No Peace, No Honor : Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam

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--Mlinhart 12:09, 20 Mar 2006 (EST)

The Peace Treaty ending the Vietnam War was signed in January, 1973. In 1975, Americans helicopters evacuated American diplomats from the Saigon embassy rooftop. Larry Berman feels that even Henry Kissinger knew it was a ‘sham peace held together with a plan to deceive the American public with the rhetoric of American honor.’ (261) Berman terms the Treaty the ‘Jabberwocky Agreement.’ (240)

Berman focuses on the peace making process for the Vietnam War that began in the last days of the Johnson Administration in 1968 and continued for 7 years. Nixon and Kissinger are featured as the principal American participants. North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho was an important negotiator. Although not present at the peace talks, the President of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, played a crucial role in determining the success of the negotiations. Nixon ‘needed Thieu in order to prevent South Vietnam from moving into the neutralist camp—a slippery slope toward communist control.’ (121)

When Nixon went to China, he wanted the Chinese ‘to help him end the war.’ (119) These visits worried both North and South Vietnamese who had a healthy distrust of their friends dating from the Geneva talks of 1954 One of the issues that Chou and Nixon discussed was why the Americans pressed to keep Thieu in place.

Nixon and Kissinger were determined to end American involvement in Vietnam. Their top priority was withdrawal of American troops and return of American prisoners of war. They were concerned (but ultimately not enough) about the fate of South Vietnam which had been the whole reason for American involvement. Kissinger and others were in frequent contact with Thieu, trying to convince him to support the negotiations and various agreements. The final treaty allowed North Vietnam’s troops to remain in place in South Vietnam and Thieu recognized that allowing the enemy to remain in the South was tantamount to defeat.

--Mlinhart 12:09, 20 Mar 2006 (EST)


--Mlinhart 12:09, 20 Mar 2006 (EST)

Berman developed his work by examining ‘transcripts-like narratives of documents from Hanoi archives’, (10) a variety of declassified papers from the National Archives and presidential libraries. He ‘triangulated’ the material to ‘connect minutes as well as linkages between events.’ (10) Berman claims Nixon and Kissinger ‘did everything possible to deny any independent access to the historical record.’ (9)

Judging from Berman’s research, the realities of international and American politics are not for the faint-hearted or scrupulous. In 1968, Nixon supporters contacted Anna Chennault, friend of South Vietnamese President Thieu, pressing her to urge Thieu not to go to Paris and convince Thieu that he would get a better deal from a Nixon administration. Johnson knew of this through recordings of Chennault’s phone calls. In 1973, when Nixon wanted Johnson to try to stop the Watergate investigation, he ‘threatened Johnson with public disclosure that Johnson had bugged the Nixon and Agnew planes and offices in 1968.’ Johnson responded by ‘threatening to release the National Security Agency Chennault files’ (35-36) showing the Nixon campaign had tried to convince Saigon to stay away from the Paris peace talks. Not to be outdone by the Republicans, Senator George McGovern had discussions in 1971 with the Communists in Paris and Saigon. One of his goals was to get information about American prisoners of war. McGovern believed that a demonstration of successful dealings with the Vietnamese would strengthen him politically. He told the Vietnamese they could ‘strengthen those of us in the peace movement.’ (89) The North Vietnamese realized they might expect gentler treatment if McGovern were elected rather than Nixon.

Unlike Halberstam, Berman shows clear connections between the North Vietnamese and the Chinese Communists. The North Vietnamese discussed the negotiations with Chou Enlai. Communist leaders were well aware of the American political situation. Even in 1970, they discussed the need ‘to influence anti-war public opinion in the U. S. (78) In 1973, Chou told the North Vietnamese to ‘play for time with a view to letting North Vietnam recover, thus getting stronger while the enemy is getting weaker.’ (136) The Chinese and North Vietnamese ‘believed once the Americans were gone, South Vietnam would fall.’ (136)

Berman contends that Nixon and Kissinger realized that North Vietnam would violate the treaty and they intended to punish violations with bombing. Kissinger ‘knew the North would cheat and was planning on resuming the bombing.’ (261) Strangely enough, Nixon believed the American public would support bombings. According to Berman, ‘for Nixon, Thieu was needed for the guaranteed return of air power.’ (121) Berman believes that Watergate prevented this possibility ‘that Nixon fully intended to do’ (180) and that because Thieu ‘stalled and delayed the peace, Watergate’s momentum brought both Nixon’s and more certainly his own downfall.’ (180)

Berman includes interesting sidelights. He portrays Nixon and Kissinger as extremely secretive. While formal negotiations were going on in Paris, Kissinger held a number of secret meetings with North Vietnamese representatives which Berman features as the important negotiations. At times, Nixon and Kissinger displayed less than perfect mutual trust. Nixon told Kissinger not to smile when photographed with North Vietnamese representatives. He instructed Halderman to check Kissinger’s phone logs and was worried that Kissinger would take all the credit.

The tone of Berman’s book is that of a historian who is excited to unearth new materials. Berman is mainly concerned with presenting and revealing the sequence of events, and the considerations of those responsible for negotiations during the peace talks rather than extensive analysis of either personalities or long term causes and consequences. The story he reveals is embarrassing, almost shameful and tragic. In essence, the Vietnam War was a loss for Americans and a loss for the South Vietnamese.

--Mlinhart 12:09, 20 Mar 2006 (EST)

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