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WHY DID AMERICA LOSE THE
VIETNAM WAR?
N C Gardner MA PGCE
WAS THE WAR LOST IN WASHINGTON D.C.?
 American military forces in Indochina
performed well enough to achieve victory argue
revisionist historians.
 However, defeatist politicians, an adversarial press,
and the Peace Movement at home in Washington
D.C. itself and in America as a whole undermined
the military effort.
THE WAR WAS LOST IN WASHINGTON RATHER
THAN IN VIETNAM
 American leaders, both civilian and military,
based their approaches to the war in Vietnam
on considerations of politics within the United
States.
 The White House was more concerned with its
Great Society welfare programmes at home and
hoped to avoid a wider war in Southeast Asia.
VIETCONG FOUGHT WELL
 The enemy, the Vietcong, held the military
initiative and the armed forces of South Vietnam
suffered from poor morale.
 Poor training, an unenthusiastic population, and
ineffective leadership in South Vietnam undermined
the military efforts against the Vietcong.
PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON (1963 – 69)
FEARS OF JOHNSON
 The Johnson Administration made a political
calculation that the fall of South Vietnam to the
Communists would open the Democrats to a
Vietnamese version of the “loss of China”
charges of the 1950s.
 In 1949 when a Democrat president, Harry S.
Truman, was in power, China became Communist
following the victory of the Communist armies in the
Chinese civil war.
JOHNSON’S FEARS
 So if Vietnam was not won, then
Johnson as previous Democrats had
been, would be vulnerable to serious
domestic political attack if he “lost”
Vietnam to Communism.
 America’s generals understood that the
political will of the Johnson Administration to
fight in Vietnam was strong, and accordingly
began to pressure civilian leaders to expand
the war.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON WITH HIS CABINET
LBJ AND THE WAR
 However, from the beginning the military
understood that it would not receive
authorisation to fight the type of totally
unrestrained war for which it asked.
 American politics and public opinion would not
tolerate against a full escalation of the war.
 Therefore the military were aware they could
probably not win the war but they were
determined to make the White House
responsible for the defeat rather than
themselves.
U.S. MILITARY AND THE WAR
 The U.S. military forces in Vietnam needed
to overcome a dedicated and impressive
enemy as well. The Vietcong “fight like
tigers” an American general observed, “and
the discipline they display on the battlefield
is fantastic.”
 The Vietcong (VC) “maneuvered in the jungle,
maintained tactical integrity, withdrew their
wounded, lost practically no weapons, and did
a first class job.” an American general
observed.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON AND THE WAR
 President Lyndon Johnson (1963 – 1969),
convinced that the communists had to be
contained, began escalating American
involvement in the Vietnam War in 1965, using
the Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed by Congress
in August 1964 as the go-ahead for his decision
to bomb North Vietnam.
 Johnson sent ground forces into Vietnam in March
1965. Afraid that his efforts would be
misunderstood and criticised by the American
people and press, he downplayed the buildup, a
move that inevitably added to his unpopularity.
JOHNSON INHERITED JFK’S ADVISERS
 None of the advisers that Johnson inherited
from the assassinated president, John F.
Kennedy, made the recommendation to
disengage from Vietnam; indeed, they urged
full-scale military commitment.
 It would have taken a leader of truly extraordinary
self-confidence to undertake a retreat of such
magnitude so soon after taking office. And when it
came to foreign policy, Johnson was extremely
unsure of himself.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND GENERAL ABRAMS,
CABINET ROOM, WHITE HOUSE, MARCH 1968
GULF OF TONKIN RESOLUTION
 In August 1964, a presumed North Vietnamese
attack on the U.S. destroyer Maddox led to an
American retaliatory strike against North Vietnam
that was endorsed nearly unanimously by the
Senate via the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August
1964).
 By July 1965, over 500,000 American troops were fully
committed in the war in Vietnam.
 The cause of the frustration of Vietnam was not the
way in which America entered the war, but that it did
so without a more careful assessment of the likely
costs and potential outcomes.
LESSONS OF KOREA NOT LEARNED
 One of the principal lessons of the Korean war
(1950 – 53) ought to have been that protracted,
inconclusive wars shatter America’s domestic
consensus.
 Yet Washington seems to have gleaned exactly the
opposite lesson: that the source of frustration in
Korea had been MacArthur’s advance and his
quest for all-out victory. In this view, the Korean war
was interpreted as a success because it prevented
a Communist victory.
VIET CONG
AMERICA’S INVOLVEMENT
 America’s involvement in Vietnam became
consciously confined to a similar goal: without
triggering Chinese intervention, to demonstrate
to North Vietnam that it would not be permitted
to take over South Vietnam and that, therefore,
its only choice was negotiation.
 But negotiation for what end – especially in view of
an enemy who equated compromise with defeat?
LBJ AND THE WAR
 Johnson meanwhile resolutely rejected any
territorial “expansion” of the war. Elite opinion
in America had convinced itself that the four
Indochinese states were separate entities, even
though the Communists had been treating them
as a single theatre of operation for two decades.
VIETNAM’S POLITICAL THOUGHT
 Though Washington was trying to prove that
aggression does not pay and that guerrilla war
was not going to be the wave of the future, it did
not understand how its adversary calculated the
costs and benefits.
 Johnson thought the way out was to demonstrate
moderation, to reassure Hanoi, and to offer
compromise.
 Yet all of these moves were much more likely to
convince Hanoi to persist.
NORTH VIETNAM’S DICTATORSHIP
 Americans across the political spectrum kept
appealing to Hanoi to participate in some
democratic outcome. Yet none of the staples of
American thought on international affairs held
the slightest attraction for Hanoi except as tools
by which to confuse its adversaries.
 Having established one of the world’s most rigorous
dictatorships, the Hanoi Politburo would never
accept simply becoming one political party among
many in the South – the core of the schemes
presented by those most eager to end by
negotiation.
THE NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY
AMERICAN STRATEGY
 The strategy America adopted was the mirage
of establishing 100% security in 100% of the
country, and seeking to wear down the
guerrillas by search and destroy operations.
 No matter how large the expeditionary force, it
could never prove sufficient against an enemy
whose supply lines lay outside of Vietnam and who
possessed extensive sanctuaries immune to attack
and a ferocious will.
AMERICA’S STRATEGY
 At the end of 1966, North Vietnam’s premier
Pham Van Dong told a New York Times reporter
that, although the United States was far
stronger militarily, it would lose in the end
because more Vietnamese than Americans were
prepared to die for Vietnam.
U.S. PUBLIC OPINION AGAINST THE WAR
 Once the tide of American public opinion turned against
the war, Johnson’s critics blamed him ever more
stridently for the diplomatic stalemate. Insofar as these
charges implied that Johnson was reluctant to negotiate,
they missed the point.
