View Full Version : War and Protest - the US in Vietnan-1965-1975
08-21-02, 11:46 AM
We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.
- President Dwight D Eisenhower
As United States military involvement in Vietnam increased, so did the inroads made into South Vietnam by the Viet Minh and the National Liberation Front (NLF)/People's Liberation Armed Forces (PALF). The NLF and PALF were called the 'Viet Cong' by their opponents1.
In January 1965, one month before his assassination, Malcolm X, a militant advocate of African-American rights, denounced United States involvement in Vietnam. He said that Africans and African-Americans were on the same side as 'those little rice farmers'.
On 22 February, 1965, General Westmoreland requested two battalions of US Marines to protect the American air base at Da Nang from 6000 NLF/PALF troops massed in the vicinity. President Johnson approved his request, despite 'grave reservations' voiced by United States Ambassador Taylor in Vietnam. Taylor was afraid that America might be about to repeat the same mistakes made by the French, by sending more and more soldiers into the Asian forests and jungles of a 'hostile foreign country' where friend and foe couldn't be told apart.
On 9 March, 1965, President Johnson authorized the use of Napalm, a petroleum-based substance mixed with a thickening agent into a gel that would burn continuously and stick to anything it touched.
Escalating US military involvement in Vietnam led to an escalating anti-war movement within the United States. Demonstrations, teach-ins and draft-card burnings became the rule of the day for those opposed to the war.
On 17 April, 1965, the March on Washington that had been called the previous December took place. Organizers had expected about 2000 marchers. The actual count was about 25,0002. This was the largest anti-war protest to ever have been held in Washington DC at that time, with the number of marchers approximately equalling the number of US soldiers in Vietnam.
On 16 June, 1965 a planned civil disobedience turned into a five-hour teach-in on the steps of - and inside - the Pentagon. In two days, more than 50,000 leaflets were distributed without interference at the entrances and inside the building. A World War II artillery officer, Gordon Christiansen, turned in his honorable discharge certificate.
On 28 July, 1965, President Johnson announced that he planned to send 44 combat battalions to Vietnam, bringing the US military presence to 125,000 men. Monthly draft call ups were doubled to 35,000.
I have asked the commanding general, General Westmoreland, what more he needs to meet this mounting aggression. He has told me. And we will meet his needs. We cannot be defeated by force of arms. We will stand in Vietnam.
On 31 August, 1965, President Johnson signed a law criminalizing draft card burning, imposing up to a five-year prison sentence and $1000 fine. The public burning of draft cards continued to grow, owing to the media attention these events received.
Songwriter/Singer Country Joe McDonald wrote and first performed the 'I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag' in 19653. The chorus of that song, which gained fame at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, was as follows.
And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We're all gonna die.
The strongest verse of the song was:
Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.
There were anti-war rallies in 40 American cities, as well as other cities throughout the world, including London and Rome, in October 1965. It was during this month that the poet Allen Ginsburg introduced the term 'Flower Power', which became a rallying cry to many of those opposed to war in general and the war in Vietnam in particular.
On 27 November, 1965, 35,000 anti-war protesters encircled the White House then marched on to the Washington Monument for a rally.
On 30 November, 1965, Defense Secretary McNamara privately warned Johnson that American casualty rates of up to 1000 dead per month could be expected.
US troop presence in Vietnam totalled 184,300 on 31 December, 1965.
The year 1966 saw increasing US military presence in Vietnam. The fighting intensified dramatically, as did the protest movement within the United States.
In January 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee took a stand against the Vietnam War, saying:
We believe the United States government has been deceptive in claims of concern for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, just as the government has been deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of the coloreds people in such other countries as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], and in the United States itself.
That same month, President Johnson's administration abolished automatic student deferments from the draft. Student anger over the escalation of the war in Vietnam became more personal and intense. Students for a Democratic Society, that obscure little group that first called for a protest against US involvement in Vietnam, became a leader of the student movement against the war. SDS formed more than 300 new chapters on campuses across the country by the end of the year.
Events in Vietnam were disturbing members of the US Senate by this time. A group of senior Senators, led by J William Fulbright, called for a public debate on Vietnam. There were a total of five televised hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Johnson's request for $415 million supplemental Vietnam aid for the fiscal year 1966, the first of which took place on 4 February.
Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, resigned in protest when that television network decided to air an I Love Lucy rerun instead of broadcasting George Kennan's testimony in the Senate Hearings.
Many analysts believe that those hearings, which became known as 'The Fulbright Hearings', brought an end to President Johnson's attempt to create new legislation that would specifically justify heightened US intervention in Indochina. Following the Fulbright Hearings, dissent and antiwar activity became increasingly a part of the American political mainstream, although there was a backlash.
When 25,000 Mexican-Americans staged the 1966 Chicano Moratorium, the largest antiwar demonstration held in Los Angeles, police officers attacked with clubs and guns, killing three people, including the popular television news director and Los Angeles Times reporter Rubén Salazar.
Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion, refused to even consider going to Vietnam in 1966, saying 'No Vietnamese ever called me n****r'. As a Muslim, he held war to be against his religious principles. According to an article written by Jack Olsen in Sports Illustrated, the Governor of Illinois found Ali 'disgusting', and the Governor of Maine said Ali 'should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American'. An American Legion post in Miami asked people to 'join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic individual'.
On 31 December, 1966, there were 425,300 Americans in Vietnam.
The year 1967 saw an enormous build-up of the United States military presence in Vietnam, and an even more enormous build-up of protest against that military presence.
In January 1967, the United States military campaign called 'Operation Cedar Falls' led to the destruction of a North Vietnamese tunnel complex used for infiltration into South Vietnam. It also led to the forcible evacuation of all 5987 residents of the village of Ben Suc, which was completely destroyed, to refugee camps.
Martin Luther King
On 4 April, 1967, Martin Luther King denounced the US military presence in Vietnam, and proposed a merger of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. King called his taking a stand against the war a 'vocation of agony', and added '... my conscience leaves me no other choice'. King felt obliged to call the United States Government 'the greatest purveyor of violence in the world', and to encourage evasion of the military draft. 'We are called, he said, 'to speak for the weak and the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers'.
Anti-war Sentiment Grows
April 1967 also saw passive protest rallies and marches against the war in Vietnam, including crowds estimated at 100,000 in New York City and 50,000 in San Francisco .
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
One of the participants in the 7 April, 1967 'Fifth Avenue Peace Parade' in New York City was a man named Jan Barry Crumb, who had served in Vietnam in 1963, in the US Army's 18th Aviation Company. Jan Crumb didn't know, at first, that he wasn't the only veteran in the protest. He didn't know that a small group (fewer than 12) of veterans had gone to the Peace Parade Committee's office to request that they be featured prominently in the march. When asked who they were, they had said 'Vietnam veterans against the war'. A staff member at the office quickly made a banner reading 'Vietnam Veterans Against the War', and gave it to them.
When the demonstration started, the announcement 'Vietnam veterans to the front', was made. Crumb left the group of friends he had arrived with and made his way to the front.
Crumb found a fairly sizable contingent of veterans leading the parade, very few of whom were as young as he. Most of these were clearly veterans of other wars. At the very front of this group, though, he found the small group of men with the 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War' banner, and joined them.
08-21-02, 11:51 AM
When the parade ended, in front of the United Nations building, the group of Vietnam veterans broke up. Crumb wanted to find this group, Vietnam Veterans Against The War, and join it. His search first led him to Veterans for Peace, the organization of older veterans that had had its own presence in the parade. While talking with people at Veterans For Peace, he learned that there was no actual organization called 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War'. The people with that banner had been a collection of friends with a common viewpoint, and nothing more.
Crumb, determined that an organization of Vietnam veterans who were opposed to that war should exist, set his sites on creating it. On 30 May, 1967, he attended a peace demonstration in Washington DC with about ten like-minded men. Two days later, six Vietnam veterans met in Jan Crumb's New York City apartment. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was born on 1 June, 1967.
On 28 April, 1967, Muhammad Ali, having been denied conscientious objector status and having refused induction into the US Army, was arrested. Within minutes of Ali's official announcement that he would not submit to induction, the New York State Athletic Commission and World Boxing Association suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his heavyweight title. In an interview with a Sports Illustrated contributor, Ali said:
I'm giving up my title, my wealth, maybe my future. Many great men have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass this test, I'll come out stronger than ever.
Ultimately, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, released on appeal, and had his conviction overturned three years later.
Levitate the Pentagon?
On 15 October, 1967, the class clowns of the anti-war movement in the United States, the Yippies, led by Abbie Hoffman, led 50,000 people to an 'Exorcism of the Pentagon'. They had announced their intent to, by means of their combined psychic energy, levitate the Pentagon and exorcise it of the evil spirits that were killing Americans and Vietnamese people thousands of miles away.
The Pentagon was protected by more than 2500 Army troops and US Marshals. As the group surrounded the Pentagon and began chanting 'Ommmmm', the US Marshals moved in and began arresting demonstrators. A photograph taken at that demonstration was to become a symbol of the American anti-war movement. The photograph showed a protester putting a daisy into a police officer's gun.
The addition of flowers to readied weapons was the order of the day. While a total of 681 demonstrators were arrested, others continued to approach the soldiers and put flowers in the barrels of bayoneted M-14 rifles. One girl, dancing as she approached the soldiers, kept asking 'Will you take my flower? Please do take my flower. Are you afraid of flowers?'
The Pentagon didn't move noticeably.
Some Other People
Other people arrested for anti-war activities in 1967 included singer Joan Baez, physician Benjamin Spock and poet Allen Ginsberg.
