by Gerald Boerner
[Continued from Part 1]
During John F. Kennedy’s administration, 1960–1963
When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 U.S. presidential election, one major issue Kennedy raised was whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. As Kennedy took over, despite warnings from Eisenhower about Laos and Vietnam, Europe and Latin America "loomed larger than Asia on his sights." In his inaugural address, Kennedy made the ambitious pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."
In June 1961, John F. Kennedy bitterly disagreed with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met in Vienna over key U.S.-Soviet issues. The Legacy of the Korean War created the idea of a limited war.
Although Kennedy stressed long-range missile parity with the Soviets, he was also interested in using special forces for counterinsurgency warfare in Third World countries threatened by communist insurgencies. Although they were originally intended for use behind front lines after a conventional invasion of Europe, Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special forces such as the Green Berets would be effective in a "brush fire" war in Vietnam.
Lyndon B. Johnson expands the war, 1963–1969
Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), as he took over the presidency after the death of Kennedy, did not consider Vietnam a priority and was more concerned with his "Great Society" and progressive social programs. Presidential aide Jack Valenti recalls, "Vietnam at the time was no bigger than a man’s fist on the horizon. We hardly discussed it because it was not worth discussing."
On 24 November 1963, Johnson said, "the battle against communism… must be joined… with strength and determination." The pledge came at a time when Vietnam was deteriorating, especially in places like the Mekong Delta, because of the recent coup against Diem.
The military revolutionary council, meeting in lieu of a strong South Vietnamese leader, was made up of 12 members headed by General Minh—whom Stanley Karnow, a journalist on the ground, later recalled as "a model of lethargy." His regime was overthrown in January 1964 by General Nguyen Khanh. Lodge, frustrated by the end of the year, cabled home about Minh: "Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?"
An alleged NLF activist, captured
during an attack on an American
outpost near the Cambodian
border, is interrogated.
On 2 August 1964, the USS Maddox, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast, allegedly fired upon and damaged several torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin. A second attack was reported two days later on the USS Turner Joy and Maddox in the same area. The circumstances of the attack were murky. Lyndon Johnson commented to Undersecretary of State George Ball that "those sailors out there may have been shooting at flying fish."
The second attack led to retaliatory air strikes, prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and gave the president power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. In the same month, Johnson pledged that he was not "… committing American boys to fighting a war that I think ought to be fought by the boys of Asia to help protect their own land."
Having lured General Westmoreland’s forces into the hinterland at Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province, in January 1968, the PVA and NLF broke the truce that had traditionally accompanied the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. They launched the surprise Tet Offensive in the hope of sparking a national uprising. Over 100 cities were attacked, with assaults on General Westmoreland’s headquarters and the U.S. embassy in Saigon.
Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese were initially taken aback by the scale of the urban offensive, they responded quickly and effectively, decimating the ranks of the NLF. In the former capital city of Huế, the combined NLF and NVA troops captured the Imperial Citadel and much of the city, which led to the Battle of Hue. Throughout the offensive, the American forces employed massive firepower; in Hue where the battle was the fiercest, that firepower left 80% of the city in ruins. During the interim between the capture of the Citadel and end of the "Battle of Hue", the communist insurgent occupying forces massacred several thousand unarmed Hue civilians (estimates vary up to a high of 6000). After the war, North Vietnamese officials acknowledged that the Tet Offensive had, indeed, caused grave damage to NLF forces. But the offensive had another, unintended consequence.
General Westmoreland had become the public face of the war. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine three times and was named 1965′s Man of the Year. Time described him as "the sinewy personification of the American fighting man… (who) directed the historic buildup, drew up the battle plans, and infused the… men under him with his own idealistic view of U.S. aims and responsibilities."
Nixon Doctrine / Vietnamization
Severe communist losses during the Tet Offensive allowed U.S. President Richard M. Nixon to begin troop withdrawals. His plan, called the Nixon Doctrine, was to build up the ARVN, so that they could take over the defense of South Vietnam. The policy became known as "Vietnamization". Vietnamization had much in common with the policies of the Kennedy administration. One important difference, however, remained. While Kennedy insisted that the South Vietnamese fight the war themselves, he attempted to limit the scope of the conflict.
Nixon said in an announcement, "I am tonight announcing plans for the withdrawal of an additional 150,000 American troops to be completed during the spring of next year. This will bring a total reduction of 265,500 men in our armed forces in Vietnam below the level that existed when we took office 15 months ago."
Propaganda leaflets urging the
defection of NLF and North
Vietnamese to the side of the
Republic of Vietnam
Nixon also pursued negotiations. Theater commander Creighton Abrams shifted to smaller operations, aimed at communist logistics, with better use of firepower and more cooperation with the ARVN. Nixon also began to pursue détente with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China. This policy helped to decrease global tensions. Détente led to nuclear arms reduction on the part of both superpowers. But Nixon was disappointed that the PRC and the Soviet Union continued to supply the North Vietnamese with aid. In September 1969, Ho Chi Minh died at age seventy-nine.