 Johnson’s eagerness to start negotiations was palpable to the
point of being self-defeating.
 And it convinced Hanoi that procrastination was likely to
elicit ever more generous offers. Johnson ordered one
bombing pause after another, leaving no doubt that the
United States would pay a significant unreciprocated
entrance price just to get the negotiations started; Hanoi
had every incentive to make that price as high as
possible.
AMERICAN CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
 What was primarily at stake in Vietnam was the
global reputation of the United States as a military
superpower and a reliable ally, its credibility within
the international system.
 The primary danger facing the United States was the
likelihood that, if the Soviet Union and/or China helped a
proxy state (North Vietnam) annihilate an American
protectorate (South Vietnam), the Soviet Union and
China would be dangerously emboldened, while weak
American allies and neutrals around the world would be
frightened into appeasing one or both of the Communist
great powers.
AMERICA’S GLOBAL CREDIBILITY
 By stressing the regional domino theory in
Southeast Asia or a possible revolutionary wave
effect instead of the defence of America’s global
credibility, successive presidential
administrations (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon)
confused the American public, undermined their
own case, and provided hostages in the form of
weak arguments to critics of U.S. Cold War
strategy.
ROBERT MCNAMARA, U.S. DEFENCE
SECRETARY 1961 - 1968
THE NATURE OF THE COLD WAR
 Unlike the two world wars, the third global
conflict of the twentieth century took the form of
a half-century siege on the European front and
duels or proxy wars in a number of other
theatres.
 The forward deployment of U.S. troops in Central
Europe, Japan, and South Korea following the
Korean War, together with U.S. efforts to maintain
conventional and nuclear superiority, made up the
siege aspect of the Cold War.
THE BERLIN WALL
COLD WAR RIVALRY
 In the long run, the superior military-industrial
capability of the United States and its affluent allies
was bound to wear down the military-industrial base
of the Soviet empire.
 However, this depended upon alliance unity; the alliance
of the United States, West Germany, Japan, the United
Kingdom, France, and the other major democracies.
 The American bloc was also required to match and
outspend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. The
arms race was an auction that had to be continued
until one side dropped out.
U.S. B-52 BOMBERS IN VIETNAM
PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND AMERICAN
CREDIBILITY
 In a speech in April 1965, President Johnson
defined American credibility in terms of the need to
reassure America’s allies: “Around the globe,
from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well-
being rests, in part, on the belief that they count
on us if they are attacked.
 To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the
confidence of all these people in the value of
America’s commitment, the value of America’s
word.”
JOHNSON’S SPEECH, APRIL 1965
 In addition, Johnson sought to discourage
America’s enemies: “The central lesson of our
time is that the appetite of aggression is never
satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield
means only to prepare for the next.
 We must say in Southeast Asia, as we did in
Europe, in the words of the Bible: ‘Hitherto shalt
thou come, but no further.’
PRESIDENT JOHNSON GREETING U.S. TROOPS,
VIETNAM, 1966
AIMS OF U.S. POLICY IN INDOCHINA
 In a memo of March 1965, a Johnson adviser
emphasized American credibility in listing the aims
of U.S. policy in Indochina thus:
 70% - To avoid a humiliating defeat (to our
reputation as a guarantor)
 20% - To keep South Vietnam from Chinese
hands
 10% - To permit the people of South Vietnam to
enjoy a better, freer way of life
THE LESSONS OF MUNICH
 The appeasement of Hitler by the British and
French at Munich in 1938, it was argued, only
encouraged the Nazi dictator by convincing him that
the western democracies were weak and
indecisive.
 Applied to Vietnam, the lesson of Munich
suggested that if the United States sacrificed
Indochina to the communist bloc, then the
communist bloc would grow bolder in its attempt to
subvert and intimidate the non-communist world,
not just Southeast Asia.
VIETNAM WAR CRITICS
 Critics of the Vietnam War claimed that U.S.
policymakers were misled by historical analogies:
 “Highly dubious analogies from our experience
elsewhere – the ‘Munich’ sell-out and ‘containment’ from
Europe and the Korean War – were imported in order to
justify our actions.” (an American historian)
 Secretary of State Dean Rusk was guilty of
“mistakenly casting Ho Chi Minh as Hitler,
misreading a civil war as a war of foreign
aggression, and responding to the regional power of
Vietnam as if it represented some Axis-style global
threat.”
THE LESSON OF MUNICH
 The lesson of Munich, applied to the Cold War
in Indochina, did not rest on a parallel between
Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam and Hitler’s
Germany.
 Instead it rested on a parallel between Nazi
Germany and North Vietnam’s great-power
sponsors – the Soviet Union and China.
 Thus Ho Chi Minh was not compared to Hitler
but to Hitler’s allies and clients Franco and
Mussolini.
IL DUCE, BENITO MUSSOLINI (WITHOUT HIS
USUAL CAP)
THE LESSON OF MUNICH
 The Kennedy-Johnson administration (1961 –
69) viewed Mao’s anti-western radicalism as a
greater threat in Southeast Asia than the more
moderate policy of the Soviet Union.
 By the second half of the 1960s, however, the
Soviet Union had replaced China as the primary
sponsor of North Vietnam – a role it would play until
the end of the Cold War in 1989 – 91.
THE COLD WAR CONTEXT OF THE VIETNAM
WAR
 The Cold War was the third world war of the
twentieth century. It was a contest for global
military and diplomatic primacy between the
United States and the Soviet Union.
 Because the threat of nuclear escalation prevented
all-out conventional war between the superpowers,
the Soviet-American contest was fought in the form
of arms races, covert action, ideological campaigns,
economic embargos, and proxy wars in peripheral
areas.
LEONID BREZHNEV, SOVIET GENERAL
SECRETARY 1964 - 1982
THE COLD WAR CONTEXT OF THE VIETNAM
WAR
 In three of these peripheral areas – Korea,
Indochina, and Afghanistan – one of the two
superpowers sent hundreds of thousands of its own
troops into battle against clients of the other side.
 In the third world war, Indochina was the most fought
over territory on earth. Other places where the two
superpowers confronted each other were frozen in
stalemate.
 The USSR and the USA fought proxy wars in
Indochina because they dared not engage in major
tests of strength in Central Europe or the Middle
East. Indochina was strategic because it was
peripheral.
THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS
 The only complete losers in the Vietnam War were
the officials of South Vietnam, whose state was
erased from the map.
 The North Vietnamese communists won, but at the cost
of bankruptcy and isolation when their sponsor the
Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
 The Vietnamese people as a whole were losers. The
loss of around two million Vietnamese on both
sides, and the devastation of much of the
landscape, was followed by the extension of the
brutal and irrational Stalinist system of North
Vietnam throughout the entire country in 1975.