The CIA started 'Operation Chaos' in 1967. This operation, which exceeded the CIA's statutory authority, was initiated in response to a request from President Johnson that the agency uncover any connection between anti-way groups and foreign interests. Before it was discontinued in 1973, the operation had indexed 300,000 names, kept 13,000 subject files and intercepted large numbers of letters and cables, compiling massive amounts of information on the domestic activities of US citizens. A partial list of organizations and individuals whose mail had been read by the CIA would include Grove Press, Women Strike for Peace, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The Ford Foundation, Harvard University, the Rockefeller Foundation, US Representative Bella Abzug, US Senators Humphrey, Kennedy and Church, Linus Pauling, Victor Reuther, Richard Nixon and Coretta Scott King, the wife of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King.
A Study Is Commissioned
In June, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S McNamara commissioned a top-secret study of US involvement in Southeast Asia. This study was to be written by a team of analysts who had access to classified documents. The results of that study, which was not completed until January, 1969, took 47 volumes and later gained fame, or infamy, as The Pentagon Papers.
The War Continues
In 1967, the United States launched a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Other significant campaigns were fought in Tay Ninh province, Khe Sanh, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh. In May, 1967, in air battles over Hanoi and Haiphong, America air forces shot down 26 North Vietnamese jets, decreasing the North's pilot strength by half. Also in May, 1967, American military forces intercepted North Vietnamese Army units moving in from Cambodia, resulting in nine days of continuous battles.
On 31 December, 1967, there were 485,600 American soldiers in Vietnam.
War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1968)
I don't know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
- Albert Einstein
The Battle of Khe Sanh
On 21 January, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army attacked the American air base at Khe Sanh, deploying 20,000 troops. The 5000 US Marines stationed there soon found themselves encircled and under siege. The US media began drawing parallels to the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu, in which the French were ultimately defeated.
President Johnson told Joint Chiefs Chairman General Earle Wheeler that he didn't 'want any damn Dinbinfoo'. Johnson personally sent off Marine reinforcements and told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he wanted a guarantee 'signed in blood' that the American force at Khe Sanh would not be defeated.
The battle at Khe Sanh lasted 77 days. At one point, groups of B-52 bombers were hitting North Vietnamese positions around Khe Sanh every 90 minutes, around the clock. Before the siege ended, the United States had dropped more than 110,000 tons of bombs in the area.
In June 1968, General Westmoreland determined that the base in Khe Sanh was no longer needed. He authorised abandoning and demolishing that base.
The Tet Offensive
On 30 January, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and NLF/PALF troops launched what is known as the Tet Offensive.
Tet Nguyen Dan, called 'Tet', is the Vietnamese holiday celebrating the lunar New Year. It's the most significant holiday in Vietnam. The Tet holiday is three days long, officially, but the celebration frequently lasts a full seven days. Vietnamese folk tradition holds that the events of these days forecast the events of the coming year. Generally, family feuds are ended, children go out of their way to behave well, and people try to lead their lives in a manner that bodes well for the coming year.
The Tet Offensive was a well-organized surprise attack in Saigon and 26 provincial capitals, among other cities and towns. Battles were raging in more than 100 locations within 48 hours.
American television crews in Saigon filmed an attack on the US embassy, and sent graphic footage showing the bloody battle, along with dead and wounded American soldiers to news networks. This footage was broadcast on television as part of the evening news, giving the American public a dinner-time view of the realities of war.
One of the cities attacked during Tet was Hue. During the Battle for Hue, 12,000 North Vietnamese Army and NLF/PALF troops stormed the city and systematically executed more than 3000 South Vietnamese government officials, South Vietnamese officers, Catholic priests and others that they had identified as 'enemies of the people'.
In what proved to be the heaviest fighting of the Tet Offensive, the South Vietnamese and US military retook Hue, one street, sometimes one house, at a time. US officials stated the casualty figures as 216 Americans killed and 1364 wounded, 384 South Vietnamese killed and 1830 wounded, and an estimated 5000 North Vietnamese and NLF/PALF troops killed, in Hue alone.
The Tet Offensive proved disastrous for the North Vietnamese military, which was defeated at every location. An estimated 37,000 North Vietnamese and NLF/PALF troops were killed over the course of the Offensive, as compared to about 2500 Americans.
The graphic news footage broadcast in the United States, along with the number of Americans killed, also had the effect of turning large portions of the American public against the war in Vietnam.
In Saigon, on 1 February, 1968, the police chief of South Vietnam, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed a suspected NLF/PALF guerrilla by shooting him in the head. An NBC news cameraman and an Associated Press still photographer, Eddie Adams, captured the execution on film. The photo taken by Eddie Adams was on the front page of most American newspapers the next morning. NBC news broadcast the execution as part of the nightly news
On 27 February, 1968, Walter Cronkite, the respected news anchor person for CBS, had just returned from Saigon. During his broadcast that night, he told the American public that he was certain that 'the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate'.
Public opinion polls after the Tet Offensive showed that President Johnson's overall approval rating by the American public was at 36 percent and approval of his Vietnam policy was at 26 percent.
08-21-02, 11:57 AM
The village of My Lai is in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, an area that was known to have had a heavy NLF/PALF concentration. On 16 March, 1968, members of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry US Army entered My Lai on a 'search and destroy' mission.
Hugh C Thompson Jr was flying his helicopter just above the treetops in a reconnaissance mission in support of the ground troops. Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta were in the helicopter with him.
Thompson, failing to see any NLF/PALF troops, decided to mark the location of wounded civilians with smoke so that the ground troops could begin treating some of them. 'The first one that I marked was a girl that was wounded', Thompson later testified, 'and they came over and walked up to her, put their weapon on automatic and let her have it'. Colburn told the Inspector General that the girl was about 20 years old and was lying on the edge of a dyke outside the village with part of her body in a rice paddy.
She had been wounded in the stomach, I think, or the chest. This captain [later identified as Ernest Medina] was coming down the dyke and he had men behind him. They were sweeping through and we were hovering a matter of feet away from them. I could see this clearly, and he emptied a clip into her'.
Thompson flew north back over the village and saw a small boy bleeding along a trench. Again he marked the spot so the ground troops could provide medical aid. What he saw then was a lieutenant casually walk up and empty a clip into the child. He saw another wounded youngster: again he marked it, and this time a sergeant came up and fired his M16 at the child. Colburn, who was 18-years-old at the time, stated that 'the infantrymen were killing everything in the village. The people didn't really know what was happening'.
Thompson tried to radio the troops on the ground to find out what was going on, and got no response. He then reported the wild firings and unnecessary shootings to brigade headquarters.
Thompson's testimony continued, 'I kept flying around and across a ditch... and it... had a bunch of bodies in it and I don't know how they got in the ditch. But I saw some of them were still alive'. He landed near the ditch, and asked a soldier there if he could help the people out: 'He said the only way he could help them was to help them out of their misery'. Thompson took off again, then landed a second time, after noticing a group of mostly women and children huddled together in a bunker near the ditch. 'I don't know, maybe it was just my belief, but I hadn't been shot at the whole time I had been there and the gunships following hadn't'. Thompson saw Lt Calley and '... asked him if I could get the women and kids out of there before they tore it up, and he said the only way he could get them out was to use hand grenades'.
Colburn testified that, before climbing out of his aircraft, Thompson '... told us that if any of the Americans opened up on the Vietnamese, we should open up on the Americans'. Thompson called in two helicopter gunships to rescue the civilians. While waiting for the gunships to land, Thompson '... stood between our troops and the bunker. He was shielding those people with his body. He just wanted to get those people out of there'. The helicopters landed and rescued nine persons - two old men, two women and five children.
After Thompson and Colburn took off again, Calley ordered his men to begin firing into the ditch to make sure there were no survivors. Calley told a squad leader to assemble a team to do the job. 'I really believe he expected me to do it', the team leader said. They headed for the hamlet plaza instead.
While this was going on, Thompson's helicopter landed again. Colburn and Andreotta had noticed some movement among the mass of bodies and blood in the ditch. They found a young child still alive. Andreotta climbed into the ditch. 'He was knee-deep in people and blood', Colburn recalled. The child was buried under bodies, still holding on to his dead mother. Thompson and his men flew the baby to safety.
One of the ground troops at My Lai was to testify that:
We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons. We had no casualties. It was just like any other Vietnamese village - old papa-sans, women and kids. As a matter of fact, I don't remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive. The only prisoner I saw was in his fifties.
In the end, 450 - 500 people were killed in My Lai that day.
Thompson filed a formal complaint relating to the events in My Lai on 16 March, 1968. An official investigation determined that there had been nothing out of the ordinary that day.
The American public first learned of the massacre in 1969, when reporter Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with Ron Ridenhour, a Vietnam veteran. Ridenhour had learned about what happened at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Only after appealing to Congress, the White House and the Pentagon to investigate the My Lai massacre did Ridenhour decide to go to the press. The story of My Lai was published in November 1969, two months after a military investigation resulted in Calley being charged with murder.
Calley testified that Captain Ernest Medina had ordered him to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. The court determined that the photographic and recorded evidence was great enough to convict only Calley. He was sentenced to life in prison. After a series of appeals, he was released in 1974 and issued a dishonourable discharge. After his discharge, Calley entered the insurance business. As of this writing, he manages a retail jewellery business.
A Melbourne, Australia newspaper published photographs of the My Lai massacre in December 1969. It was prosecuted for 'obscenity' but the charge was later dropped.
Clemson University professor David Egan knew about Hugh Thompson's stand against Medina, Calley and the rest of the ground troops at My Lai, and was determined that Thompson should be honoured for his actions that day in 1968. Egan and his wife began a letter-writing campaign in 1988, sending more than 100 letters to congressmen, senators, military officials and others.
