On April 30 President Richard Nixon announced to a national television audience that US troops were invading Cambodia, the country west of Vietnam through which the North Vietnamese military was supplying their troops in the South. In fact, the US had been conducting bombing raids in Cambodia for over a year.
The image of the President's hand resting over an abstract map of Cambodia circulated widely. It appeared not only in the New York Times but on the cover of Time. Millions also saw it on live television as Nixon disclosed the invasion. Several journalistic accounts commented on the sense of disbelief and helplessness felt by many viewers. Time's cover story began,
"At one point during his television address to the nation last week, Richard Nixon lost his place in the typescript. For four or five seconds he shuffled pages, eyes darting through paragraphs to pick up the trail again. For the nation watching, it was an instant of complex psychology. There was the acute embarrassment and sympathy for the speaker who has fluffed his lines. There was also, for some, an eccentric half hope that if he could not continue, an absurdist, McLuhan logic would apply: 'The U.S. was about to move into Cambodia, but the President lost his place in the script.' The instant passed. Richard Nixon went on."
For the past year the Nixon had been promoting the "Vietnamization" of the war, promising to replace US troops with newly-trained South Vietnamese soldiers. Citizens had expressed relief at the thought of American fighters coming home.
On the heels of Presidential promises of de-escalation, the April 30, announcement caused many in the United States to respond with shock and anger. Protests erupted across the country, including one at Kent State that ended in the fatal shooting of four students by National Guardsmen.
1945: Ho Chi Minh unifies Vietnam.
1946: Viet Minh, Vietnamese nationalists, attack French colonial forces in Hanoi.
1948: US begins funding French war against the Viet Minh.
1954: French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
1955: Ngo Dinh Diem, aided by the US, takes control of Saigon in South Vietnam and establishes the Republic of Vietnam. US advisors begin training Vietnamese army.
1963: Diem assassinated. 16,000 US advisors in Vietnam.
1964: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: After alleged torpedo attack on US war ships, Congress supplies President Johnson with a "blank check" to declare war on North Vietnam.
1965: US begins bombing North Vietnam, Operation Rolling Thunder. Johnson commits 185,000 American troops.
1968: Tet Offensive: Viet Minh attack South Vietnamese provincial capitals belying American belief that the war is drawing to a close. US launches brutal counterattack. US troops execute over 200 men, women and children in the village of My Lai. The massacre is captured by an army photographer. US troops in Vietnam peak at 536,000.
1969: President Nixon endorses "Vietnamization" of the war, replacing returning US troops with South Vietnamese forces and secretly intensifying bombing of North Vietnam and Viet Minh supply lines inside Cambodia. Marines secretly invade Laos. US troops decline to 475,000.
1970: US troops invade Cambodia on April 30. Congress later bans US combat forces in Cambodia and Laos.
1971: South Vietnamese troops invade Laos.
1972: Hanoi launches Spring Offensive. US mines Haiphong Harbor and intensifies bombing of North Vietnam.
1973: Peace treaty signed between US, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam. Congress bans bombing of Cambodia, bans military expeditures anywhere in Indochina, and passes War Powers Act, requiring the President to consult Congress before committing troops. North Vietnamese force US military out of South Vietnam.