Nixon Era

On November 3, 1969, President Richard Nixon announced that the U.S. would begin to withdraw its forces from Vietnam. They would train the South Vietnamese military to handle the war on its own; the process was called Vietnamization. The withdrawal would be made from strength, he asserted. Later into his first term, major initiatives were undertaken to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration routes through Laos and Cambodia, to buy time for the Vietnamization process to succeed.

White House Years

By Henry Kissinger

Hanoi was essentially fighting two wars in Laos, both for the objective of attaining hegemony in Indochina. In the south, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was Hanoi's connection with the battlefield of South Vietnam. In northern Laos, Hanoi supported the Pathet Lao although they were restrained, it was believed in Washington, by the fear of provoking an American or Thai response. They sought to maintain just enough pressure on the Laotian army to prevent it from consolidating authority; it would be dealt with after victory in South Vietnam. North Vietnam disturbed this uneasy equilibrium in late January 1970, by suddenly sending 13,000 reinforcements and much extra equipment to the Plain of Jars.

Hanoi was essentially fighting two wars in Laos, both for the objective of attaining hegemony in Indochina. In the south, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was Hanoi's connection with the battlefield of South Vietnam. In northern Laos, Hanoi supported the Pathet Lao although they were restrained, it was believed in Washington, by the fear of provoking an American or Thai response. They sought to maintain just enough pressure on the Laotian army to prevent it from consolidating authority; it would be dealt with after victory in South Vietnam. North Vietnam disturbed this uneasy equilibrium in late January 1970, by suddenly sending 13,000 reinforcements and much extra equipment to the Plain of Jars.

It was at the end of March 1972, only a few days after US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley had voluntarily returned to South Vietnam for a second tour of duty. Only 50,000 American servicemen remained there, from a peak of over 500,000 in 1969. Colonel Turley was visiting fire support bases along the Demilitarized Zone when the massive North Vietnamese Easter Offensive of 1972 began. After enduring eighteen hours of the opening artillery barrage, a South Vietnamese Army Colonel began to suffer from combat fatigue, and approached Colonel Turley with a startling request. Would you mind taking over here for a couple of hours?

It was at the end of March 1972, only a few days after US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley had voluntarily returned to South Vietnam for a second tour of duty. Only 50,000 American servicemen remained there, from a peak of over 500,000 in 1969. Colonel Turley was visiting fire support bases along the Demilitarized Zone when the massive North Vietnamese Easter Offensive of 1972 began. After enduring eighteen hours of the opening artillery barrage, a South Vietnamese Army Colonel began to suffer from combat fatigue, and approached Colonel Turley with a startling request. Would you mind taking over here for a couple of hours?

This book is severely critical of the conduct of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the closing years of American military involvement in Indochina. Having interviewed hundreds of people of many nationalities, including cabinet ministers, military men and civil servants, and after extensively researching U.S. Government documents, William Shawcross claims that the U.S. treated Cambodia as a sideshow to the main conflict in Vietnam. Actions to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia greatly destabilized it, eventually resulting in the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent massacre of a third of its population.

This book is severely critical of the conduct of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the closing years of American military involvement in Indochina. Having interviewed hundreds of people of many nationalities, including cabinet ministers, military men and civil servants, and after extensively researching U.S. Government documents, William Shawcross claims that the U.S. treated Cambodia as a sideshow to the main conflict in Vietnam. Actions to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia greatly destabilized it, eventually resulting in the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent massacre of a third of its population.

Civilians in Kontum in the Central Highlands fled to the airstrip and to the sports stadium, where helicopters occasionally landed. Even the medical staff at the hospital fled, leaving the patients to fend for themselves. Military sources reported that by late April 1972, 10,000 people had been evacuated to the south by helicopter, plane or truck. Typically, the Americans ran most of the evacuation, while South Vietnamese corruption hampered every effort. Journalists reported that South Vietnamese air force helicopter pilots were charging $240 for every passenger making the twenty-minute trip to Pleiku.

Civilians in Kontum in the Central Highlands fled to the airstrip and to the sports stadium, where helicopters occasionally landed. Even the medical staff at the hospital fled, leaving the patients to fend for themselves. Military sources reported that by late April 1972, 10,000 people had been evacuated to the south by helicopter, plane or truck. Typically, the Americans ran most of the evacuation, while South Vietnamese corruption hampered every effort. Journalists reported that South Vietnamese air force helicopter pilots were charging $240 for every passenger making the twenty-minute trip to Pleiku.

