America’s willingness to keep its financial house in order. Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era—a threat to the dollar’s role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world.
Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen the international monetary system. I am very proud of the very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin of the Federal Reserve Board. But to make this system work the United States just must bring its balance of payments to – or very close to – equilibrium. We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country. The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely necessary to protect this Nation’s security, to continue our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people. What is at stake is 7 years of unparalleled prosperity. In those 7 years, the real income of the average American, after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent – a gain as large as that of the entire preceding 19 years. So the steps that we must take to convince the world are exactly the steps we must take to sustain our own economic strength here at home. In the past 8 months, prices and interest rates have risen because of our inaction. We must, therefore, now do everything we can to move from debate to action – from talking to voting. There is, I believe – I hope there is – in both Houses of the Congress – a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must be acted upon and must be corrected.
My budget in January was, we thought, a tight one. It fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding needs of this Nation. But in these budgetary matters, the President does not decide alone. The Congress has the power and the duty to determine appropriations and taxes. The Congress is now considering our proposals and they are considering reductions in the budget that we submitted. As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that that should be done. One thing is unmistakably clear, however: Our deficit just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions that would strike hardest at those people that all of us are trying so hard to help. These times call for prudence in this land of plenty. I believe that we have the character to provide it, and tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to act promptly to serve the national interest, and thereby serve all of our people. Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace:
– the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam,
– that will permit all the Vietnamese people to rebuild and develop their land,
– that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home.
I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years.But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that have left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table. And there may come a time when South Vietnamese – on both sides – are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war. As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year.
We have no intention of widening this war. But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace. No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement. Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective – taking over the South by force – could not be achieved. We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords of 1954 – under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese – all the South Vietnamese – to chart their course free of any outside domination or interference, from us or from anyone else. So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila – that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the north, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides. Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia – where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence.
A number of its nations have shown what can be accomplished under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population of more than 100 million people, has had a government that is dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions for its own people. Political and economic cooperations between nations has grown rapidly. I think every American can take a great deal of pride in the role that we have played in bringing this about in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge – as responsible Southeast Asians themselves do – that the progress of the past 3 years would have been far less likely – if not completely impossible – if America’s sons and others had not made their stand in Vietnam.
At Johns Hopkins University, about 3 years ago, I announced that the United States would take part in the great work of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong Valley, for all the people of that region. Our determination to help build a better land – a better land for men on both sides of the present conflict – has not diminished in the least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it more urgent than ever. So, I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight what I said at Johns Hopkins – that North Vietnam could take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace comes. Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation of the nations of the area could be a foundation-stone. Certainly friendship with the nations of such a Southeast Asia is what the United States seeks – and that is all that the United States seeks. One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia. It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it – those whose armies are at war tonight, and those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared. Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it – and to sacrifice for it – and to die by the thousands for it. But let it never be forgotten: Peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it. It has not been easy – far from it. During the past years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be Commander in Chief. I have lived – daily and nightly – with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the misgivings that it has aroused.
Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American. Surely we have treaties which we must respect. Surely we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia. But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam – under three different Presidents, three separate administrations – has always been America’s own security. And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent and stand alone, self-sustaining, as members of a great world community – at peace with themselves, and at peace with all others. With such an Asia, our country – and the world – will be far more secure than it is tonight. I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle – fighting there for us tonight – are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one. The peace that will bring them home someday will come. Tonight I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace. I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace. Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this: Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us.
Yet, I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to ‘‘pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.’‘ Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind’s noblest cause. And we shall continue to keep it. Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people. This I believe very deeply. Throughout my entire public career I have followed the person philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only. For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand. There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples. (…)
With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office – the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President. But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace – and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause – whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Thank you for listening.
Good night and God bless all of you.
Johnson withdrew from the race and began negotiations with the North Vietnamese in March. But not even a bombing halt could bring about a settlement. As the Democratic Party self-destructed, the way was cleared for Republican Richard Nixon to win the Presidency.
Chapter II: Withdrawal Without Victory
II.1. The Madman Theory
When he took the oath of office in January 1969, Richard M. Nixon was determined to extricate the United States from the military stalemate in Indochina before the growing antiwar movement wrecked his administration. But the new President did not intend to abandon the long-standing American policy of integrating Southeast Asia into the liberal capitalist world system. Convinced that the strategy of attrition was doomed to fail, Nixon sought a diplomatic solution that would end the protracted conflict without undermining the prestige and credibility of the United States. Thus he aimed to negotiate a peace settlement that would enable South Vietnam to survive as an independent non-Communist nation. By engineering an American disengagement from the bloody struggle while avoiding even the slightest appearance of a defeat for the United States, Nixon hoped to go down in history as a great President who had succeeded in achieving “peace with honor.”
Even before he assumed the reins of power in Washington, Nixon had devised a plan to end the Vietnam War during his first year in the White House. Nixon figured that he could force the North Vietnamese to accept American peace terms by employing a tactic that President Eisenhower had used to bring the Korean War to a satisfactory conclusion. When Nixon was serving as vice-president under Eisenhower in 1953, the Chinese and North Koreans were stalling at the conference table while fighting to improve their position on the battlefield. But negotiations moved swiftly toward an armistice after Eisenhower hinted that the United States might use atomic weapons if the Communists continued to delay the process. It was a lesson that Nixon would never forget. With peace discussions now languishing in Paris, he intended to emulate his former boss. Nixon reckoned that he could intimidate the Communist leaders in Hanoi by implying that the United States might bomb North Vietnam into the Stone Age.