THE U.S. MILITARY EVACUATED SOUTH VIETNAMESE
OFFICIALS AND THEIR FAMILIES AS SAIGON WAS SURROUNDED
BY COMMUNIST FORCES, 1975
THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS
 All Vietnamese suffered from the Communist
victory. The greatest agony befell the Cambodian
people, who endured mass murder from Cambodia’s
Communist Party, the Khmer Rouge, as well as
mass starvation.
 The major powers that intervened in Indochina
during the Cold War, France, China, and the United
States were all losers.
 France sacrificed nearly 100,000 troops and still lost its
Southeast Asian empire, upon which its claim to great
power status after 1945 was partly based.
THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS IN THE
VIETNAM WAR
 China discovered too late that by helping Hanoi
it had created an ally for the hated Soviet Union
on its border.
 The United States suffered a devastating defeat.
In the zero-sum reputational game of the bipolar
world order, Washington’s defeat was Moscow’s
gain.
 At the same time, the cost in American dead
and wounded temporarily destroyed the
domestic consensus in favour of the Cold War.
THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL, WASHINGTON,
D.C.
THE TRAUMA OF VIETNAM FOR THE UNITED
STATES
 The United States negotiated an unfavourable
armistice with the Soviet empire and gave up the
policy global containment for the better part of a
decade, returning to a militant anti-Soviet policy
only in the late 1970s, following the Soviet invasion
of Afghanistan.
 The Vietnam War was the second greatest defeat
suffered by the United States in the Cold War.
 The greatest defeat of American Cold War policy
was the victory of the Soviet-sponsored Chinese
communists in 1949.
MAO TSE-TUNG DECLARING THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC
OF CHINA, 1ST OCTOBER 1949
THE SOVIET AND CHINESE DETERRENT
 The deterrent provided by the Soviet Union and
China – particularly the threat that China would
intervene with combat troops, as it had in Korea
– prevented the United States from invading or
engaging in all-out war against North Vietnam.
 And the Soviet and Chinese military-industrial
complexes kept the North Vietnamese effort going
until its successful conclusion in 1975, after which
even higher levels of Soviet aid made possible
Vietnam’s empire in Laos and Cambodia.
NORTH VIETNAMESE TROOPS ENTER SAIGON,
APRIL 1975
HANOI’S SUCCESS
 Hanoi’s success was inconceivable without the
support of two of the three most powerful and
murderous totalitarian states in history.
 The Vietnam War inaugurated the era of the
greatest Soviet successes in the Cold War. In
the 1970s, when the United States, bloodied in
Indochina, temporarily abandoned the
containment strategy and retreated into
isolationism, Marxist-Leninist regimes
sponsored by the Soviet Union took hold
around the Third World.
EVACUATION OF CIA PERSONNEL, SAIGON, 29TH
APRIL 1975
THE ONE CLEAR WINNER: THE SOVIET UNION
 By supporting Stalin’s disciple, Ho Chi Minh,
and his successors in a proxy war, the Soviet
leaders, at a relatively small cost to themselves,
regained world revolutionary leadership from
Mao’s China and humiliated and temporarily
paralyzed the United States.
 The only clear winner of the Vietnam War was
the Soviet Union.
RED SQUARE, MOSCOW: THE ANNUAL OCTOBER
REVOLUTION PARADE
AMERICA’S CHIEF PURPOSE IN VIETNAM
 The chief purpose of the United States in Vietnam
was to demonstrate America’s credibility as a
military power and a reliable ally to its enemies and
its allies around the world.
 The danger was that if the United States were
perceived to be lacking in military capacity, political
resolve, or both, the Soviet Union and/or China and
their proxies would act more aggressively.
POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS
 By late 1967 with the war continuing, President
Johnson needed some good news since his
political future depended on it. But given his refusal
to escalate the war, the military saw little reason to
accept responsibility for the situation in Vietnam or
develop a way out of the war that might benefit the
president.
THE TET OFFENSIVE, JANUARY 1968
 In January 1968 Hanoi launched an unprecedented
offensive against South Vietnam. It was the first set
of battles to be fought in the cities of South
Vietnam. The Vietcong suffered huge losses of
men, over 58,000 dead.
 However, the Tet offensive was a strategic victory
for the Vietcong. General Westmoreland, the
commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, had been
claiming that American victory was in sight before
Tet. But North Vietnam had shown that it could
mount a major offensive and the Communist
position in the countryside of South Vietnam was
strengthened.
TET OFFENSIVE, 1968
 The ordinary South Vietnamese had not rallied to
the Saigon government. The South Vietnam
government had lost its popular support. Tet was a
major psychological defeat for the American war
effort. General Westmoreland was replaced as
commander of U.S. forces by General Creighton
Abrams.
 U.S. Defence Secretary Clark Clifford made a
reassessment of the position in Vietnam in March
1968. President Johnson’s advisors recommended
de-escalation of the war. Johnson lamented that
“everybody is recommending surrender.”
JOHNSON’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION, MARCH
1968
 In a televised address to the American people in
March 1968, Johnson announced only some minor
new deployments and a bombing halt in Vietnam,
and the president stunned his national audience by
withdrawing from the 1968 presidential campaign.
 Johnson had been finally forced to confront his
failure to determine a consistent policy on Vietnam
by the twin shocks of Tet and the reinforcement
proposal. The President knew that time had run out
on both his political career and the U.S. experience
in Vietnam.
THE NIXON DOCTRINE, JULY 1969
 Johnson’s successor as president, Richard Nixon,
announced the “Nixon Doctrine” in July 1969, six
months after taking office.
 Nixon promised the United States would meet its
obligations under the SEATO Treaty, but went on to
say that “we must avoid that kind of policy that will
make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that
we are dragged into conflicts such as the one we
have in Vietnam.”
NIXON DOCTRINE, 1969
 Presumably the United States had been “dragged” into
Vietnam to halt the Red Tide of Communism, but
Nixon’s suggestion here was that it was instead a
certain “kind of policy” that had produced the
entanglement. Quite a startling difference.
 A reporter asked about future challenges? Nixon’s
answer was “ …It will not be easy. But if the United
States just continues down the road of responding to
requests for assistance, of assuming the primary
responsibility for defending these countries when they
have internal problems or external problems, they are
never going to take care of themselves.”
NIXON DOCTRINE, 1969
 Except for a nuclear threat by a major power, Nixon
said, the United States had a right to expect Asian
nations to handle their own security problems.
 The Nixon Doctrine came close to suggesting that
the original involvement in Vietnam had been a
mistake.
 It also sent a clear signal to all interested parties –
Saigon, Hanoi, Beijing, Moscow, and New York –
that Nixon wished to set new ground rules for
competition in the “Third World.”
NIXON DOCTRINE
 The Nixon Administration labelled the de-escalation
policy “Vietnamization”, which meant that South Vietnam
would take the main responsibility for the war with the
North.
