Richard Nixon Effects on the Vietnam War Essay

In the face of increasing uproar from the public front, the task of ending the Vietnam War that has already been perpetuated for more than two decades was not trouble-free for Richard Nixon who succeeded President Andrew Johnson in the oval office. Indeed it was the failure -of the preceding President Johnson to find a decent “way out” of Vietnam- that played a significant role in the election of 1969 to elect President Nixon. But several issues that were crucial to the interest of America at home and abroad and also of Nixon himself were, in some way or other, intertwined with ending the war. The first and foremost issue that confronted Nixon was the massive casualties that occurred on either sides of the war. Moreover the moral decay evidenced in the events of “My Lai Massacre”, “Green Beret Affair” and civilian cost in the operation “Speedy Express” infuriated the silent majority of the American to raise their voice against the war. But such a demand from the American mass posed a great dilemma for Nixon Government. On one hand Nixon had to retain the sublimity of the US image in the power politics in the international field during the rising tension of Cold War. But it was not possible through a quick Military withdrawal from war. On the other hand, he had to pacify the outraged mob who massively could contribute to his failure in the next election in case he failed to manage a decent way-out while retaining the sublimity of the US image. At home Nixon’s dilemma was -as it is said in “Richard M. Nixon – The Vietnam war” says- that “If his plan involved escalation, Democrats could charge that he was abandoning attempts to reach a peaceful solution and could point to mounting American casualties and prisoners of war. If he negotiated a solution that led to the fall of the government in Saigon, Democrats could charge that he had abandoned an ally”.
Indeed this situation was reflected greatly and played crucial role in shaping Nixon’s policy for the Vietnam War. Now though Nixon became successful to retain his position in the Oval Office in the election of 1973 and also to retain the US big-brother image in international power politics, he failed, to a great extent, to help the war. But in return he had to turn the upside of the US foreign policy down by sacrificing America’s image as the savior of “Democracy”. Nixon’s offensive stance, the “Madman” doctrine seems to lie at the root of all these failures, because it can be convened that his defensive stance would have helped more the causes of South Vietnam to survive as a democratic state than the “Madman Doctrine” could do. 

What Started the War.

The root of the Vietnam War dates back in the year 1955. An in-depth analysis of the war is essentially bound to yield the fact that the war fairly turns from the colonial struggle of the French into the war of the US democratic interest. From the viewpoint of the US Government the US involvement in the war was meant to prevent the proliferation of communism over South Vietnam. But as per the North Vietnamese people as well as the common Vietnamese’s view, the war was the Vietnamese struggle against the colonial power, which was initially fought against the French. But later it turned against South Vietnam that was backed by the US Army. During the Cold War after the Second World War, the US Foreign Policy Makers concentrated their attention to hold the US power on the regional politics in Asia. As a legacy of this policy, the Johnson Government grabbed the opportunity to strengthen its hold on South Vietnam. Obviously the propaganda behind the US Military reinforcement was that “non-communist South Vietnam was invaded by communist North Vietnam and that the United States came to the aid of the “democratic” regime in the South”. According to Pilger, the US reason to involve in the war is still vague because the US involvement was initially instigated by the US support for the French colonial rule. In fact, the confusion around the US involvement arose from the fact that though the US Army initially landed on Vietnamese land to support the French hold in 1950s, it turned its direction towards preventing Communism from taking over South Vietnam. Necessarily the communist take-over of South Vietnam meant for the US foreign policy makers as the influence of the Communist Soviet Union on this region. The major flaw of the US foreign policy for French Indochina lies in the fact that it failed to trace out the anti-colonialist zeal of the common Vietnamese and mark it as pro-communism forces. Therefore, though Ho-Chi-Min continually tries to convince the US Government that he was a non-communist, avoiding his persuasion the US led massive bombing operations both in North and South Vietnam in the mid 1960s. In this regard, Pilger says, 

Needing to get the French out of their country, Ho Chi Minh was still hoping for a U.S. alliance and he appealed again to President Truman while insisting to Patti that he was “not a communist in the American sense”….he warned that he “would have to find allies if any were to be found; otherwise the Vietnamese would have to go it alone.

