Vietnam War - The Exit of the U.S. 1973 - 1975
Early opposition to America's involvement in Vietnam was centered around the
conference of 1954 and its mandate that elections be held to unite the
country. America's refusal to sign the Accords, and their support of Diem, was
considered to be thwarting the very democracy that America claimed to be
supporting. John Kennedy, while Senator, opposed involvement in Viet Nam.
Opposition to the Vietnam War tended to unite groups opposed to U.S.
and colonialism and, for those
involved with the New Left, capitalism itself, such as the Catholic
Worker Movement. Others, such as Stephen Spiro opposed the war based on the theory
of Just War.
Some critics of U.S. withdrawal predicted that it would not contribute to
peace but rather vastly increased bloodshed. These critics advocated U.S. forces
remain until all threats from the Viet Cong and North
Vietnamese Army had been eliminated.
Advocates of U.S. withdrawal were generally known as "doves", and they called
their opponents "hawks", following
nomenclature dating back to the War of 1812. This language has dated little in
the intervening years; it is still used.
High-profile opposition to the Vietnam war turned to street protests in an
effort to turn U.S. political opinion against the war. The protests gained
momentum from the Civil Rights
Movement that had organized to oppose segregation laws, which had laid a
foundation of theory and infrastructure on which the anti-war movement grew.
Protests were fueled by a growing network of independently published newspapers
(known as "underground papers") and the timely advent of large venue rock'n'roll
festivals such as Woodstock and Grateful Dead shows, attracting younger people in
search of generational togetherness. On 15 October, 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium peace demonstration was
held in Washington D.C. and other US cities. Millions of Americans, throughout
the country, participated.
shooting of four anti-war protesters at Kent State University cemented the
resolve of many protesters. The Kent State killings saw campuses erupt all
across the country; in May 1970 most universities were strike-bound, for example
State University. The late 1960s
in the U.S. became a time of youth rebellion, mass gatherings and riots, many of
which began in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., but which ignited in an atmosphere of open opposition to a
Provocative actions by police and by protesters turned anti-war
demonstrations in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National
Convention into a riot. Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley brought to bear 23,000 police
and National Guardsman upon 10,000 protestors. Explosive news
reports of American military abuses, such as the 1968 My Lai Massacre, brought new attention and
support to the anti-war movement.
Veterans of the Vietnam War returned home to join the movement, including John Kerry, who spearheaded Vietnam Veterans Against the
War and testified before Congress in televised hearings.
Anti-war protests ended with the final withdrawal of troops after the Paris Peace
Accords were signed in 1973. Momentum from the protest organizations became
a main force for the growth of an environmental movement in the United
States. South Vietnam was left to defend itself alone when the fighting resumed.
Many South Vietnamese fled to the United States in one of the largest war
refugee migrations in history. There was no peace movement to protest the
renewed bloodshed, and little media coverage. Saigon surrendered to the North in
1975; Laos and Cambodia were overrun by Communist troops that same spring.
The U.S. and other allied forces began drastically reducing their troop
support in South Vietnam during the final years of "Vietnamization". Many U.S.
troops were removed from the region, and on 5 March 1971, the U.S. returned the
5th Special Forces Group, which was
the first American unit deployed to South Vietnam, to its former base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Under the Paris Peace Accord, between North Vietnamese
Foreign Minister Lê Ðức Thọ and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and
reluctantly signed by South Vietnamese President Thiệu, U.S. military
forces withdrew from South Vietnam and prisoners were exchanged. North Vietnam
was allowed to continue supplying communist troops in the South, but only to the
extent of replacing materials that were consumed. Later that year the Nobel Peace Prize
was awarded to Kissinger and Thọ, but the Vietnamese negotiator declined it
saying that a true peace did not yet exist.
The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favor their
side. But Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid received just before the
ceasefire went into effect, began to roll back the Vietcong. The
communists responded with a new strategy hammered out in a series of meetings in
Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà.