 In response Hanoi demanded that the Thieu
Government of South Vietnam be replaced before
serious negotiations with the United States could take
place.
 Nixon set a deadline of November 1, 1969 for North
Vietnam to enter negotiations, after which he would put
into action the “madman” thesis to force the issue.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH NORTH VIETNAM
 The “madman” thesis was that Nixon would increase the
bombing of the North and show Hanoi that he was
prepared to escalate the war if the North did not enter
negotiations.
 Nixon had already authorized a secret bombing
campaign against Vietcong military bases in Cambodia.
 Fearful of domestic reaction to a widening of the war,
the Nixon White House had engaged in a deception that
quickly built upon itself when Nixon reacted to a New
York Times story revealing the bombings by ordering
wiretaps on Kissinger’s aides in the National Security
Council.
WIRETAPS; ORIGINS OF WATERGATE
 Henry Kissinger was Nixon’s National Security
Advisor. The wiretaps on Kissinger’s aides were
extended to private citizens to plug supposed leaks.
So the origins of the Watergate Scandal lie in the
Vietnam War and the secret bombing of Cambodia.
 By the start of the Nixon Administration in 1969,
there were deep divisions in American society over
the war with monthly anti-war marches on
Washington but these only slowed the peace
process with North Vietnam.
THE VIETNAM WAR HAD BECOME FAR TOO
COSTLY
 By 1969, the Vietnam War had become far too
costly, not only in terms of American lives, but as a
powerful factor in the increasing balance of
payments difficulty that had grown to crisis
proportions.
 President Johnson’s decision in March 1968 for a
partial bombing halt and to initiate peace
negotiations was as much economic as it was
political or military.
TO CONTINUE THE AMERICAN CENTURY
 Nixon thought he could re-arrange alliances and
continue the American Century despite the high
cost of the war and the balance of payments
difficulty. The American Century, so termed, was the
dominance of the United States within the world
economy and its number one position as the
leading Great Power.
 However, Senator George McGovern asked Henry
Kissinger, the new National Security Adviser, why
America did not just cut free from Vietnam since the
consensus was that the war was a disaster for the
United States.
HENRY KISSINGER’S REPLY
 Henry Kissinger replied to McGovern thus: “I think it
is clear now that we never should have gone in
there, and I don’t see how any good can come of it.
But we can’t do what you recommend and just pull
out of Vietnam, because the boss’s whole
constituency would fall apart; those are his people
who support the war effort: the South, the blue-
collar Democrats in the North … If we were to pull
out of Vietnam, there would be a disaster, politically,
for us here, at home.”
THE SOVIET DIMENSION
 In October 1969, Nixon told the Soviet Ambassador
to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, that if there was
no progress with Hanoi over American offers of
peace talks, then the United States would have to
pursue its own methods for bringing the war to an
end.
 On the other hand, if Moscow helped out in Hanoi,
Nixon said he was prepared to “do something
dramatic” to improve Soviet-American relations.
SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS
 Dobrynin pretty much ignored what Nixon had said
about Vietnam, but he gave the President a positive
answer about the beginning of strategic arms
limitations talks.
 Dobrynin had therefore placed Nixon in a dilemma:
the President could not very well jeopardize the
chance of serious arms negotiations by a sudden
escalation of the war.
NIXON’S TOUGH STANCE WITH THE SOVIET
UNION
 Nixon had spoken with Dobrynin previously and
had said: “You may think that the American
domestic situation is unmanageable. Or you may
think that the war in Vietnam costs the Soviet Union
only a small amount of money while it costs us a
great many lives.”
 “I can assure you,” Nixon said, “the humiliation of a
defeat is absolutely unacceptable to my country. I
recognize that the Soviet leaders are tough and
courageous. But so are we.”
NIXON’S SPEECH TO THE NATION, APRIL 1970
 On 20th April 1970, Nixon addressed the nation on
“Progress Toward Peace in Vietnam.” The enemy
had failed in all its objectives, he said, because of
basic errors in their strategy:
 “They thought they could win a military victory. They
have failed to do so. They thought they could win
politically in South Vietnam. They have failed to do
so. They thought they could win politically in the
United States. This proved to be their most fatal
miscalculation.”
NIXON’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION, APRIL
1970
 The President announced that 150,000 more
Americans would be out of Vietnam before another
year had gone by. He therefore outflanked the anti-
war movement and he conveyed the impression he
had Vietnam under control.
 However, only ten days later Nixon gave another
televised address to the nation to explain that the
remaining Americans in Vietnam faced risks that he
must take action to counter.
SECRET BOMBING OF CAMBODIA, 1970
 Nixon made a spurious (false) claim that the United
States had “scrupulously” respected Cambodia’s
neutrality despite the provocations of North
Vietnam. Cambodia had issued a “plea for help”
and Nixon built a grandiose argument on this false
premise.
 “Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will
attack the headquarters for the entire Communist
military headquarters in South Vietnam.”
REACTION TO THE BOMBING OF CAMBODIA
 Something approaching a wave of pandemonium
swept across America, even up to the National
Security Council itself. Three of Kissinger’s aides
resigned almost immediately.
 The anti-war movement sprang back to life on
college campuses across America following the
bombing of Cambodia which had escalated the war,
rather than winding it down.
 At Kent State University, Ohio confrontations with
national guardsmen and state police resulted in the
deaths of several students.
NIXON AND CAMBODIA
 In the Pentagon briefing room, Nixon declared the
military should be allowed to do whatever they
thought was necessary. “I want to take out all of
those sanctuaries. Make whatever plans are
necessary, and then just do it. Knock them all out
…”
 Nixon denounced the war protestors: “You see
these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses.
Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses
today are the luckiest people in the world … and
here they are burning up the books …” The word
“Bums” was in every headline the next morning.
NIXON’S FEAR OF FATALLY DIVIDING AMERICA
 Nixon shared the fears of other policymakers that
the bombing of Cambodia would fatally divide
America. He visited anti-war protesters at the
Lincoln Memorial in Washington. In a long rambling
discourse with students camping out in the
Memorial, Nixon tried to suggest that he was as
concerned for peace as they were.
 He tried to get the students to see Vietnam as he
did, a necessary war to prevent a repetition of
Chamberlain’s popular, but tragically misguided
policy of appeasement of Hitler.
NIXON’S FEAR OF FATALLY DIVIDING AMERICA
 Extravagant claims were made for the success of the
Cambodian invasion, citing numbers of weapons
captured, and so on; but while it did set back Hanoi’s
timetable for victory over South Vietnam, it did also
show that Nixon had no mandate whatsoever from the
“Silent Majority” to widen the war.
 Nixon made a highly qualified statement about
Cambodia’s future. The United States was interested in
restoring Cambodia’s neutrality, he said: “However, the
United States cannot take responsibility in the future to
send American men in to defend the neutrality of
countries that are unable to defend themselves.”