In August 1996, the Army agreed to present Thompson with The Soldier's Medal, an award presented for heroism and voluntarily risking one's life under conditions other than those in conflict against the enemy. When informed that he would be presented with this award in a private ceremony in the Pentagon, Thompson refused. He insisted that the medal be presented at a place open to the public, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. He also insisted that Colburn and Andreotta receive the award as well. The three men were presented with the award in March 1998. Andreotta received it posthumously, having been killed in the line of duty in Vietnam three weeks after he helped rescue the civilians at My Lai.
WR Peers, the three-star Army General who lead the official inquiry into the My Lai massacre, described Thompson as a hero, saying 'He was the only American who cared enough to take action to protect the Vietnamese noncombattants. If there was a hero at My Lai, he was it'.
The US military has now incorporated accounts of Thompson's integrity, grace under fire and courageous deeds into cadet ethics courses at the US Air Force Academy.
On 12 March, 1968, President Johnson, who was planning on running for re-election in the presidential election to be held that November, won the New Hampshire Democratic primary election by only 300 votes. He was running against Eugene McCarthy, whose focus was solely on getting the United States out of Vietnam.
Four days later, Robert F Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. When asked about his anti-war stance, in light of his previous participation in forming President John F Kennedy's Vietnam policy, he stated:
Past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation.
On 31 March, 1968, President Johnson announced his decision not to seek re-election, with the words, 'If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve'. His announcement threw the Democratic Party into chaos. Until that announcement, it had been taken as given that he would be the Democratic candidate.
On 4 April, 1968, Reverend Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated. Dr King had been outspoken against US involvement in Vietnam and in his quest for civil rights for African-Americans. His assassination led to racial unrest in more than 100 American cities.
Two months later, on 5 June, 1968, Robert F Kennedy was shot and killed in a Los Angeles hotel just after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. Photojournalist, Harry Benson was present. He described the scene, and his reactions:
Bobby started to work his way toward the kitchen exit. I followed, and as I neared the kitchen, I heard a horrifying scream.
There's something about violence - you can feel it - and Martin Luther King had been assassinated just three months before. So I knew Bobby had been shot. I kept taking pictures, telling myself 'This is for history; mess up tomorrow, don't mess up today'.
People were screaming and crying; yelling 'F**k this country - not again, not again'. I was moving in and out like a rat, stuffing the exposed film into my socks so the police wouldn't find them and take them away. When it was all over and he'd been taken away, a young woman placed her straw campaign hat beside the pool of blood'.
08-21-02, 11:59 AM
The War Continues
On 11 April, 1968, US Secretary of Defense Clifford announced that General Westmoreland's request for 206,000 additional soldiers would not be granted.
On 30 April, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army, attempting to open an invasion corridor into South Vietnam, started a battle at Dai Do. A battalion of US Marines, under the command of Lt Col William Weise and assisted by heavy artillery and air strikes, succeeded in defending Dai Do. When the battle ended on 3 May, 1568 North Vietnamese troops had been killed, as well as 110 US troops killed and 427 wounded. This was the last attempt by North Vietnam to directly invade South Vietnam until 1972, after most of the Americans had left the country.
On 5 May, 1968, the NLF/PALF started what was called a 'Mini Tet', launching rocket and mortar attacks against Saigon and 119 cities and military installations in South Vietnam. The US responded with air strikes using Napalm and high explosives.
On 10 May, 1968, a North Vietnamese battalion attacked a Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, near the border of Laos. After North Vietnamese forces encircled the camp, US military forces were evacuated on C-130 transport planes. When the evacuation had been completed, it was discovered that three US Air Force controllers had been left behind. The camp was now in the hands of the North Vietnamese Army. Two C-130s had already been shot down. Lt Col Joe M Jackson, piloting a C-123 Provider, landed on the airstrip under intense fire, rescued the three controllers, and took off again. Jackson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On 30 September, 1968, the 900th US aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam.
October, 1968 saw the beginning of 'Operation Sealord', the largest combined naval operation of the entire war. More than 1200 US Navy and South Vietnamese Navy gunboats and warships targeted North Vietnamese Army supply lines from Cambodia to the Mekong Delta. This operation continued for two years.
On 31 October, 1968, President Johnson announced a complete halt of US bombing of North Vietnam. During the course of the three and one half year bombing campaign, an average of 800 tons of bombs per day had been dropped on North Vietnam. The bombing was Generally considered to have failed in its goal of stopping the flow of soldiers and supplies into South Vietnam. The secondary goal of damaging morale within North Vietnam had also failed. In fact, the bombing increased sentiment against the United States and North Vietnamese citizens had increased their support of their government in response to the bombing.
On 31 December, 1968, there were 536,100 American soldiers in Vietnam. 30,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam. An average of 1000 per month died during the course of that year. The war had left an estimated 4 million South Vietnamese civilians homeless.
On 5 January, 1968, Dr Benjamin Spock, William Sloan Coffin (the chaplain of Yale University), novelist Mitchell Goodman, Michael Ferber, (a graduate student at Harvard University) and Marcus Raskin (a peace activist) were charged with conspiracy to encourage violations of the draft laws by a grand jury in Boston. These charges were related to actions taken at a protest rally the previous October, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. On 14 June, 1968, Spock, Coffin, Goodman and Ferber were convicted. Raskin was acquitted.
On 23 April, 1968, students at Columbia University had planned a rally and occupation of the Low Administrative Building, to protest the University's participation in the Institute for Defense Analysis. Conservative students and University security blocked the occupation of the Low Building. The demonstrators marched to the site of a proposed new gymnasium at Morningside Heights to show support of neighbours who used the site for recreation. The demonstrators grew in numbers and militancy, until they ended up taking over five buildings on the campus; Hamilton, Low, Fairweather and Mathematics Halls, and the Architecture building. Seven days later police stormed the buildings and removed the student protesters and their supporters, at the request of the Columbia administration.
'The Whole World's Watching'
The announcement 'The Yippies are Going to Chicago', was first publicized on 7 July, 1968. The Yippies intended to hold a 'Festival of Life' at the Democratic National Convention, which was to be held in Chicago. They held that this was to contrast the convention, which they termed a 'Festival of Death'.
The Democratic National Convention opened on 26 August. Mayor Richard Daley was ready for trouble. Chicago's entire police force (11,900 officers) was on 12-hour shifts. At Daley's request, 6500 federal troops and 5000 members of the Illinois National Guard were put on active duty in Chicago. The convention hall was protected by barbed wire on the outside and filled with police officers and security personnel on the inside.
The number of demonstrators actually present in Chicago has been estimated at 10,000. There were a number of confrontations between the demonstrators and the police during the week before the official start of the convention and during the first two days of the convention. During the convention, demonstrators deliberately provoked the police, deliberately ignoring reasonable orders and shouting 'pig' or obscenities at them. The police managed to ignore these provocations, but did react angrily when the demonstrators sang 'God Bless America' or recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Yippies, to demonstrate their opinion of the available choices for President of the United States in the coming election, nominated their own candidate, a pig they had named Pigasus.
Commenting on the amount of media coverage they were receiving, demonstrators chanted the phrase 'The whole world's watching' at a rally on 27 August.
On Wednesday, 28 August, as the convention was nominating Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for president, about 3000 of the demonstrators prepared to parade to the convention hall. They had been denied the parade permit. Police told the demonstrators to disperse. In five minutes, several busloads of police reinforcements arrived.
Then, the events that came to be known as the 'Chicago Police Riot' occurred, while the whole world was watching. Members of the Chicago Police Department waded into the crowd. As demonstrators tried to flee, they were chased and beaten with fists and nightsticks. A window in the ground-floor lounge of the Chicago Hilton gave way under the pressure of the mob being forced against the building. About ten people fell through the broken glass into the lounge. Police officers followed them in and beat them, there on the floor of the lounge.
Aids to Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had unsuccessfully tried to gain the Democratic nomination for president, set up a makeshift hospital in their headquarters on the 15th floor of the hotel.
The police didn't limit themselves to attacking demonstrators. At least two convention delegates were dragged from the hall by police and beaten. News reporters, photographers, passers-by and members of the clergy were not exempt from attack. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine felt a nightstick that evening. A grandson of Winston Churchill, there in his capacity as a journalist, was beaten. Anne Kerr, a member of the British Parliament vacationing in Chicago, was maced and taken to jail.
Inside the convention centre, Senator Ribicoff grabbed the microphone and condemned what he called the 'Gestapo tactics' of Mayor Daley and the Chicago Police Department.
Representatives of the media, including major television networks from all over the world and virtually every major newspaper on the planet were there, witnessing, reporting and taking pictures for later publication or broadcasting live images of rampaging police officers.
Before the night was over, at least 100 protesters and others had gone to hospital emergency rooms due to injuries sustained at the hands of the police. It has been estimated that at least another 700 sustained injuries that did not require hospital treatment. 175 were arrested.
On the convention floor, reporter Dan Rather was shoved around by a group of Mayor Daley's bodyguards, prompting Walter Cronkite to say, on national television, 'Dan, it looks like there's a bunch of thugs down there'.
Not every person who had been called up to 'defend the City of Chicago' against the demonstrators answered the call. More than a dozen African-American soldiers, many of them Vietnam veterans, were arrested and court-martialled for refusing to mobilize against the anti-war demonstrators.
That was Wednesday night. At about 5am the following Friday, after the convention had ended, eleven Chicago police officers raided the Eugene McCarthy headquarters in the Chicago Hilton. The police officers, who did not have evidence or a search warrant, claimed that the campaign workers had thrown 'smoked fish, ashtrays and beer cans' from their 15th floor headquarters onto the police below. They clubbed the campaign workers, with one officer actually breaking his club on a volunteer's skull.
Mayor Daley stood by his Police Department, characterising the demonstrators as 'terrorists', who, he said, '...use[d] the foulest of language that you wouldn't hear in a brothel house'.
