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The War in Vietnam

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     The war in Vietnam came to a close gradually through a series of strategic acts carried out by the South Vietnamese Government with the support of the United States as well as the Communist supported North Vietnam.  These events took place between 1969, beginning with the election of Richard Nixon, and continued until strategies implemented by the Hanoi Government against their opposition led to the surrender of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

     After Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to decline campaigning for a second term, the United States elected a new president, Richard Nixon.  While campaigning Nixon sold the public on the fact that he believed “the war must be ended, but ended ‘honorably.’” (Franklin et al. 427)  Nixon’s strategy to end the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was called “Vietnamization” or “an attempt to turn the actual fighting over to ARVN troops while destroying or at least punishing all resistance with massive firepower in an effort to break the will of the opposition.”    (Franklin et al. 427)

     The new President had won the election as a candidate for peace, however Nixon had also committed to the fact that he did not want to be the first American president to lose a war.  In response to attacks on Saigon by North Vietnamese troops from sanctuaries in Cambodia in February 1969 Nixon began a series of attacks on Cambodia.   The new President feared that the United States Peace Movement would use his military action against Cambodia to build a stronger opposition to the war; he opted to keep these attacks from Congress as well as the United States citizens.  In May, this news was leaked to the press and as a result tempers in the United States began to rise.   The public suddenly doubted the President’s ability to stand behind is word.  (Lembcke 94)

          Nixon’s escalation of the war after taking office fueled the anti-war movements in the United States and within Vietnam the troops the United States grounds forces were disintegrating.  The President was forced to begin what he had promised the citizens of the United States during his campaign – removing the troops from the war.  In June 1969 President Nixon announced that 25,000 troops would be removed from battle and that more would follow.  Vietnamization continued, however the expanded air war had little effect on the Communist Party and the negotiations in Paris were becoming difficult as a result.  His continued reliance on air warfare began to anger U.S. citizens.  (Franklin et al. 427)

     On April 30, 1970 President Nixon authorized an invasion of Cambodia for the purpose of capturing the COSVN, which was believed to be the headquarters of the Communist military operations located in South Vietnam.  The official explanation of the attacks was that “one such decisive victory would tilt the balance and compel Hanoi and the NLF to agree to a political settlement at the Paris talks.”  (Sardesai 89)  This particular action instigated a civil war in Cambodia, however very little military value was found.  The COSVN were not located, only large caches of ammunition.  (Sardesai 89)

     President Nixon and Henry Kissinger continued to evolve their definition of “Vietnamization” so that the United States can continue to withdraw from the war.  In February 1971, the political pair used the invasion of Laos to “demonstrate that the ARVN were capable of handling the task.”  (Young 253)  The strategic plan was to attack the Lao sector of the Ho Chi Minh trail, seek out and destroy known locations of North Vietnamese troops and supplies as well as “thoroughly disrupt any plans they may have had for a dry season offensive in 1971 or 1972.”    (Young 253)  The ARVN’s attack on Laos was not successful as the North Vietnamese troops ambushed the south and sent them into a disorderly retreat.  The United States military responded with air attacks and evacuation procedures to help the ARVN escape the area.  It appeared that there had been a security breech and information had been leaked to the NLF “down to the location of the helicopter and landing zones.” (Young 253)

     President Nixon was not in search of a perpetual war, he wanted to be victorious.  In order to obtain victory, he felt he had to look for assistance elsewhere.  “Fearless of contradiction and undaunted by inconsistency” President Nixon turned to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  (Young 266)

     Hanoi policymakers suddenly became uncomfortable in 1971 when China responded to Nixon’s requests and decided to seek a “rapprochement with the United States.”  (Gilbert 69)  Many Asian countries would view the improved relations as taking away much of the intensity surrounding the Cold War, however the Hanoi government saw it as a set back to their current wart strategy.  They had based their strategy on the “premise that China’s hostility to the United States was a stable factor in world affairs.”  (Gilbert 69)  The Hanoi government was faced with the possibility that the leaders in China might side with the United States and “deprive the Vietnamese of the fruits of their revolutionary struggle.”  (Gilbert 69)

     Much to the dismay of the Hanoi government, President Richard Nixon traveled to China on February 17, 1972 to open discussions surrounding the Vietnam War.  This was the first time any United States President had traveled to China for any type of negotiation.  (Young 266)  He spent the next ten days talking with the Chinese leaders about how committed the United States was to getting out of Vietnam and ending the war.  The leaders in China respected he United States’ dilemma and in the end stated that they would keep quiet as long as President Nixon was seriously committed to removing U.S. troops from Vietnam.  (Young 266)

