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Vietnamisation Peace talks had begun under Johnson in Paris in 1968. North Vietnam had agreed to come providing bombing stopped. Put simply, the US wanted South Vietnam to be independent & free from ‘foreign’ (communist) interference. The North also wanted South Vietnam to be independent & free from ‘foreign’ (USA) interference. However, talks were slow and would drag on for 5 years. Nixon had to apply pressure on the negotiations without appearing to go back on his election promises to the public. Nixon felt obliged to stick to his promise and bring US soldiers home. But he didn’t want to lose the war - Vietnamisation was the solution. This meant: Gradually withdrawing US troops Increasing supplies and funding to the ARVN
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25,000 left in 1969 150,000 in 1970 400,000 in total by 1971. This would leave 150,000 troops in Vietnam. Accordingly, Nixon was acting on his promises to save US lives in combat.
Conscription was introduced to all men in the South aged 17-43 – but this was hard to achieve in a country as disrupted as South Vietnam. The ARVN would be trained & equipped by the USA. However, few US commanders believed the ARVN had a chance of winning even with new supplies. Poor expertise was one issue; a greater one was desertion from the army. As a result, most US commanders felt the ARVN would be able to hold the Northern forces at best.
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Nixon believed by putting military pressure on North Vietnam he could speed up the peace talks. He was also aware of continued supplying of the VC via the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos & Cambodia & that the NLF had been using parts of Cambodia to rest from attacks. A joint ARVN & US invasion force attacked North Vietnamese & VC bases in Cambodia. They swept most of the VC out of the country and seized huge amounts of supplies – 22,500 weapons, 8,000 tonnes of rice and more. They were supported by American B-52 bombers who performed nearly 8,000 missions. It was seen to be a big success (militarily), but it was not a pure example of ‘Vietnamisation’ as many US soldiers were involved.
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The invasion of Laos in 1971 was not so successful. The US supplied logistics and aerial support but were forbidden from using ground forces. After early successes, the ARVN were driven back over the border by 40,000 North Vietnamese reinforcements. Although the South Vietnamese lost fewer men, this was seen as a failure as they did not defeat the North Vietnamese, as planned. Vietnamisation was not working. There was a huge public opinion & protest against Nixon. Kent State was the initial reaction, but this continued. In January 1971, Congress made it illegal to have any US troops in Laos or Cambodia. Vietnam Veterans then launched the ‘Winter Soldier Investigation’ which highlighted further horrors from Vietnam. Public approval of Nixon’s Vietnam policy was down to 34%. Throughout 1971, protests groups campaigned against the war. This culminated with 500,000 marching on Washington, with 12,000 arrested. It seemed this policy was working to start. However, the reason for this was the Vietcong were recovering from the setbacks of the Tet offensive. The calm ended in 1972 when the NVA, armed with Soviet tanks, invaded South Vietnam. With fewer US troops there was little Nixon could do to stop this. Nixon’s only choice was air power. Operation Linebacker began in April 1971 and had 4 objectives: Isolate North Vietnam from its suppliers Destroy storage areas Eliminate air defence system Persuade the North to cooperate in peace talks Huge destruction was caused on roads, rail and ports. This lasted for nearly 2 years. In Christmas 1972, 200,000 bombs fell on Northern cities including the capitol, Hanoi. The US even invented the ‘madmen theory’, letting it be known that Nixon was mentally unstable and might use nuclear weapons if the war went on for much longer! May 10, 1968 Peace talks begin in Paris Initially led by Xuan Thuy and Averell Harriman, although these changed over time.
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U.S. insists that North Vietnamese troops withdraw from the South North Vietnamese insist on Viet Cong participation in a coalition government in South Vietnam & removal of South Vietnamese President. Talks soon stall and spill into Nixon’s Presidency. Chief negotiators were now Le Duc Tho & Henry Kissinger Four major events led to further talks: Nixon instructed the invasion of Cambodia (1970) & Laos (1971). North Vietnamese disappointed by their invasion in October 1972. Nixon approves operation Linebacker in March 1971, with a huge increase in bombing in December 1972. ‘Madmen Theory’ is invented and used to scare North Vietnamese. Tho compromises on earlier demands and the US put pressure on the South to accept it. The Southern Vietnamese President was forced to accept the new treaty and all three signed on 27th January 1973.
Key points: 1. All US forces removed from Vietnam. 2. US Prisoners of War released by North Vietnam. 3. Government of South Vietnam allowed to continue, but North Vietnamese forces could stay in areas that they already controlled. 4. Elections to be held to determine whether Vietnam would be united or not. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
USA had left Vietnam. Peace gave the North time to prepare for an invasion. The North would eventually be able to invade the South without US intervention and were far stronger than the ARVN. Popular & political protest prevented further escalation. Had gained some POWs back but a small concession. Peace was greeted with relief in the USA & Kissinger praised. Peace was short lived. In 1974, fighting began between North and South Vietnam. Nixon had promised out help the South if the North attacked but by this stage he was out of office and Congress passed laws to prevent further bombing. Financial support for the South was also less than planned. This played into North Vietnamese hands. In 1975, North Vietnam attacked the South via Laos, Cambodia and the border. Cities quickly fell and ARVN troops retreated or deserted. Civilians and troops joined the ‘convoy of tears’ towards Saigon and perceived safety. Soon, Saigon itself (the Southern capitol) was under threat.
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In April, Saigon fell to the Communists. Remaining US troops were airlifted by helicopter off the roof of the US embassy. South Vietnamese civilians had the choice of accepting the Communists or try to flee – many tried by boat. The dramatic airlift scenes signalled the end of US presence in Vietnam.
Published on May 22, 2012