In addition to the events in Chicago that week, there had been 221 student protests at 101 colleges and universities, in 1968 alone, by that time.
When, in 1976, the Democratic National Convention was again held in Chicago, some police officers who had been on the force in 1968 wore t-shirts bearing the words 'We kicked their father's butt in '68 and now it's your turn'.
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In the November 1968 Presidential Election, Richard M Nixon, the Republican candidate whose campaign included a promise that he had 'a secret plan' to end the war in Vietnam, defeated the liberal Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey and the conservative independent candidate, George Wallace. Nixon received 43.4 percent of the popular vote, compared to Humphrey's 42.7 percent and Wallace's 13.5 percent.
On 27 November, 1968, President-elect Nixon asked Henry Kissinger, a professor at Harvard University, to be his National Security Advisor. Kissinger accepted.
War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1969-1970)
I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded... I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed... I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
- Dwight D Eisenhower
In 'Operation Dewey Canyon', elements of the Third Marine Division based in the Da Krong valley invaded Laos. This was to be the last major operation by US Marines in Vietnam.
On 23 February, 1969, a coordinated offensive by the NLF/PALF started. A total of 110 targets in South Vietnam, including the City of Saigon, were attacked. Two days later, 36 US Marines, camped near the border with North Vietnam, were killed in a raid conducted by the North Vietnamese Army.
US troops began offensive strikes in the area of the North Vietnamese border on 15 March, 1969.
On 17 March, 1969, President Nixon authorised 'Operation Menu'. This operation involved secretly bombing locations within the borders of Cambodia, targeting North Vietnamese supply bases near the border of Vietnam.
On 23 March, 1969, the Laotian Army launched a large attack against the Communists, supported by its own air units and the United States Air Force. In June, the enemy launched an attack of its own and gained ground. In August, Laotian forces attacked again and regained what had been lost. The United States Air Force flew hundreds of missions in each of these actions.
On 30 April, 1969, US troop levels were at 543,400. This was the highest level reached at any time during the war. A total of 33,641 Americans had been killed this date, more than had been killed during the entire Korean War.
The battle at 'Hamburger Hill', in the A Shau Valley near Hue, raged from 10 May through 20 May. The 101st Airborne had 46 members killed in the course of that battle. Another 400 were wounded. After US forces had taken the hill, the troops were ordered to abandon it by their commander. The North Vietnamese army moved in and recaptured the hill, unopposed
As a result of the fiasco at 'Hamburger Hill', which one US Senator labelled 'senseless and irresponsible', Commander General Creighton Abrams was ordered to avoid any further large-scale battles. Small unit actions were to be used instead.
On 8 June, 1969, President Nixon met with Nguyen Van Thieu, President of South Vietnam, and informed him that US troop levels were going to be sharply reduced. During a joint press conference with Thieu, Nixon announced a policy of 'Vietnamization' of the war and a reduction of US troops in Vietnam. The first phase of 'Vietnamization' was to include the withdrawal of 25,000 American military personnel.
The first US troops actually left Vietnam on 8 July, 1969. The 9th infantry Division sent 800 men home.
On 12 August, 1969, another NLF/PALF offensive started. The NLF/PALF staged attacks on 150 targets throughout South Vietnam.
North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack on 2 September, 1969. He was succeeded by Le Duan, who publicly read Ho Chi Minh's will, which urged the North Vietnamese to fight 'until the last Yankee has gone'.
President Nixon ordered additional US troop withdrawals on 16 September, 1969 (35,000) and 15 December, 1969 (50,000). The 16 September order included an order to reduce the number of draft call-ups.
There were 474,400 American soldiers in Vietnam on December 31, 1969.
The Pentagon Papers, the top-secret study of US involvement in Vietnam from World War II to May, 1968, were completed in January 1969. The study determined that US policy makers had engaged in miscalculation, bureaucratic arrogance, and deception regarding the role of the United States in Vietnam. It found that the US government had continually resisted full disclosure of increasing military involvement in Southeast Asia - air strikes over Laos, raids along the coast of North Vietnam, and offensive actions by US Marines that had taken place long before the American public was informed.
On 9 April, 1969, 300 students at Harvard University seized the administration building in protest of the war. They threw out eight deans and locked themselves in. They were later forcibly removed from the building.
In May 1969 The New York Times broke the news of the secret bombing of Cambodia. President Nixon ordered the FBI to wiretap the telephones of four journalists and 13 government officials to determine the source of news leak.
Students for a Democratic Society held its national convention in Chicago from 18 June through 22 June. The organisation split into at least two factions; the Progressive Labor Party and the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM). The Weathermen, later known as The Weather Underground1, a group that would shortly split from RYM, held an action it called The Days of Rage in Chicago from 6 October through 11 October.
On 27 June, 1969, Life magazine displayed portrait photos of all 242 Americans killed in Vietnam during the previous week, including the 46 killed at 'Hamburger Hill'. The impact of these photos, and some of the faces behind the numbers, stunned Americans and increased anti-war sentiment in the country.
Days of Rage
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
- Bob Dylan
On Monday, 6 October, just before midnight, members of the Weathermen blew up the United State's only monument to policemen. The statue in Chicago's Haymarket Square, a tribute to a police officer who was killed by a bomb thrown during the course of a union rally in 18862, was blown from its pedestal. Pieces of the statue's leg landed on a nearby expressway. The force of the explosion shattered about 100 windows in the area. Thus began the 'Days of Rage'.
Over the next two days, the members of the Weathermen practised their street-fighting techniques, in anticipation of a pitched battle with the Chicago Police Department during the 'official' Days of Rage protest, scheduled to start on Wednesday, 8 October. Weathermen organisers expected thousands, or tens of thousands, of protesters to show up in answer to their call to 'shut down the City of Chicago'.
That Wednesday evening, about 300 people had gathered in Lincoln Park. They were defensively armed with goggles, helmets, gas masks, heavy clothing and first aid kits. Their intent to be on the giving, as well as the receiving, end of the violence was obvious. In addition to their defensive supplies, they had clubs, lead pipes, chains and brass knuckles. Hundreds of bemused Chicago police officers were watching the activities of this tiny gathering.
After a few incendiary speeches, the demonstrators ran into the streets of Chicago as a mob. One person threw a rock through a bank window. That started the mass destruction. One pedestrian, observing the chaos, yelled to the mob 'I don't know what your cause is, but you've just set it back a hundred years.' Dave Dellinger, who had provided a safe house for members of the Weathermen, hadn't known what was coming. He described himself as 'a disgusted observer'.
The battle lasted about an hour. By the time it was over, six members of the Weathermen had been shot, nearly 70 had been arrested and an unknown number were injured. The next morning, the Weatherman's 'women's militia' staged a repeat performance of the previous night. They were quickly subdued.
After a day of quiet, the 200 Weathermen not in jail or too badly injured to continue, again started rioting in the streets. It didn't take much more than 30 minutes until more than half of them had been arrested, most of those having been bloodied or bruised in the process. The most serious injury of the day was sustained by a City Council official who had wanted 'in on the action'. Diving to tackle one of the protesters, he ended up crashing into a brick wall and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Some of the people who had shown up for the demonstrations began having second thoughts about engaging in hand-to-hand combat with armed police officers who outnumbered them. One teenager, who had been arrested early on, said from his jail cell, 'The guys in here are war-monguls [sic]. They all want a revolution and they are all with SDS. They are all f**king crazy'.
Some other protesters admitted to admiring the actions that took place during the Days of Rage, but most were disgusted. One member of SDS in Wisconsin expressed his opinion with the words 'You don't need a rectal thermometer to know who the a**eholes are'.
On 15 October, 1969, the 'Moratorium' peace demonstration was held in Washington and other US cities. Millions of Americans, throughout the country, participated.
One month after the 'Moratorium', on 15 November, 1969, the 'Mobilization' peace demonstration in Washington DC had a crowd estimated at from 250,000 to 500,000. This event remains the largest single anti-war protest in US history.
That day's demonstration came immediately after the completion of a 40-hour 'March Against Death', in which 40,000 individuals filed past the White House, each bearing the name of a United States soldier who had died in Vietnam.
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A solid row of municipal buses was parked along the curb between the marchers and the White House. Hundreds of armed troops guarded national landmarks in the city. Neither they nor the members of the Washington DC Police Department found any cause for immediate alarm.
The march along Pennsylvania Avenue was kept peaceful and on the scheduled route by a hand-to-hand line, doubled in some places, of marshals. One protester said that the marshals were 'more officious than the police'.
Those in attendance included three United States Senators, Eugene McCarthy, George S McGovern, and Charles E Goodell, a Republican. Also present were Correta Scott King, comedian/activist Dick Gregory, Mary of the musical folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, actor-playwright Adolphe Green, composer Leonard Bernstein, singers Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger (composer of 'If I Had A Hammer' and 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone'), John Denver, Mitch Miller, and the touring cast of the Broadway play Hair.
The organisers of this demonstration had received praise from Pham Van Dong, Prime Minister of North Vietnam. In a letter to the organisers, Dong said '... may your fall offensive succeed splendidly'. This was the first time that the government of North Vietnam publicly acknowledged the American anti-war movement. Dong's comments enraged American conservatives, including Vice President Spiro Agnew. Agnew labelled the protesters 'Communist dupes comprised of an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterise themselves as intellectuals.'
The District of Columbia Police Chief, Jerry Wilson, said a 'moderate' estimate was that 250,000 had paraded on Pennsylvania Avenue and attended the anti-war rally at the Washington Monument. Other city officials said aerial photographs showed that the crowd had exceeded 300,000.
The next day, the United States Army publicly discussed events surrounding the My Lai massacre for the first time.
