Nixon on Vietnam War

Nixon on Vietnam War


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On March 26, 1971, President Richard Nixon holds a meeting in the Oval Office with his National Security Council to discuss the war in Vietnam. The meeting is secretly recorded. Among the many topics he raises, Nixon recounts a prior conversation with House majority leader Hale Boggs on setting a date for the final withdrawal of U.S. forces.


Quotations: From Nixon to defeat

This selection of Vietnam War quotations spans the Richard Nixon era to the US withdrawal and the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. It contains statements and remarks about the Vietnam conflict by notable political figures, military commanders, contemporaries and historians. These quotations have been researched, selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a quotation for this collection, please contact us.

“Bones have broken and blood has fallen, the hatred is rising high. Our country has been separated for so long. Here, the sacred Mekong, here, glorious Truong Son Mountains are urging us to advance to kill the enemy. Shoulder to shoulder, under a common flag. Arise!”
Lu Hu Phuoc, Vietnamese musician and Viet Cong supporter, July 1969

“People usually refer to the bombing of Cambodia as if it had been unprovoked, secretive U.S. action. The fact is that we were bombing North Vietnamese troops that had invaded Cambodia, [troops] that were killing many Americans from these sanctuaries, and we were doing it with the acquiescence of the Cambodian government, which never once protested against it, and which, indeed, encouraged us to do it… Why is it moral for the North Vietnamese to have 50,000 to 100,000 troops in Cambodia, why should we let them kill Americans from that territory… and why in all these conditions is there a moral issue?”
Henry Kissinger on the bombing of Cambodia in 1969

“I’m not going to be the first American president to lose
a war.”
Richard Nixon, October 1969

“We [US soldiers in Vietnam] found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever… we found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart.”
John Kerry, anti-war activist, April 1971

“By every conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious… Sedition, coupled with disaffection from within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity previously inconceivable, infest the Armed Services.”
Robert D. Heinl, US Marine colonel, June 1971

“Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Tom Lehrer, American singer-songwriter

“The US strategy of using bombing to put pressure on you has failed. Nixon has many international and domestic issues to deal with. It seems that the US is still willing to get out from Vietnam and Indochina. You should persist in principles while demonstrating flexibility during the negotiations. The most important [thing] is to let the Americans leave. The situation will change in six months or one year.”
Zhou Enlai, Chinese premier, to Le Duc Tho, January 1973

“Peace has not yet really been established in South Vietnam. In these circumstances, it is impossible for me to accept the 1973 Nobel Prize for Peace which the committee has bestowed on me. Once the Paris accord on Vietnam is respected, the arms are silenced and a real peace is established in South Vietnam, I will be able to consider accepting this prize.”
Le Duc Tho, North Vietnamese diplomat, 1973

“I knew [by 1973] that we were fully prepared to sell South Vietnam down the river. You can be charitable and say that we didn’t care. Or you can be worse and say that we wanted to give it to the other side… Once Watergate happened, no Vietnamese of any political sophistication thought that we would pay more attention to Vietnam. There was no way to reverse what our Congress had done.”
Edward Brady, American Vietnam veteran

“If the Americans do not want to support us anymore, let
them go, get out! Let them forget their humanitarian promises!”
Nguyen Van Thieu, South Vietnamese president, April 1975

“You give an army the means to get around in helicopters or on roads, you accustom them to unlimited artillery and air support for long enough, you get them used to sleeping in bed at night, and what happens? I will tell you what happens. At a certain point, neither the troops nor the officers are willing any longer to walk to battle, hacking their way through jungles if necessary. So they stay in their helicopters and get shot down or cut off from American rescue, or they drive along the road, where they get shelled or ambushed and cut to pieces. Every officer knows this, but our army has become flabby and lazy over the years, and we owe some of that to the kind of luxury aid you gave us.”
An ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) officer, 1975

“I’m glad the fighting is coming to an end, but I feel shame that it took so long and that we played the role we did in extending it for so long. It has been inevitable that they would win the war for so many years. Now here’s a chance to figure out what kind of foreign policy we should have instead of having Vietnam rip us apart. That hasn’t been possible before.”
Anthony Lake, former aide to Henry Kissinger, 1975

“I’m relieved that it’s over and that we didn’t go back again. My fear was that Vietnam was a film that would keep running backwards and forward and would never end… People talk of losing Vietnam or the fall of Vietnam. That country has not fallen and we didn’t have it to lose.”
Morton Halperin, US Defence Department official, 1975

“All of my worries… about how it was going to end have materialised. We didn’t understand the place [and] we didn’t know how to fight there. It was a sad epoch… There are lessons to be drawn from it, very clear lessons. We should never have tried to get by with half-measures because you can’t do that and control the outcome. ”
William J. Porter, former deputy ambassador to South Vietnam, 1975

“The people of Vietnam will be able to determine their lives without foreign interference… For 25 years the United States has tried to control 25 million people on a tiny strip of land and we couldn’t do it and we should never try to do it again anywhere else.”
Cora Weiss, American anti-war campaigner

“It is tragic that President Roosevelt’s determination not to let the French back into Indochina after World War II was not carried out. It would have saved France, the United States and the Vietnamese people this desperate experience.”
W. Averell Harriman, US politician, 1975

“I can’t avoid my responsibility for what happened in Southeast Asia, but I don’t think others, including the peace movement, should either.”
Dean Rusk, former US Secretary of State, 1975

“I’m inclined to believe the [Vietnam] War would have ended just about when it did [1975], even if there had been no protest… Because they did not end it on policy, they just ended it because they were losing it – and the soldiers wouldn’t fight.”
Eugene McCarthy, American politician and anti-war figure

“Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could
not serve as the world’s policeman. It should also have
taught us the dangers of trying to be the world’s midwife
to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place
under conditions of guerrilla war.”
Jeane Kilpatrick, US diplomat, 1979

“Yes, we defeated the United States. But now we are plagued by problems. We do not have enough to eat. We are a poor, underdeveloped nation… Waging a war is simple but running a country is very difficult.”
Pham Van Dong, Vietnamese leader, 1981

“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic.”
Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams, 1985


Fatal Politics

In his widely acclaimed Chasing Shadows ("the best account yet of Nixon’s devious interference with Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Vietnam War negotiations"-- Washington Post), Ken Hughes revealed the roots of the covert activity that culminated in Watergate. In Fatal Politics, Hughes turns to the final years of the war and Nixon’s reelection bid of 1972 to expose the president’s darkest secret.

While Nixon publicly promised to keep American troops in Vietnam only until the South Vietnamese could take their place, he privately agreed with his top military, diplomatic, and intelligence advisers that Saigon could never survive without American boots on the ground. Afraid that a preelection fall of Saigon would scuttle his chances for a second term, Nixon put his reelection above the lives of American soldiers. Postponing the inevitable, he kept America in the war into the fourth year of his presidency. At the same time, Nixon negotiated a "decent interval" deal with the Communists to put a face-saving year or two between his final withdrawal and Saigon’s collapse. If they waited that long, Nixon secretly assured North Vietnam’s chief sponsors in Moscow and Beijing, the North could conquer the South without any fear that the United States would intervene to save it. The humiliating defeat that haunts Americans to this day was built into Nixon’s exit strategy. Worse, the myth that Nixon was winning the war before Congress "tied his hands" has led policy makers to adapt tactics from America’s final years in Vietnam to the twenty-first-century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, prolonging both wars without winning either.

Forty years after the fall of Saigon, and drawing on more than a decade spent studying Nixon’s secretly recorded Oval Office tapes--the most comprehensive, accurate, and illuminating record of any presidency in history, much of it never transcribed until now-- Fatal Politics tells a story of political manipulation and betrayal that will change how Americans remember Vietnam. Fatal Politics is also available as a special e-book that allows the reader to move seamlessly from the book to transcripts and audio files of these historic conversations.

Ken Hughes is one of America's foremost experts on secret presidential recordings.

Hughes ends by writing that Nixon’s myth of a 'victory' in Vietnam masks cowardice for political courage and replaces patriotism with opportunism. Nixon prolonged a lost war. He then faked a peace. And he then schemed to shift the blame onto Congress. As long as that truth is masked, other presidents can play politics with the lives hundred of thousands of innocent civilians, and tens of thousands of American soldiers.

Woodward cites the work of Ken Hughes of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center to show that 'the massive bombing did not do the job militarily but it was politically popular. Hughes argues with a great deal of evidence that the bombing was chiefly designed so Nixon would win re-election.'

Ken Hughes, a researcher in the University of Virginia’s Miller Center PresidentialRecordings Program, has provided a great service to Vietnam War scholars and those interested in understanding the history of the Vietnam War. Hughes has taken us into areas of Nixon’s administration that we only previously imagined and provided insightsinto a tragic period of American history. This is an important book that adds a lot to the historiography of the Vietnam War.

Ken Hughes, researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, is the author of Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (Virginia). His work as a journalist has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe Magazine, and Salon.


Nixon's "Decent Interval" Vietnam Strategy Should Give Obama Pause on Afghanistan

"Understanding Richard Nixon and His Era: A Symposium," will be held at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda at 9 a.m . July 22 and 23 and is free and open to the public. Check the C-SPAN schedule for coverage. Ken Hughes is a researcher with the Presidential Recordings Program of the University of Virginia's Miller Center, a co-sponsor of the symposium.

Forty years ago this month, when National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger took a secret trip to China that would turn him into an international celebrity overnight once it was revealed, President Richard Nixon quietly sold South Vietnam down the river for political gain.

It's a sordid story, too long kept secret, but it needs to be told today, when the editor of Foreign Affairs in the pages of the New York Times actually urges President Obama to model his exit from Afghanistan on Nixon's exit from Vietnam. That's a formula for political triumph at the cost of geopolitical failure, moral squalor and human devastation.

"We want a decent interval," Kissinger scribbled in the margins of his thick briefing book (as historian Jeffrey Kimball discovered). "You have our assurance."