Nixon intended to portray himself as a rabid anti-Communist who might lose all sense of proportion and order the annihilation of North Vietnam. By appearing irrational and unpredictable, Nixon thought that he could frighten Ho Chi Minh into accepting a political settlement that would leave Nguyen Van Thieu firmly in control of South Vietnam. “I call it the Madman Theory,” he confidently told one of his aides. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. Nixon decided to test his reputation as an anti-Communist fanatic shortly after he became President. Using a French intermediary, he proposed the mutual withdrawal of North Vietnamese and American troops from South Vietnam as a first step toward an enduring peace. Although most Americans seemed to support the President’s policy of gradual withdrawal, increasing numbers of Americans came to favor an immediate end to the war. These dissenters made their views known in “peace” demonstrations that were often of massive proportions.
To supplement his overture to Hanoi, Nixon made a parallel approach to Moscow. He hoped to persuade Soviet leaders to put pressure on Ho Chi Minh to come to terms with the United States. In exchange for Russian diplomatic support, Nixon was prepared to offer the Soviet Union such things as wheat, modern technology, and an agreement to limit strategic weaponry. Nixon called upon National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger to put his concept of “linkage” into practice. In March 1969, Kissinger sent Cyrus Vance to Moscow to open preliminary discussions on the control of nuclear weapons. He instructed Vance, a member of the American negotiating team in Paris, to tell the Russians that their cooperation in Vietnam would facilitate an arms deal with the United States. Complementing Vance’s positive message with a negative one of his own, Kissinger personally warned the Soviet ambassador in Washington that the United States would intensify the war unless a peace settlement could be reached in the near future.
In order to put pressure upon Hanoi and Moscow, President Nixon ordered massive air strikes against North Vietnamese bases inside Cambodia. General Wheeler and General Abrams had been urging the bombardment of the North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia to make it harder for General Giap to direct attacks against South Vietnam. The Cambodian bombing began a day later. During the next fourteen months, B-52s would make 3,630 raids, dropping more than 100,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia. Complying with White House demands that the bombing remain secret, the air force devised a deceptive reporting system to make it appear that the B-52s were dropping their payloads in South Vietnam.
Nixon wanted to conceal the Cambodian bombing from the American people because he feared a national uproar if they knew that he was widening the war. While secretly bombing Cambodia to get Hanoi to comply with his desire for a cease-fire, President Nixon decided to advertise his efforts to achieve an “honorable” settlement in Vietnam. Nixon hoped to counter the spread of antiwar sentiment in the United States by announcing publicly the proposal that he had made in private to the North Vietnamese. During a nationally televised address delivered on May 14, the President called for “the withdrawal of all non-South Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam.” Nixon assumed that the Vietcong, after having suffered such terrible losses during the Tet offensive, would never again be able to stand alone against the armed forces of the Saigon government. He therefore concluded that, if the North Vietnamese troops discontinued their operations below the seventeenth parallel, the Thieu regime would be able to regain control of the South Vietnamese countryside. But the Communist leaders in Hanoi were not about to recognize the Demilitarized Zone as a permanent boundary separating the northern and southern halves of Vietnam. Acting upon instructions from home, the North Vietnamese delegates at the Paris discussions publicly denounced the American proposal as a “farce.” They continued to insist upon the unconditional withdrawal of all United States forces from South Vietnam and the establishment of a new coalition government in Saigon.
While maintaining a rigid negotiating posture in Paris, the North Vietnamese reverted to a protracted war strategy so that they could rebuild their military strength to the level reached prior to the Tet attacks. The North Vietnamese believed that time was on their side. Adopting a familiar ploy, they continued fighting in South Vietnam and talking in Paris in an effort to exhaust the patience of the American people. Hoping to outmaneuver the North Vietnamese, President Nixon tried to convince domestic opponents of the war that he was winding down American military operations in Southeast Asia. Nixon met with Thieu on Midway Island in early June 1969 and announced that he would immediately repatriate 25,000 American troops from South Vietnam. A month later, during a talk with journalists in Guam, he proclaimed a principle widely publicized as the Nixon Doctrine. The President told the reporters that in the past the United States had committed men as well as money to protect Asian countries against the threat of Communism.
He explained that the United States would continue to provide Asian nations with economic and military assistance, but henceforth they would have to rely upon their own troops: “First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments. Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security. Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.” Thus Nixon hoped to shore up the home front by making a token disengagement of American forces from South Vietnam and by promising to shift the burden of ground combat throughout Asia to Oriental soldiers. While assuring the American people that he would adopt a policy of deescalation, however, Nixon was threatening the North Vietnamese with total devastation. He ordered the chief of naval operations to prepare a top secret study for a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Then, through a French intermediary on July 15, Nixon delivered an ultimatum to Ho Chi Minh; thereby he warned that unless some progress toward a peace settlement was made by November 1, he would resort to “measures of great consequence and force.” But the North Vietnamese leader refused to be intimidated. In a personal letter to Nixon on August 25, Ho demanded the withdrawal of all American troops from South Vietnam and the dissolution of the Thieu government in Saigon. He insisted that there could be no peace until the United States ended its “war of aggression” and allowed the Vietnamese people the right to resolve their own political differences “without foreign influence.”
