Heroes or Villains?
Kissinger and the Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho were given the nobel peace prize for ending the Vietnam war. But did Kissinger deserve the prize more than Nixon? It was surely a team effort. Did either of them really deserve a peace prize? Was Nixon a diplomatic genius or a mad bomber?
Nixon's sanity had been questioned after the 1972 Christmas Bombings. A Kissinger aide who had resigned over the 1970 Cambodian invasion but regretted his loyal decision to not call a press conference:
"I knew the administration was squalid. But there was still this enormous illusion about Henry. I clung to the delusion that the man was still rational... it was my theory of the limits of the ruthlessness of Henry Kissinger; in truth, there were no limits.
It isn't difficult to find Nixon and Kissinger's reasons for their actions. They did what they thought was best for America (which coinsidently was also the best for them too). All action in Vietnam was accomplished with a rational consideration as to what was politically acceptable and best for America and the west.
Peace at Last
Nixon knew he couldn't just accept the October settlement after rejecting it, so tried to show his power.
On December 18th, Nixon bombed and mined Haiphong without giving an explanation. While civilian casualties had been avoided, over 1000 innocent people in Hanoi had died. NV had shot down 15 B-52s, along with 93 pilots. Kissinger cracked and announced he had disagreed with the bombings.
Many didn't understand why Nixon would bomb Hanoi without any reason. Several congressmen and newspapers questioned Nixon's sanity and suggested that Nixon was waging "war by tantrum".
The final peace treaty was reached in January 1973 but it was basically the same as the October 1972 treaty. Knowing his funding was about to be cut, Nixon told Thieu that the treaty would be sighned with or without him. Thieu finally agreed on 22nd January, while regarding it as a virtual surrender.
The 27th January 1973, announced a ceasefire in Vietnam (not Cambodia or Laos), POWs were to be returned and America would withdraw. Nixon promised Hanoi billions of reconstruction aid.
By the second half of 1972, Nixon was running out of time and money. Troop withdrawals meant Congress didn't want to fund the war. 55% supported bombing NV, 64% supported mining Haiphong and 74% thought it was important that SV not fall to Communism.
Dispite tough talk, both sides were compromising. Hanoi would let Thieu stay in power for a little while, American would let PAVN stay in SV and not insist on a ceasefire in Cambodia and Laos. Kissinger rejected a coalition government but supported a Committe of National Reconciliation (1/3 SV, 1/3 Communist, 1/3 neutral). Thieu was tearful but Nixon reminded him about what happened to Diem.
In October, Kissinger thought an agreement had been reached. Nixon originally supported it, but then rejected the terms. Thieu had his doubts and Nixon wasn't sure the agreement was peace with honour.
In November after Nixon was re-elected, the Congress became Democratic and would not support the war. Nixon knew a settlement had to be reached. Thieu knew any settlement would be a temporary ceasefire and that American politics would prevent Nixon from keeping his promise of future aid.
Why Did it Take So Long?
Nixon had decided to get America out of Vietnam in 1968, but a peace treaty was actually reached until 1972. During this time, 300,000 vietnamese and 20,000 americans had died.
Nixon had good reasons for not getting out. In 1969, Hanoi refused to allow Thieu to remain in power. America couldn't abandon Thieu after the disintegration of SV after Diem's death. Nixon felt that American honour required Thieu to remain in power so SV could be left with a good chance of survival.
Nixon wrote to Rodgers: "We simply cannot tell the mothers of our casualties and the soldiers who have spent part of their lives in Vietnam that it was all to no purpose."
American national pride was at stake. It couldn't be seen to be defeated. In a November 1969 speech, Nixon claimed he could have immediately ended the war and blamed it all on Johnson. Nixon wanted peace without a price: no communist expansion and no American defeat. Even though slow withdrawal was painful, Nixon (like many of the time) believed that the USSR and China presented a very real threat to America.