NIXON AND THE QUAGMIRE OF VIETNAM
 President John F. Kennedy had proclaimed in 1961 that
the United States would bear any burden, pay any price,
to defend the cause of freedom.
 Nixon had discovered that Kennedy’s proclamation
ended in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
 A feeling set in that the Nixon Administration was under
siege. In the basement of the Executive Office Building
across from the White House a battalion of soldiers
waited to quell any efforts by protestors to storm the
White House grounds.

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Vietnam Why did America lose the Vietnam War AQA

  • 1. WHY DID AMERICA LOSE THE VIETNAM WAR? N C Gardner MA PGCE
  • 2. WAS THE WAR LOST IN WASHINGTON D.C.?  American military forces in Indochina performed well enough to achieve victory argue revisionist historians.  However, defeatist politicians, an adversarial press, and the Peace Movement at home in Washington D.C. itself and in America as a whole undermined the military effort.
  • 3. THE WAR WAS LOST IN WASHINGTON RATHER THAN IN VIETNAM  American leaders, both civilian and military, based their approaches to the war in Vietnam on considerations of politics within the United States.  The White House was more concerned with its Great Society welfare programmes at home and hoped to avoid a wider war in Southeast Asia.
  • 4. VIETCONG FOUGHT WELL  The enemy, the Vietcong, held the military initiative and the armed forces of South Vietnam suffered from poor morale.  Poor training, an unenthusiastic population, and ineffective leadership in South Vietnam undermined the military efforts against the Vietcong.
  • 5. PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON (1963 – 69)
  • 6. FEARS OF JOHNSON  The Johnson Administration made a political calculation that the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists would open the Democrats to a Vietnamese version of the “loss of China” charges of the 1950s.  In 1949 when a Democrat president, Harry S. Truman, was in power, China became Communist following the victory of the Communist armies in the Chinese civil war.
  • 7. JOHNSON’S FEARS  So if Vietnam was not won, then Johnson as previous Democrats had been, would be vulnerable to serious domestic political attack if he “lost” Vietnam to Communism.  America’s generals understood that the political will of the Johnson Administration to fight in Vietnam was strong, and accordingly began to pressure civilian leaders to expand the war.
  • 9. LBJ AND THE WAR  However, from the beginning the military understood that it would not receive authorisation to fight the type of totally unrestrained war for which it asked.  American politics and public opinion would not tolerate against a full escalation of the war.  Therefore the military were aware they could probably not win the war but they were determined to make the White House responsible for the defeat rather than themselves.
  • 10. U.S. MILITARY AND THE WAR  The U.S. military forces in Vietnam needed to overcome a dedicated and impressive enemy as well. The Vietcong “fight like tigers” an American general observed, “and the discipline they display on the battlefield is fantastic.”  The Vietcong (VC) “maneuvered in the jungle, maintained tactical integrity, withdrew their wounded, lost practically no weapons, and did a first class job.” an American general observed.
  • 11.
  • 12. PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON AND THE WAR  President Lyndon Johnson (1963 – 1969), convinced that the communists had to be contained, began escalating American involvement in the Vietnam War in 1965, using the Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed by Congress in August 1964 as the go-ahead for his decision to bomb North Vietnam.  Johnson sent ground forces into Vietnam in March 1965. Afraid that his efforts would be misunderstood and criticised by the American people and press, he downplayed the buildup, a move that inevitably added to his unpopularity.
  • 13. JOHNSON INHERITED JFK’S ADVISERS  None of the advisers that Johnson inherited from the assassinated president, John F. Kennedy, made the recommendation to disengage from Vietnam; indeed, they urged full-scale military commitment.  It would have taken a leader of truly extraordinary self-confidence to undertake a retreat of such magnitude so soon after taking office. And when it came to foreign policy, Johnson was extremely unsure of himself.
  • 14. PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND GENERAL ABRAMS, CABINET ROOM, WHITE HOUSE, MARCH 1968
  • 15. GULF OF TONKIN RESOLUTION  In August 1964, a presumed North Vietnamese attack on the U.S. destroyer Maddox led to an American retaliatory strike against North Vietnam that was endorsed nearly unanimously by the Senate via the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August 1964).  By July 1965, over 500,000 American troops were fully committed in the war in Vietnam.  The cause of the frustration of Vietnam was not the way in which America entered the war, but that it did so without a more careful assessment of the likely costs and potential outcomes.
  • 16.
  • 17. LESSONS OF KOREA NOT LEARNED  One of the principal lessons of the Korean war (1950 – 53) ought to have been that protracted, inconclusive wars shatter America’s domestic consensus.  Yet Washington seems to have gleaned exactly the opposite lesson: that the source of frustration in Korea had been MacArthur’s advance and his quest for all-out victory. In this view, the Korean war was interpreted as a success because it prevented a Communist victory.
  • 19. AMERICA’S INVOLVEMENT  America’s involvement in Vietnam became consciously confined to a similar goal: without triggering Chinese intervention, to demonstrate to North Vietnam that it would not be permitted to take over South Vietnam and that, therefore, its only choice was negotiation.  But negotiation for what end – especially in view of an enemy who equated compromise with defeat?
  • 20.
  • 21. LBJ AND THE WAR  Johnson meanwhile resolutely rejected any territorial “expansion” of the war. Elite opinion in America had convinced itself that the four Indochinese states were separate entities, even though the Communists had been treating them as a single theatre of operation for two decades.
  • 22. VIETNAM’S POLITICAL THOUGHT  Though Washington was trying to prove that aggression does not pay and that guerrilla war was not going to be the wave of the future, it did not understand how its adversary calculated the costs and benefits.  Johnson thought the way out was to demonstrate moderation, to reassure Hanoi, and to offer compromise.  Yet all of these moves were much more likely to convince Hanoi to persist.
  • 23.
  • 24. NORTH VIETNAM’S DICTATORSHIP  Americans across the political spectrum kept appealing to Hanoi to participate in some democratic outcome. Yet none of the staples of American thought on international affairs held the slightest attraction for Hanoi except as tools by which to confuse its adversaries.  Having established one of the world’s most rigorous dictatorships, the Hanoi Politburo would never accept simply becoming one political party among many in the South – the core of the schemes presented by those most eager to end by negotiation.
  • 26. AMERICAN STRATEGY  The strategy America adopted was the mirage of establishing 100% security in 100% of the country, and seeking to wear down the guerrillas by search and destroy operations.  No matter how large the expeditionary force, it could never prove sufficient against an enemy whose supply lines lay outside of Vietnam and who possessed extensive sanctuaries immune to attack and a ferocious will.
  • 27.
  • 28. AMERICA’S STRATEGY  At the end of 1966, North Vietnam’s premier Pham Van Dong told a New York Times reporter that, although the United States was far stronger militarily, it would lose in the end because more Vietnamese than Americans were prepared to die for Vietnam.