To His Excellency Richard Milhous Nixon President of the United States Washington
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter.
The war of aggression of the United States against our people, violating our fundamental national rights, still continues in South Vietnam. The United States continues to intensify military operations, the B-52 bombings and the use of toxic chemical products multiply the crimes against the Vietnamese people.
The longer the war goes on, the more it accumulates the mourning and burdens of the American people. I am extremely indignant at the losses and destructions caused by the American troops to our people and our country. I am also deeply touched at the rising toll of death of young Americans who have fallen in Vietnam by reason of the policy of American governing circles.
Our Vietnamese people are deeply devoted to peace, a real peace with independence and real freedom. They are determined to fight to the end, without fearing the sacrifices and difficulties in order to defend their country and their sacred national rights. The overall solution in 10 points of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam is a logical and reasonable basis for the settlement of the Vietnamese problem.
It has earned the sympathy and support of the peoples of the world. In your letter you have expressed the desire to act for a just peace. For this the United States must cease the war of aggression and withdraw their troops from South Vietnam, respect the right of the population of the South and of the Vietnamese nation to dispose of themselves, without foreign influence.
This is the correct manner of solving the Vietnamese problem in conformity with the national rights of the Vietnamese people, the interests of the United States and the hopes for peace of the peoples of the world. This is the path that will allow the United States to get out of the war with honor. With good will on both sides we might arrive at common efforts in view of finding a correct solution of the Vietnamese problem.[
Ho Chi Minh
Although Ho died on September 3 at the age of seventy-nine, his comrades in Hanoi pledged to carry on their struggle for national reunification. Acting under While House orders, Kissinger promptly assembled a special work group to consider the bombing plan that had been developed by the chief of naval operations. But the study group quickly concluded that the plan to bomb North Vietnam would lead to heavy civilian casualties without seriously diminishing Hanoi’s capacity to continue the war in South Vietnam. A savage blow, in other words, would not be decisive. Worse yet, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird warned that the proposed air strikes would provoke strong antiwar protests in the United States. Nixon consequently decided, at least for the moment, to shelve the plan for the massive bombardment of North Vietnam.
II.2. The Vietnamization policy
As a result of his failure to frighten Hanoi into complying with his wishes, Nixon fell back on the Vietnamization policy that he had inherited from Johnson. Like his predecessor in the White House, Nixon believed that the South Vietnamese army should assume primary responsibility for the conduct of ground operations in South Vietnam. But he realized that in the immediate future ARVN would not be able to stand up against both the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces without American combat support. Therefore, Nixon refused to authorize a rapid withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam. Instead he decided that the American disengagement should proceed very gradually while ARVN steadily gained strength. If the United States continued to provide the Thieu regime with economic and military assistance, Nixon concluded, American infantry units eventually might not be needed to prevent a Communist takeover in Saigon. Such reasoning prompted the United States to make a concerted effort to alter the balance of forces in South Vietnam before too many American troops were brought home.
While the Saigon government increased its force level to over 1 million men, the United States furnished ARVN with a vast array of modern weapons. The South Vietnamese received automatic rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, heavy mortars, armored vehicles, jet planes, gunboats, and helicopters. The United States also expanded the campaign to pacify the South Vietnamese countryside. Americans repaired bridges and roads, established schools and hospitals, and provided other basic services in an attempt to help Thieu win popular support. Americans also trained South Vietnamese agents to mix with the peasant population to gather information on Vietcong organizers. As a result of this so-called Phoenix program, thousands of Vietcong cadres were arrested and slain. While endeavoring to cripple the enemy in Vietnam, President Nixon also sought to quiet his critics at home. Hence he announced in September 1969 that 35,000 more American troops would be pulled out of Vietnam by the end of the year.
In order to quell antiwar protests by students returning to college, Nixon simultaneously noted that he had ordered a reduction in draft calls. But the President could not stop antiwar feeling from spreading among vocal elements in American society. Press commentators, religious leaders, corporate executives, and other prominent figures increasingly spoke out against the war. On October 15, young liberals staged a peaceful “moratorium” to express their opposition to the war. In Washington, thousands of protesters marched by candlelight in a solemn procession from Arlington Cemetery to Capitol Hill. Nixon was alarmed. He immediately ordered his staff to draft a speech that would isolate his domestic opponents before they could stage another moratorium a month later. In a nationally televised address on November 3, Nixon tried to win the Americans’ support. He presented his plan for the gradual withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam as ARVN units steadily gained strength. Realizing that most of his listeners wanted the United States to withdraw from Vietnam without losing the war, Nixon offered them a policy that promised to reduce American casualties and yet not lead to a defeat for the United States. But he warned that the enemy would be less likely to negotiate if Americans became more divided at home.
Thus Nixon appealed to the “great silent majority” in the United States to support his efforts to end the war and win the peace.
Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support. I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge.
The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.
Fifty years ago, in this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow Wilson spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary world. He said: ‘‘This is the war to end war.’‘ His dream for peace after World War I was shattered on the hard realities of great power politics and Woodrow Wilson died a broken man.
Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars. But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end this war in a way that will bring us closer to that great goal to which Woodrow Wilson and every American President in our history has been dedicated—the goal of a just and lasting peace.
As President I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path to that goal and then leading the Nation along it. I pledge to you tonight that I shall meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can command in accordance with your hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers.
Thank you and good night.
After his “Silent Majority” speech, opinion polls showed that most Americans approved the way the President was handling the war. After gaining public backing for his Vietnamization policy, Nixon pushed ahead with a phased American disengagement from the war. The number of American servicemen stationed in Vietnam declined steadily during his first term in the White House. From a peak of 543,300 reached shortly after his inauguration in January 1969, the American force level in Vietnam fell to 475,200 by the end of the year. American troop strength decreased from 334,000 in December 1970 to 156,800 in December 1971, and by the end of 1972 there were only 24,000 American soldiers remaining in Vietnam.
The number of casualties suffered by the United States also declined dramatically. While 222,351 Americans were killed or wounded in Vietnam during the years of escalation under Johnson between 1964 and 1968, the United States casualty count dropped down to 122,709 during the period of deescalation under Nixon between 1969 and 1972. But with the American involvement in the war slowly winding down, the United States army confronted a crisis of discipline in Vietnam. The gradual withdrawal of American troops led those who were still fighting in Vietnam to conclude that the United States would never achieve a victory. Military morale drastically deteriorated as more and more American soldiers decided that they did not want to die for what they regarded as a lost cause. Whereas American units in the mid-1960s engaged in bold “search and destroy” missions, troops now talked of patrols as “search and avoid” missions. For the typical soldier, the objective was no longer victory, but simply to get through the war alive.
At the same time, racial tension between white and black soldiers in the United States army increased sharply, and the number of American troops using hard drugs became so great that more than a half million were addicted in Vietnam. The crisis of discipline in Vietnam was compounded by the rampant growth of careerism in the United States army. By the time Nixon entered the White House, many American army officers had become more interested in personal advancement than in military accomplishment. But while the process of disengagement and demoralization undermined American military strength, conditions in Cambodia provided an opportunity for the United States to weaken the enemy before the South Vietnamese army assumed greater responsibility for the fighting.
Cambodian Prime Minister Lon Nol had become disenchanted with the neutralist policy pursued by the Phnom Penh government, and in March 1970 he led a coup against Prince Norodom Sihanouk. After seizing power, Lon Nol immediately insisted on the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. The North Vietnamese responded by increasing their support for the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, and before long the Communist forces were pushing deep into the interior of Cambodia. On April 14, with the Communists closing in around Phnom Penh, Lon Nol asked the United States for military help. Trying to buy time for his Vietnamization program, on April 30 President Nixon appeared on television to announce an incursion into Cambodia.
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
Ten days ago, in my report to the nation on Vietnam, I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam.
And at that time I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation. Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia.
After full consultation with the National Security Council, Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams and my other advisors, I have concluded that the actions of the enemy in the last 10 days clearly endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam now and would constitute an unacceptable risk to those who will be there after withdrawal of another 150, 000. To protect our men who are in Vietnam, and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization program, I have concluded that the time has come for action.
Tonight, I shall describe the actions of the enemy, the actions I have ordered to deal with that situation, and the reasons for my decision.
Cambodia -- a small country of seven million people -- has been a neutral nation since the Geneva Agreement of 1954, an agreement, incidentally, which was signed by the government of North Vietnam. American policy since then has been to scrupulously respect the neutrality of the Cambodian people. We have maintained a skeleton diplomatic mission of fewer than 15 in Cambodia’s capital, and that only since last August. For the previous four years, from 1965 to 1969, we did not have any diplomatic mission whatever in Cambodia, and for the past five years we have provided no military assistance whatever and no economic assistance to Cambodia.
North Vietnam, however, has not respected that neutrality. For the past five years, as indicated on this map, that you see here, North Vietnam has occupied military sanctuaries all along the Cambodian frontier with South Vietnam. Some of these extend up to 20 miles into Cambodia. The sanctuaries are in red, and as you note, they are on both sides of the border. They are used for hit-and-run attacks on American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. These Communist-occupied territories contain major base camps, training sites, logistics facilities, weapons and ammunition factories, airstrips, and prisoner of war compounds.
And for five years neither the United States nor South Vietnam has moved against these enemy sanctuaries because we did not wish to violate the territory of a neutral nation. Even after the Vietnamese Communists began to expand these sanctuaries four weeks ago, we counseled patience to our South Vietnamese allies and imposed restraints on our own commanders.
In contrast to our policy the enemy in the past two weeks has stepped up his guerrilla actions, and he is concentrating his main forces in these sanctuaries that you see in this map, where they are building up to launch massive attacks on our forces and those of South Vietnam.
North Vietnam in the last two weeks has stripped away all pretense of respecting the sovereignty or the neutrality of Cambodia. Thousands of their soldiers are invading the country from the sanctuaries. They are encircling the capital of Pnompenh. Coming from these sanctuaries, as you see here, they had moved into Cambodia and are encircling the capital.