The anti-war movement was gaining strength in the United States. Nixon appealed to the "silent majority" of Americans to support the war. But revelations of the My Lai Massacre, in which a U.S. Army platoon went on a rampage and raped and killed civilians, and the 1969 "Green Beret Affair" where eight Special Forces soldiers, including the 5th Special Forces Group Commander were arrested for the murder of a suspected double agent provoked national and international outrage.
The civilian cost of the war was again questioned when the U.S. concluded operation Speedy Express with a claimed bodycount of 10,889 Communist guerillas with only 40 U.S. losses; Kevin Buckley writing in Newsweek estimated that perhaps 5,000 of the Vietnamese dead were civilians.
1972 election and Paris Peace Accords
The war was the central issue of the 1972 presidential election. Nixon’s opponent, George McGovern, campaigned on a platform of withdrawal from Vietnam. Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, continued secret negotiations with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho. In October 1972, they reached an agreement.
U.S. soldiers searching a
village for NLF
However, South Vietnamese President Thieu demanded massive changes to the peace accord. When North Vietnam went public with the agreement’s details, the Nixon administration claimed that the North was attempting to embarrass the President. The negotiations became deadlocked. Hanoi demanded new changes.
To show his support for South Vietnam and force Hanoi back to the negotiating table, Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker II, a massive bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. The offensive destroyed much of the remaining economic and industrial capacity of North Vietnam. Simultaneously Nixon pressured Thieu to accept the terms of the agreement, threatening to conclude a bilateral peace deal and cut off American aid.
Members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team
One move down the Bassac River
in a Seal team Assault Boat
(STAB) during operations along
the river south of Saigon,
On 15 January 1973, Nixon announced the suspension of offensive action against North Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords on "Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" were signed on 27 January 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A cease-fire was declared across North and South Vietnam. U.S. POWs were released. The agreement guaranteed the territorial integrity of Vietnam and, like the Geneva Conference of 1954, called for national elections in the North and South. The Paris Peace Accords stipulated a sixty-day period for the total withdrawal of U.S. forces. "This article," noted Peter Church, "proved… to be the only one of the Paris Agreements which was fully carried out."
Exit of the Americans: 1973–1975
The U.S. began drastically reducing their troop support in South Vietnam during the final years of "Vietnamization". Many U.S. troops were removed from the region, and on 5 March 1971, the U.S. returned the 5th Special Forces Group, which was the first American unit deployed to South Vietnam, to its former base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
U.S. helicopter spraying chemical
defoliants in the Mekong Delta,
Under the Paris Peace Accord, between North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Lê Ðức Thọ and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and reluctantly signed by South Vietnamese President Thiệu, U.S. military forces withdrew from South Vietnam and prisoners were exchanged. North Vietnam was allowed to continue supplying communist troops in the South, but only to the extent of replacing materials that were consumed. Later that year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Kissinger and Thọ, but the Vietnamese negotiator declined it saying that a true peace did not yet exist.
The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favor their side. But Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid received just before the ceasefire went into effect, began to roll back the Vietcong. The communists responded with a new strategy hammered out in a series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà.
Fall of Saigon
Chaos, unrest, and panic broke out as hysterical South Vietnamese officials and civilians scrambled to leave Saigon. Martial law was declared. American helicopters began evacuating South Vietnamese, U.S., and foreign nationals from various parts of the city and from the U.S. embassy compound. Operation Frequent Wind had been delayed until the last possible moment, because of U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin’s belief that Saigon could be held and that a political settlement could be reached.
Vietnam War memorial in
the new Chinatown in
Schlesinger announced early in the morning of 29 April 1975 the evacuation from Saigon by helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel. Frequent Wind was arguably the largest helicopter evacuation in history. It began on 29 April, in an atmosphere of desperation, as hysterical crowds of Vietnamese vied for limited seats. Martin pleaded with Washington to dispatch $700 million in emergency aid to bolster the regime and help it mobilize fresh military reserves. But American public opinion had soured on this conflict halfway around the world.
In the U.S., South Vietnam was perceived as doomed. President Gerald Ford had given a televised speech on 23 April, declaring an end to the Vietnam War and all U.S. aid. Frequent Wind continued around the clock, as North Vietnamese tanks breached defenses on the outskirts of Saigon. The song "White Christmas" was broadcast as the final signal for withdrawal. In the early morning hours of 30 April, the last U.S. Marines evacuated the embassy by helicopter, as civilians swamped the perimeter and poured into the grounds. Many of them had been employed by the Americans and were left to their fate.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
The Vietnam War that can be found at…