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- The major factors behind the introduction of Vietnamization.
- The key events that occurred following Vietnamization.
- The impact of Vietnamization.
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about Vietnamization!
- By 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for a second term. On January 1969, he was replaced by Richard Nixon. As the Vietnam War had not yet ended at that time, one of the policies introduced by Nixon was Vietnamization.
- Vietnam was divided: North Vietnam wanted to impose a communist regime on the South. South Vietnam asked America to help them defend their land. The USA accepted because they could not allow their great enemy – communism – to spread even further around the globe.
- When Richard Nixon became the president of the US in 1969, he promised to rapidly end the war against Vietnam. Three years after his election, the US was still fighting against North Vietnam.
- The process of Vietnamization consisted of removing the American troops from Vietnam since it had cost too many lives.
- The US tried to put an end to the war by attacking and bombing North Vietnam. They bombed the Hanoi and Haiphong harbours.
- On 27 January 1973, the Paris Peace Accord was signed and put an end to the war between the US and North Vietnam.
- At the end of the 1950s, Vietnam started a conflict that would last thirty years and that would reach its culmination in the 1960s. The country was divided: the North of Vietnam was communist, whereas the South was anti-communist. It is necessary to underline that, at that time, communism was gaining the upper hand across the world, and countries such as the United States were overtly opposed to such political ideology.
- In 1961, John F. Kennedy became the president of the US and swore that he would not allow the South of Vietnam to fall under the communist regime. If that happened, the USSR would have achieved control of Southeast Asia too.
- The Vietnam War was fuelled by general anxiety deriving from the Cold War. North Vietnam was much more trained and militarily advanced compared to the South: in fact, the North’s guerrilla warfare was also supported by other communist countries as well as the Viet Cong (a South Vietnamese communist group).
- Vietnam’s struggle for independence was not new. Since 1887, it had been a colony of France, and for thirty years it had engaged in battles: the first wave of fights was between the French and the Vietminh (i.e. Vietnamese nationalists); the second wave of fights was between North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
- In 1954, North Vietnam – along with the support of communist China and the Soviet Union – attempted to impose communism in the South of Vietnam by starting a revolution. As a consequence, the South requested help from the United States, and President Eisenhower chose to assist the Southern Vietnamese people by sending ‘economic aid and military equipment in order to defeat the Communists’ (Nixon 1969).
- In 1962, President Kennedy sent 16,000 Americans to South Vietnam in order to provide advice for the combat, and in 1965, President Johnson sent combat forces.
- When Richard Nixon was elected 37th President of the United States, the war in Vietnam had already been going on for four years, causing over 31,000 American casualties. One of the major factors that favoured his election was his promise to put an end to the atrocious war in Vietnam.
- Considering the numerous protests that were going on in the United States, the question Nixon was faced with was ‘how does America put an end to the war with Vietnam?’.
- Since America joined the war against North Vietnam, the South made very little progress at the cost of many American and Vietnamese lives. As a consequence, the US government started receiving a lot of criticism.
- On 25 July 1969, Richard Nixon introduced the idea of Vietnamization in a political speech. Part of the Nixon Doctrine, the policy aimed to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops." Hence, assistance would be given to South Vietnam until it could hold its own defence.
- The policy suggested the start of the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam while helping them gain strength.
- On 3 November 1969, Nixon announced his plan of Vietnamization – as opposed to the Americanisation plan which had been implemented by former president Lyndon B. Johnson (Rohn 2012). The process of Vietnamization involved attaining “Peace with Honour”, after all, this was Nixon’s slogan ever since he won the elections in 1968.
- The plan consisted of gradually removing the American troops from South Vietnam, in order to allow the Vietnamese to fight by themselves, as well as providing them with ‘ongoing political direction and economic aid’ (American Public Media 2018).
- Therefore, under the command of General Creighton Abrams, the American militia went from a ‘search-and-destroy approach’ to a more caring approach which consisted of defending the villages and aiding the local population of the South (Hickman 2018).
- Moreover, part of Nixon’s plan was that of training the South Vietnamese army and equipping them with suitable armament to combat the North Vietnamese. According to the president, such professional training would allow the Vietnamese to take charge of the battle and continue fighting by themselves.