It's a strange phrase, nearly forgotten, but "decent interval" meant something in the latter days of Vietnam, when our leaders groped for a way to get out of the war without admitting they couldn't find a way to win it. As Daniel Ellsberg wrote a few months before the secret trip, “During 1968, Henry Kissinger frequently said in private talks that the appropriate goal of U.S . policy was a ‘decent interval’—two to three years—between the withdrawal of U.S . troops and a Communist takeover in Vietnam."

This interval, it was argued at the time, would protect the nation's credibility from the humiliation of defeat. But a transcript prepared by Kissinger's own aides of his first meeting with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai reveals how willing Nixon was to sacrifice America's credibility abroad to preserve his political credibility at home. As Kissinger explained it, the president would agree to complete withdrawal of American troops in return for Hanoi's release of American prisoners of war and a ceasefire ("say 18 months or some period").

"If the agreement breaks down, then it is quite possible that the people in Vietnam will fight it out," Kissinger said (as historian Jussi Hanhimaki found). "If the government is as unpopular as you seem to think, then the quicker our forces are withdrawn, the quicker it will be overthrown. And if it is overthrown after we withdraw, we will not intervene."

Wait a minute—why haven't you ever heard any of this before? For many reasons, none of them good. First, Nixon deliberately misled the public. When the president revealed Kissinger's trip to China and announced his own forthcoming public one on national television, he spoke of "a lasting peace in the world," not the temporary peace in Vietnam he was secretly negotiating. "Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People's Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends."

Second, most conservatives took Nixon at his word, although some objected that Republicans would be up in arms if a Democratic president had announced he was going to China. "Of course we would," California governor Ronald Reagan said. "Democratic presidents lacked the will and wisdom to exact a victory as the price for the young Americans who died in Vietnam. But this is a Republican president who has said only, 'I will go and talk. I have no intention of abandoning old friends.'" Reagan was an optimist, if only about his own party.

Third, liberals shared the conservative certainty that America's foremost anti-Communist politician wouldn't abandon South Vietnam. One of the reasons Ellsberg , a former Defense Department analyst, leaked the Pentagon Papers, a Top Secret DoD history of the Vietnam War, was his conviction that Nixon was following the pattern of previous presidents and trying to establish an indefinite fighting stalemate in Vietnam. Likewise, former defense secretary Clark Clifford charged that Nixon planned "perpetual war." And George McGovern, Nixon's 1972 Democratic opponent, framed the election as "a choice between four more years of war, or four years of peace."

Nixon profited greatly from the way liberals and conservatives alike overestimated his commitment to South Vietnam. When Hanoi agreed to Nixon's terms shortly before Election Day 1972, knowing they would lead to Communist victory, Kissinger announced, "Peace is at hand." Nixon won reelection by the largest popular margin of any Republican.

If only voters had heard what Nixon privately told Kissinger when a settlement first appeared within reach: "I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably is never gonna survive anyway. I’m just being perfectly candid." Not with the American people. He promised "peace with honor," but delivered delayed defeat. To avoid a South Vietnamese collapse before Election Day and for a "decent interval" after, Nixon sacrificed 20,000 American lives.

The bipartisan consensus that Nixon would continue to use military means to prop up Saigon obscured the crucial ways his own settlement terms made that impossible to do. As the Pentagon, State Department and CIA informed the President in his first year in office, the South could not handle both the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army "without U.S . combat support in the form of air, helicopters, artillery, logistics and major ground forces," yet Nixon's settlement removed all U.S . ground forces. Total withdrawal was the price Hanoi exacted for release of American POWs. Those who continue to insist that Nixon could've maintained an anti-Communist regime in Saigon after the settlement using U.S . airpower alone have never explained what he was supposed to do once the North Vietnamese resumed shooting down planes and taking Americans prisoner. At that point, Nixon would have nothing sufficiently valuable to trade for the release of POWs—nothing but overt surrender (as opposed to the disguised surrender of the "decent interval").

Fourth, Nixon shifted the blame for defeat in Vietnam onto Congress shortly after the last troops and POWs came home. On June 29, 1973, he informed Congress that he would accept a complete ban on U.S . military action in all of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) even though (1) Republican, Democratic and neutral vote counters agreed he had enough support to sustain a veto of such a bill (2) earlier that week Congress had sustained his veto of a weaker bill covering just Laos and Cambodia. Nixon claimed Congress tied his hands, but he tied his own. Most people didn't realize that this smooth move enabled Nixon to live up to the secret assurances he had given the Communists through Kissinger that he wouldn't intervene if they waited a "decent interval" before conquering the South, because.

Fifth, Nixon fought for the rest of his life to keep his record from the public. The briefing book and transcript quoted above remained classified for decades, until most people forgot what "decent interval" meant. Sixth, in 2005 the Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, at the time still a private, partisan, political shrine, cancelled a long-planned academic conference on Nixon and Vietnam, sparking an uproar.

Things have come full circle at the Nixon Library, which has invited many scholars from that notoriously cancelled conference to present their research at its first scholarly symposium since joining the National Archives' presidential library system under the excellent stewardship of director Timothy Naftali . It's not a moment too soon for the public to hear from scholars like Jeffrey Kimball, who has done more than any other historian to bring to light Nixon's strategy of postponing, rather than preventing, Communist victory. The temptation for politicians today to prolong wars they can't win and fake "peace" settlements that won't hold must be as strong as it was for Nixon and Kissinger four decades ago, but if enough patriotic Americans learn this dark history, we will not be forced to repeat it.


Nixon on Vietnam War - HISTORY

Nixon White House Considered Nuclear Options Against North Vietnam, Declassified Documents Reveal

Nuclear Weapons, the Vietnam War, and the "Nuclear Taboo"*

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 195

Edited by William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball

For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7000
Jeffrey Kimball - 513/529-5121

Posted - July 31, 2006

Jeffrey Kimball, Emeritus Professor, History Department, Miami University, wrote the prize-winning books, Nixon's Vietnam War (1998), and The Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy(2004). With National Security Archive analyst William Burr, he wrote, "Nixon's Secret Nuclear Alert: Vietnam War Diplomacy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test, October 1969," Cold War History (January 2003). A shorter version of that article appeared as "Nixon’s Nuclear Ploy: The Vietnam Negotiations and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test, October 1969," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January-February 2003).

Related postings

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 40 Years Later
Flawed Intelligence and the Decision for War in Vietnam

Intelligence and Vietnam
The Top Secret 1969 State Department Study

JFK and the Diem Coup
JFK tape reveals high-level Vietnam coup plotting in 1963

Nixon's Nuclear Ploy
An online companion piece to an article appearing in the January/February 2003 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1A-B: Eisenhower on How the U.S. Ended the Korean War

Document A. Lt. General A. J. Goodpaster, " Memorandum of Meeting with the President 17 February 1965," 17 February 1965, Top Secret

Document B. Memo, Benjamin Read to Dean Rusk, subj: Threat of the Use of Nuclear Weapons Against China in Korean War, 4 March 1965, Top Secret

A: Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Meeting Notes File, box 1, "[February 17, 1965-10:00AM Meeting with General Eisenhower and Others,]"

B: National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59 [RG 59], Formerly Top Secret Foreign Policy Files, 1964-1966, box 5, Def 12 US.

Nixon's Madman Theory&mdashthe principle of threatening excessive or extraordinary force&mdashhad its origins the brinkmanship of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, under whom Nixon had served as vice president, and Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. Claims about how nuclear diplomacy had brought the Korean War to an end against an obstinate Chinese foe became part of Republican Party lore and eventually the conventional wisdom in the United States. Nixon, in particular, would take the lesson to heart.

In 1955 Admiral C. Turner Joy contended that the Communist side had made concessions at the negotiating table in response to the Eisenhower government's nuclear threats against China in May of 1953. In 1956, Life, the mass-market magazine, published a supporting story in which Secretary of State Dulles claimed to have delivered an unmistakable and effective nuclear warning to Beijing on Eisenhower's behalf in 1953. As the story goes, when Dulles traveled to New Delhi, India in May, he told Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that if the armistice negotiations failed the United States "would probably make stronger . . . military exertions and that this might well extend the conflict," and if the fighting became more intense, "it is difficult to know what [the] end might be." To underline this veiled threat, Washington apparently sent secret messages to Beijing through other intermediaries to the effect that failure to reach an armistice would lead Washington to remove constraints on types of weapons and targets.

On 17 February 1965, almost a decade later, Eisenhower repeated the story about the Dulles-Nehru meeting to then President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had invited him to the White House to hear his "thinking concerning the situation in South Vietnam." As summarized by State Department Executive Secretary Benjamin H. Read, Eisenhower told Johnson and the others in attendance that "he had sent a message to Nehru in 1953, warning that we would use nuclear weapons against China if the Korean War continued, and that he believed this warning played a decisive part in terminating the Korean War."

Secretary of State Rusk&mdashprobably at Johnson's or McGeorge Bundy's request&mdashtasked Read to investigate the claim. But Read and his staff could "find no documentary support in such specific terms," except for "messages which indicate that certain signals were passed both to Nehru and to [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov, which could conceivably have been so interpreted." According to Dulles' notes, he had told Nehru in New Delhi on 21 May 1953 that if the armistice negotiations failed, the "U.S. would probably make stronger, rather than lesser, military exertion and that this might well extend area conflict (I [Secretary Dulles] assumed this would be relayed to Chinese)."

Even if Molotov or Nehru told Chinese leaders about the Eisenhower administration's signals and interpreted them in the way the administration wanted them to be understood, the warnings were probably not critically important in ending the war. Other considerations were far more relevant to Mao Zedong's decisions. Nevertheless, Eisenhower&rsquos belief that his threats were relevant had an impact on the thinking of his vice president, Richard M. Nixon, who believed that threats could change the conduct of adversaries.