     Nixon and Kissinger were determined to win the war with diplomacy as well as determined to improve relations with the Soviet Union and China.  Nixon’s summit meeting in Beijing and then another with the Soviet Union left Hanoi isolated.  Prior to Nixon’s visit to China Pham Van Dong contacted Mao Zedong, Chinese leader to request that China not receive President Nixon and his request was denied.  Zedong surprisingly suggested that the North Vietnamese open negotiations and settle with the United States.  The North Vietnamese were angry at this response; their fear of losing the support of other Communist leaders had become a reality.  (Gilbert 91)

     Vietnamization was almost complete by the spring of 1972, as most of the United States troops had been sent home and all American built facilities had been turned over to the South Vietnamese.  The number of American casualties had gone down and the anti-war protests in the United States had lessened.   The Hanoi government however had continued to plot against the opposition and in a surprise attack at dawn on March 30, 1972 the Spring Offensive would immense.  (Young 253)

    The North Vietnamese “rolled across the demilitarized zone in the first of a three-pronged offensive.” (Young 253)  The Communist troops were armed with tanks and mobile armored units ready for battle.  (Young 253)  Nixon retaliated with intense bombings of the North, including a naval blockade and the “mining of Haiphong Harbor – essentially implementing proposals made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Early 1968.”  (Franklin et al. 429)

     On January 27, 1973 Democratic Republic, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam and the United states signed the Paris Accords, which brought a cease-fire in Vietnam, Cambodia and Las.  This agreement allowed the withdrawal of all United States troops, the return of all prisoners of war to the appropriate governments and “a cease-fire without demarcation lines.”  (Sar Desai 89)  The PRG and the Thieu government were to resolve their differences through a mutual consultation and a Council of Reconciliation was to organize elections in the south.  (Sar Desai 89)

     Although Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for these accords, the peace was not to last.  The three Vietnamese parties involved in the Accords agreed to a temporary truce so that they could prepare for the final phase of the war.  The accords had allowed the DRV to station approximately 140,000 troops in the south until a political solution had been found and the cease-fire had left portions of South Vietnamese territory under the control of the PRG.  The South no longer had the United States troops to support them and they were left exposed to an imminent northern invasion.  (Sar Desai 89-90)

     Conflict once again erupted between the three Vietnamese parties.  Thieu demanded that the DRV withdraw troops as “a prerequisite to elections,” however the DRV nor the PRG had not acknowledged the presences of the North Vietnamese troops in the South.  The level of military operations had lessened within all three parties as expected, “because of the reduced levels of external support from the United States, China and the Soviet Union.”   (Sar Desai 90)

     In March 1975 the DRV launched an attack that was “perhaps predicated on the military weakness of the Theiu government” due to the lack of support form the United States as well as the perception that President Gerald Forde would avoid any type of retaliation.  This strategy paid off, as Thieu ordered his army to retreat, resigned from office on April 21 and then fled the country.  Duong Van Minh surrendered Saigon to Communist forces on April 31, 1975.  This was a victory for the North Vietnamese, who had fought many years for this moment.  The city of Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City.  (Sar Desai 90)

     Clearly the North Vietnamese won the tactical side of the war with the final capture of Saigon in 1975, however looking at the historical information it would seem that the Vietnamese people achieved their goal of unity as well.  The country had been divided throughout history and Ho Chi Minh supporters had a desire to fulfill the great leader’s promise of reunification.  Unfortunately this was accomplished through needless intervention of outside sources that ultimately inflicted pain and suffering on a race that had been manipulated and repressed for centuries.

     The United States clearly lost the battle in Vietnam, as countless lives were taken and society as a whole suffered as a result.  This loss came at the hand of political leaders who saw an opportunity to fight a war against Communism and prove to their rivals that Democracy was Supreme.  The nation erupted with anger, fear and sadness as soldiers were drafted into the war only to become victims of a battle zone fighting a cause for a culture they did not understand.  Ultimately, this plan of intervention failed and in the end the nation was left without any solid explanation that could justify what had just taken place.

Works Cited

Franklin, Jane, H B. Franklin, E Gentleman,  and Marilyn B. Young. Vietnam and America: a Documented History. New York: Grove P, 1995.

Gilbert, Marc Jason. Why the North Won the Vietnam War. 1st Ed. ed. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Lembcke, Jerry. Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam. New York: Harvey J.  Kaye, 1998.

Sardesai, D R. Vietnam: Past and Present. Boulder: Westview P, 1998.

Young, Marilyn. Vietnam Wars 1945-1990. 1st ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

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