My latest reading of volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs focused on the Vietnam War. I have two items.
In an earlier post on this book, I talked about Nixon's discussion of
the topic of Vietnamese civilian casualties in the Vietnam War. Nixon's
view appeared to have been that the U.S. should focus on attacking
military targets while minimizing civilian casualties. In my
latest reading, Nixon addresses this topic some more. Nixon dismisses
as Hanoi propaganda the claim that "the American bombers were
deliberately hitting the crucial system of dikes and dams in North
Vietnam in order to kill large civilian populations in the resulting
floods" (Nixon's words on page 185). According to Nixon, anti-war
leaders such as Ted Kennedy were buying that claim. But Nixon narrates:
"In one of my press conferences I tried to introduce at least an
element of logic regarding this charge: if in fact we had decided on a
policy of deliberately bombing the dikes and dams, we could have
destroyed the entire system in a week."
I don't know
whether or not American bombers were taking out dikes and dams. I do
have some questions, though. In his account of the Vietnam War, Nixon
paints a picture in which he as President was using bombing as a way to
persuade the North Vietnamese to yield to U.S. demands: if
North Vietnam became aggressive, U.S. bombings would continue; when
North Vietnam and Kissinger were trying to hash out an agreement, the
bombings were reduced. My question is this: Were all of these bombings aimed at military targets? Just how many military targets were there to bomb?
In volume 1, Nixon at one point expresses support for bombing the Ho
Chi Minh trail because supplies came to Communist forces on it. But how
often does the U.S. need to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail for the U.S. to
get the job done? (Not that I know the extent to which Nixon had the Ho
Chi Minh trail bombed.)
Well, come to think of it, maybe one
attack on certain military targets was not enough in terms of the U.S.
meeting its goals. To use an example, my impression from volume 1 of
Nixon's memoirs was that Nixon ordered an attack of Cambodia twice,
since supplies were coming to Communist forces in Vietnam from
Cambodia. The first time that happened, U.S. casualties were reduced.
But Nixon apparently felt a need to attack Cambodia again. And, even
later, in North Vietnam's talks with Kissinger, there was discussion of
cutting off supplies to Communist forces in Vietnam from Cambodia. Were supplies still
coming to the Communist forces from Cambodia, even after Nixon's
attacks on the country (or, more accurately, the Communists in the
country, for Nixon narrates that the leader of Cambodia didn't
particularly care for the Communists in his country, either)?
Did Nixon bomb military targets over and over, or were there also civilian targets?
On page 190, Nixon outlines a proposal by Vietnamese Communist Le Duc
Tho that met Nixon's major requirements for an agreement. First of all,
there would be a cease-fire, and sixty days later U.S. troops would
withdraw from Vietnam, as prisoners-of-war (POWs) on both sides would be
returned. Second, because North Vietnam claimed that it did not have
troops in South Vietnam (and I think this was because, according to
North Vietnam, the Viet Cong in the South was a separate entity from
North Vietnam), North Vietnam could save face by not being required to
withdraw its troops from South Vietnam. At the same time, North Vietnam
could no longer receive supplies from the Communists in Laos and
Cambodia, and Nixon thought that this would sap the North Vietnamese
forces of their strength. Third, there would not be a coalition
government in the South consisting of Communists, but there would be a
National Council of Reconciliation and Concord, which would consist of
the South Vietnamese government, the Viet Cong, and "neutral members."
Nixon states that, on this council, "Unanimity would be required in its
votes; thus Thieu [the leader of South Vietnam] would be protected from
being outvoted by the Communists and their supporters." Fourth, Thieu
would remain the leader of South Vietnam. Fifth, the U.S. would provide
economic aid to North Vietnam, which the Communists would see as
reparations, but which would increase the U.S.'s leverage with North
Thieu of South Vietnam was not particularly happy with
this proposal. He wanted for the North Vietnamese to withdraw from
South Vietnam, and he was also leery about a National Council of
Reconciliation and Concord that would contain Communists. There was
also a sentiment that some of the Communist POWs were terrorists and
should not be released. And there was the factor that the North
Vietnamese were trying to gobble up as much land as they could before
the cease-fire. Moreover, Thieu did not really want for the American
forces to leave, for he did not feel that he could hold off the
Communists without them.
At the present time, I'm not sure how all
of this turned out. (Well, I know that North Vietnam won in the end,
but what was the agreement that ended the war under the Nixon
Administration?) Nixon acknowledged some of Thieu's concerns, and Nixon
himself objected to mandating equality of arms between North and South
Vietnam, for Nixon felt that South Vietnam's military advantage was
essential to keeping the peace. However, Nixon was trying to
get Thieu on board with the overall proposal by saying that it would
weaken the Communists in Vietnam, and by warning that the Democratic
Congress might vote to cut off aid to South Vietnam if it deemed Thieu
to be standing in the way of peace. As is often the case in negotiations, there was a lot of delicate ground.
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