Document 2: Memorandum from Al Haig to Henry Kissinger, "Memorandum from Secretary Laird Enclosing Preliminary Draft of Potential Military Actions re Vietnam," 2 March 1969, enclosing a memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to Kissinger, 21 February 1969, and report [excerpts] from Joint Staff, Top Secret/Sensitive, with Kissinger's Memo Reply to Laird, 3 March 1969, Top Secret

Source: NSCF, box 1007, Haig Vietnam Files, Vol. 1 (Jan - March 1969)

From the first weeks of 1969 through much of the rest of the year, Nixon and Kissinger considered how they could apply "maximum pressure" on North Vietnam and the VC/NLF in South Vietnam, which would have the goal of altering the military situation in their favor, enable them to bargain from a position of strength, and persuade the other side to concede key terms to the U.S. and RVN in negotiations.

The subject of military pressure came up early in the new administration at a 27 January late luncheon meeting in the Pentagon between the president, Kissinger, JCS Chairman General Earl Wheeler, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. During the discussion, someone&mdashprobably Nixon or Kissinger&mdashbrought up "the possibility of working out a program of potential military actions which might jar the North Vietnamese into being more forthcoming at the Paris talks." The Joint Staff of the JCS soon set about the task of preparing a set of "indicator actions" designed "to create fear in the Hanoi leadership that the United States is preparing to undertake new highly damaging military actions against North Vietnamese territory, installations, and interests."

On 21 February, Laird sent a "working copy" of the Joint Staff's proposed "dramatic steps," which could take the form of either actual or feigned operations&mdash"each developed over an adequate period of time to be picked up by the communists":

  1. A combined airborne/amphibious operation against several objectives in NVN.
  2. Punitive airborne/airmobile expeditions against enemy lines of communications (LOC) and base areas in Laos and Cambodia.
  3. Renewed and expanded air and naval operations against NVN to include closure of Haiphong and the blockade of NVN.
  4. Subversion of the population and preparation for active resistance by the people against the Hanoi regime.
  5. A technical escalation.

Each of the proposed military measures was "keyed" to political and diplomatic maneuvers designed to increase the potential for a jarring impact. The proposal for a "technical escalation," the most startling of them all, amounted to a threat to use atomic and/or biological or chemical weapons and included a "visit" by chemical-biological-radiological weapons experts to the Far East. Haig's paraphrase of that option, however, focused on a nuclear escalation: "A plan for actual or feigned technical escalation or war against [the] North (nuclear)." The visit by weapons experts would be accompanied by political moves such as a U.S. diplomatic "hint" of a "possible technical escalation of the war" and a statement by a senior military official that the "Pentagon periodically examines moves by which new and more modern weapons" could be introduced into the Vietnam conflict.

Laird dutifully passed on the Joint Staff's proposals to Kissinger, but he disassociated himself from them in his cover memorandum. Not only was this paper "preliminary," but General Wheeler and other members of the Joint Chiefs had not reviewed it nor had Laird's staff. Laird suggested his own skepticism when he wrote that "I must confess to you being more impressed . . . with the potential disadvantages of the proposals than with the possibility of achieving movement in Paris by such means.

Document 3: Henry A. Kissinger to the President, Subj: Vietnam Papers, 22 March 1969, with memorandum from Kissinger to the President, subj: Vietnam Situation and Options, [3/20] attached, Top Secret

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Morton A. Halperin Papers, box 10, Vietnam

In this wide ranging discussion of Vietnam strategy, probably drafted by NSC staffer Morton Halperin, the central role of the Soviet Union in White House thinking about a diplomatic solution to the war is evident, and so are ideas closely related to linkage and the Madman Theory. According to Kissinger/Halperin, "There is no question that the Soviets could play a major role in bringing the war to an end if they decide to put pressure on Hanoi." To accomplish that, it was necessary to "change the current Soviet calculation of gains and risks" associated with pressuring their Vietnamese allies. One way to do that would be for the Soviets to see risks in not helping Washington: "Within Vietnam we must worry the Soviets about the possibility that we are losing our patience and may get out of control." Escalatory measures might be "considered in this light."

Document 4: Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to Dr. Henry Kissinger, 11 April 1969, enclosing memorandum to Laird from JCS Chairman Wheeler, 11 April 1969, and paper, subj: Plan for a Mining Feint of Haiphong Harbor, n.d., Top Secret

Source: Department of Defense MDR Release

Disappointed by the lack of substantive movement in the Paris negotiations and Moscow&rsquos unwillingness or inability to persuade Hanoi to compromise on U.S. terms, Nixon and Kissinger initiated another secret military scheme in hopes of levering Moscow&rsquos cooperation or Hanoi&rsquos acquiescence that is, one beyond the secret bombing of enemy base areas in Cambodia, which had been launched in March. On Kissinger's suggestion, Nixon ordered the U.S. Navy to carry out mine-laying exercises in the Philippines and the Tonkin Gulf, hoping this ruse would lead Hanoi to believe that the Washington was preparing to mine and blockade Haiphong and other coastal ports along the South China Sea, thus driving them to enter into high-level negotiations.

Secretary Laird forwarded the plan that Kissinger had wanted and had been working on with Navy personnel, led by Captain Rembrandt Robinson, one of the JCS Chairman&rsquos liaison officers at the White House. In the spirit of the "indicator actions," the plan was designed to create a "state of indecision" in the North Vietnamese leadership by "creat[ing] the impression" that Washington was preparing to launch mining operations against North Vietnam. The mining feint plan included detailed step by step "sequential actions" beginning with an inventory of Pacific Command mining assets in Step 1. JCS Chairman Wheeler gave it a tepid endorsement, while Laird wrote that he had "serious reservations." Nevertheless, Nixon and Kissinger insisted that the plan go forward because they wanted to find ways to induce the North Vietnamese leadership to acquiesce in U.S. diplomacy.

Document 5: Message from Commander Task Force 7 to Commander Task Force 7.4, Subj: Mine Warfare Readiness, 13 May 1969, Secret

Source: U.S. Navy History and Archives Division, Seventh Fleet Records, box 117, Misc. May 1969

Consistent with the "mining feint" approved by the White House in April 1969, the Seventh Fleet began mining exercises&mdash"mine delivery training"&mdashin Subic Bay, in the Philippines. One of the first such exercises involved the U.S.S. Enterprise. A-6 and A-7 aircraft stationed on the Enterprise would conduct mining runs in specially designated areas of Subic Bay so they could "practice military tactics."

Document 6: Memorandum of Conversation, Kissinger and Dobrynin, 14 May 1969, [excerpts] Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972, ed. David C. Geyer, Douglas E. Selvage, and Edward C. Keefer (Washington, DC, 2007), doc. 22, pp. 59-62

During his secret meetings with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Kissinger began putting across the concept of a "decent interval" as part of the Nixon White House&rsquos long-term diplomatic strategy. For example, just before Nixon gave a major speech on Vietnam policy, on 14 May 1969, Kissinger told Dobrynin that "Nixon is even prepared to accept any political system in South Vietnam, 'provided there is a fairly reasonable interval between conclusion of an agreement and [the establishment of] such a system.'"

Document 7: Letters, Admiral Moorer to Laird, 21 July 1969, and Laird to Kissinger, n.d. enclosing: Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, DUCK HOOK, 20 July 1969, Top Secret

Source: MDR release

The failure of the mining feint to intimidate North Vietnam led Nixon and Kissinger to consider the launching of an actual mining operation against Haiphong. In response to White House requests, senior Navy officers, including White House liaison officer Captain Rembrandt Robinson prepared a mining plan, code-named DUCK HOOK. (A separate plan provided for the blockade of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, to keep supplies from reaching guerillas in the South). Although Kissinger wanted to keep the Defense Department, especially Secretary of Defense Laird, out of the picture, military protocol dictated otherwise, and it was Laird who handed off the plan to Kissinger.

The detailed 50-page document was divided into a summary, an intelligence appraisal, mining plan concepts and options, rules of engagement, an optimistic assessment of potential world reactions, and implications for international law (no problem, according to the Navy planners). DUCK HOOK&rsquos basic premise was that imports through Haiphong were a major "prop" to the DRV economy. The closing of the Haiphong port complex, the authors argued, "will have a major effect on the North Vietnam economy and the ability of the North Vietnamese to support the war in the south." The mining operation against Hanoi included three options. Option Alfa involved three aircraft carriers, Bravo two, and Charlie one. With each option, the purpose was to block large merchant ships from access to Haiphong Harbor as well as to "disrupt" any attempts by Hanoi to use smaller, lighterage craft to offload merchant ships anchored past the minefields.

During the following months, the character of the DUCK HOOK planning would change as Kissinger and his aides decided that mining by itself would not be enough. By early October 1969 DUCK HOOK would include options for bombing of urban and industrial targets in North Vietnam.

Document 8: Jean Sainteny, Memorandum for President Nixon, n.d., with cover memorandum by Tony Lake, July 16, 1969, Top Secret

Source: Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library [RPNL], Henry A. Kissinger Office File, box 106, folder: Mister "S," Vol. 1 (1 of 2).

DDUCK HOOK was accompanied by dire threats communicated by Nixon and Kissinger directly and indirectly, warning Hanoi that unless they responded positively to US negotiating demands by November 1, "measures of great consequence and force" would be taken against North Vietnam.

On Kissinger's recommendation, and consistent with their post-Sequoia intention to escalate threat making, President Nixon met with Jean Sainteny on 15 July to ask him to undertake a mission to Hanoi. An essential task for Sainteny was to deliver an unwritten warning from Nixon, which incorporated an indirect reference to the mining and blockading operation Nixon and Kissinger were then considering:

He has decided to hope for a positive outcome from the conversations at Paris by 1 November, and he is prepared to show good will by some humanitarian gestures, which Mr. Kissinger will be prepared to discuss in detail. But if, however, by this date&mdashthe anniversary of the [Johnson] bombing halt&mdashno valid solution has been reached, he will regretfully find himself obliged to have recourse to measures of great consequence and force. . . . He will resort to any means necessary.