In January of 1970, in his State of the Union Address, President Nixon called bringing the war in Vietnam to an end 'a major goal of United States policy'. Later that month, the United States command in Saigon announced the bombing of a military base in North Vietnam, in retaliation for North Vietnam's having fired on a reconnaissance plane. An American jet and a rescue helicopter were destroyed in the retaliatory raid.
In March, there was rioting in Cambodia, against the presence of North Vietnamese troops and NLF/PALF guerrillas. Ultimately, Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown and Lieutenant General Lon Nol seized power.
Also in March of 1970, the United States Army charged 14 officers with suppressing information about the mass killing of civilians two years earlier at My Lai.
In April, President Nixon promised to withdraw another 150,000 American troops from Vietnam over the coming year, and the United States military suspended the use of Agent Orange.
On 30 April, 1970, President Nixon announced that United States combat troops and B-52 bombers would enter Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese and Vietcong sanctuaries and supplies. Excerpts from the speech in which he made that announcement include the following comments:
Ten days ago in my report to the nation on Vietnam I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year....
... And at that time I warned that if I included that if increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.
Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia....
... Cambodia, as a result of this, has sent out a call to the United States, to a number of other nations, for assistance. Because if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation....
... Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam. The key control centre has been occupied by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong for five years in blatant violation of Cambodia's neutrality....
... I realise in this war there are honest deep differences in this country about whether we should have become involved, that there are differences to how the war should have been conducted.
But the decision I announce tonight transcends those differences, for the lives of American men are involved. The opportunity for 150,000 Americans to come home in the next 12 months is involved. The future of 18 million people in South Vietnam and seven million people in Cambodia is involved, the possibility of winning a just peace in Vietnam and in the Pacific is at stake.
Protest - Kent State University
In the days following the Presidential announcement, students on University campuses across the United States were protesting the US invasion of Cambodia. At Kent State University in Ohio, protesters threw rocks and broke some windows. Some students tried to burn the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) building.
On 3 May, 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes called in the National Guard.
The National Guard units that responded were poorly trained and had just completed riot duty elsewhere. The first day, there was some brutality; members of the National Guard bayoneted two men, one of whom was a disabled veteran, who had cursed or yelled at them from cars.
On 4 May, the National Guard marched down a hill, to a field in the middle of angry demonstrators, then back up again. Seconds before they would have passed around the corner of a large building, and out of sight of the crowd, some of the Guardsmen wheeled and fired directly into the students, hitting 13 and killing four of them. The firing lasted for 13 seconds. Guardsmen later admitted to firing at specific unarmed targets; one man shot a demonstrator who was giving him the finger. The unarmed students who were shot raged from 60 feet to 700 feet away from the Guardsmen.
The targets were not limited to protesting students. Two of the four who had been killed were simply on their way to class. Most of the Guardsmen later testified that they turned and fired because everyone else had. The question of who fired the first shot, or gave the order to fire, has never been answered. The Guardsmen were not in any immediate physical danger when they fired. The demonstrators were not following them and they were seconds away from being out of sight of the demonstration.
The four students killed by members of the Ohio National Guard were: Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder.
The Guardsmen were never prosecuted by the State of Ohio, for any crime. President Nixon announced any number of investigations, none of which reached any clear conclusions. White House tapes released later showed that Nixon thought demonstrators were 'bums'3, had asked the Secret Service to go beat them up, and apparently felt that the Kent State victims 'had it coming'.
Protest - Jackson State College
On 14 and 15 May, 1970, students at Jackson State College in Mississippi were protesting violence and discrimination against African-American students and the killings at Kent State University.
At around 9.30pm, rumours were spread that the Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, Charles Evers (brother of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers), and his wife had been shot and killed. Upon hearing this rumour, a group of students rioted.
The rioting students set several fires and overturned a dump truck. Jackson firefighters sent to the fire were greeted by a hostile crowd. Fearing for their safety, the firemen requested police back-up.
75 city policemen and Mississippi State Police officers responded. They were armed with carbines, submachine guns, shotguns and service revolvers. After the firefighters extinguished all of the fires and left, the police and state troopers marched toward Alexander Center, a women's residence, with their weapons at the ready, pushing the students back.
The students were soon crowded in front of the dormitory. The officers deployed into a line facing the students. Someone in the crowd either threw or dropped a bottle, which shattered on the asphalt with a loud popping noise. At the same time, an officer fell, having been struck by a thrown object.
Accounts disagree as to what happened next. Some students said that the police issued a warning before opening fire. Others said that the police opened fire on the crowd and the dormitory without any warning. Other witnesses said that the students were under the control of a campus security officer when the police opened fire. Police representatives said that they spotted a powder flare in a window of the dormitory and opened fire in self-defense. Two local television news reporters who were on the scene said that a shot was fired, but they were uncertain of where the shot had originated. A radio reporter claimed to have seen an arm and a pistol extending from a dormitory window.
What is not in doubt is that the police opened fire at approximately 12.05am, 15 May, and continued firing for more than 30 seconds. The students scattered. Some ran for the trees in front of the library, but most tried to get through the doors into Alexander Hall.
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When the order to cease fire was given, 21-year-old Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, the father of an 18-month-old son, and 17-year-old James Earl Green, a local high school student who had been walking home and stopped to watch the action, were dead.
An additional 12 Jackson State students were wounded, including one who had been sitting in the lobby of the dormitory lobby. The dormitory building was riddled with bullet holes. FBI investigators estimated that more than 460 rounds struck the building, shattering every window facing the street on each floor. Investigators counted at least 160 bullet holes in the outer walls of the stairwell.
Protest Around the Country
After the events at Kent State and Jackson State, there was a wave of demonstrations on hundreds of college campuses. There were an average of 100 demonstrations or student strikes per day in the United States. More than 500 colleges had to temporarily close their doors.
On 13, June, 1970, President Nixon established 'The President's Commission on Campus Unrest'. The Commission held 13 days of public hearings in Jackson, Mississippi; Kent State, Ohio; Washington DC and Los Angeles, California. No convictions or arrests of any military or law enforcement officer resulted from these hearings.
The anti-war movement was not without its own advocates of violence. According to the FBI, in 1970 alone, an estimated 3000 bombings and 50,000 bomb threats occurred in the United States. A large percentage of these were carried out by self-styled revolutionaries within the anti-war movement.
The War Continues
On 1 May, 1970, United States military forces joined the South Vietnamese troops who had entered Cambodia. The 30,000 members of the US military, along with their South Vietnamese counterparts, discovered large North Vietnamese supply depots. They captured 28,500 weapons, more than 16 million rounds of small arms ammunition and 14 million pounds of rice. There were more than 10,000 North Vietnamese casualties over the course of this 60-day action.
In June, President Nixon announced that the action in Cambodia had been successful, and that the withdrawal of American soldiers from South Vietnam would resume. US intelligence operatives were of the opinion that entering Cambodia had helped to unite communists in Indochina and had resulted in closer ties to China.
Towards the end of June, 1970, the United States Senate adopted a bill to limit Presidential action in Cambodia without Congressional approval.
In August, American journalists reported that the United States was operating secret bombing missions in Cambodia. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird denied these reports.
United States Special Forces made a surprise raid on the Son Tay prison camp, just 23 miles outside of Hanoi, in September of 1970. This raid was an attempt to rescue prisoners of war. Upon their arrival at the camp, they found that it had been deserted.
There were 335,800 American soldiers in Vietnam on December 31, 1970.
War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1971)
On 1 January, 1971, the United States Congress outlawed the presence of US troops in Laos or Cambodia. On 19 January, United States forces began a series of air strikes against North Vietnamese Army supply camps in Laos and Cambodia.
On 30 January, the South Vietnamese Army initiated a ground offensive - Operation Lam Son 719. The first seven days of this action was dubbed 'Operation Dewey Canyon II'. 17,000 South Vietnamese soldiers assaulted a force of 22,000 North Vietnamese soldiers inside Laos. The United States military provided heavy artillery, air strikes and helicopter lifts in support of this operation. The North Vietnamese Army had time to bring in reinforcements as the invading force stalled after reaching its first objective. The battle ended on 6 April, when 40,000 North Vietnamese troops drove the surviving 8000 South Vietnamese back across the border. The North Vietnamese Army suffered an estimated 20,000 casualties, while the South Vietnamese Army reported 7682 casualties; about half of the original invasion force. The United States had 215 killed, more than 100 helicopters lost and more than 600 helicopters damaged. Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows, who had been working in Vietnam for ten years, was among the American dead.
By this time, American participation in the war in Vietnam had lost any remnant of popular support. A Gallup poll in January 1971 showed that 60% of Americans with a college education favoured withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, 75% of those with a high-school education favoured withdrawal, and 80% of those with only a grade-school education favoured withdrawal.
As support for the war effort continued to decrease within the United States, so did the morale among the American troops in Vietnam. A Defense Department task force report released in January 1971 stated the drug abuse by American military personnel in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Far East was becoming a 'military problem'.
Protest - the 'Winter Soldier Investigation'
From 31 January through 2 February, 1971, Vietnam Veterans Against the War sponsored the 'Winter Soldier Investigation'. The name of this action came from a criticism of people that Thomas Paine, in 1776, called 'sunshine patriots', who left service in the Revolutionary War at the end of summer. Paine had praised those he called 'winter soldiers', who fought year-round.
The 'Winter Soldier Investigation' was the first national action sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The investigation took the form of a war crimes hearing. Veterans testified about war crimes they had committed or witnessed, against enemy troops and against Vietnamese civilians. This was an attempt to show that the My Lai Massacre was not a case of a single, out-of-control unit, but was standard operating procedure.