Cambodia, as a result of this, has sent out a call to the United States, to a number of other nations, for assistance. Because if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation. North Vietnamese men and supplies could then be poured into that country, jeopardizing not only the lives of our own men but the people of South Vietnam as well.
Now confronted with this situation we had three options:
First, we can do nothing. Well the ultimate result of that course of action is clear. Unless we indulge in wishful thinking, the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam after our next withdrawal of 150,000 would be gravely threatened.Let us go to the map again.
Here is South Vietnam. Here is North Vietnam. North Vietnam already occupies this part of Laos. If North Vietnam also occupied this whole band in Cambodia, or the entire country, it would mean that South Vietnam was completely outflanked and the forces of Americans in this area as well as the South Vietnamese would be in an untenable military position.
Our second choice is to provide massive military assistance to Cambodia itself. Now unfortunately, while we deeply sympathize with the plight of seven million Cambodians whose country has been invaded, massive amounts of military assistance could not be rapidly and effectively utilized by this small Cambodian Army against the immediate trap. With other nations we shall do our best to provide the small arms and other equipment which the Cambodian Army of 40,000 needs and can use for its defense. But the aid we will provide will be limited for the purpose of enabling Cambodia to defend its neutrality and not for the purpose of making it an active belligerent on one side or the other.
Our third choice is to go to the heart of the trouble. And that means cleaning out major North Vietnamese and Vietcong occupied territories, these sanctuaries which serve as bases for attacks on both Cambodia and American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. Some of these, incidentally, are as close to Saigon as Baltimore is to Washington. This one, for example, is called the Parrot’s Beak. It’s only 33 miles from Saigon.
Now faced with these three options, this is the decision I have made. In co-operation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border. A major responsibility for the ground operations is being assumed by South Vietnamese forces.
For example, the attacks in several areas, including the parrot’s beak that I referred to a moment ago, are exclusively South Vietnamese ground operations, under South Vietnamese command, with the United States providing air and logistical support. There is one area however, immediately above the parrot’s beak where I have concluded that a combined American and South Vietnamese operation is necessary.
Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam. This key control center has been occupied by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong for five years in blatant violation of Cambodia’s neutrality.
This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries, and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.
These actions are in no way directed to the security interests of any nation. Any government that chooses to use these actions as a pretext for harming relations with the United States will be doing so on its own responsibility and on its own initiative, and we will draw the appropriate conclusions.
And now, let me give you the reasons for my decision. A majority of the American people, a majority of you listening to me are for the withdrawal of our forces from Vietnam. The action I have taken tonight is indispensable for the continuing success of that withdrawal program. A majority of the American people want to end this war rather than to have it drag on interminably. The action I have taken tonight will serve that purpose. A majority of the American people want to keep the casualties of our brave men in Vietnam at an absolute minimum. The action I take tonight is essential if we are to accomplish that goal.
We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam, and winning the just peace we all desire. We have made, we will continue to make every possible effort to end this war through negotiation at the conference table rather than through more fighting in the battlefield. Let’s look again at the record.
We stopped the bombing of North Vietnam. We have cut air operations by over 20 per cent. We’ve announced the withdrawal of over 250, 000 of our men. We’ve offered to withdraw all of our men if they will withdraw theirs. We’ve offered to negotiate all issues with only one condition: and that is that the future of South Vietnam be determined, not by North Vietnam, and not by the United States, but by the people of South Vietnam themselves.
The answer of the enemy has been intransigence at the conference table, belligerence at Hanoi, massive military aggression in Laos and Cambodia and stepped-up attacks in South Vietnam designed to increase American casualties. This attitude has become intolerable. We will not react to this threat to American lives merely by plaintive, diplomatic protests. If we did, the credibility of the United States would be destroyed in every area of the world where only the power of the United States deters aggression.
Tonight, I again warn the North Vietnamese that if they continue to escalate the fighting when the United States is withdrawing its forces, I shall meet my responsibility as commander in chief of our armed forces to take the action I consider necessary to defend the security of our American men. The action I have announced tonight puts the leaders of North Vietnam on notice that we will be patient in working for peace. We will be conciliatory at the conference table. But we will not be humiliated. We will not be defeated. We will not allow American men, by the thousands, to be killed by an enemy from privileged sanctuaries.
The time came long ago to end this war through peaceful negotiations. We stand ready for those negotiations. We’ve made major efforts, many of which must remain secret. I say tonight all the offers and approaches made previously remain on the conference table whenever Hanoi is ready to negotiate seriously. But if the enemy response to our most conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to increase its attacks and humiliate and defeat us, we shall react accordingly.
My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.
Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without. If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation -- the United States of America -- acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world. It is not our power, but our will and character that is being tested tonight.(...)
While Nixon was speaking, 20,000 American and ARVN troops began attacking North Vietnamese base areas and logistical networks in Cambodia. Colleges all across the United States erupted in protest when it became clear that Nixon was actually widening the war in Indochina. On May 4, at Kent State Univesity, four student demonstrators were shot to death by overzealous members of the Ohio National Guard, and afterwards more than 100,000 antiwar protestors marched on Washington and encircled the White House. Moreover, Senators John Cooper of Kentucky and Frank Church of Idaho sponsored an amendment that would cut off all funds for American military operations in Cambodia. Advocating even greater restrictions on executive authority, Senators George McGovern of South Dakota and Mark Hatfield of Oregon sponsored an amendment that would require the President to withdraw all American forces from Vietnam. Neither amendment could secure enough support to be translated into legislation that would immediately limit the power of the President to wage war. But in a symbolic act of defiance, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in June 1970 to terminate the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The House, moreover, soon joined with the Senate in reducing appropriations for the defense budget and in lowering quotas for the selective service.