Document 9: U.S. Embassy Philippines telegram 8452 to State Department, subj: Pincus/Paul Visit, 8 August 1969, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Defense Department MDR release

Walter Pincus, a former (and future) Washington Post reporter, and Norman Paul, a Washington DC lawyer, created a flap when they learned about the mining readiness test. In early August 1969 they were looking into U.S. military activities in the western Pacific at the direction of Senator Stuart Symington (D-Mo), chairman of the National Security Commitments Abroad, a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations. While in Japan, they learned about the shipment of 1,000 mines to Subic Bay. Pursuing the matter at Subic, they found that the chief of the naval magazine was unable to explain the purpose of the shipment or why the mine inventory was larger than usual. On visiting the USS Oriskany, Paul learned from its commanding officer that his pilots were engaged in training exercises. Asked about the nature of the training, the officer told Paul that it was an "aerial mine-laying exercise." Pincus and Paul then interviewed the captain in charge of the Mine Readiness Test Team, who explained that the Navy's Service Force Command had directed the mine shipments, that his team was at Subic to conduct an "annual inspection on a surprise basis," and, misleadingly, that the mines were in "normal configuration &lsquoCharlie.'" He assured them that the exercise was routine: the training of the carrier crews was "not unusual" and was taking place in connection with programs for the "general improvement in mine warfare readiness."

Unconvinced, Pincus and Paul "repeatedly demonstrated" their concern to a U.S. Embassy officer about the possibility of "military actions that could increase our . level of involvement in Vietnam." As if to lend credence to their concerns, Pincus and Paul noted that during the presidential campaign Nixon had discussed the mining of North Vietnamese ports, especially Haiphong Harbor, as a means of wringing concessions from Hanoi. Soon, Pincus and Paul reported their findings and concern to Committee chairman Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Ark), who soon raised the danger of escalating the war in communications with Secretary Laird.

Besides the mining readiness issue, Pincus and Paul were investigating U.S. nuclear weapons deployments in the Philippines hence the excisions and the "Formerly Restricted Data" classification of this message.

Document 10: Memo, Henry Kissinger to Nixon, n.d., subj: Conceptual Plan for Implementation of Operation DUCK HOOK, Top Secret

Source: NARA, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Record Group 218 [RG 218], JCS Chairman Files (Earle Wheeler), box 169, folder: White House Memos (1969)

In late July or early August, Kissinger presented Nixon with a memorandum outlining a "conceptual plan for implementation of operation DUCK HOOK," which placed the mining operation into a broader context of force, diplomacy, and politics and may have been prepared by his own staff. The operation, Kissinger began, "would not be approached as a purely military action but instead as a combined military and diplomatic operation intended to produce both military and political results with minimum adverse reactions at home and abroad."

In addition to several recommended military measures, one amounted to a nuclear readiness alert: U.S. forces would "assume a heightened PACOM and SAC alert posture militarily to show our resolve and to respond to whatever contingencies arise."

Documents 11A-B: Duck Hook Operational Concept

Document A. Report, "Vietnam Contingency Planning: Concept of Operations," 13 September 1969, Top Secret

Document B. Memorandum, Tony Lake to Kissinger, 17 September 1969 subj: Initial Comments on Concept of Operations, with attachment: "Vietnam Contingency Planning," 16 September 1969, Top Secret

A. RNPL, NSCF, box 74, Vietnam Subject Files, folder: Vietnam (General Files) Sep 69-Nov 69 (2 of 2)

B. RNPL, Lake Chronological Files, box 1048, folder 2

A "concept of operations" paper prepared in mid-September is a clear example of putting "all options on the table." Besides possible ground action against North Vietnam, including an amphibious operation, the planners considered nuclear-use options, perhaps the only time that Nixon White House planners put nuclear options on paper. Decision point four consisted of two elements. One incorporated "major air strikes against high value target systems," such as electric power and air defenses. The other was a "clean nuclear interdiction of three NVN-Laos passes." What was meant by "clean" was very likely was a nuclear weapon that did not have dirty, fallout-producing effects. The aide or aides who drafted the concept of operations&mdashRobinson perhaps&mdashmay simply have had in mind an airburst of a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon. In any event, the concept of a so-called clean nuclear weapon was partly designed to reduce the political opprobrium of using nuclear weapons, but that was probably wishful thinking. Decision point five included another nuclear option, the "nuclear interdiction" of two railroad lines that connected North Vietnam with China it did not specify "clean" weapons.

Presumably all of the specific decision points and proposed actions, including the nuclear use proposals, were discussed at least at one of Kissinger&rsquos meetings with this "trusted group" of aides, but the records of discussion are closed in Henry Kissinger&rsquos papers at the Library of Congress. On 17 September, however, a few days after the "Concept of Operations" paper was finalized, Anthony Lake offered his initial comments. For example, he cautioned that the initial attack would have to "be as tough as possible to gain as much psychological effect as it can" because the reception on the homefront to "each 'package' of attacks will be politically more difficult." He questioned the efficacy and wisdom of three of the proposed actions: ground incursions into North Vietnam the bombing of dikes and a "permissive channel" into Sihanoukville&mdashthat is, allowing only those ships with a U.S.-issued Certificate of Clearance to enter the port. Ground operations into North Vietnam, he argued, would run the risk of a Chinese response and, moreover, could not be carried out "on a scale which would pose much threat to Hanoi."

Referring to the nuclear attack recommendations, as well as on the overall operation itself, Lake raised questions that signaled danger but would also have a bearing on the strategic alert measures Nixon and Kissinger launched in mid-October:

  • What would be our concurrent movements of ships to the area, our state of strategic readiness, our posture in Korea and Berlin?
  • If we go as far as the interdiction measures in (4) and (5) [the nuclear measures], what other actions would we take at this very high level of escalation once the precedent is established?
  • What would we do if these actions fail?
  • What counter-actions should we take in various contingencies?

By "state of strategic readiness" Lake meant the alert posture of U.S. nuclear forces and the extent to which they were poised to signal determination and be ready for rapid use in a crisis. By "precedent," Lake may have been referring to the first military use of nuclear weapons since 1945 with all of its implications for the "nuclear taboo" that had contributed to restrained U.S. nuclear use practices for decades.

Document 12: Message, Rear Admiral Frederic A. Bardshar to JCS Chairman Wheeler, 15 September 1969, subj: PRUNING KNIFE Status Report No. 1, Top Secret

Source: U.S. Army Military History Research Collection (USAMHRC), Carlisle Barracks PA., Creighton Abrams Papers, box: 1969-1970

On White House orders&mdashand as members of Kissinger&rsquos staff began working on a concept for what some unofficially called DUCK HOOK&mdashGeneral Wheeler ordered the formation of a military "planning group" composed of members drawn from MACV, the Seventh Air Force, and the Seventh Fleet to rendezvous at the MACV compound in Saigon for the purpose of designing an operational plan for attacks against North Vietnam Their plan was supposed to be based on the White House DUCK HOOK concept of a sharp and sudden blow over a limited period of time for the purpose of mainly achieving diplomatic and political ends. But group members favored what they thought of as a "sound military concept"&mdashthat is, one designed to achieve primarily military ends. This decision put the JCS group at odds with the White House concept of an offensive that would have both military and political/diplomatic purposes. The JCS plan-in-the-making was codenamed PRUNING KNIFE.

Document 13: Telcon [Telephone Conversation Transcript], The President Mr. Kissinger 4:40 p.m. September 27[1969]

Source: RPNL, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, box 2, September 19-30, 1969 [also published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume 6, Document 126 ]

Antiwar demonstrations scheduled for mid-October and mid-November 1969 cast a pall over Nixon&rsquos planning and helped shape his decision to cancel the prospective military operation against North Vietnam. The forthcoming15 October Moratorium and the 13-15 November Moratorium and New Mobilization made Nixon worry about the signal that would be sent to Hanoi by the coincidental timing of the bombing-and-mining operation scheduled to begin soon after 1 November. In a 29 September telephone conversation with Kissinger, Nixon explained that "he doesn't want to appear to be making the tough move after the 15 th just because of the rioting at home"&mdashthat is, the Moratorium. Although Nixon believed that Secretary of Defense Laird might have been right in predicting that about three months after the operation began "it will have relatively high public support," Nixon said he "would like to nip it before the first demonstration, because there will be another one on 15 November." He believed there was a possibility that the days following the launching of the military operation in early November and leading up to the second Moratorium and New Mobe in mid November, "horrible results" might be produced by the buildup of "a massive adverse reaction" among demonstrators.

Nixon asked Kissinger whether "in his planning, he could pick this up so that we make the tough move before the 15 th of October?" Kissinger answered "yes. But he cautioned that if the D-day for the operation were moved up to a time before 15 October, it would "confuse" the North Vietnamese and "look as if we tricked them." He recommended that the president might instead consider holding a press conference or giving a television report in which he criticized the demonstrators for "dividing the country and making it impossible to settle the problem [of Vietnam] on a reasonable basis."

Document 14: Memorandum to the President from Secretary of Defense Laird, Subj: Air and Naval Operations Against North Vietnam, 8 October 1969, with memorandum from Acting JCS Chairman Thomas Moorer to Secretary of Defense on same subject, 1 October 1969, Top Secret

Source: Department of Defense MDR release

While Nixon was making up his mind whether to escalate the war, Melvin Laird presented him with a severe critique of the Joint Chief&rsquos PRUNING KNIFE plan which took into account both military and domestic political concerns. Kissinger later signed off on a critique of Laird&rsquos memorandum, but the arguments in the latter very likely had an impact on Nixon. Although Laird probably never saw the most recent October DUCK HOOK plans, many of his criticisms of PRUNING KNIFE applied to them. Besides arguing that the Chiefs had failed to demonstrate that PRUNING KNIFE would produce "conclusive" or "decisive results," Laird cited the CIA&rsquos analysis, which pointed to a number of difficulties. For example, the plans for blockading North Vietnam would only produce a "temporary" disruption and that Hanoi could sustain its economy by "drawing down present reserves and maintaining present imports overland." Moreover, a mining-bombing campaign carried potentially "significant liabilities" foreign ships could be damaged or sunk and "create new risks of a Soviet-U.S. confrontation." If Hanoi became more dependent on Chinese supply lines, that could strengthen "Chinese political influence."

