Mar 31, 2008
On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson made a big surprise announcement. He announced he wouldn’t run for reelection. He also announced he would reduce U.S. bombing of North Viet Nam and he would start negotiating with the North Vietnamese government. So the desire for independence and the determination of the Vietnamese people made up for their impoverishment and forced the U.S. leaders to seek an end to the war.
At this stage, the U.S. leaders still threatened escalation if their adversaries didn’t let them save face. By agreeing to negotiate, the U.S. tacitly admitted that Viet Nam could end up under the control of the North Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front in South Viet Nam. The U.S. recognized it could no longer keep a country under its domination by force of arms if the country fought for its independence.
But still, the U.S. leaders meant to preserve the status quo and squash any other nationalist challenge to U.S. domination in the region. The U.S. opened a diplomatic offensive toward Mao’s China to gain its cooperation. At the same time, the U.S. sought greater cooperation from Soviet leaders.
This policy came to be known as “detente.” It started under Johnson and was carried out by his successor, Richard Nixon, who went to China and Moscow to pursue negotiations while continuing hostilities in Viet Nam. If U.S. fire power wouldn’t permit the U.S. to win the war, it could at least weigh on the negotiations. Nixon enlarged the war to Laos and Cambodia, neighboring countries, carrying out a murderous bombardment against those people.
It took five more years until cease-fire agreements were signed between North Viet Nam, the NLF, the U.S. and its ally the South Vietnamese regime. U.S. troops left Viet Nam in March 1973, but the South Vietnamese, with U.S. aid, pursued the war for two more years before falling in April 1975. Viet Nam was finally unified.
The lesson of Viet Nam hasn’t prevented the U.S. from getting bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars in which more and more the U.S. appears unable to find a way out. The situation both in Iraq and in the U.S. army, has deteriorated to the point that the U.S. needs to remove its troops and yet it can’t. And so the people of the Middle East will go on paying a heavy price – like the people of Indochina did so many years ago.