In December 1970, while permitting the President to continue the air campaign in Cambodia, Congress prohibited the use of funds to support the deployment of any American combat forces or military advisers in ground operations outside South Vietnam. But the conflict in Indochina continued to spread despite the rapid expansion of antiwar sentiment in the United States. As soon as the North Vietnamese troops began their temporary retreat from Cambodia, General Giap reinforced his base camps in Laos and renovated the Ho Chi Minh Trail running down the Laotian panhandle toward South Vietnam. In response, President Nixon immediately ordered the heavy bombardment of North Vietnamese staging areas and supply lines in Laos. He also authorized American air strikes against targets in the HanoiHaiphong area and other parts of North Vietnam. Finally, after considerable deliberation, Nixon decided in February 1971 to sponsor an invasion of Laos.
The military campaign in Laos, like the earlier one in Cambodia, was designed to buy time for Vietnamization by disrupting enemy logistical facilities. But the congressional prohibition against the deployment of American infantry units or military advisers outside South Vietnam meant that the ground operations in Laos would have to be conducted solely by ARVN soldiers. Launched amid great optimism on February 8, the Laotian invasion quickly turned into a complete disaster. The original plan called for the South Vietnamese forces to remain in Laos until May when the onset of heavy rains would make further military operations impractical. But after his troops encountered fierce resistance from North Vietnamese units, President Thieu suddenly decided on March 9 to pull out of Laos. The South Vietnamese took a terrible beating during their hasty twelve-day retreat. Despite extensive American air support, the expeditionary forces of the Saigon government suffered a casualty rate approaching 50 percent before they could complete their disorganized withdrawal from Laos.
After the Laotian fiasco the Nixon administration was further embarrassed by a series of events. After a highly publicized trial ending on March 29, a military court found Lieutenant William Calley guilty of the premeditated murder of at least twenty-two South Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai. The explosive news of the massacre fueled the outrage of the American peace movement, which demanded the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War wanted to make the American people realize that the massacre at My Lai was not a unique incident. After arriving in Washington on April 20, a group of 1,000 Vietnam veterans testified to their own war crimes and threw their medals down upon the steps of the Capitol. The American public received additional revelations about the real nature of the Vietnam War on June 13 when the New York Times began publishing secret Defense Department documents that had been stolen by Daniel Ellsberg while he was working at the Pentagon. President Nixon secured an injunction to prevent the publication of these so-called “Pentagon Papers,” but the Supreme Court overturned the order. Hoping to prevent future disclosures, Nixon approved the creation of a clandestine group of “plumbers” to plug leaks within the government.
But Nixon could not stop the continuous barrage of shocking stories about American conduct in Vietnam from generating even greater war-weariness in the United States. Public opinion polls taken in the summer of 1971 indicated that disillusionment with the war had reached an all-time high among the American people. While over 70 percent thought that the United States had made a mistake by sending armed forces to Vietnam, nearly 60 percent regarded American military operations in Indochina as immoral. A mere 31 percent of the American population expressed approval for the way that Nixon was handling the war. Disenchantment with the prolonged military ordeal had become so widespread that a substantial majority of those surveyed said that they favored the removal of all American troops from Southeast Asia by the end of 1971 even if the result would be a Communist takeover in South Vietnam. Nixon realized he had to find a way out before he ran for reelection in 1972.
II.3. The Fall Of Saigon
Faced with such overwhelming domestic opposition to the war at home, President Nixon sent Henry Kissinger to Paris to try to break the deadlock in peace negotiations. During secret meetings beginning in May 1971, Kissinger presented a plan calling for the withdrawal of all United States troops from South Vietnam in exchange for the release of the American prisoners of war (POWs). But Le Duc Tho, the chief delegate from Hanoi, responded that North Vietnam would not agree to an armistice until the Thieu regime was replaced by a coalition government that included Vietcong representatives.
When the United States refused to abandon Thieu, the political arm of the Vietcong issued a public statement explaining that the disagreement over the eventual status of the Saigon government remained the major obstacle to a peace settlement: “The U.S. Government must really respect the South Viet Nam people’s right to self-determinism, put an end to its interference in the internal affairs of South Viet Nam, cease backing the bellicose group headed by Nguyen Van Thieu at present in office in Saigon, and stop all maneuvers, including tricks on elections, aimed at maintainng the puppet Nguyen Van Thieu.” By the end of 1971, withdrawals had reduced U.S. troop strength to 175,000 in Vietnam, somewhat calming protests at home but continuing to erode front-line morale. In March 1972, taking advantage of the reduced American presence, the National Liberation Front crossed the Demilitarized Zone and seized a South Vietnamese province.