Laird pointed to other problems, including the possible loss of over 100 bomber aircraft within five days "high" civilian casualties in North Vietnam the risk of stepped-up DRV attacks in the South and North Vietnam's development of "sanctuary air bases" in China for its aircraft. Moreover, Laird argued, once the campaign began, the U.S. military command might want to escalate further by requesting additional "operating authorities," such as a quarantine or blockade of Cambodia "ground incursions into Cambodia, Laos, and NVN" and "B-52 raids into NVN," which presumably would be mass-scale attacks. Sensitive to the domestic U.S. implications, Laird anticipated a "devastating" public reaction if U.S. casualties grew. In any event, "demonstrations would have to be expected" around the world and at home. This would be all the more the case if Washington could point to no "provocative" North Vietnamese action to justify an attack.

Document 15: Col. William E. Lemnitzer to JCS Chairman Wheeler, 9 October 1969, with memoranda attached (handwritten note from Leminitzer ["L"], memorandum from Robert Pursley, and Wheeler directive to Joint Staff)

Source: NARA, RG 218, JCS Chairman&rsquos Files (Wheeler), box 109, 381 World-Wide Increased Readiness Posture (October 69)

This paper on presidential decisions to implement the alert provides evidence of the linkage between the purpose of the alert and Vietnam policy (note the 1 November reference). Haig's phone calls to the Pentagon brought the JCS into planning for the alert on 9 October. William Lemnitzer, one of the Joint Staff liaison officers to the White House and a member of the DUCK HOOK group, sent Colonel Robert Pursley's list of measures to Wheeler, telling him that the president had approved "five major actions" and that Laird had approved "execution as directed by the White House." What Kissinger wanted, Wheeler learned, was:

an integrated plan of military actions to demonstrate convincingly to the Soviet Union that the United States is getting ready for any eventuality on or about 1 November 1969. Rather than threatening a confrontation (which may or may not occur), the objective of these actions would be a demonstration of improving or confirming readiness to react should a confrontation occur.

Lemnitzer presented Wheeler with a directive authorizing the Joint Staff to prepare plans based on the approved five actions so they could be sent to the White House by the close of business, 10 October. The handwritten cover memorandum from Lemnitzer indicates that Laird had seen the memorandum and "approves Execution as directed by the White House."

Document 16: Secretary of Defense Laird, Memorandum to the President, Subj: Test of U.S. Military Readiness, 11 October 1969, Top Secret

Source: RNPL, NSCF. Box 123, Vietnam Operation Pruning Knife [2 of 2]

On the basis of earlier discussion at the Pentagon and Laird&rsquos approval, JCS Chairman Wheeler sent out messages to the various CINCS instructing them to take approved readiness measures, including stand-downs of air operations to facilitate a higher state of alert, so they would be in a position to "respond to a possible confrontation with the USSR." To avoid complications, there was to be no change in the DEFCON status. The directed actions should be "discernible to the Soviets but should not be threatening." The next day Laird sent to President Nixon copies of the telegrams along with an "Outline Plan for Testing Military Readiness" and a public affairs plan.

Document 17: Memorandum from G. C. Brown, Defense Intelligence Agency, to Director, J-3 (Operations), 11 October 1969, with memorandum from Col. C.H. Change, General Operations Division (J-3) [Joint Staff], "Background Paper for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a Meeting with the Secretary of Defense, subj: Impact of Exercise HIGH HEELS on Plan for Increased Readiness Posture," 13 October 1969, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: MDR release

Well before Nixon ordered the readiness test, the Defense Department had scheduled an annual strategic command post exercise, HIGH HEELS, which gave decision-makers and senior officials a chance to familiarize themselves with nuclear war plans and nuclear use procedures in a war game context. HIGH HEELs was a world-wide exercise that involved all of the military commanders-in-chiefs, at home and overseas, and planning for it was already advanced. It was this consideration which made Secretary of Defense Laird want to postpone the readiness test, but Kissinger would not hear of that. At the same time, intelligence officials were concerned that the simultaneous operation of the readiness test and HIGH HEELS could be potentially dangerous because exercise operational messages that called for nuclear weapons use in a particular contingency might be detected by the Soviet adversary and linked to actual on-going readiness and alert operations around the world. As a Defense Intelligence Agency official put it, "an incident involving a message containing threatening material, along with Soviet observations of actual U.S. movements, radio silence, and stand-down activities, could cause a hazardous situation." Moreover, the increased volume of HIGH HEEL message traffic could cause delays in the receipt of "critical non-exercise" messages about Soviet reactions to U.S. military moves.

In light of these problems, Kissinger&rsquos objections, and Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendations, Laird agree to strip back HIGH HEELS so that it involved only officials in the Washington, D.C. area, leaving out the CINCS altogether.

Document 18: Secretary of Defense Laird to National Security Adviser Kissinger, enclosing memorandum from JCS Chairman Wheeler to Secretary of Defense, subj: "Additional Actions for US Military Readiness Tests &ndash Worldwide," 16 October 1969, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Department of Defense MDR release

To get Moscow&rsquos attention but without unduly worrying it, the Nixon White House wanted the Pentagon to take as many actions as possible. Consistent with this, JCS Chairman Wheeler asked the CINCs for proposals and after receiving suggestions, the Joint Staff reviewed them and prepared a master list for top officials. In his memorandum to Laird, Wheeler noted that the proposed actions "would reflect an increase in intensity of signals received by the Soviets." With the involvement of the naval, air, and other forces of eight unified and specified commands, the proposed actions would occur on a world-wide basis, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, ranging from movements of aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and of destroyers in the Gulf of Aden to SAC airborne alert and the surveillance of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong Harbor.

This same document appears in the State Department&rsquos historical series, Foreign Relations of the United States in the volume on national security policy, 1969-1972 (document 82). But there are interesting differences in the sections on Pacific Command and Strategic Air Command. For example: that PACOM would "enhance SIOP Naval Forces at Sea" is exempted from FRUS, and keeping MACE missiles on alert is excised from the release to the National Security Archive. A crucial point&mdashthat SAC B-52 airborne alert bombers would carry nuclear weapons&mdashwas withheld from the FRUS, but released to the Archive.

Documents 19A-B: Shadowing Soviet Merchant Ships:

Document A. Message, Comseventhflt [Commander, 7 th Fleet], to CTG [Commander Task Group] 70.8, Subj: Surveillance of Sov Mership, 20 October 1969, Secret

Document B. U.S.S. Orleck, to CTG [Commander Task Group] 7.0, Subj: Surveillance of Sov Mership, 22 October 1969, Secret

Source: U.S. Navy History and Archives Division, Seventh Fleet Records, box 128, Soviet Fleet Operations October 1969

Consistent with the White House&rsquos objective of sending signals Moscow over the state of the Vietnam negotiations, a proposal to surveil Soviet ships heading toward Haiphong Harbor had been on Robert Pursley&rsquos list of possible operations for the readiness test (see document 12). For economy reasons, JCS Chairman Wheeler dropped the proposal until Kissinger and Haig pressed to reinstate it, and it was duly included in the package of additional measures that Laird sent Kissinger on 16 October. Not all of the relevant messages are available, but Seventh Fleet archival records include the Commander&rsquos directive and a report on the successful interception and shadowing of the Svirsk by the U.S.S. Orleck on 20 October 1969. The reference to "Snoopy Video Tape" in document B is to a small helicopter-type drone used for photographic intelligence collection, in this instance, photography of the Soviet crew as it took notice of the shadowing activity.


Document 20: U.S. Strategic Air Command, History of Strategic Air Command FY 1970, Historical Study No. 117 (Offutt Air Force Base: Strategic Air Command, 1971), excerpt: chapter section on "Special JCS Readiness Test," Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Air Force FOIA release

This chapter excerpt provides a detailed overview of the phases of SAC nuclear operations during the readiness test: (1) the initial stand-down and higher ground alert beginning 12 October, (2) the resumption of flying activities on 18 October, (3) the return to stand-down during 25-30 October, and (4) the "Giant Lance" nuclear-armed airborne alert operation during 27-30 October.

As noted in this account, the readiness test did not include the SAC ICBM force which was always on a high state of alert by contrast, the bomber force could more easily be alerted in order to make a "show of force."

After reviewing Wheeler&rsquos instructions to take "discernible" actions to raise the readiness of U.S. forces, the SAC historian noted that the Command received no information about the "origin or purpose" of the readiness test. Nevertheless, SAC officers speculated at the time that it was related to the Vietnam negotiations and to Nixon&rsquos forthcoming speech on 3 November speech, which had been announced on 13 October, early in the readiness test.

Documents 21A-B: Looking for Soviet Reactions

Document A. Central Intelligence Memorandum, subj: Possible Communist Reactions to US Military Readiness Tests, 27 October 1969, Top Secret, excised copy, under appeal at ISCAP

Document B. Defense Intelligence Agency, Special Intelligence Report, Summary of Soviet Reactions to US Operations, #9, 28 October 1969, Top Secret, excised copy, under appeal

A: MDR release, under appeal at ISCAP

B: RPNL, NSF, box 123, Vietnam &ndash Operation Pruning Knife [2 of 2]

Early in the secret alert, Kissinger tasked the intelligence community to keep its antennae up to detect any Soviet reactions to the heightened readiness posture. As the activities began to draw to a close, the CIA prepared for Kissinger (which he initialed) a short report which listed "noteworthy Communist" military measures and the degree to which they may have been responsive to the readiness test. Because so much information in the report was derived from communications intelligence (COMINT, classified as "Top Secret Umbra"), only one activity&mdashthe reverse course by Soviet ships in the Red Sea on 21 October&mdashhas been declassified. The Soviet activities that Washington espied were then secret and how much the intelligence community knew about them remains a secret. This document has been published in the State Department&rsquos historical series, Foreign Relations of the United States (Document 89), but the version published here has more information: a reference to the Chinese alert and details on Soviet naval activities of 21 October.