Kissinger said "We could not simply walk away from an enterprise involving two administrations, five allied countries, and 31,000 dead as if we were switching a TV channel."
What Peace Cost Nixon
Nixon lost a lot due to Vietnam. The difficulty of the situation made Nixon paranoid and in 1972, a Nixon organisation called the Campaign to Re-elect the President (CREEP) was caught breaking into the Democrats office in the Watergate Building. The scandal simmered for a while, but in Nixon's second term, it was discovered Nixon had covered up operation. Nixon was forced to resign and would have gone to jail if not for President Ford.
Nixon hadn't really won peace for Indochina in January 1973. Fighting continued in Vietnam and bombings continued in Cambodia until 15th August 1973.
Within months, both Cambodia and South Vietnam had become communist. When PAVN invaded South Vietnam in 1975, there was no help from America.
In 1977, Nixon announced that he did not think he could have saved Vietnamn because Congress was so opposed to any American action there. Nixon's expensively gained 'peace with honour' was unsustainable.
Nixon said "History will treat me fairly. Historians probably won't, because many historians are on the left."
Protests unnerved Nixon. He was only half joking when he said that the protesters would "probably knock down the gates and I'll have 1000 incoherent hippies uriniating on the Oval Office rug."
The Cambodian offensive had divided America. 50% approved of bombing Cambodia while 39% disagreed. The escalation of the war aggrivated Nixon-Congress relations.
Throughout 1970 and 1971, Congress supported many bills to stop Nixon waging war in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Congress said that only they had the power to declare war while Nixon said he'd inherited a war that gave him power as the commander-in-chief.
In October 1971, Thieu finally held a democratic election in Vietnam. However, he was the only canditate running. Some senators tried to halt aid to Vietnam unless there was a democratic election.
In May 1970, Nixon became convinced that Secretary of Defence Laird and Secretary of State Rodgers were to blame for the leak of his attacks on NV and had them wiretapped. Hanoi had leaked it.
After 3 years, military and diplomatic pressure had not made Nixon closer to gaining peace.
The Lam Son Offensive
8th February 1971.
Nixon sent allowed ARVN troops to enter Laos to force PAVN out of hiding and prove Vietnamisation was working.
Only 5000 ARVN troops were sent into Laos, which Rodgers and Westmoreland thought was stupid. Hanoi was expecting an attack and Westmoreland knew the operation needed at least 4 divisions, not 1.
Initially, ARVN did well but PAVN quickly gained the upperhand thanks to new Soviet equipment. After 2 weeks, ARVN was forced out of Lam Son. Half the force had died. Americans saw ARVN troops fight eachother for places on American rescue helicopters. US soldiers greased the helicopters to the ARVN couldn't hang onto them and weigh them down.
After Lam Son, Kissinger was furious with Thieu who had refused to sent the number of ARVN troops that the US had recommended. "Those sons of *******. It's their country and we can't save it for them if they don't want to."
After three years, Nixon hadn't made any military progress.
Concessions Plus Force
Nixon continued bombing during the May 1972 summit to disguise his diplomatic concessions with a show of force. Nixon's approval rating shot up. Nixon decided to offer Hanoi a vital concession: the PAVN would be allowed to stay in the south even after American withdrawal.
Hanoi was being driven to settle by American concessions, Moscow, Bejing, Operation Phoenix, bombings and the potential re-election of Nixon.
After 3 years, Nixon's combination of military and diplomatic pressure seemed to be working.
Nixon was lucky, he was running out of time and money.
Nixon was frustrated. Peace was no closer and many senators wanted to withdraw in exchange for the return of American POWs.
The USSR and China were pressing Hanoi to settle but Hanoi wouldn't give in. In March 1972, Hanoi launched a major attack on the south. ARVN crumbled and Vietnamisation was discredited in election year. Nixon was furious at NV for using negotiations as a smokescreen.
Nixon decided to bomb the north like never before after the March offensive. B-52's were used for the first time since 1968. Kissinger focused on detente with the Soviets and knew concessions were necessary if the war were to be brought to an end.