  • 29. U.S. PUBLIC OPINION AGAINST THE WAR  Once the tide of American public opinion turned against the war, Johnson’s critics blamed him ever more stridently for the diplomatic stalemate. Insofar as these charges implied that Johnson was reluctant to negotiate, they missed the point.  Johnson’s eagerness to start negotiations was palpable to the point of being self-defeating.  And it convinced Hanoi that procrastination was likely to elicit ever more generous offers. Johnson ordered one bombing pause after another, leaving no doubt that the United States would pay a significant unreciprocated entrance price just to get the negotiations started; Hanoi had every incentive to make that price as high as possible.
  • 30.
  • 31. AMERICAN CREDIBILITY AT STAKE  What was primarily at stake in Vietnam was the global reputation of the United States as a military superpower and a reliable ally, its credibility within the international system.  The primary danger facing the United States was the likelihood that, if the Soviet Union and/or China helped a proxy state (North Vietnam) annihilate an American protectorate (South Vietnam), the Soviet Union and China would be dangerously emboldened, while weak American allies and neutrals around the world would be frightened into appeasing one or both of the Communist great powers.
  • 32.
  • 33. AMERICA’S GLOBAL CREDIBILITY  By stressing the regional domino theory in Southeast Asia or a possible revolutionary wave effect instead of the defence of America’s global credibility, successive presidential administrations (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon) confused the American public, undermined their own case, and provided hostages in the form of weak arguments to critics of U.S. Cold War strategy.
  • 34. ROBERT MCNAMARA, U.S. DEFENCE SECRETARY 1961 - 1968
  • 35. THE NATURE OF THE COLD WAR  Unlike the two world wars, the third global conflict of the twentieth century took the form of a half-century siege on the European front and duels or proxy wars in a number of other theatres.  The forward deployment of U.S. troops in Central Europe, Japan, and South Korea following the Korean War, together with U.S. efforts to maintain conventional and nuclear superiority, made up the siege aspect of the Cold War.
  • 37. COLD WAR RIVALRY  In the long run, the superior military-industrial capability of the United States and its affluent allies was bound to wear down the military-industrial base of the Soviet empire.  However, this depended upon alliance unity; the alliance of the United States, West Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and the other major democracies.  The American bloc was also required to match and outspend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. The arms race was an auction that had to be continued until one side dropped out.
  • 38. U.S. B-52 BOMBERS IN VIETNAM
  • 39. PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND AMERICAN CREDIBILITY  In a speech in April 1965, President Johnson defined American credibility in terms of the need to reassure America’s allies: “Around the globe, from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well- being rests, in part, on the belief that they count on us if they are attacked.  To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of America’s commitment, the value of America’s word.”
  • 40.
  • 41. JOHNSON’S SPEECH, APRIL 1965  In addition, Johnson sought to discourage America’s enemies: “The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next.  We must say in Southeast Asia, as we did in Europe, in the words of the Bible: ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’
  • 42. PRESIDENT JOHNSON GREETING U.S. TROOPS, VIETNAM, 1966
  • 43. AIMS OF U.S. POLICY IN INDOCHINA  In a memo of March 1965, a Johnson adviser emphasized American credibility in listing the aims of U.S. policy in Indochina thus:  70% - To avoid a humiliating defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor)  20% - To keep South Vietnam from Chinese hands  10% - To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life
  • 44.
  • 45. THE LESSONS OF MUNICH  The appeasement of Hitler by the British and French at Munich in 1938, it was argued, only encouraged the Nazi dictator by convincing him that the western democracies were weak and indecisive.  Applied to Vietnam, the lesson of Munich suggested that if the United States sacrificed Indochina to the communist bloc, then the communist bloc would grow bolder in its attempt to subvert and intimidate the non-communist world, not just Southeast Asia.
  • 46.
  • 47. VIETNAM WAR CRITICS  Critics of the Vietnam War claimed that U.S. policymakers were misled by historical analogies:  “Highly dubious analogies from our experience elsewhere – the ‘Munich’ sell-out and ‘containment’ from Europe and the Korean War – were imported in order to justify our actions.” (an American historian)  Secretary of State Dean Rusk was guilty of “mistakenly casting Ho Chi Minh as Hitler, misreading a civil war as a war of foreign aggression, and responding to the regional power of Vietnam as if it represented some Axis-style global threat.”
  • 48.
  • 49. THE LESSON OF MUNICH  The lesson of Munich, applied to the Cold War in Indochina, did not rest on a parallel between Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam and Hitler’s Germany.  Instead it rested on a parallel between Nazi Germany and North Vietnam’s great-power sponsors – the Soviet Union and China.  Thus Ho Chi Minh was not compared to Hitler but to Hitler’s allies and clients Franco and Mussolini.
  • 50. IL DUCE, BENITO MUSSOLINI (WITHOUT HIS USUAL CAP)
  • 51. THE LESSON OF MUNICH  The Kennedy-Johnson administration (1961 – 69) viewed Mao’s anti-western radicalism as a greater threat in Southeast Asia than the more moderate policy of the Soviet Union.  By the second half of the 1960s, however, the Soviet Union had replaced China as the primary sponsor of North Vietnam – a role it would play until the end of the Cold War in 1989 – 91.
  • 52. THE COLD WAR CONTEXT OF THE VIETNAM WAR  The Cold War was the third world war of the twentieth century. It was a contest for global military and diplomatic primacy between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Because the threat of nuclear escalation prevented all-out conventional war between the superpowers, the Soviet-American contest was fought in the form of arms races, covert action, ideological campaigns, economic embargos, and proxy wars in peripheral areas.
  • 53. LEONID BREZHNEV, SOVIET GENERAL SECRETARY 1964 - 1982
  • 54. THE COLD WAR CONTEXT OF THE VIETNAM WAR  In three of these peripheral areas – Korea, Indochina, and Afghanistan – one of the two superpowers sent hundreds of thousands of its own troops into battle against clients of the other side.  In the third world war, Indochina was the most fought over territory on earth. Other places where the two superpowers confronted each other were frozen in stalemate.  The USSR and the USA fought proxy wars in Indochina because they dared not engage in major tests of strength in Central Europe or the Middle East. Indochina was strategic because it was peripheral.
  • 55.
  • 56. THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS  The only complete losers in the Vietnam War were the officials of South Vietnam, whose state was erased from the map.  The North Vietnamese communists won, but at the cost of bankruptcy and isolation when their sponsor the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  The Vietnamese people as a whole were losers. The loss of around two million Vietnamese on both sides, and the devastation of much of the landscape, was followed by the extension of the brutal and irrational Stalinist system of North Vietnam throughout the entire country in 1975.