As part of the intelligence watch, the Defense Intelligence Agency prepared regular reports on what it saw as Soviet reactions to the readiness test activities. The document dated 28 October (also initialed "HK") is representative of the series. Like the CIA memorandum, the report has been massively excised because so much of it is based on COMINT. It is worth noting that this document and others in the "Special Intelligence" series is located in the Vietnam files at the Nixon Library, further evidence of the readiness test&rsquos connection to the White House&rsquos Vietnam strategy.

So far no evidence has shown up from the Soviet side (for example, in the memoir literature: (Gromyko, Dobrynin, etc.) of awareness of the alert. Whether the Soviets even saw a connection with Vietnam or not is so far unknown and cCertainly, the alert had no impact on Moscow&rsquos Vietnam policy or on Hanoi&rsquos position in the Paris negotiations.

Document 22: Memorandum, "Kissinger," from files of Gardner Tucker, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis, 10 August 1972, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Defense Department MDR release, under appeal

During the course of 1972, a secret Department of Defense panel led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering John S. Foster prepared a special policy review of "employment policy" for the use of nuclear weapons. The purpose was to give U.S. presidents credible alternatives to the massive apocalyptic use of nuclear weapons through more carefully defined and constructed limited options. One of the participants in Foster Panel policy review, Gardner Tucker, had a discussion with Kissinger which touched upon the Madman Theory. Few such explicit discussions have come to light so far. Distancing himself a little from Nixon, Kissinger said: the "President&rsquos strategy has been (in the mid-East crisis, in Vietnam, etc.) to &lsquopush so many chips into the pot&rsquo that the other side will think we might be &lsquocrazy&rsquo and might really go much further." Nevertheless, in Nixon&rsquos absence, Kissinger followed the Madman strategy during the October War (1973).

Document 23: Memorandum of Conversation, Graham Martin, Lawrence Eagleburger, W.R. Smyser, Kissinger, 19 July 1974, subj: [situation in South Vietnam]

Source: RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977, box 9: July 1974 NODIS Memcons.

The decent interval concept remained central to Kissinger&rsquos thinking about the U.S. exit from the Vietnam War after 1969. For example, on 3 August 1972, Kissinger reminded Nixon of the outcome they were aiming for: "We&rsquove got to find some [negotiated] formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which&mdashafter a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January &rsquo74 no one will give a damn" (Oval Office Conversation 760-6, Nixon and Kissinger, 3 August 1972, Nixon White House Tapes, Nixon Library). On 23 October 1972, at the time Kissinger had struck a deal with Le Duc Tho and was trying to win Thieu's approval for the agreement, Nixon told his hawkish aide Alexander Haig, who was skeptical of Kissinger's negotiations: "Call it cosmetics or whatever you want. This has got to be done in a way that will give South Vietnam a chance to survive. It doesn't have to survive forever. It's got to survive for a reasonable time. Then everybody can say 'goddamn we did our part.'. . . I don't know that South Vietnam can survive forever." (EOB Conversation no. 371-19, Nixon and Haig, 23 October 1972, White House Tapes, Nixon Library).

In July1974&mdasha year and a half after the Paris agreement and five months before VC and NVA fighting would begin to build up to the 1975 Spring Offensive that would overrun South Vietnam by April 1975&mdashAmbassador to Saigon Graham Martin told Kissinger and his aides, Lawrence Eagleburger and W. R. Smyser: "Militarily, they [the South Vietnamese] are holding. Politically, they are more solid than I had the right to hope." Kissinger replied: "When I made the [January1973] agreement, I thought it might be a two-year thing."

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Book Review: Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War

The shadow of the Watergate scandal, and President Richard M. Nixon’s subsequent resignation, dominates most studies of his ill-fated presidency. In a far second place are examinations of his diplomatic overtures toward the Soviet Union and Communist China. Often forgotten is the central event of his first few years in office, the Vietnam War, and even rarer are those works that manage to tie all three together in any length shorter than 1,200 pages. David Schmitz focuses on the conflict and the evolution of Nixon’s attempts to end the war on terms favorable to the United States Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War is a concise and excellent overview of the era, especially 1969-71.

The key point of the work is Nixon’s changing attitudes toward the war, beginning with his 1968 election. Nixon ran on a platform of ending the war how he planned to do it was somewhat vague. Pro-peace voters thought Nixon would use diplomacy, while hawks expected a stronger military response. In effect, the next few years would show Nixon doing both. In the beginning, Nixon took an aggressive approach, hoping to win a decisive military victory. This culminated in 1970 with the invasion of Cambodia. It became the turning point for Nixon’s strategy of winning a military victory in Vietnam. After Cambodia and the domestic protests in the United States, he shifted toward a diplomatic solution but did not hesitate to use military action to force a diplomatic agreement. In essence, after 1970 Nixon was searching for a way out of Vietnam without making it look like an American military defeat.

The post-Cambodia events outlined in the work is where Schmitz excels, noting how Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, built new diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Communist China, motivated as much by Nixon’s desire to withdraw from Vietnam as by Cold War international politics. The author clearly sees Vietnam as part of the overall Cold War, a welcome view that offsets other studies of the war that ignore the greater East-West competition.

The publisher categorizes the work as “military history” when it is clearly about diplomatic and political history. Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War would make an outstanding choice for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course. The author has presented a tight argument of the interwoven problems of domestic and international politics in a limited war environment—a lesson well worth remembering in the first decades of the 21st century.

Originally published in the February 2015 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.


Nixon Prolonged Vietnam War for Political Gain—And Johnson Knew About It, Newly Unclassified Tapes Suggest

Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. Photo: Ollie Atkins

In 1968, the Paris Peace talks, intended to put an end to the 13-year-long Vietnam War, failed because an aide working for then-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon convinced the South Vietnamese to walk away from the dealings, says a new report by the BBC’s David Taylor. By the late 1960s Americans had been involved in the Vietnam War for nearly a decade, and the ongoing conflict was an incredibly contentious issue, says PBS:

In 1967, with American troop strength in Vietnam reaching 500,000, protest against U.S. participation in the Vietnam War had grown stronger as growing numbers of Americans questioned whether the U.S. war effort could succeed or was morally justifiable. They took their protests to the streets in peace marches, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Despite the country’s polarization, the balance of American public opinion was beginning to sway toward “de-escalation” of the war.

Nixon’s Presidental campaign needed the war to continue, since Nixon was running on a platform that opposed the war. The BBC:

Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

… In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

President Johnson had at the time a habit of recording all of his phone conversations, and newly released tapes from 1968 detailed that the FBI had “bugged” the telephones of the South Vietnamese ambassador and of Anna Chennault, one of Nixon’s aides. Based on the tapes, says Taylor for the BBC, we learn that in the time leading up to the Paris Peace talks, “Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.” The Atlantic Wire:

In the recently released tapes, we can hear Johnson being told about Nixon’s interference by Defence Secretary Clark Clifford. The FBI had bugged the South Vietnamese ambassadors phone. They had Chennault lobbying the ambassador on tape. Johnson was justifiably furious — he ordered Nixon’s campaign be placed under FBI surveillance. Johnson passed along a note to Nixon that he knew about the move. Nixon played like he had no idea why the South backed out, and offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Though the basic story of Nixon’s involvement in stalling the Vietnam peace talks has been around before, the new tapes, says the Atlantic Wire, describe how President Johnson knew all about the on-goings but chose not to bring them to the public’s attention: he thought that his intended successor, Hubert Humphrey, was going to beat Nixon in the upcoming election anyway. And, by revealing that he knew about Nixon’s dealings, he’d also have to admit to having spied on the South Vietnamese ambassador.

Eventually, Nixon won by just 1 percent of the popular vote. “Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968,” says the BBC.


Setting the Record Straight

The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward, with an introduction by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and based on the film series by Burns and Novick, was published September 5th by Alfred A. Knopf. The 460-page book is intended as a companion to the 18-hour Burns-Novick documentary that will be broadcast in 10 episodes on PBS beginning on September 17th.

This companion book to the upcoming 18 hour Ken Burns PBS film, deals extensively with President Nixon, and the Nixon Foundation will be correcting any factual errors and unsupported allegations.

Error

The quote Mr. Ward cites (that “something big is afoot”) was sent to Nixon campaign aide Richard Allen on September 26th — considerably before the context in which Mr. Ward’s text places it.

Despite Mr. Ward’s uncritical acceptance of President Johnson’s reassuring statements about evenhandedness, and his promises about keeping all the candidates equally informed, after receiving a memo from longtime adviser Bryce Harlow on October 22nd, candidate Nixon had dependable information that neither were now true. Instead, LBJ was not only favoring the Humphrey campaign, he was trying to tilt the election toward his Vice President.

President Johnson had, indeed, pledged to treat all three presidential candidates equally and candidate Nixon had accepted the President’s continued assurances that he was being forthright and evenhanded in this regard. That was why the impact of the Harlow memo was so devastating. It is hard to understand how Mr. Ward would write that “Nixon, whose lead in the polls had now been halved, saw it as a political trick intended to put Humphrey over the top, and set out to undermine it,” without at least mentioning the Harlow memo in his text.

In this regard, Mr. Ward is not alone. It his biography Richard Nixon: The Life, John A Farrell purported to have found proof of candidate Nixon’s guilty involvement with Anna Chennault subverting LBJ’s plan for peace, based on his discovery of notes of a telephone conversation with candidate Nixon on the night of October 22nd. Based on those notes, Mr. Farrell judged candidate Nixon’s actions regarding LBJ’s bombing halt as “the most reprehensible” of his lifetime of politics. Mr. Farrell leveled this serious charge without informing his readers that candidate Nixon had received the Harlow memo, with its bombshell news, that afternoon.

The Bryce Harlow memo of October 22nd 1968 is a pivotal document for understanding candidate Nixon’s conduct regarding LBJ’s bombing halt. The former President quoted it at length in his memoirs. Neither Mr. Ward and Mr. Farrell even refer to it.