This “Easter Offensive” initially routed ARVN troops until President Nixon retaliated by doubling air attacks, mining Haiphong Harbor, and establishing a naval blockade of the North. Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho finally formulated an agreement governing the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the return of POWs, and the creation of a foundation for a political settlement through establishment of a special council of reconciliation. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, however, rejected the peace terms because they permitted Vietcong forces to remain in place in the South. The fact that Kissinger had been able to announce that “peace is at hand” assured the President’s reelection in 1972, but once in office, Nixon threw his support behind Thieu, repudiating the peace terms Kissinger had negotiated.
In order to bring the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table, the President then ordered eleven days of intensive “Christmas bombing” of North Vietnamese cities. This operation was carried out by B-52s out of Anderson AFB on Guam and was dubbed “Linebacker II” – though many who served on the mission referred to it as the “Eleven-Day War.” Linebacker II, conducted from December 18 to December 29, followed Linebacker I, a campaign of B-52 interdiction bombing in North Vietnam during the spring, summer, and fall of 1972. Linebacker I, in turn, had followed the sustained program of air interdiction over North Vietnam conducted from 1965 to 1968 and known as Rolling Thunder.
The Linebacker II operation was far more concentrated and intensive than the earlier ones. Approximately 155 giant B-52s were continuously operational for 11 days, during which the bombers flew 729 sorties against 34 targets in North Vietnam above the 20th parallel. Fifteen thousand tons of ordnance destroyed or damaged some 1,600 military structures, 500 rail targets – including 372 pieces of rolling stock – 3 million gallons of fuel (perhaps one-quarter of North Vietnam’s reserves), and 10 airfields, and knocked out 80 percent of electrical power production capacity. Despite its high cost, Linebacker II did succeed in breaking the deadlock of mid- December. The North Vietnamese resumed negotiations on January 8, 1973, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27. The agreement was not different from what had been concluded in October 1972, except that this time President Thieu was completely ignored.
The accords ended direct U.S. military involvement and temporarily ended the fighting between North and South. On January 27, Secretary of Defense Laird announced an end to the military draft, and on March 29, the last U.S. troops departed from Vietnam, leaving behind some eighty-five hundred U.S. civilian “technicians.” On June 13 a new cease-fire agreement among the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Vietcong was drawn up in an effort to end cease-fire violations. Nevertheless, from 1973 to 1975, fighting continued. The Nixon administration continued to send massive amounts of aid to the Thieu government, and both the North and the South continued violating the accords. To pressure the North into abiding by them, the United States resumed bombing Cambodia and menaced North Vietnam with reconnaissance overflights.
But Congress had turned against the President, whose administration was now disintegrating in the Watergate scandal. In November 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which required the President to inform Congress within forty-eight hours of deployment of U.S. military forces abroad and mandated their withdrawal within sixty days if Congress did not approve. In 1974, U.S. aid to South Vietnam was reduced from $2.56 billion to $907 million, and to $700 million in 1975. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned in August 1974. Congress subsequently rejected President Gerald Ford’s request for $300 million in “supplemental aid” to South Vietnam, and, from early 1975 on, the dispirited South suffered one military defeat after another.
In January, Communist forces captured the province of Phuoc Binh, then launched a major offensive in the Central Highlands during March. South Vietnamese forces withdrew from parts of the northwest and central highlands, and on March 25, 1975, the old imperial capital of Hue fell. In April, Danang and Qui Nhon followed, and, after a fierce battle, the South Vietnamese gave up Kuon Loc on April 22. A day earlier, President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and was briefly replaced by Tran Van Huong, whom the Communists found unacceptable for negotiations. Lieutenant General Duong Van Minh became South Vietnam’s last President and surrendered to the forces of North Vietnam on April 30. North and South Vietnam were officially unified under a Communist regime on July 2, 1976. A dramatic, frenzied evacuation of Americans remaining in Vietnam followed.
The spectacle of American personnel being airlifted by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon was humiliating and heart-breaking. At the cost of more than $150 billion and fifty-eight thousand Americans killed, the Vietnam War had ended in defeat for South Vietnam and (as many saw it) for the United States as well. Bombarded by the visual and auditory sensations of bloodshed and violence, veterans who served in Vietnam became predisposed to the psychological threat of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 1975, Vietnam has been unified under a totalitarian government centered in Hanoi. The bloodbath of South Vietnamese loyal to the United States that many had predicted did not occur, although many were deprived of their property and sent to harsh “re-education” camps.
Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and the country suffered extreme poverty, although in the 1980s, a number of industrialized countries began to invest in development projects in Vietnam. Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and the Laotian insurgents triumphed shortly after. The new rulers of Cambodia persecuted not only anti-Communists but many others as well. Thousands of people lived in slave labor camps. About one million people died. This brutality ended in 1979 after Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. A moderate Communist government was put into office under Vietnamese supervision. The Vietnamese forces were withdrawn from Cambodia in 1989. It was not until February 1994 that the United States lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam, because many officials believed that American prisoners of war were being held captive by their former enemies. In July 1995, the United States and Vietnam established full diplomatic relations, marking a formal end to the war.
The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war and the least successful Cold War confrontation for the United States. Vietnam ended the liberal consensus that America had a duty to fight everywhere abroad for freedom, destroyed the illusion of American omnipotence and demoralized the armed forces. This was the longest military struggle in American history and the first war that the United States has ever lost. Since the fall of Saigon to Communist forces in 1975, the Americans have exhibited a continuing interest in the Vietnam War. The United States intervened in Vietnam in order to prevent the fall of the country to the Soviet-backed Communist forces, enlarged its commitment to halt a presumably expansionist Red China, and eventually made Vietnam a test of its determination to uphold world order.