  • 57. THE U.S. MILITARY EVACUATED SOUTH VIETNAMESE OFFICIALS AND THEIR FAMILIES AS SAIGON WAS SURROUNDED BY COMMUNIST FORCES, 1975
  • 58. THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS  All Vietnamese suffered from the Communist victory. The greatest agony befell the Cambodian people, who endured mass murder from Cambodia’s Communist Party, the Khmer Rouge, as well as mass starvation.  The major powers that intervened in Indochina during the Cold War, France, China, and the United States were all losers.  France sacrificed nearly 100,000 troops and still lost its Southeast Asian empire, upon which its claim to great power status after 1945 was partly based.
  • 59. THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS IN THE VIETNAM WAR  China discovered too late that by helping Hanoi it had created an ally for the hated Soviet Union on its border.  The United States suffered a devastating defeat. In the zero-sum reputational game of the bipolar world order, Washington’s defeat was Moscow’s gain.  At the same time, the cost in American dead and wounded temporarily destroyed the domestic consensus in favour of the Cold War.
  • 60. THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
  • 61.
  • 62.
  • 63. THE TRAUMA OF VIETNAM FOR THE UNITED STATES  The United States negotiated an unfavourable armistice with the Soviet empire and gave up the policy global containment for the better part of a decade, returning to a militant anti-Soviet policy only in the late 1970s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The Vietnam War was the second greatest defeat suffered by the United States in the Cold War.  The greatest defeat of American Cold War policy was the victory of the Soviet-sponsored Chinese communists in 1949.
  • 64. MAO TSE-TUNG DECLARING THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, 1ST OCTOBER 1949
  • 65. THE SOVIET AND CHINESE DETERRENT  The deterrent provided by the Soviet Union and China – particularly the threat that China would intervene with combat troops, as it had in Korea – prevented the United States from invading or engaging in all-out war against North Vietnam.  And the Soviet and Chinese military-industrial complexes kept the North Vietnamese effort going until its successful conclusion in 1975, after which even higher levels of Soviet aid made possible Vietnam’s empire in Laos and Cambodia.
  • 66. NORTH VIETNAMESE TROOPS ENTER SAIGON, APRIL 1975
  • 67. HANOI’S SUCCESS  Hanoi’s success was inconceivable without the support of two of the three most powerful and murderous totalitarian states in history.  The Vietnam War inaugurated the era of the greatest Soviet successes in the Cold War. In the 1970s, when the United States, bloodied in Indochina, temporarily abandoned the containment strategy and retreated into isolationism, Marxist-Leninist regimes sponsored by the Soviet Union took hold around the Third World.
  • 68. EVACUATION OF CIA PERSONNEL, SAIGON, 29TH APRIL 1975
  • 69. THE ONE CLEAR WINNER: THE SOVIET UNION  By supporting Stalin’s disciple, Ho Chi Minh, and his successors in a proxy war, the Soviet leaders, at a relatively small cost to themselves, regained world revolutionary leadership from Mao’s China and humiliated and temporarily paralyzed the United States.  The only clear winner of the Vietnam War was the Soviet Union.
  • 70. RED SQUARE, MOSCOW: THE ANNUAL OCTOBER REVOLUTION PARADE
  • 71. AMERICA’S CHIEF PURPOSE IN VIETNAM  The chief purpose of the United States in Vietnam was to demonstrate America’s credibility as a military power and a reliable ally to its enemies and its allies around the world.  The danger was that if the United States were perceived to be lacking in military capacity, political resolve, or both, the Soviet Union and/or China and their proxies would act more aggressively.
  • 72. POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS  By late 1967 with the war continuing, President Johnson needed some good news since his political future depended on it. But given his refusal to escalate the war, the military saw little reason to accept responsibility for the situation in Vietnam or develop a way out of the war that might benefit the president.
  • 73.
  • 74. THE TET OFFENSIVE, JANUARY 1968  In January 1968 Hanoi launched an unprecedented offensive against South Vietnam. It was the first set of battles to be fought in the cities of South Vietnam. The Vietcong suffered huge losses of men, over 58,000 dead.  However, the Tet offensive was a strategic victory for the Vietcong. General Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, had been claiming that American victory was in sight before Tet. But North Vietnam had shown that it could mount a major offensive and the Communist position in the countryside of South Vietnam was strengthened.
  • 75.
  • 76. TET OFFENSIVE, 1968  The ordinary South Vietnamese had not rallied to the Saigon government. The South Vietnam government had lost its popular support. Tet was a major psychological defeat for the American war effort. General Westmoreland was replaced as commander of U.S. forces by General Creighton Abrams.  U.S. Defence Secretary Clark Clifford made a reassessment of the position in Vietnam in March 1968. President Johnson’s advisors recommended de-escalation of the war. Johnson lamented that “everybody is recommending surrender.”
  • 77.
  • 78. JOHNSON’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION, MARCH 1968  In a televised address to the American people in March 1968, Johnson announced only some minor new deployments and a bombing halt in Vietnam, and the president stunned his national audience by withdrawing from the 1968 presidential campaign.  Johnson had been finally forced to confront his failure to determine a consistent policy on Vietnam by the twin shocks of Tet and the reinforcement proposal. The President knew that time had run out on both his political career and the U.S. experience in Vietnam.
  • 79.
  • 80. THE NIXON DOCTRINE, JULY 1969  Johnson’s successor as president, Richard Nixon, announced the “Nixon Doctrine” in July 1969, six months after taking office.  Nixon promised the United States would meet its obligations under the SEATO Treaty, but went on to say that “we must avoid that kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one we have in Vietnam.”
  • 81.
  • 82. NIXON DOCTRINE, 1969  Presumably the United States had been “dragged” into Vietnam to halt the Red Tide of Communism, but Nixon’s suggestion here was that it was instead a certain “kind of policy” that had produced the entanglement. Quite a startling difference.  A reporter asked about future challenges? Nixon’s answer was “ …It will not be easy. But if the United States just continues down the road of responding to requests for assistance, of assuming the primary responsibility for defending these countries when they have internal problems or external problems, they are never going to take care of themselves.”
  • 83.
  • 84. NIXON DOCTRINE, 1969  Except for a nuclear threat by a major power, Nixon said, the United States had a right to expect Asian nations to handle their own security problems.  The Nixon Doctrine came close to suggesting that the original involvement in Vietnam had been a mistake.  It also sent a clear signal to all interested parties – Saigon, Hanoi, Beijing, Moscow, and New York – that Nixon wished to set new ground rules for competition in the “Third World.”
  • 85.
  • 86. NIXON DOCTRINE  The Nixon Administration labelled the de-escalation policy “Vietnamization”, which meant that South Vietnam would take the main responsibility for the war with the North.  In response Hanoi demanded that the Thieu Government of South Vietnam be replaced before serious negotiations with the United States could take place.  Nixon set a deadline of November 1, 1969 for North Vietnam to enter negotiations, after which he would put into action the “madman” thesis to force the issue.