As the Vietcong's top commander, Trà participated in several of these
U.S. bombings suspended, work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other logistical
structures could proceed unimpeded. Logistics would be upgraded until the North was in a position to launch a
massive invasion of the South, projected for the 1975–1976 dry season. Trà
calculated that this date would be the Hanoi's last opportunity to strike before
Saigon's army could be fully trained. A three-thousand-mile long oil pipeline
would be built from North Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters in Loc Ninh, about
75 miles (121 km) northwest of Saigon.
Although McGovern himself was not elected U.S. president, the November 1972
election did return a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress under
McGovern's "Come home America" campaign theme. On 15 March 1973, U.S. President
Richard Nixon implied
that the U.S. would intervene militarily if the communist side violated the
and congressional reaction to Nixon's trial balloon was unfavorable and in April
Nixon appointed Graham
Martin as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. Martin was a second stringer compared
to previous U.S. ambassadors and his appointment was an early signal that
Washington had given up on Vietnam. During
his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James R.
Schlesinger stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in
North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam.
On 4 June 1973, the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment to prohibit such
The oil price shock of October 1973 caused significant damage to the South
Vietnamese economy. The Vietcong resumed offensive operations when dry season
began and by January 1974 it had recaptured the territory it lost during the
previous dry season. After two clashes that left 55 South Vietnamese soldiers
dead, President Thiệu announced on 4 January that the war had restarted and that
the Paris Peace Accord was no longer in effect. There had been over 25,000 South
Vietnamese casualties during the ceasefire period.
Gerald Ford took over as
U.S. president on 9 August 1974 after President Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal.
At this time, Congress cut financial aid to South Vietnam from $1 billion a year
to $700 million. The U.S. midterm elections in 1974 brought in a new Congress
dominated by Democrats who were even more determined to confront the president
on the war. Congress immediately voted in restrictions on funding and military
activities to be phased in through 1975 and to culminate in a total cutoff of
funding in 1976.
The success of the 1973–1974 dry season offensive inspired Trà to return to
Hanoi in October 1974 and plead for a larger offensive in the next dry season.
This time, Trà could travel on a drivable highway with regular fueling stops, a
vast change from the days was Ho Chi Minh Trail was a dangerous mountain
trek. Giáp, the North
Vietnamese defense minister, was reluctant to approve Trà's plan. A larger
offensive might provoke a U.S. reaction and interfere with the big push planned
for 1976. Trà appealed over Giáp's head to party boss Lê Duẩn, who obtained Politburo approval
for the operation.
Trà's plan called for a limited offensive from Cambodia into Phuoc Long Province. The strike
was designed to solve local logistical problems, gauge the reaction of South
Vietnamese forces, and determine whether the U.S. would return to the fray.
On 13 December 1974, North Vietnamese forces attacked Route 14 in Phuoc Long
Province. Phuoc Binh, the provincial capital, fell on 6 January 1975. Ford
desperately asked Congress for funds to assist and re-supply the South before it
was overrun. Congress refused. The fall of Phuoc Binh and the lack of an
American response left the South Vietnamese elite demoralized and corruption
The speed of this success led the Politburo to reassess its strategy. It was
decided that operations in the Central Highlands would be turned over to General
Dũng and that Pleiku should be seized, if possible. Before he left for the
South, Dũng was addressed by Lê Duẩn: "Never have we had military and political
conditions so perfect or a strategic advantage as great as we have now."
At the start of 1975 the South Vietnamese had three times as much artillery
and twice the number of tanks and armoured cars as the opposition. They also had
1400 aircraft and a two-to-one numerical superiority in combat troops over their
Communist enemies. Nevertheless,
they faced a well-organized, highly determined and well-funded North Vietnam.
Much of the North's material and financial support came from the communist bloc.
Within South Vietnam, there was increasing chaos. Their abandonment by the
American military had compromised an economy dependent on U.S. financial support
and the presence of a large number of U.S. troops. South Vietnam suffered from
the global recession which followed the Arab oil embargo.