Fully aware of the withdrawal of South Vietnamese forces, the Communists were making an all-out effort to block their withdrawal. With losses mounting and the tempo of enemy attacks increasing, General Lam, the overall commander for the ARVN offensive, met with his division commanders, but there really wasn't much to discuss. Their remaining force in Laos faced insurmountable odds and was in danger of total annihilation. General Lam ordered the acceleration of the pace of withdrawal, and preparations for the immediate withdrawal of the 2nd Regiment began immediately. What was intended as an orderly withdrawal turned into a full-scale, disorganized retreat.

Fully aware of the withdrawal of South Vietnamese forces, the Communists were making an all-out effort to block their withdrawal. With losses mounting and the tempo of enemy attacks increasing, General Lam, the overall commander for the ARVN offensive, met with his division commanders, but there really wasn't much to discuss. Their remaining force in Laos faced insurmountable odds and was in danger of total annihilation. General Lam ordered the acceleration of the pace of withdrawal, and preparations for the immediate withdrawal of the 2nd Regiment began immediately. What was intended as an orderly withdrawal turned into a full-scale, disorganized retreat.

Effectively, the objective of occupying enemy base areas in Laos had been abandoned in favor of a largely meaningless effort to get South Vietnamese forces into Tchepone, for political rather than sound military reasons. Although Tchepone was near the center of North Vietnamese logistics activities in the Laotian panhandle, enemy supplies and war materiel were being stored in the jungle, not in the town. There was no intrinsic military value in occupying Tchepone. However, its capture would be the yardstick by which the operation would be judged, rather than destroying the North Vietnamese logistical system, which was the original goal of the operation.

Effectively, the objective of occupying enemy base areas in Laos had been abandoned in favor of a largely meaningless effort to get South Vietnamese forces into Tchepone, for political rather than sound military reasons. Although Tchepone was near the center of North Vietnamese logistics activities in the Laotian panhandle, enemy supplies and war materiel were being stored in the jungle, not in the town. There was no intrinsic military value in occupying Tchepone. However, its capture would be the yardstick by which the operation would be judged, rather than destroying the North Vietnamese logistical system, which was the original goal of the operation.

On January 14, 1970, General Vernon Walters, the U.S. defense attaché in Paris, suggested a meeting; Hanoi did not respond for several weeks. On February 16, Walters was called to the North Vietnamese compound and informed that Hanoi had accepted a meeting for February 20 or 21. After keeping us waiting for over a month, the North Vietnamese were demanding an answer within twelve hours. Ever since, Kissinger regretted accepting the date of February 21, within the deadline. Honoring this unreasonable demand gave an unnecessary impression of eagerness; it enabled Hanoi to secure a psychological point. It surely got the negotiations off on the wrong foot.

On January 14, 1970, General Vernon Walters, the U.S. defense attaché in Paris, suggested a meeting; Hanoi did not respond for several weeks. On February 16, Walters was called to the North Vietnamese compound and informed that Hanoi had accepted a meeting for February 20 or 21. After keeping us waiting for over a month, the North Vietnamese were demanding an answer within twelve hours. Ever since, Kissinger regretted accepting the date of February 21, within the deadline. Honoring this unreasonable demand gave an unnecessary impression of eagerness; it enabled Hanoi to secure a psychological point. It surely got the negotiations off on the wrong foot.

For North Vietnam, NIxon's 1969 secret bombings in Cambodia signaled a complete reversal of Norodom Sihanouk's previous considerations for them, and were met with typical ruthlessness. General Creighton Abrams' intelligence sources indicated that Khmer Rouge guerrillas were being armed and trained in North Vietnam, before being infiltrated back into Cambodia. The result was civil war and destruction of the Cambodian economy. In March of 1970, while Sihanouk was out of the country, Prime Minister Lon Nol, who detested the North Vietnamese presence on Cambodian soil, issued an ultimatum to Hanoi to remove its troops from Cambodia within seventy-two hours.

For North Vietnam, NIxon's 1969 secret bombings in Cambodia signaled a complete reversal of Norodom Sihanouk's previous considerations for them, and were met with typical ruthlessness. General Creighton Abrams' intelligence sources indicated that Khmer Rouge guerrillas were being armed and trained in North Vietnam, before being infiltrated back into Cambodia. The result was civil war and destruction of the Cambodian economy. In March of 1970, while Sihanouk was out of the country, Prime Minister Lon Nol, who detested the North Vietnamese presence on Cambodian soil, issued an ultimatum to Hanoi to remove its troops from Cambodia within seventy-two hours.