Nixon came to the White House promising that he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. In fact, the plan was really not to end the war, but to slowly pass the responsibility for fighting it to the South Vietnamese in a policy called Vietnamization.To preserve the military situation until...
Nixon came to the White House promising that he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. In fact, the plan was really not to end the war, but to slowly pass the responsibility for fighting it to the South Vietnamese in a policy called Vietnamization.To preserve the military situation until that could be done, the war needed to be fought by Americans and even expanded over the course of years, actions that appeared to conflict with his campaign promises and the mood of the country.
Cambodia, adjacent to South Vietnam, had fallen into turmoil, with an American-backed coup led by Lon Nol toppling its king and its military fighting with Communist rebels. At the same time, the North Vietnamese (NVA) were using Cambodian territory to move men and materiel into South Vietnam. Nixon wanted to impede continuing Communist gains against Lon Nol’s forces and also to weaken overall NVA military strength as part of Vietnamization. On April 30, 1970, just ten days after announcing that he would withdraw 150,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam, Nixon stunned the American people by announcing a large U.S. and South Vietnamese incursion into Cambodia "…not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam and winning the just peace we desire."
On May 1, attacks were launched on two fronts. In Southeast Asia, a combined force of 15,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers attacked NVA supply bases inside Cambodia. Within the United States, Nixon initiated a campaign to demonize opponents of the war, calling them "bums blowing up campuses." The next day, American college campuses erupted in protest over the invasion of Cambodia specifically and the overall betrayal they felt generally. Then, on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen shot and killed four students and wound nine. Some of them were protesters and others just bystanders walking by on their way to or from class when they were cut down. In response to the killings, over 400 colleges and universities across America shut down. In Washington, nearly 100,000 protesters surrounded various government buildings including the White House and historical monuments. On an impulse, President Nixon paid a late night surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial where he engaged in a strange, detached conversation with some of the protesters. At the same time, his administration defended the killings at Kent State and sharpened the us-versus-them message being broadcast everywhere. By now the country was in an utter upraor and becoming quite polarized.
Typed Letter Signed on White House letterhead, Washington, May 8, 1970, to Republican Representative Del Clawson of California, confirming the firestorm had been let loose to protect the viability of his Vietnamization policy. “I am deeply grateful for your expression of support concerning the Southeast Asia situation. Your encouragement means a great deal to me . I appreciate your taking the time to let me know what you approve of the decision I have made to protect our men in Vietnam and to assure the success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization programs.”
Ultimately, in 1973, U.S. troops left and Vietnamization was the result. It failed, however, as in 1975, unable to effectively carry on the war, Soth Vietnamese forces were overwhelmed by the NVA and the Communists took over the country.
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