Testimony covered the mistreatment of prisoners, stories of a convoy running down old women for no reason, bounties being placed on American soldiers who were considered inadequate in the field, levelling villages for no valid reason, throwing suspected NLF/PALF members from aircraft after binding them with copper wire and gagging them, torture of prisoners, tear gassing people for fun, running civilian vehicles off the road, rapes, the slaughter of animals, the mutilation of bodies, the crucifixion of suspected NLF/PALF members and the falsification of body counts.
Over the three days, about 100 veterans and 16 civilians gave graphic, disturbing testimony detailing their war experiences. The Republican Senator from Oregon, Mark Hatfield, entered the testimony into the Congressional Record and requested official hearings into the conduct of US forces in the war.
During March 1971, public opinion polls showed that President Nixon's approval rating among Americans had dropped to 50%. Approval of his Vietnam strategy has fallen to 34%. Half of all Americans polled believed the war in Vietnam to be 'morally wrong'.
On 1 March, 1971, the revolutionary faction within the anti-war movement again made its voice heard. A bomb damaged Capitol in Washington DC. This bomb had apparently been planted as a way of protesting the invasion of Laos.
In April 1971, the North Vietnamese Army attacked several military bases in South Vietnam. In view of the fact that the American and South Vietnamese armies had been claiming that their incursions into Laos had been successful, these attacks resulted in a lowering of morale among American and South Vietnamese soldiers.
Later that month, President Nixon announced that another 100,000 US troops would be withdrawn from South Vietnam by 1 December. President Nixon promised to end US involvement in the war in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, President Nixon stated that 'some' US troops would remain in Vietnam indefinitely if the North Vietnamese government refused to release American Prisoners of War.
Protest - Operation Dewey Canyon III
18 April, 1971
Vietnam veterans began arriving in Washington DC, marking the beginning of what many Americans considered to be the most powerful, moving protest held against this war, or any war in recent history. They named this protest 'Operation Dewey Canyon III', on the grounds that just as Operation Dewey Canyon and Operation Dewey Canyon II were incursions into a foreign country (Laos), this was a 'limited incursion into the foreign country of Congress'.
This event is believed to be the first time in United States history that returning servicemen had so strongly voiced opposition to a war that was still raging.
19 April, 1971
A group of mothers whose sons had died in Vietnam lead about 1100 veterans, some of whom were in wheelchairs or on crutches, across the Lincoln Memorial Bridge to Arlington National Cemetery. Reverend Jackson Day, who had resigned his military chaplaincy a few days earlier, held a short ceremony for the war dead. The ceremony was held just outside the cemetery, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the grave of John F Kennedy.
A delegation of mothers and veterans found that they were barred from entering the Cemetery after the ceremony. They laid two memorial wreaths at the entrance and joined the other mothers and veterans marching towards the Capitol.
While the marchers were making their way to the Capitol Building, they were joined by Congressman Paul McClosky. McClosky, Representative Bella Abzug and others addressed the veterans when they had assembled at the steps of the Capitol. Some of the veterans went into the building to directly lobby members of Congress against the war.
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After the rally, the veterans marched to the National Mall, where they were to camp for the duration of the planned week-long protest. An injunction against veterans camping on the Mall had been obtained by the United States Justice Department , but this injunction was lifted by the Washington District Court of Appeals.
20 April, 1971
About 200 veterans attended hearings on proposals to end the war, which were being held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When the hearings were not in session, they spent the day lobbying members of Congress.
Another group of veterans, also numbering about 200, marched back to Arlington National Cemetery, parading across the Lincoln Memorial Bridge in single file. They were of the opinion that being denied access was far too serious an affront to go unanswered. The Superintendent again tried to stop them from entering the cemetery, but ended up allowing them in.
That evening, Senators Claiborne Pell and Philip Hart held a fund-raising party for the veterans. During the party it was announced that Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court had reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The veterans were given until 4.30 the following afternoon to break camp and leave the National Mall.
21 April, 1971
On this day, a group of about 50 veterans marched to the Pentagon. They attempted to turn themselves in as war criminals, based on the actions they had taken, or failed to report or try to stop, while in Vietnam. They were turned away.
At 4.30pm, an alarm clock rang over the microphone at the speaker's platform in the Mall. It was the time that the Supreme Court had designated for the veterans to leave. There were no police officers to be seen. The Supreme Court was meeting in special session. The area around the mall was filled with citizens curious to see what would happen next.
At 5.30pm, Ramsey Clark announced that the Supreme Court had come up with a second option for the veterans. They could stay on the Mall as long as they didn't sleep. If they slept in the Mall, they would be arrested. The veterans put the question to a vote. Do they sleep or not? The voting was close, but the decision, to which all agreed to abide, was to sleep.
The Washington Park Police announced that they had no intention of inspecting the campsite to make sure that nobody was sleeping. At midnight, Senator Edward Kennedy visited the veterans on the Mall, where he talked and sang with them for an hour. The veterans then slept through the night, unmolested.
22 April, 1971
A large contingent of the veterans marched to the steps of the Supreme Court, to publicly ask why that Court had not ruled on the constitutionality of the war in Vietnam, which was being waged despite the fact that Congress had never declared the United States to be at war. The Washington police department arrested110 veterans for disturbing the peace.
The District Court judge who had originally issued it dissolved the injunction against camping in the National Mall. He criticized the Justice Department for requesting the court order and then not enforcing it.
23 April, 1971
The final day of Operation Dewey Canyon III attracted the attention of the media, and the imagination of the country. As Congressman Jonathan Bingham held hearings with former intelligence and public information officers regarding the distortion of news and information concerning the war and Senators George McGovern and Philip Hart held hearings on atrocities committed by US soldiers in Vietnam, some of those soldiers dramatically returned their medals and campaign ribbons.
About 800 veterans marched up to a barricade that had been erected around the Capitol to keep them away. The irony of the United States government fencing off the Capitol from it veterans was not lost on the media or the American public. One by one, they approached the barricade, said a few words, and threw back their Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars and campaign ribbons.
I pray that time will forgive me and my brothers for what we did. Spec. 4, army, retired. I'm taking nine purple hearts, Distinguished Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star and a lot of other ****. This is for my brothers.
- Paul F Withers threw the medals away and limped off.
Robert, New York, and I symbolically return all Vietnam medals and other service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against non-white peoples of the world!
This is for the brothers and sisters at Kent.
22nd Calvary strike Danang. I hope they realize this is their last ******* chance.
< <BLOCKQUOTE>My name is John and here's a bunch of bulls**t'!
At the end of the week of protests, the veterans planted a tree in the Mall, as a symbolic plea for the preservation of all life and the environment. No act of violence had been committed during the entire week.
It was later revealed that President Nixon had wanted to attack the protesters, but had been talked out of that idea by advisor Pat Buchanan, who told Nixon that 'this would be a mistake', and that the last thing he (Nixon) needed was for Vietnam veterans to be attacked by the Washington police.
Protest - 'Stop the Government'
The day after the veterans had returned their medals, 24 April, 1971, more than 500,000 demonstrators arrived in Washington DC. They intended to shut down the federal government by stopping the flow of traffic into the city on May Day.
Police agents had infiltrated the demonstrators and obtained their 'tactical manual' for the action.
A retired police officer who was on duty that day recalls:
They looked at all of the major access routes coming into the District from Maryland and Virginia, and they made assignments to demonstrators where they could go to block the streets. They were going to come out in waves, so that when the first wave got arrested, the second wave would fill the streets and then a third wave and so on. They had done a pretty good job.
A lot of them came down because they felt very strongly about what they were doing, and a lot of them came for adventure. And adventure meant confrontation.
As a result of the careful planning and disciplined response by the Washington DC Police Force, the city stayed open. Between 3 May and 5 May, about 12,000 protesters were arrested, including ex-Marine Daniel Ellsberg. The Washington DC Police set a United States record for the largest number of people arrested in one city over the course of a single day. Just six years previously, 12,000 would have been considered an unexpectedly large total turnout for an anti-war rally.
The Pentagon Papers Go Public
On 13 June, 1971, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on the top secret Pentagon Papers. The Justice Department obtained a court injunction against further publication on the grounds that the publication of the study was endangering national security. On 18 June, the Washington Post began publishing the Pentagon Papers. On 30 June, by a vote of six to three, the United States Supreme Court ruled that constitutional guarantees of a free press overrode other considerations, and allowed the publication of the Pentagon Papers to go on.
The source of the Pentagon Papers leak, Daniel Ellsberg, had surrendered himself to the police on 28 June, to face charges of espionage, theft and conspiracy, with codefendant Anthony J Russo. Almost two years later, on 11 May, 1973, a federal court judge would dismiss all of the charges against Ellsberg and Russo, due to improper government conduct1.
In June of 1971, at a secret meeting in Paris, the North Vietnamese government presented a nine-point peace proposal to Henry Kissinger. The North Vietnamese plan called for the withdrawal of all United States military personnel in Southeast Asia, withdrawal of all United States support of the Thieu government in South Vietnam, the forming of a single Vietnamese government of 'national concord' and a cease-fire following agreement on political and withdrawal issues.
On 22 June, 1971, the United States Senate passed a non-binding resolution urging the withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam by the end of the year.
Comments by United States Senators in June 1971 include:
The only possible excuse for the continuing discredited policy of Vietnamization, the war, now and in the months ahead seems to be the President's intention to play his last great card for peace at a time closer to November 19722.
- Senator Edward Kennedy
I cannot, I cannot believe and I do not believe that most of our countrymen believe, that a plan for peace necessitates bombing four countries, invading two, in order to get out of one.
- Senator Birch Bayh
There are many who today are disenchanted with the conflict. There were very few at the outset, either Republicans or Democrats, who opposed the ever deepening involvement; indeed, who did not support or acquiesce in it.
- Senator Mike Mansfield
In October of 1971, South Vietnamese President Nguyen was re-elected. The United States had announced its acceptance of the non-contested election.