Here is what Bryce Harlow sent to candidate Nixon, from an impeccable source in President Johnson’s innermost circle, on October 22nd 1968:

The President is driving exceedingly hard for a deal with North Vietnam. Expectation is that he is becoming almost pathologically eager for an excuse to order a bombing halt and will accept almost any arrangement….
Clark Clifford, [Joseph] Califano, and Llewellyn Thompson are the main participants in this effort. [George] Ball is in also, although somewhat on the fringe.

Careful plans are being made to help HHH exploit whatever happens. White House staff liaison with HHH is close. Plan is for LBJ to make a nationwide TV announcement as quickly as possible after agreement the object is to get this done as long before November 5 as they can….

White Housers still think they can pull the election out for HHH with this ploy that’s what is being attempted.

Error

Nothing in this sentence is true. There is no evidence to prove any of its allegations.

Error

These wiretaps, involving national security, were considered legal when they were placed. In 1972, a year after the last Nixon wiretap had already been removed, the Supreme Court heard an unrelated case and ruled that national security wiretaps would require a court order if the subject had no “significant connection with a foreign power, its agents or agencies.” (United States v. United States District Court, known as the “Keith case”)

The number of warrantless wiretaps installed per year during the Nixon administration was less than any administration since FDR.

Error

After many years of intense involvement and close study by the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the CIA and other intelligence outfits, USAID and many other government agencies and NGOs, the politics of Cambodia, however intricate, were hardly “little understood in Washington.”

Perhaps what Mr. Ward means by these ostensibly condescending words is that they were “little understood” to the extent that they differed from the particular interpretation of the very complex events Vietnam: An Intimate History presents as absolute fact.

Error

Referring to the final days of the 1968 presidential election, this statement presents as fact the most extreme version of the ongoing Nixon/Chennault controversy.

Ignoring the many intriguing and elusive details, the Chennault controversy boils down to two basic questions: (1) Whether or not it is true, and (2) if it is true, whether candidate Nixon was personally involved, or whether it was the work of campaign aides without Nixon’s knowledge.

Elsewhere in this book, it is claimed that candidate Nixon personally, purposely, and purposefully used Mrs. Chennault to subvert President Johnson’s peace negotiations now, however, it is “the Nixon campaign.” Although that change and substitution may seem insignificant, it is highly relevant to the most critical questions at the heart of the Chennault controversy.

Even on its own terms, the statement is not correct. The negotiations were not “scuttled.” They began on January 15 1969, supported by both President Johnson and President-Elect Nixon.

Error

Military operations were named by the Pentagon, or by commanders in the field. This statement makes as much sense as saying that Operation Pocket Money, which began on May 8, 1972 and included the mining of Haiphong harbor, was named because President Nixon was fond of loose change.

Although this error may seem minor, or even trivial, it reflects the approach to President Nixon throughout the book. His actions and decisions about Vietnam are oversimplified, presented as ad hoc, devoid of strategic vision, motivated by political calculations, or the results of fits of pique.

The many hours of tapes and vast collections of documents dealing with Nixon’s strategy for Vietnam, and for Vietnam as part of his grand strategy involving China and the Soviet Union (his blueprint for what he called “a generation of peace”) are bypassed. But his supposed fondness for the film Patton and its alleged influence on the Cambodian incursion finds space. Anecdotes should be supplements to history, not substitutes for it.

Error

A section of the book — titled “ON A THIEVERY BASIS!”— is devoted to the Pentagon Papers. This attention befits the seriousness of this leak of classified information by Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Ward even adds his own exclamation point to the transcript from which the quote is taken, lest any reader miss the point he wants to make.

That point, which is outside the mainstream even of Nixon critics, is the personal opinion and hobbyhorse of Ken Hughes, one of the consultants on the Burns Vietnam project. It is an intriguing and provocative opinion, involving elements of conspiracy theory. The problem, in terms of the standards traditionally applied to historical scholarship, is that there is no evidence for it, much less proof.

It is Hughes’, and apparently Mr. Ward’s, opinion that “Nixon privately feared something else.” They are entitled to their opinion, but it should be identified as such.

Mr. Ward mischaracterizes the context of President Johnson’s quote.

President Nixon was told that a safe at the Brookings Institution contained copies of classified government documents that had been illegally removed from the Pentagon at the end of the Johnson administration. The clear context of President Nixon’s obviously extreme suggestion for retrieving them was his frustration with this situation. Obviously, he did not expect to read the next morning’s news summary about the firebombing and resulting casualties at Brookings.

Ken Hughes, Mr. Ward, and, presumably, Ken Burns in his upcoming film, fall prey to the greatest pitfall of using the White House tapes: using them selectively to prove a preconceived notion. The tapes are a unique resource, and a gift to history, but they cannot be understood in sound bites. Only when listened to for entire days, weeks, and even months, can the complete context of the conversations be understood and analyzed and even then they are inevitably imperfect reflections of what really happened because not every location spent time in was recorded.

Error

There is no factual support for anything in this sentence.

Counting on Burns/Ward’s reputation for accuracy and objectivity, current reviewers and future historians will quote these sentences as fact, and those quotations will in turn be cited as proof.

Error

This paragraph illustrates the kind of imprecision that plagues Mr. Ward’s writing and disserves the readers who, based on previous Burns/Ward collaborations, will expect a book that is balanced and accurate.

Operation Menu began in March 1969 and ended in May 1970. Its overall mission was to remove the enemy bases that had been established within the neutral nation of Cambodia. These bases, supplied with men and materiel from North Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh trail, were staging areas for attacks across the border into South Vietnam that accounted for significant numbers of American and South Vietnamese deaths and casualties.

The book gives no hint that there is a lively ongoing controversy regarding Operation Menu’s success or failure, and debating its consequences. Mr. Ward chooses facts and commentators to support the opinion that the operation was futile and unsuccessful.

The statement that COSVN remained unscathed is untrue on its face. The sheer volume of ordnance and bombs delivered over fifteen months assured that nothing remained unscathed. In one eight week period alone (Operation Breakfast), 25,000 bombs were dropped on an area of less than 10 miles.

Quoting one of many CIA reports to say that “according to the CIA” the Menu attacks had no “appreciable effect on enemy capabilities in target areas” is reductive and misleading.

Error

Nothing in this caption is true. Everything in this caption is misleading.

Although this is “only” a caption, it deals with one of the most disputed elements of the Nixon/Chennault controversy. It is irresponsible and tendentious of Mr. Ward not to inform his readers that he is presenting as fact something that is the subject of an ongoing controversy.

The caption purports to describe p. 346, which is entirely devoted to the four pages of handwritten notes Nixon aide Bob Haldeman made of a late night phone call with the presidential candidate on October 22nd 1968.

That afternoon Nixon had received a memo from a trusted aide with impeccable Washington connections on both sides of the aisle. The memo reported that a source in the highest circles inside the Johnson White House revealed that, despite his firm public stance, LBJ was becoming “almost pathologically eager for an excuse to order a bombing halt and will accept almost any arrangement…”. Further, the memo revealed that “White Housers still think they can pull the election out for HHH [Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey] with this ploy that’s what is being attempted.”

Nixon was furious and concerned. (“N – mad as hell” Haldeman wrote.) He believed that the 1960 election has been stolen from him, and was determined not to let it happen again eight years later. President Johnson had sprung a similar “October Surprise” involving Vietnam in the days before the 1966 congressional elections. From reading all four pages of Haldeman’s notes, it is clear —or, at the very least, it is arguable and plausible — that the context of the notes is Nixon’s determination to prevent Johnson from announcing the bombing halt.

Even the last sentence of this caption supports this interpretation. Haldeman writes: “Agnew – go see Helms – tell him we want the truth – or he hasn’t got the job.”

“The truth,” in the context of these notes seems clear: it was the truth about what LBJ was really up to with his sudden decision to announce a bombing halt. The note makes no sense when interpreted as referring to the Paris peace negotiations, as Mr. Ward does.

All of Nixon’s specific orders during this conversation deal with letting LBJ know that the plan to tilt the election by announcing a bombing halt has been discovered, and that Nixon isn’t going to let him get away with it. The words “negotiations” or “Paris” do not appear on any of the four pages. Nonetheless, some, including Mr. Ward, claim that Nixon is referring to the Paris negotiations.

There is one reference to Anna Chennault in Haldeman’s notes: “keep Anna Chennault working on SVN –insist publicly on the 3 Johnson conditions.”

Mrs. Chennault had been working with Republican members of Congress to make sure LBJ would not declare a bombing halt unless the North Vietnamese agreed to meet the three preconditions he had set down during the summer — the preconditions that LBJ was now willing to ignore in order to announce the bombing halt and influence the election


President Richard Nixon’s 14 Addresses to the Nation on Vietnam

The most pressing problem facing Richard Nixon when he assumed the presidency on January 20, 1969, was the war in Vietnam. When he took office, nearly 36,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam. During the 1968 campaign, Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam, secure the return of American POWs, and create a framework for a generation of peace.

According to the Gallup Poll, it had been more than three years since President Johnson’s handling of the war had received majority support, and he had lost the support of even a plurality in December 1966, 2½ years earlier, and never regained it.

Conversely, from 1969 to 1972, the Gallup Poll asked on 20 separate occasions “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Nixon is handling the situation in Vietnam?” Eighteen of the 20 times, more Americans said they approved than disapproved.

Nixon’s 14 speeches, and the countless other times he articulated his strategy in press conferences, interviews, and speeches around the country, won him the consistent support of the American people – the people he called “the great silent majority” – and were a key component to his historic landslide re-election in 1972.

May 14, 1969

In his first address to the nation on Vietnam, the President spoke of the steps his new administration was already taking to “bring lasting peace to Vietnam” and spelled out his comprehensive peace plan.

In his opening lines he made clear the principle that would guide his policy and his strategy:

Since I took office four months ago, nothing has taken so much of my time and energy as the search for a way to bring peace to Vietnam. I know that some believe that I should have ended the war immediately after the inauguration by simply ordering our forces home. This would have been the easy thing to do. It might have been a popular thing to do. But I would have betrayed my solemn responsibility as President of the United States if I had done so…. We want to end [this war]so that the younger brothers of our soldiers in Vietnam will not have to fight in the future in another Vietnam someplace else in the world.