  • 87.
  • 88. NEGOTIATIONS WITH NORTH VIETNAM  The “madman” thesis was that Nixon would increase the bombing of the North and show Hanoi that he was prepared to escalate the war if the North did not enter negotiations.  Nixon had already authorized a secret bombing campaign against Vietcong military bases in Cambodia.  Fearful of domestic reaction to a widening of the war, the Nixon White House had engaged in a deception that quickly built upon itself when Nixon reacted to a New York Times story revealing the bombings by ordering wiretaps on Kissinger’s aides in the National Security Council.
  • 89.
  • 90. WIRETAPS; ORIGINS OF WATERGATE  Henry Kissinger was Nixon’s National Security Advisor. The wiretaps on Kissinger’s aides were extended to private citizens to plug supposed leaks. So the origins of the Watergate Scandal lie in the Vietnam War and the secret bombing of Cambodia.  By the start of the Nixon Administration in 1969, there were deep divisions in American society over the war with monthly anti-war marches on Washington but these only slowed the peace process with North Vietnam.
  • 91. THE VIETNAM WAR HAD BECOME FAR TOO COSTLY  By 1969, the Vietnam War had become far too costly, not only in terms of American lives, but as a powerful factor in the increasing balance of payments difficulty that had grown to crisis proportions.  President Johnson’s decision in March 1968 for a partial bombing halt and to initiate peace negotiations was as much economic as it was political or military.
  • 92. TO CONTINUE THE AMERICAN CENTURY  Nixon thought he could re-arrange alliances and continue the American Century despite the high cost of the war and the balance of payments difficulty. The American Century, so termed, was the dominance of the United States within the world economy and its number one position as the leading Great Power.  However, Senator George McGovern asked Henry Kissinger, the new National Security Adviser, why America did not just cut free from Vietnam since the consensus was that the war was a disaster for the United States.
  • 93. HENRY KISSINGER’S REPLY  Henry Kissinger replied to McGovern thus: “I think it is clear now that we never should have gone in there, and I don’t see how any good can come of it. But we can’t do what you recommend and just pull out of Vietnam, because the boss’s whole constituency would fall apart; those are his people who support the war effort: the South, the blue- collar Democrats in the North … If we were to pull out of Vietnam, there would be a disaster, politically, for us here, at home.”
  • 94. THE SOVIET DIMENSION  In October 1969, Nixon told the Soviet Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, that if there was no progress with Hanoi over American offers of peace talks, then the United States would have to pursue its own methods for bringing the war to an end.  On the other hand, if Moscow helped out in Hanoi, Nixon said he was prepared to “do something dramatic” to improve Soviet-American relations.
  • 95. SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS  Dobrynin pretty much ignored what Nixon had said about Vietnam, but he gave the President a positive answer about the beginning of strategic arms limitations talks.  Dobrynin had therefore placed Nixon in a dilemma: the President could not very well jeopardize the chance of serious arms negotiations by a sudden escalation of the war.
  • 96. NIXON’S TOUGH STANCE WITH THE SOVIET UNION  Nixon had spoken with Dobrynin previously and had said: “You may think that the American domestic situation is unmanageable. Or you may think that the war in Vietnam costs the Soviet Union only a small amount of money while it costs us a great many lives.”  “I can assure you,” Nixon said, “the humiliation of a defeat is absolutely unacceptable to my country. I recognize that the Soviet leaders are tough and courageous. But so are we.”
  • 97. NIXON’S SPEECH TO THE NATION, APRIL 1970  On 20th April 1970, Nixon addressed the nation on “Progress Toward Peace in Vietnam.” The enemy had failed in all its objectives, he said, because of basic errors in their strategy:  “They thought they could win a military victory. They have failed to do so. They thought they could win politically in South Vietnam. They have failed to do so. They thought they could win politically in the United States. This proved to be their most fatal miscalculation.”
  • 98. NIXON’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION, APRIL 1970  The President announced that 150,000 more Americans would be out of Vietnam before another year had gone by. He therefore outflanked the anti- war movement and he conveyed the impression he had Vietnam under control.  However, only ten days later Nixon gave another televised address to the nation to explain that the remaining Americans in Vietnam faced risks that he must take action to counter.
  • 99. SECRET BOMBING OF CAMBODIA, 1970  Nixon made a spurious (false) claim that the United States had “scrupulously” respected Cambodia’s neutrality despite the provocations of North Vietnam. Cambodia had issued a “plea for help” and Nixon built a grandiose argument on this false premise.  “Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire Communist military headquarters in South Vietnam.”
  • 100. REACTION TO THE BOMBING OF CAMBODIA  Something approaching a wave of pandemonium swept across America, even up to the National Security Council itself. Three of Kissinger’s aides resigned almost immediately.  The anti-war movement sprang back to life on college campuses across America following the bombing of Cambodia which had escalated the war, rather than winding it down.  At Kent State University, Ohio confrontations with national guardsmen and state police resulted in the deaths of several students.
  • 101. NIXON AND CAMBODIA  In the Pentagon briefing room, Nixon declared the military should be allowed to do whatever they thought was necessary. “I want to take out all of those sanctuaries. Make whatever plans are necessary, and then just do it. Knock them all out …”  Nixon denounced the war protestors: “You see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world … and here they are burning up the books …” The word “Bums” was in every headline the next morning.
  • 102. NIXON’S FEAR OF FATALLY DIVIDING AMERICA  Nixon shared the fears of other policymakers that the bombing of Cambodia would fatally divide America. He visited anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. In a long rambling discourse with students camping out in the Memorial, Nixon tried to suggest that he was as concerned for peace as they were.  He tried to get the students to see Vietnam as he did, a necessary war to prevent a repetition of Chamberlain’s popular, but tragically misguided policy of appeasement of Hitler.
  • 103. NIXON’S FEAR OF FATALLY DIVIDING AMERICA  Extravagant claims were made for the success of the Cambodian invasion, citing numbers of weapons captured, and so on; but while it did set back Hanoi’s timetable for victory over South Vietnam, it did also show that Nixon had no mandate whatsoever from the “Silent Majority” to widen the war.  Nixon made a highly qualified statement about Cambodia’s future. The United States was interested in restoring Cambodia’s neutrality, he said: “However, the United States cannot take responsibility in the future to send American men in to defend the neutrality of countries that are unable to defend themselves.”
  • 104. NIXON AND THE QUAGMIRE OF VIETNAM  President John F. Kennedy had proclaimed in 1961 that the United States would bear any burden, pay any price, to defend the cause of freedom.  Nixon had discovered that Kennedy’s proclamation ended in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  A feeling set in that the Nixon Administration was under siege. In the basement of the Executive Office Building across from the White House a battalion of soldiers waited to quell any efforts by protestors to storm the White House grounds.