That same month, former United States President Lyndon B Johnson released his White House memoirs. In these memoirs, he stated that the Kennedy Administration's role in the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was 'a serious blunder' and was a major factor in his subsequent commitment of ground combat forces in Vietnam.
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On 2 August, 1971, the United States government admitted that there were, at that time, 30,000 CIA-sponsored irregulars operating in Laos.
From 26 December through 30 December, The United States greatly intensified the bombing of airfields, anti-aircraft sites and supply depots in North Vietnam, saying that North Vietnam had violated the agreements surrounding the 1968 suspension of bombing.
On 31 December, 1971, there were 156,800 American soldiers in Vietnam.
On 9 October, 1971, Members of the US First Air Cavalry Division refused an assignment to go out on patrol by expressing 'a desire not to go'. This was one of several refusals by members of the American military to participate further in the war.
The spraying of any herbicides in South Vietnam was discontinued in 1971. Herbicides containing Dioxin, an ingredient in Agent Orange, had been banned in the United States three years earlier. From 10 August, 1961, through 31 October, 1971, 19,395,369 gallons of herbicide had been used in South Vietnam. This is an average of 5193 gallons per day, over the course of 3735 days. On 17 April, 1995, researchers found that during the spraying of Agent Orange, Dioxin levels in human tissue were as much as 900 times greater in the people of southern Vietnam than in the people of northern Vietnam, where Agent Orange had not been used.
War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1972-1975)
All warfare is based on deception.
- Sun Tzu
1972 - 1973: The End?
In January, 1972, President Nixon announced that the United States would continue to withdraw from Vietnam in coming months, removing another 70,000 troops over the next three months, but stated that 25,000 to 35,000 American troops would remain until the North Vietnamese released all the American prisoners of war.
The North Vietnamese government informed the United States, at the Paris talks, that its prisoners of war would not be released until the US agreed to withdraw all of its military forces.
In the following month, the United States bombed North Vietnamese bases along the Laos/South Vietnam border, to prevent a potential North Vietnamese offensive operation. United States commander General Creighton Abrams stated that troop morale was up and drug addiction among military personnel in Vietnam was down.
On 23 March, 1972, the United States suspended the peace talks in Paris, citing North Vietnamese refusal to seriously discuss concrete issues.
On 30, March, 1972, the North Vietnamese Army began a new offensive. After a day of heavy artillery fire, more than 20,000 North Vietnamese troops crossed the border into South Vietnam, forcing the South Vietnamese army into a disorganized retreat. The United States responded with heavy bombing of North Vietnam and by mining Haiphong Harbour.
In April of 1972, North Vietnamese forces attacked the cities of Hue, Quang Tri and Dong Ha. They were forced to retreat from Hue, where the South Vietnamese Army had assistance from a division of US Marines and American B-52 bombers, but took control of Quang Tri and Dong Ha by 1 May.
A battle for control of the provincial capital of An Loc, 60 miles North of Saigon, went on throughout the spring of 1972. The United States began bombing around the North Vietnamese city of Hai Phong, 60 miles East of Hanoi.
On 4 April, 1972, President Nixon authorized massive bombing of the North Vietnamese troops invading South Vietnam, saying, in private, 'The bastards have never been bombed like they're going to be bombed this time'. On 15 April, Hanoi and Haiphong Harbour were bombed by the United States.
On 19 April, the North Vietnamese Army attacked the city of An Loc.
On 8 May 72, President Nixon ordered the mining of all North Vietnamese ports. He took this action without first consulting Congress. When he announced his decision to do this, he stated that it was to prevent the flow of arms and other supplies to North Vietnam until all American prisoners of war were returned and the North Vietnamese government agreed to an internationally supervised ceasefire. The government of North Vietnam called Nixon's decision to mine Hai Phong harbour and step up the air war 'the gravest step in escalation of the war to date'.
Also in May, the South Vietnamese army abandoned Quang Tn, the northernmost provincial capital in South Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops advanced in northern Binh Dinh Province on the central coast. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu declared martial law and dismissed the military commander in the Central Highlands, Lieut General Ngo Dzu, as a result of the loss of Quang Tn.
The Peace Talks in Paris resumed on 27 April, but were suspended again in May.
The 4 April decision to resume bombing in Vietnam sparked a series of protests across the United States. The decision to mine Haiphong Harbour intensified opposition within the United States to the continuing war in Vietnam. About 1,000 students at the University of Florida formed a blockade in front of that institution's student union. Hundreds of police officers from all of the surrounding counties responded, arresting more than 400 students.
In May 1972, the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for publishing the Pentagon Papers.
The Southern Regional Co-ordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Bill Lemmer, revealed himself as an undercover FBI operative in May of 1972. Eight people, seven of whom were Vietnam veterans, were charged with conspiring to disrupt the Republican National Convention, which was to be held in Miami, Florida, that summer.
When it was revealed that members of VVAW had attempted to order slingshots, to use for defence during demonstrations they had planned, they were charged with being a subversive organization and a threat to the United States government. The eight who had been arrested became known as 'The Gainesville [Florida] Eight'. Folk singers Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs came to the support of The Gainesville Eight, as did the paralyzed Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, whose life story was later told in the Oliver Stone movie Born on the Fourth of July. All eight were acquitted, after the Republican National Convention had ended.
Bad Press for the Anti-War Movement
In July of 1972, actress Jane Fonda travelled to North Vietnam and toured the area for two weeks. While there, she made four broadcasts on North Vietnamese radio. On 14 July, 1972, she said:
This is Jane Fonda speaking from Hanoi, and I'm speaking particularly to the US servicemen... I don't know what your officers tell you... but [your] weapons are illegal and that's not just rhetoric... The men who are ordering you to use these weapons are war criminals according to international law, and in the past, in Germany and Japan, men who committed these kinds of crimes were tried and executed.
In another broadcast, she quoted Ho Chi Minh and referred to President Nixon as a 'new-type Hitler'. She advised South Vietnamese soldiers to desert, saying 'You are being used as cannon fodder for US imperialism'.
Speaking to the men on the aircraft carriers in the area, she said 'Use of these bombs or condoning the use of these bombs makes one a war criminal'. To the pilots of the American planes; 'Examine the reasons given to justify the murder you are being paid to commit'. Upon returning to the United States, she addressed university students, starting her comments with 'I bring greetings from our Vietnamese brothers and sisters'.
Although her popularity increased with the more militant anti-war faction within the United States, many Americans considered her words and actions nothing less than treason.
In 1988, Jane Fonda expressed some measure of regret for her 1972 statements. In an interview with Barbara Walters, she had this to say:
I would like to say something, not just to Vietnam veterans in New England, but to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm... very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families.
To some Americans, Jane Fonda will always be 'Hanoi Jane'.
Bad Press for the United States Military
At about this time, a Vietnamese photographer, Nick Ut, was on a road near Trang Bang, where the village had just been bombed with napalm. He captured an image that was to disturb Americans who had previously supported US involvement in Vietnam. Five children were running down the road, their mouths open with cries of terror. One girl was completely naked.1 She had torn off her clothing, because it was on fire. Some soldiers appeared to be casually walking down the road behind the children.
The war was 'winding down'. Napalm was supposed to be used to clear terrain, not as an anti-personnel weapon. The United States was supposedly trying to save the village. The United States was supposed to be the 'good guys'. Americans found themselves wondering why the 'good guys' dropped napalm on children2.
On 11 July, 1972, a North Vietnamese Army attack on An Loc was defeated by South Vietnamese troops, with the assistance of American B-52 air strikes. Eight days later, South Vietnamese troops started a major counter-offensive campaign against the North Vietnamese Army in Binh Dinh Province.
The last US ground combat troops left Vietnam on 23 August, 1972. Less than a month later, on 16 September, South Vietnamese troops recaptured Quang Tri City. US air support continued. On 29 September, US raids against airfields in North Vietnam destroyed ten per cent of the North Vietnamese Air Force.
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The Paris Peace Talks resumed on 13 July, 1972. The following day, The Democratic Party chose Senator George McGovern, an outspoken critic of the war, as their candidate for president in the upcoming election. McGovern advocated 'immediate and complete withdrawal' from Vietnam.
On 1 August, Henry Kissinger again met with North Vietnamese President Le Duc Tho in Paris. South Vietnamese President Thieu said that he was determined to reject all forms of coalition government for South Vietnam.
Finally, on 8 October, 1972, the United States government agreed to allow North Vietnamese troops already in South Vietnam to remain and the North Vietnamese government dropped its demand that South Vietnamese President Thieu step down so the entire South Vietnamese government could be dissolved. Some members of Henry Kissinger's staff were worried about the continued presence of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, but Kissinger knew what his priorities were. 'I want this war to end before the election' he said.
President Thieu did not have the same priorities. Thieu refused to have anything to do with a proposal that allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in South Vietnam. On 24 October, Thieu publicly denounced the peace proposal.
Hoang Duc Nha, at that time an aide to President Thieu, later recalled how the proposed peace settlement had been presented to the South Vietnamese government.
We say, fine, you know, thank you, could, could we see the text? And, we want to have time to study the text. Of course, they gave us the text in English, and at that time I thought I say, if our opposition knew that, that right this moment we were discussing the fate of a country in a text in English, boy, you know, it would be so bad that we shouldn't even think about it! So I ask, I say, where is the Vietnamese text? Oh, we forgot, and I say, what do you mean, you forgot? The other side, I know they don't present a text to you in English. You know between Vietnamese, we know each other, you know, there is something called national pride, and you present your own language. They say, oh this is good translation, and we have our own translators, I don't know what the name, what is the name of the guy he gave; I say, you mean to tell me an American is, you know, understand Vietnamese better than Vietnamese? We want to see the Vietnamese text.