A Gallup Poll taken soon after the speech revealed that more than twice as many people approved of the new President’s handling of the situation in Vietnam than disapproved.

November 3, 1969

In President Nixon’s second prime-time address to the nation on Vietnam, he made clear that the United States would not abandon its South Vietnamese allies. While said the U.S. would continue to fight the North Vietnamese Communists, he also explained his commitment to reducing American’s military presence in Vietnam, including cutting American combat forces in Vietnam by 20 percent by December 15, 1969.

The most memorable part of the speech was his call for the support of the American people for his policy in Vietnam: “Tonight, to you – the great silent majority of my fellow Americans – I ask for your support.”

The response from the American people was overwhelmingly positive. Within hours, more than 50,000 telegrams and 30,000 letters had flooded the White House mail room, the vast majority supporting the President. President Nixon would later write, “Very few speeches actually influence the course of history. The November 3 speech was one of them.”

December 15, 1969

Six weeks after his “Silent Majority” address of November 3, 1969, President Nixon took to the airwaves again to report on the progress toward peace in Vietnam. The President did not attempt to sugarcoat the situation:

I must report to you tonight with regret that there has been no progress whatever on the negotiating front since November 3. The enemy still insists on a unilateral, precipitate withdrawal of American forces and on a political settlement which would mean the imposition of a Communist government on the people of South Vietnam against their will, and defeat and humiliation for the United States. This we cannot and will not accept.

Nevertheless, the President announced further reductions to America’s presence in Vietnam. By April 15, 1970, the number of American troops would be cut by 115,500 from the nearly 550,000 that were in Vietnam when the President took office on January 20, 1969.

April 20, 1970

In his fourth “Address to the Nation” on Vietnam, President Nixon announced his decision to withdraw another 150,000 Americans from Vietnam based on the progress that was achieved in training and equipping the South Vietnamese military to assume responsibility of its own defense. He also confirmed that his earlier goal of reducing American troops in Vietnam by 115,500 had been accomplished on schedule. The President reported that American combat deaths in the first three months of 1970 had dropped to the lowest first quarter level in five years. Near the end of his speech, he expressed his ongoing concern for American prisoners of war and praised the “dedication, the bravery, the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of young men who have served in Vietnam.”

But it wasn’t all good news. The President spoke of his regret that “no progress has taken place on the negotiating front” and repeated his commitment to the right of people of South Vietnam to determine their own political future. And foreshadowing what would be his next speech on Vietnam just 10 days later, the President also discussed the ongoing use of sanctuaries in Cambodia by the North Vietnamese, to attack American forces.

April 30, 1970

In what would be one of the most controversial actions of his presidency, President Nixon announced that he was launching joint American-South Vietnamese military action to “clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border” that were being used as “bases for attacks on both Cambodia and American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.” Using a map to explain the action he had ordered, the President pledged that “Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”

Acknowledging that his decision would be hotly debated, President Nixon asserted that his decision went beyond political differences because “the lives of American men are involved. The opportunity for 150,000 American to come home in the next 12 months is involved. The future of 18 million people in South Vietnam and 7 million people in Cambodia is involved. The possibility of winning a just peace in Vietnam and in the Pacific is at stake.”

June 3, 1970

One month after announcing the Cambodian actions, President Nixon addressed the nation to report on its results. Calling it “the most successful operation of this long and very difficult war,” the President declared that he was keeping his pledge to withdraw American forces from Cambodia once the objectives of the actions were achieved.

While film of captured enemy material appeared on the nation’s television screens, the President announced, “In the month of May, in Cambodia alone, we captured a total amount of enemy arms, equipment, ammunition, and food nearly equal to what we captured in all of Vietnam in all of last year.”

The President also said that as a result of the success of the Cambodian operation, the next 50,000 Americans would be brought home from Vietnam by October 15.

October 7, 1970

In one of his shortest addresses on Vietnam, the President explained the five elements of his new proposal, which had already been agreed to by South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

  • First, a cease-fire-in-place throughout Indochina (North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia).
  • Second, convening an Indochina Peace Conference.
  • Third, negotiating a set timetable for the complete withdrawal of American troops as part of an overall settlement.
  • Fourth, agreement to reach a fair political settlement in South Vietnam that respects the right of the people of South Vietnam to self-determination.
  • Fifth, the immediate release of all prisoners of war held by both sides.

The President concluded his speech by calling on the leaders of North Vietnam to agree to this initiative for peace. They would not.

April 7, 1971

President Nixon made just one televised address to the nation on Vietnam in 1971, although he discussed his efforts to end the war on more than 100 other occasions in press conferences, speeches around the country, interviews, on radio, and other venues.

In this speech, the President announced that by May 1, more than 265,000 American troops will have been brought home from Vietnam – cutting almost in half the number there when he took office on January 20, 1969. He also announced that from May 1 to December 1, 1971, another 100,000 would be withdrawn.

Citing the drawdown of American forces, and the increasing ability of the South Vietnamese military to defend its country, the President said, “I can assure you tonight with confidence that American involvement in this war is coming to an end.”

January 25, 1972

Two weeks after approving the withdrawal of an additional 70,000 American troops from Vietnam, President Nixon made his ninth primetime address to the nation about the war. The President revealed for the first time that the United States had been pursuing secret talks with North Vietnam. He explained that over the previous 2½ years his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, had held 12 meetings in Paris with senior officials of the North Vietnamese government, working to bring the war to an end.

The President outlined the elements of the numerous proposals the United States had made during these negotiations, only to see them repeatedly rejected by North Vietnam.

“We are ready to negotiate peace immediately…. We want to end the war not only for America but for all the people of Indochina. The plan I have proposed tonight can accomplish that goal.” It would take another year before the North Vietnamese would finally agree to a negotiated peace.

April 26, 1972

On March 30, 1972, the North Vietnamese launched a full-scale invasion of the South, crossing the neutral territory of the Demilitarized Zone with as many as 120,000 troops. “What we are witnessing here,” the President said, “what is being brutally inflicted upon the people of South Vietnam, is a clear case of naked and unprovoked aggression across an international border.”

Citing the performance of the South Vietnamese army’s success in resisting the attack without the involvement of any American ground troops, the President announced the withdrawal of 20,000 more Americans within the coming two months – a reduction of nearly 500,000 from when he took office in January 1969.

He closed his speech with a call for national unity: “My fellow Americans, let us therefore unite as a nation in a firm and wise policy of real peace – not the peace of surrender, but peace with honor – not just peace in our time, but peace for generations to come.”

May 8, 1972

Fewer than two weeks later, President Nixon was again given television and radio time to speak to the American people. This time the message was much more sobering. During the prior two weeks, the North Vietnamese had launched three new attacks against the South, and, in the President’s words, “the risk that a Communist government may be imposed on the 17 million people of South Vietnam has increased, and the Communist offensive has now reached the point that it gravely threatens the lives of 60,000 American troops who are still in Vietnam.”

The President described the hard choices he now faced: to either undertake the “immediate withdrawal of all American forces, continued attempts at negotiation, or decisive military action to end the war.”

He chose the third option, but offered an olive branch. If the North would agree to return all American POWs and would agree to a ceasefire in all of Indochina, the United States would complete a total withdrawal of American troops within four months.

The President’s announcement re-energized swaths of protestors —and protests— around the country. But as they had done over the previous 3½ years, a majority of the American people continued to support the President.

November 2, 1972

Five days before the 1972 election, the President gave a wide-ranging speech to the nation from the Library in the White House, laying out his vision for the next four years should he be re-elected. Early in his talk he reviewed the record of his Vietnam policy and reported that “we have reached substantial agreement on most of the terms of a settlement” with North Vietnam.

Five days later, the President won an historic victory, carrying 49 of the 50 states (96.7 percent of the total electoral votes) and winning nearly 61 percent of the popular vote. It was quite a contrast to just four years earlier, when then-President Johnson refused to run for reelection and then-candidate Nixon won just 43.4 percent of the popular vote (and just 56 percent of the electoral votes) in one of the closest presidential elections in history.

January 23, 1973

“I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that today we have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.” With those words, President Nixon announced to the nation that four years and three days after he first took the oath as president, the war in Vietnam was over.

During the course of the previous four years, the Gallup Poll asked on 20 separate occasions, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Nixon is handling the situation in Vietnam?” Eighteen of the 20 times, more Americans said they approved than disapproved.

Following the President’s 13th speech, the Gallup Poll asked the question one last time. Fully 75 percent of those polled approved of the President’s policy just 18 percent disapproved.

March 29, 1973

Two months after announcing the peace agreement, President Nixon addressed the nation for the last time about Vietnam:

For the first time in 12 years, no American military forces are in Vietnam. All of our American POWs are on their way home. The 17 million people of South Vietnam have the right to choose their own government without outside interference…. We can be proud tonight of the fact that we have achieved our goal of obtaining an agreement which provides peace with honor in Vietnam.

After paying tribute to “every one of the 2½ million Americans who served honorably in our Nation’s longest war,” he thanked the American people for their support of his policy:

Tonight I want to express the appreciation of the Nation to others who helped make this day possible. I refer to you, the great majority of Americans listening to me tonight, who, despite an unprecedented barrage of criticism from a small but vocal minority, stood firm for peace with honor. I know it was not easy for you to do so…. Because you stood firm – stood firm for doing what was right – [Air Force Lt.] Colonel [ George G.] McKnight was able to say for his fellow POWs when he returned home a few days ago, “Thank you for bringing us home on our feet instead of on our knees.”

President Nixon achieved the goals he established at the beginning of his presidency – and he did so, in no small part, through these speeches – speeches that earned him the consistent support of the American people to win peace with honor, bring the POWs home, and establish the framework for a generation of peace.


Watch the video: Vietnam: Επ. 17 - Ένας Μακρύς Και Βάναυσος Πόλεμος


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