Nixon then decided to mine NV's ports. He said if America was strong, the world would remain half instead of wholly communist. Some Democrats suggested threatening WW3 to keep Thieu in power but Nixon knew the Soviets were done financing Hanoi's war.
Moscow would not sacrifice the summit to halt the mining of the north. Nixon didn't want to destroy the north (there was no talk of atomic bombs) but he could hurt it. He would not abandon Thieu. He did hint to Moscow that he may be willing to accept a coalition including communists.
Kissinger was a refugee from Nazi Germany, a Harvard professor and specialised in international relations.
Kissinger had failed to attack himself to the Kennedys and offered his services to many candidates in the 1968 election. Kissinger dispised Nixon until late 1968 when he sided with him.
In the Nixon administration, Kissinger pretended to be an innocent academic in a political jungle. He told a journalist "what interests me is what you can do with power." He enjoyed the company of glamorous Hollywood actresses, saying "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."
Kissinger believed in realpolik (foreign policy should be dictated by national interest, not morals) and thought foreign policy was too difficult for most people to understand. Nixon shared this view. They didn't always explain their diplomacy, and so didn't ensure popular support.
Many in Washington said that Kissinger treated his staff like mushrooms: kept in the dark, stepped on and frequently covered in manure.
Kissinger also hated conscientious objectors. "Conscientious objection must be reserved only for the greatest moral issues, and Vietnam is not of this magnititude."
Presidential Candidate 1968
Nixon probably genuinely believed that Thieu could survive without US assistance as long as he reformed.
The Sino-Soviet split (breaking of Chinese and Soviet relations) meant that there was no great united communist power that could threaten the US. Communism was no longer so much of a threat and Nixon knew he could use Russia and China to pressure Hanoi into negotiations.
Nixon wanted to be the president to end the war. A success in Vietnam would lead to a re-election in 1972 and ensure Nixon would get a place in the history books. He wanted the power, prestige and honour that came with being a peacemaker.
The final months of Johnson's presidency were dominated with the Paris Peace Talks. Nixon had disagreed with the idea of halting bombing during this time: "If you give them the bombing pause and a coalition government, you give them the whole godam country".
In October 1968, there was a possible break through at the peace talks. Nixon didn't want Johnson to gain peace, as it would ruin his whole election campaign. He feared people wouldn't vote for him if there was peace, as Republicans were seen as better during war. Privately, Nixon encouraged Thieu to not go to Paris. However, it was likely Thieu wouldn't have gone anyway.
Kissinger, Rodgers & Nixon
Nixon chose his old friend William Rodgers to be his Secretary of State. Compared to Nixon and Secretary of Defence Kissinger, Rodgers knew almost nothing about foreign policy. This was a benefit at Nixon wanted to dominate foreign policy.
The Rodger-Kissinger relationship was tempestuous. Kissinger often stormed into Nixon's office threatening to resign unless Rodgers was restrained or replaced. Nixon said: "Henry thinks Bill isn't very deep, and Bill thinks Henry is power-crazy. And in a sense, they are both right."
"Rodgers felt that Kissinger was Machiavellian, deceiful, egotistical, arrogant, and insulting. Kissinger felt Rodgers was vain, uniformed, unable to keep a secret, and hopelessly dominated by the State Department bureucracy."
Nixon and Kissinger spent a great deal of time together, and Kissinger became increasingly more influential. Kissinger was always treated with respect by the press, meaning that when he subverted Nixon's intentions, he got away with it.
Lead by the hard-headed realists, American foreign policy became careless of wider moral issues and emphasised the ultimate survival and strength of America. Nixon knew he would be considered Machiavellian.
Military Pressure 1969-1971
In February 1969, Hanoi launched a major offensive on the South. Previous efforts hadn't worked, so Nixon decided to attack Cambodia to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to destroy the supposed Vietnamese Communist headquarters COSV. Nixon ordered the bombing secretly in March 1969. It did nothing. Nixon leaked he was considering blockading Haiphong under his Madman Tactic but this was a ploy.