 It rather alienated the common Vietnamese with nationalist zeal in both parts of Vietnam. Consequently the South Vietnamese Government lost its moral basis and support from the nationalist Vietnamese. It also compelled Ho-Chi-Min to send troops to help the resenting South Vietnamese, as Pilger says in this regard, “The scale of American bombing in the mid-1960s, both in the North and South, together with the American-directed terror of the South, eventually persuaded Ho Chi Minh to send regular army units south in support of those South Vietnamese opposing the American invasion”. Also according to some Pentagon Papers, declassified later, one of the secret of motifs of then US Government was to take the Military control of South Vietnam more than its interest to support democracy, as Pilger notes, “the United States moved in secret to “disassociate” France from the levels of command, in southern Vietnam and to assume direct American control. This task was assigned to the newly formed CIA which, during the summer of 1954, invented a “republic of Vietnam” with Saigon as its capital”. Thus the Vietnam War aggravated in utter confusion. 

Richard Nixon’s role in the Vietnam War

Referring to the declassified secret papers on the Vietnam War, scholars claim that Nixon’s role in the war was full of duplicity and duality. But most of them ignore the fact whether his duality was deceptive in nature or was the pressing demand of circumstances. Nixon got to play his role in the war as a legacy of the imperialist presence of the US Army in Vietnam. A one and eighty degree about-turn was supposed to be devastating for power image of the US in the Cold War. Therefore his doctrine of “decent interval and exit” and “Vietnamization” appeared to be time-worthy, as it is said in an article, “Nixon had to find a way to cut American commitments while preserving the non-Communist government in South Vietnam—at least for a “decent interval” so that he overthrow of the regime could not be blamed on the United States”. On the way to implement the “decent interval” and “Vietnamization” he would need enough time and scopes because two issues of primary importance confronted him on his way. First, he had to lead massive diplomatic campaign with Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China to put pressure on the North Vietnamese Army and NLF to reach a truce with US backed South Vietnamese Government. Second, he needed to give enough scope to the South Vietnamese Government to be capable of surviving on their own. Indeed Nixon inherited the second issue as a legacy of his predecessor and Nixon failed to perceive that the idea of a strong Democratic North Vietnamese State was corrupted with the dual role of the US: first, a supporter of French Colonial Rule and second, the savior of democracy. Many critics mark Nixon’s “Madman” doctrine as a self contradiction to his “decent interval and exit” theory and promise of peace. But a close analysis will reveal the fact that Nixon’s “Madman” is both contradicting and complementary to his policy of “Vietnamization”. But Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization failed because of the earlier obscurity and confusion of the US position regarding Vietnam policy. 

Troops affected during and after Richard Nixon Presidency

During the first half of Nixon Presidency the casualty rate of the US troops was alarmingly high. As a support to “Vietnamization” the US Army continued air escalations and ground attacks on the north. The purpose behind it was to provide South Vietnamese with the scope to be able to lead sustainable offensive. These air escalation and ground ventures were substantially a failure that revealed the incapability of morally weak South Vietnamese Army. In the year 1969, the monthly average of the US personnel killed in the war was 776 which dropped to 344 in 1970, to 123 in 1971 and to 22 1972. But the withdrawal rate of the US Army was fairly smooth and even during the years between 1969 and 1972. Also another positive effect of Nixon’s “Vietnamization” policy it was able to reduce the casualty rate in comparison with Johnson’s Presidency.




(Source: Dennis M. Simon, “The War in Vietnam, 1969-1973”)


(Source: Dennis M. Simon, “The War in Vietnam, 1969-1973”)


(Source: Dennis M. Simon, “The War in Vietnam, 1969-1973”)

Vietnam after Richard Nixon Presidency

The exit of the US Army did not happen in the way as it was expected in “decent interval and exit”. During the years from 1972 to1973 Nixon Government began to withdraw the Army from Vietnam in a drastically high rate in order to win the US voters’ heart. But such drastic withdrawal rather allured the North Vietnamese to prepare for new invasions violating the ceasefire. The Vietcong restarted their dry-season attacks in January, 1974 to regain their lost territories. Indeed the success rates of the offensive in 1973-74 encouraged the North to take major offensive of December, 1974 and Campaign 275 by General Dung on the South. On 27 April 1975, Saigon was encircled by the North Vietnamese Army and on 30 April, Saigon collapsed. The end of the War could have been different but the cunning follies of Nixon pushed American policy towards failure.