Due to the former colonial status of the United States, American policy-makers have always pledged their support for the democratic principle of self-determination. They have also articulated a strong humanitarian desire to help other countries achieve prosperity and security. Nevertheless, the United States betrayed its own democratic values in Vietnam. Although the United States intervened in Vietnam in the name of democracy, American actions in fact curtailed the liberty of the Vietnamese people. In his determination to prevent the Vietminh from transforming Vietnam into a Communist nation, President Truman decided in 1950 to subsidize the French military struggle to reimpose colonial rule over Indochina. After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Geneva peace settlement partitioned Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel and stipulated that general elections were to be held in 1956 to reunify the country.
Realizing that Ho Chi Minh would win an overwhelming victory if elections were conducted according to schedule, President Eisenhower decided to abort the Geneva Agreement and keep Vietnam permanently divided. Thus, the American administration deliberately denied the Vietnamese people the right to choose their own leader. The United States then made a concerted effort to help Ngo Dinh Diem build the southern half of Vietnam into an independent nation that would stand as a bastion against the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. But neither Diem nor his successors in Saigon were able to win the allegiance of the majority of the South Vietnamese population. Moreover, they ignored the needs and aspirations of their own people and assumed absolute powers. Despite their devotion to democratic institutions, therefore, Americans found themselves supporting a series of dictatorial governments in South Vietnam.
The American leaders placed economic considerations above their own political ideals. They have never abandoned their fundamental belief in the vital importance of foreign commerce for the successful functioning of free enterprise in the United States. Thus they have frequently attempted to force other countries to participate in the international trading network that the United States helped establish in the aftermath of World War II. Thus in their determination to support the liberal capitalist world system and thereby preserve entrepreneurial freedom in the United States, American leaders have repeatedly acted contrary to their clearly expressed humanitarian values and democratic principles.
After the fall of China to Communist forces in 1949, President Truman and his advisers sought to make Japan a junior partner in the evolving Pax Americana. But they feared that Japan, if denied access to non-Communist markets in Southeast Asia, would quickly become dependent upon trade with China and ultimately be pulled out of the capitalist orbit. State Department officials acknowledged that Ho Chi Minh, should he gain control of Vietnam, might well behave like an Asian Tito and remain free from either Russian or Chinese domination. Yet they thought that Ho and his Vietminh colleagues would adopt a Soviet model for economic development and thus restrict the flow of trade between Vietnam and the rest of the world. Though they understood that Vietnam by itself possessed little value as a market for Japanese goods, American diplomats believed that a Vietminh victory in Indochina would encourage radicals to challenge the status quo elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
By the beginning of the 1960s, the domino theory had assumed global dimensions. United States policy-makers worried that a successful Communist revolution in Vietnam would have a rippling effect not only in the rest of Southeast Asia but also in Latin America and Africa. Beside its direct commercial and financial interests in underdeveloped areas around the world, the United States used to ship large quantities of goods to industrial nations, which in turn depended upon trade with underdeveloped regions. President Kennedy and his successors in the White House remained convinced that unless American producers could continue to export their surplus commodities to industrial and non-industrial countries alike the United States would eventually have to resort to centralized economic planning to create an internal balance between supply and demand. By maintaining the prestige and credibility of the United States in Indochina, American leaders hoped to discourage radical groups throughout the Third World.
The American military operations led to widespread death and destruction in Indochina. Millions of inhabitants of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia lost their lives, and those who survived had to eke out an existence on land that had been seared by napalm, defoliated by chemicals, and pulverized by explosives. The war had a devastating impact on the American economy and society. Nearly 60,000 United States soldiers died in Vietnam, and a great many more received wounds that left them with permanent disabilities. The huge military expenditures in Vietnam placed an added burden upon American taxpayers and forced cuts in social welfare programs in the United States. The war polarized the country and caused huge social problems, like massive antiwar demonstrations, desertions and migrations to Canada in order to avoid military draft. The Vietnam War influenced the American foreign policy ever since. The U.S. policy-makers concluded that in the future the United States could engage in covert rather than overt operations to combat revolutions in the Third World. As a result, the United States became increasingly inclined to fight wars by proxy.
Vietnam continues to be a hotly contested topic in American culture and politics. Liberals from the beginning presented Vietnam as a mistake, while conservatives blamed defeat on the politicians and excessive restraint in the use of military force. With Ronald Reagan’s presedential victories in 1980 and 1984, the rightist version became official policy. The message seems clear. Unless the Americans gain a better understanding of the nature of U.S. diplomacy, the tragedy that occurred in Vietnam might be repeated with equally dire consequences in other parts of the world and with perhaps even worse results for democratic institutions in the United States.
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An Overview on the US Involvement in the Vietnam War
This book deals with the involvement of the USA in the Vietnam conflict, one of the most destructive wars of the 20th century. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Vietnam conflict is the fact that a small country like Vietnam managed to defeat the greatest military power in history. The Americans lost the war because they used the wrong strategies.
- ISBN: 9786068799520
- Author: EdDigitala
- Published: 2016-04-15 16:20:08
- Words: 22270