In Spring 1970, Nixon announced the withdrawal of 150,000 troops but appeared to be escalating by bombing Cambodia and Laos. He escalated the bombings on 12th February 1970 but Hanoi lauched another attack in Laos.
He moved 30,000 ARVN troops into Cambodia but didn't find any Vietnamese or COSVN. The capture of communist material meant it took Hanoi 2 years to lauch another attack. Possible COSVN had never existed. 344 Americans died, 1592 were wounded. 818 ARVN died and 3553 were wounded.
Army morale plummeted in 1971. Nixon warned the best military graduates that they would be leading drug addicted and insubordinate troops. Nixon was determined not to be the first president to lose a war.
The Home Front Problem
Nixon timed withdrawals to difuse public opposition. As anti-war protesters begun to prepare in September 1969, he announced the withdrawal of 60,000 troops.Kissinger opposed withdrawals but Nixon felt that public opinion gave him no choice.
He rightly assumed that the heart of the movement were older college students and so adjusted the draft so the older students were less hard-hit. Nixon tried to keep his 1969 bombing of Cambodia a secret, and wiretapped Washington when it was leaked by a British journalist. He temporarily decreased protests and his approval rating shot to 71%
Nixon tried to keep his actions in Cambodia 1969 to prevent protests. When a British journalist in Cambodia leaked the attack, Nixon was convinved it was an internal leak and wiretapped Washington.
Between 14th and 16th of November, thousands of protestors marched on Washington, each carrying a candle while chanting the name of an American soldier.
Why Rodgers heard about the Cambodia bombings he said "this will make the student's puke." In April 1970 Nixon was told he couldn't go to his daughter's graduation. On May 5th 1970, 4 student protesters were killed at Kent State University.
Diplomatic Pressure 1969-1971
Nixon's goal was clear: he wanted to be out before the November 1972 election. He wanted a pro-American government in SV, Cambodia and Laos. He wanted the release of American POWs.
Nixon's first diplomatic initiate was to suggest secret Hanoi-Washington talks in April 1969. Hanoi favoured this, it excluded Saigon. In May, Nixon offered new terms that allowed for a simultaneous withdrawal. Hanoi refused, why would they get out if they were winning? They said they were willing to sit in Paris "until the chairs rot." Kissinger set Hanoi a 1 November deadline.
Nixon turned to Moscow, promising detente and a Summit if they helped end the war. In 1970, his only tactic was the Madman Theory. He made almost no progress. He tried changed, concessions and threats but nothing worked.
In spring 1971, it seemed like linkage was working and there was the possibility that Nixon would be able to visit China. The USSR and China were urging Hanoi to allow Thieu to remain in power. May, Nixon offered more peace terms. Hanoi was unimpressed, there was no mention of stopping bombing.
Transformation of a Cold Warrior
Nixon was Eisenhower's Vice President in 1953 to 1961 and was a supporter of expansion. He wanted to help the French at Dienbienphu and was even willing to use small atomic bombs.
He failed to defeat Kennedy in the 1960 election and held no political office for 8 years. He kept himself in the news by making foreign policy announcements.
Nixon spurred Johnson to greater involvement in Vietnam. He called for victory and nothing else. Whatever Johnson did, Nixon urged him to do more.
While he agreed with Johnson that Vietnam was important to the US, he was a Republican and accused the Democrat Johnson of doing everything wrong. He criticised Johnson for lacking new ideas but had none himself.
In 1967, the presidential candidate Nixon seemed like the last person to advocate withdrawal in Vietnam. He called anti-war protestors the traitorous minority. However, the January 1968 Tet Offensive shook Nixon. He talked about Vietnamisation and of withdrawal.
He no longer wanted a victorous peace but a peace with honour. He knew the US had to get out of Vietnam.