- However, President Nixon lied to the entire nation: on the one hand he was bringing back to the States tens of thousands of soldiers every couple of months; yet, on the other hand – witnessing the Soviet Union’s resistance and refusal to compromise – he was secretly ordering several bombing attacks in North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (American Public Media 2018).
- President Nixon and Henry Kissinger were aware that they were not going to be able to win the war. However, they hoped that by attacking their enemy, they would obtain ‘concessions from the North Vietnamese’ (American Public Media 2014).
Protests and the end of the American involvement in the Vietnamese war
- Although people within the anti-war movements felt that Nixon was making his best efforts in the process of appeasement with Vietnam, the US was in upheaval when a massacre of 347 Vietnamese people (caused by American soldiers) occurred at My Lai.
- It soon became evident that the ‘public peace talks’ were all propaganda, and that peace could only be attained through private negotiations (Office of the Historian, no date). Although Henry Kissinger – the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs – had met with North Vietnamese General Le Duc Tho, nothing fruitful had resulted from their meeting, and no peace agreements had been reached.
- Moreover, tensions did not end there, since the United States started bombing North Vietnam and Cambodia in 1969, less than ten days after Nixon had declared withdrawal of over 150,000 American troops. According to the government, the main objective was that of ‘eliminating threats across the border’, however, such actions on behalf of the USA seemed to fuel the war rather than appease it (Hickman 2018).
- In essence, the United States was attempting to force North Vietnam into a peace agreement and coercively did so through ‘short, sharp blows inflicted by air and naval forces’ (Office of the Historian, no date). After all, Nixon and his government had been secretly bombing Cambodia for the past 14 months in the ‘Operation Breakfast’ (Burnett 2017). In fact, more than 52 bombs had been dropped in the North-Vietnamese territory: on the one hand, Nixon was trying to negotiate war in an ‘honourable’ manner; on the other hand, he was inciting combat by attacking their opponent.
- The discovery of such an event caused the upsurge of many students and civilian protests since it defied the programme of Vietnamization that the president had previously proposed. The anti-war protests happened in more than 1,300 colleges (Burnett 2017).
- Needless to say, Americans, and in particular students, felt betrayed by the policies that Nixon applied throughout his presidency.
- However, the situation degenerated when, on 13 June 1971, the New York Times published the top-secret Pentagon Papers, which were handed over by Daniel Ellsberg, a former government official (McNamara 2018). Nixon was not at all happy when these documents were exposed since they reported and provided details of the American involvement with Vietnam since 1945. There were several reasons why Ellsberg decided to publicly expose the Pentagon Papers: one of the motivations was that Nixon was ‘needlessly prolonging a pointless war’ (McNamara 2018).
- On 30 March 1972, when over half a million Americans were sent back to their homes, North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam: Nixon believed such an attack was unfair since their troops were withdrawing, and as a consequence, he decided to provoke a mine explosion in North Vietnam’s harbours in order to forbid the entrance of war supplies coming from the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Although Nixon’s decision was strongly opposed by his advisers and other Congress members, the president appeared on national television explaining to the Americans his intention of bombing the Hanoi and Haiphong harbours (American Public Media 2018). The objective of such a strategy was that of bringing down North Vietnam and making it beg for peace.
- The same day he gave the speech, Nixon wrote: “I cannot emphasise too strongly that I have determined that we should go for broke…Needless to say, indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas is not what I have in mind. On the other hand, if the target is important enough, I will approve a plan that goes after it even if there is a risk of some civilian casualties. We have the power. The only question is whether we have the will to use that power. What distinguishes me from Johnson is that I have the will in spades” (American Public Media 2018; citing Nixon).
- On 27 January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords was signed between Henry Kissinger, the US National Security Advisor who served as the representative of the country, and Le Duc Tho, a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party Politburo. A ceasefire was agreed and the US would withdraw its troops.
- Both negotiators won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize but Le Duc Tho refused to accept it. Between February and April of the same year, North Vietnam returned almost 600 American prisoners of war (in an event known as Operation Homecoming).
- Due to the Watergate Scandal – which exposed the president’s abuse of power during the Vietnam War – Richard Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974 and Gerald R. Ford became the 38th President of the United States.