Throughout its first term, the Nixon administration struggled to end the war in Vietnam. By 1972, most U.S. troops had been withdrawn, as Nixon had promised (Document 34), but the bombing of North Vietnam continued in an effort to force its leaders to accept a peace treaty recognizing the independence of South Vietnam. By late 1972, an agreement was finally at hand; both sides accepted it in January 1973. Nixon described the agreement as “peace with honor,” but Vietnam remained in a state of war. Congress refused to fund continued assistance (economic aid and military weapons) to South Vietnam, which was unable to halt the advance of communist forces. Hampered by the growing Watergate scandal, Nixon was not able to order bombing in support of the South Vietnamese government. In April 1975, the United States evacuated its embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, as North Vietnamese troops captured the city. The South Vietnamese government fell, and Vietnam was unified under communist rule, fulfilling the goal the Vietnamese communists had had since 1945.
The costs of the war – billions of dollars, domestic turmoil, and more than 58,000 U.S. military deaths – continued to shape U.S. Cold War policies and politics for years to come. For instance, while President Ronald Reagan later defended the war as a worthy fight, President Jimmy Carter called it an example of the “intellectual and moral poverty” of automatically resorting to military force to achieve Cold War aims (Document 40).
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1973 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), 18–20. Available online from Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. https://goo.gl/qnvNLV.
I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.
The following statement is being issued at this moment in Washington and Hanoi:
At 12:30 Paris time today, January 23, 1973, the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was initialed by Dr. Henry Kissinger on behalf of the United States, and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [North Vietnam]. . . .
. . . [T]he United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [South Vietnam] express the hope that this agreement will insure stable peace in Vietnam and contribute to the preservation of lasting peace in Indochina and Southeast Asia.
That concludes the formal statement. Throughout the years of negotiations, we have insisted on peace with honor. In my addresses to the Nation from this room of January 25 and May 8 , I set forth the goals that we considered essential for peace with honor.
In the settlement that has now been agreed to, all the conditions that I laid down then have been met.
A cease-fire, internationally supervised, will begin at 7 p.m., this Saturday, January 27, Washington time.
Within 60 days from this Saturday, all Americans held prisoners of war throughout Indochina will be released. There will be the fullest possible accounting for all of those who are missing in action.
During the same 60-day period, all American forces will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
The people of South Vietnam have been guaranteed the right to determine their own future, without outside interference. . . .
We shall continue to aid South Vietnam within the terms of the agreement and we shall support efforts by the people of South Vietnam to settle their problems peacefully among themselves.
We must recognize that ending the war is only the first step toward building the peace. All parties must now see to it that this is a peace that lasts, and also a peace that heals – and a peace that not only ends the war in Southeast Asia but contributes to the prospects of peace in the whole world.
This will mean that the terms of the agreement must be scrupulously adhered to. We shall do everything the agreement requires of us and we shall expect the other parties to do everything it requires of them. We shall also expect other interested nations to help insure that the agreement is carried out and peace is maintained.
As this long and very difficult war ends, I would like to address a few special words to each of those who have been parties in the conflict.
First, to the people and Government of South Vietnam: By your courage, by your sacrifice, you have won the precious right to determine your own future and you have developed the strength to defend that right. We look forward to working with you in the future – friends in peace as we have been allies in war.
To the leaders of North Vietnam: As we have ended the war through negotiations, let us now build a peace of reconciliation. For our part, we are prepared to make a major effort to help achieve that goal. But just as reciprocity was needed to end the war, so too will it be needed to build and strengthen the peace.
To the other major powers that have been involved even indirectly: Now is the time for mutual restraint so that the peace we have achieved can last.
And finally, to all of you who are listening, the American people: Your steadfastness in supporting our insistence on peace with honor has made peace with honor possible . . .
Now that we have achieved an honorable agreement, let us be proud that America did not settle for a peace that would have betrayed our allies, that would have abandoned our prisoners of war, or that would have ended the war for us but would have continued the war for the 50 million people of Indochina. Let us be proud of the 2 1/2 million young Americans who served in Vietnam, who served with honor and distinction in one of the most selfless enterprises in the history of nations. And let us be proud of those who sacrificed, who gave their lives so that the people of South Vietnam might live in freedom and so that the world might live in peace.
In particular, I would like to say a word to some of the bravest people I have ever met – the wives, the children, the families of our prisoners of war and the missing in action. When others called on us to settle on any terms, you had the courage to stand for the right kind of peace so that those who died and those who suffered would not have died and suffered in vain, and so that where this generation knew war, the next generation would know peace. Nothing means more to me at this moment than the fact that your long vigil is coming to an end. . . .
A. What are the terms of the peace agreement? Why does President Nixon say that the agreement is “only the first step” to peace? What does he promise the United States will continue to do in Vietnam? Why does he address “special words” to the North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, and the American people? How do these messages differ?
B. Compare Document 37 to Documents 21, 29, and 34: Does the United States achieve its basic goals in Vietnam as stated in these earlier documents? How do you think Americans respond to the end of the war?