In the United States, Supreme Court voted 7-2 to decline to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of American involvement in Vietnam (Sarnoff vs Schultz). Justices Douglas and Brennan dissented, expressing their opinion that the Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to declare war, and thus 'impliedly bars its exercise by the executive branch'.
On 26 October, 1972 , Radio Hanoi revealed the terms of the peace proposal and accused the US of trying to sabotage the settlement. Henry Kissinger held a press briefing and announced 'We believe that peace is at hand. We believe that an agreement is in sight'.
Richard Nixon won the 7 November, 1972, presidential election by the widest margin (at that time) in United States history. One week later, on 14 November, Nixon sent a letter to President Thieu, promising 'to take swift and severe retaliatory action' if North Vietnam violated the proposed peace treaty.
President Thieu prepared a list of 69 changes to the proposed treaty, which was presented by Henry Kissinger to Le Duc Tho on 13 December. As a result, the peace talks came to a halt.
President Thieu signed a decree eliminating all political parties in South Vietnam, other than his new Democratic party.
When the peace talks broke down, President Nixon responded with 'Operation Linebacker II', a massive bombing campaign in Hanoi, starting on 18 December, 1972. This came to be known as 'The Christmas Bombings', and was denounced by political leaders around the world, including the Pope. 'Operation Linebacker II' ended on 29 December, with more than 100,000 bombs having been dropped on Hanoi and Haiphong over the course of 11 days. On 26 December, North Vietnam had agreed to resume negotiations within five days of the end of the bombing.
Dr Nguyen Luan, of North Vietnam, would later remember 22 December, 1972. American bombs had hit Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi.
'Cries and moans filled the dark night. We had to use knives, hammers and shovels to break through the concrete walls in order to get to the victims trapped inside. As a surgeon, I operate on people to save their lives. Now I was using my surgical knife not to save people but to cut apart the corpses in the bomb shelter so we could rescue those still alive'.
Peace negotiations between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho started again on 8 January, 1973, and terms were agreed upon the next day, 9 January, 1973. President Thieu accepted the treaty only under threat of having all American aid to the South Vietnamese government discontinued if he rejected it. Thieu called the treaty, which allowed the estimated 150,000 North Vietnamese soldiers then in South Vietnam to remain, 'tantamount to surrender' for South Vietnam. The treaty specified that South Vietnam was to be considered one country with two governments, one led by Thieu and one led by the NLF/PALF, until such time as a single government was formed.
Lt Col William B Nolde was the last American soldier listed as having been killed in combat. He died on 27 January, 1973, the same day that United States Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced an end to the draft in favour of voluntary enlistment.
On 29 March, 1973, The United States officially withdrew the last American troops from Vietnam. President Nixon announced that 'the day we have all worked and prayed for has finally come'.
The United States Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment on 19 June, 1973. This Act specifically forbade any further US military activity if Southeast Asia, beginning August 15, 1973. It passed by a vote of 278-124 in the House of Representatives and 64-26 in the senate. That vote would have been adequate to override a Presidential veto. The United States stopped its bombing in Cambodia on 14 August, 1973.
In July 1973, as the US Navy was removing mines from ports in North Vietnam, the US Senate Armed Forces Committee was holding hearings into the secret bombings of Cambodia during 1969 and 1970. Testimony by Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger that 3,500 bombing raids had been made in Cambodia, a country whose neutrality in the Vietnamese War was officially recognized, without the knowledge of that Committee, resulted in the first call for Nixon's impeachment.
Political scandals plagued the Nixon administration. Nixon found himself accused of being directly involved in the placing of illegal surveillance equipment in the Democratic national campaign headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Then, on 10 October, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace, having pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to charges of income tax evasion. Nixon appointed Congressman Gerald R Ford as his new Vice President, making Ford the first person to hold that office without having been elected.
On 7 November, 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which required that the President obtain the support of Congress within 90 days of sending American troops abroad.
The 1973 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. Kissinger accepted the award. Le Duc Tho declined, saying that a true peace did not yet exist in Vietnam.
1974 - 1975, The End
The United States Congress began impeachment proceedings against President Nixon on 9 May, 1974. The move related to Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal. On 8 August, 1974, Richard M Nixon became the first United States President to resign. Gerald Ford became the first US President to hold that office without having been elected to the Presidency or Vice Presidency. On 19 December, Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller as his Vice President, making Rockefeller the second person to hold the vice presidency without having been elected to that office.
On 16 September, 1974, President Ford announced a clemency programme for draft evaders and military deserters. The programme was to run until 31 March, 1975. It required that participants take an oath of allegiance and perform up to two years of community service. About 22,500 people participated in the programme, out of an estimated 124,000 eligible.
On 19 November, 1974, William Calley was freed after serving three-and-a-half years under house arrest following his conviction for the murder of 22 civilians in My Lai.
In December 1974, North Vietnamese military forces attacked Phuoc Long Province in South Vietnam, in violation of the peace treaty. President Ford registered diplomatic protests, but complied with the Congressional ban on all US military activity in Southeast Asia.
President Thieu announced that the war had resumed. South Vietnam prepared for a significant North Vietnamese and NLF/PALF offensive.
On 8 January, 1975, a North Vietnamese Army plan for the invasion of South Vietnam by 20 divisions was approved by the Politburo of North Vietnam. The plan anticipated victory for North Vietnam in about two years.
On 21 January, President Ford, during a press conference, stated the US would not re-enter the war.
On 10 March, the North Vietnamese Army attacked Ban Me Thuot, in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Half of the South Vietnamese soldiers surrendered or deserted. Three days later, President Thieu decided to abandon the Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam.
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Between 19 March and 30 March, the North Vietnamese Army captured Quang Tri City, Tam Ky, Hue, Chu Lai and Da Nang. In Da Nang, 100,000 South Vietnamese soldiers surrendered after their commanding officers abandoned them. The North Vietnamese Army started its final push to Saigon on 31 March.
President Thieu resigned from office on 21 April, 1975. During his 90-minute resignation speech, he read a letter sent to him by Nixon in 1972, in which Nixon promised 'severe retaliatory action' if South Vietnam was threatened. Thieu condemned the Peace Treaty that had been forced on him, Henry Kissinger, and the United States. He said that 'The United States has not respected its promises. It is inhumane. It is untrustworthy. It is irresponsible'.
Two days later, as 100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers advanced on Saigon, President Ford, speaking at Tulane University, said that the war in Vietnam was 'a war that is finished as far as America is concerned'.
On 28 April 28, General Duong Van Minh became the new president of South Vietnam. He immediately appealed for a ceasefire. The march on Saigon continued.
On 29 April, 1975, the North Vietnamese Army shelled the Tan Son Nhut air base in Saigon. President Ford ordered the evacuation of all Americans. As the helicopter evacuation got under way, South Vietnamese civilians made their way into the base and started looting. The evacuation was shifted to the American embassy, which was walled in and secured by US Marines in full combat gear.
At 8.35 am, 30 April, the last ten Marines were evacuated from the Embassy. The United States was no longer involved in the Vietnamese War. By 11.00 am, the North Vietnamese Flag was flying over the presidential palace in Saigon. President Minh broadcast a message of unconditional surrender. The North Vietnamese Army had completed the campaign, which had been expected to last two years, in 55 days.
North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin accepted the surrender, telling Minh that 'Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy'.
The last two US soldiers to die in Vietnam were killed when their helicopter crashed during the evacuation, some 30 years after Lt Col A Peter Dewey had become the first casualty.
Three US aircraft carriers were off the coast of Vietnam, handling the incoming Americans and South Vietnamese refugees. South Vietnamese pilots also landed on the carriers, flying American-made helicopters. News camera crews captured the scene of $250,000 helicopters being pushed overboard to make room for more helicopters to land on the carriers. The United States had suffered its first clear military defeat.
The Price of War
An estimated total of 2,122,244 people were killed during the war in Vietnam. Of these, 58,169 were Americans. Of those Americans, 11,465 were teenagers. An estimated 3,650,946 additional people were wounded, of whom 304,000 were Americans. 153,329 Americans were categorized as 'seriously' wounded. That total includes 10,000 amputees.
An estimated 444,000 North Vietnamese and 220,557 South Vietnamese military personnel and 587,000 civilians were killed.
6,727,084 tons of bombs were dropped. This is about two-and-a-half times the total tonnage dropped on Germany during World War II.
3,750 fixed wing aircraft and 4,865 helicopters were lost.
18 million gallons of poisonous chemicals were poured on Vietnam.
The dollar cost of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam is estimated at $140 billion.
One Analysis of the Anti-War Movement
According to the Oxford Companion to American Military History:
The American movement against the Vietnam War was the most successful antiwar movement in US history. During the Johnson administration, it played a significant role in constraining the war and was a major factor in the administration's policy reversal in 1968. During the Nixon years, it hastened US troop withdrawals, continued to restrain the war, fed the deterioration in US troop morale and discipline (which provided additional impetus to US troop withdrawals), and promoted congressional legislation that severed US funds for the war. The movement also fostered aspects of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately played a significant role in ending the war by undermining Nixon's authority in Congress and thus his ability to continue the war. It gave rise to the infamous 'Huston Plan'; inspired Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers led to the formation of the Plumbers; and fed the Nixon administration's paranoia about its political enemies, which played a major part in concocting the Watergate break-in itself.
Based on that, one of the lessons to be learned as a result of the experience of the United States in Vietnam would seem to be that popular opinion can, in fact, change policy at the highest levels of power. Enough people, saying 'This is wrong', loudly enough and long enough, can make a difference.
1 The girl, Kim Phuc, although heavily scarred, lived through the war and eventually moved to Canada.
2 It now seems that the air strike had been carried out by South Vietnamese, not American, forces. The American who 'admitted' to having ordered the strike has recanted. This does not change the impact of that photograph on the American public.