US withdrawal from Vietnam – packages of information
1. The aftermath of the Tet Offensive:
In March 1968, Johnson announced that he would not stand for re-election.
He also initiated peace talks with North Vietnam. These made no progress.
Though weakened by the Tet Offensive, the VC and NVA maintained their
attacks on the US forces and the ARVN throughout 1968. They were hoping one
of the peace candidates might win the US presidency and withdraw from Vietnam.
2. The election of 1968:
Following Johnson’s withdrawal from the presidential race, Robert Kennedy
announced his candidature. He promised to withdraw US forces from Vietnam.
In June 1968, Kennedy was assassinated. The anti-war movement’s great hope
was gone. Hubert Humphrey became the new Democratic candidate. He had been
Johnson’s vice president and was strongly associated with the war; he could not
Anti-war radicals organised demonstrations outside the Democratic Party
Convention in Chicago. The scenes of violence repelled many Americans.
The Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, promised ‘peace with honour’–
suggesting that America could withdraw its troops without losing South Vietnam.
Many Americans blamed the Democrats for getting the US into the war. Others
were alarmed by the protests occurring at home. They hoped a change at the top
would put things right. In November, Nixon won the election by a narrow margin.
3. Nixon’s policies:
Nixon’s initial plan was to end the war by escalating the conflict. He increased the
number of troops in Vietnam to 543,000. He also threatened the North Vietnamese
with a nuclear attack if they did not agree to his terms.
The North Vietnamese stood firm, and Nixon chose not to carry out his threat.
Nixon now realised he could not win the war during his first term in office, so he
changed gear and moved to a policy of gradual withdrawal.
The Nixon Doctrine was declared in July 1969. America would now help its allies
to defend themselves, but it would not commit its own troops to foreign wars.
Vietnamisation was the first element of the Nixon Doctrine. It involved a gradual
withdrawal of US forces and their replacement by South Vietnamese recruits. The
ARVN was to be increased from 250,000 men to 1,000,000. It was also to be
given extra training and more advanced weapons.
To facilitate the withdrawal of US forces, the CIA initiated the Phoenix Program,
under which suspected members of the VC’s clandestine network in South
Vietnam were to be assassinated. People living in VC controlled areas were forced
from their homes, as a means of starving the VC out. Anyone still in those areas
was assumed to be VC and hunted down.
With its fighting units decimated and its infrastructure under threat, the VC was
forced to retreat underground and into Cambodia, in order to rebuild.
Cambodia was also bombed, to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail and destroy the
VC’s sanctuaries. This was done secretly, since Cambodia was still a neutral
To give the communist leaders new incentive to negotiate, Nixon ordered a
resumption of bombing over North Vietnam.
4. The invasion of Cambodia:
Nixon now decided that the VC’s sanctuaries in Cambodia had to be cleared;
otherwise, the guerrillas would return to South Vietnam. The Sihanouk
government refused to attack them, so the US got the Cambodian army to stage
and coup and oust Sihanouk. Cambodia then declared war on the VC/NVA and
invited US and ARVN to invade. They did so in April 1970, widening the war.
The communist leaders reacted by reinforcing the VC in South Vietnam and
Cambodia with fresh troops from the North.
5. The anti-war movement:
The US anti-war movement was made up of five main groups: pacifists, religious
groups, social revolutionaries, ordinary citizens and veterans.
The movement swelled with the arrival of US ground troops in Vietnam in 1965,
but a majority of Americans still supported the war.
The movement was divided between those who wanted to win over mainstream
America (so an anti-war candidate could win the 1968 election), and those who
wanted to force the government to withdraw by making the country ungovernable.
By 1968, the movement had its candidate – Bobby Kennedy – but when he was
killed and when the movement turned violent, many Americans voted for Nixon.
Two things gave the movement real impetus: the Tet Offensive, which showed
that the war would be a long one; and the emergence of the soldiers’ movement.
When veterans turned against the war, it became clear it was not worth fighting.
6. US withdrawal:
The number of GI’s in Vietnam started declining rapidly in 1971. This was
accompanied by a continuation of peace negotiations.
In 1972, the North Vietnamese decided to test America’s resolve by launching a
Spring Offensive – an invasion of South Vietnam. It failed because Nixon
provided massive air support for the ARVN.
The communist leaders now realised that they could win the war if they could get
the US to withdraw from South Vietnam. The US accepted that the communists
could not be driven out of the South, but hoped their forces could be neutralised
by use of American air power. In December 1972, a compromise was reached.
7. The Paris Peace Agreement:
Under the agreement, South Vietnam would have two governments: the Thieu
regime and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), which represented
the NLF. Each would control the areas they occupied at the time of the agreement.
The South Vietnamese objected strongly to the deal, arguing (correctly, as it
turned out) that the new arrangements were untenable. Recognition of the NLF
would allow the VC to rebuild and to renew hostilities in the future. Similarly, the
presence of 150,000 NVA troops in key regions of South Vietnam would only
encourage such a return to fighting.
The South’s only hope lay in the maintenance of military and economic support
from the US, but this could not be guaranteed.
In the end, the Saigon regime was forced to accept the agreement, since the United
States intended to sign it unilaterally.
The stage was set for a resumption of hostilities somewhere down the track.