No president, no world leader, perhaps no person other than President Richard Nixon, had the tremendous genius of looking at the world in a very unique way with a vision that’s unexcelled.
President Nixon remains one of the most consequential presidents in American history, especially in foreign policy. He was able to talk at great length about a particular leader, about his eccentricities, about his friends, about his foes, about his ambitions. Each day he would take time to study the day’s events in terms of the way he knew something to be true on a Saturday, which had now changed on a Sunday. He kept up with it: before the presidency, during the presidency, after the presidency. That was a passion and a talent that I have never seen equaled.
I find that right now the opinion of President Nixon varies considerably year to year. The American opinion seems to go quite high up, then down, then back up.
One factor that contributes to this is the misunderstood role of President Nixon in Vietnam, which is being introduced to a new generation with Ken Burns’ latest PBS film, The Vietnam War. There are great myths about Vietnam. I hear them repeated continually. There are new —and some continuing— assertions that Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War for political purposes. This, the theory holds, was to create a “decent interval” of time between the signing of peace accords and the eventual, inevitable fall of South Vietnam.
Nothing is further from the truth.
By the end of President Eisenhower’s administration, there were 885 U.S. armed forces in South Vietnam. By the end of President Kennedy’s administration the number had increased to 16,300. By the end of President Johnson’s administration there were 536,100. On November 3, 1969, President Nixon announced the beginning of what he called “Vietnamization,” which was a plan for the South Vietnamese to be trained and incrementally take the place of U.S. ground combatants. By the end of the 1972, one month before the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, U.S. armed forces had been reduced from 536,100 to a total of 24,200.
At that time, South Vietnam and the United States were winning the Vietnam War decisively, by every conceivable measure. That’s not just my view; that was the view of the enemy, the North Vietnamese government officials.
Victory was apparent when President Nixon ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb industrial and military targets in Hanoi and Haiphong, and because of that bombing, the North Vietnamese came to the peace table.
What the United States and South Vietnam achieved from those peace accords was victory. The advance of communist tyranny had been halted by those accords.
The U.S. was not naïve about thinking that the North Vietnamese were going to try violations of this accord, and of course they did. But we had agreed in the accords that if they do violate it, the U.S. would resupply South Vietnam with anything they lost – a bullet for a bullet, a helicopter for a helicopter.
Then it all came apart.
After Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, the 94th Congress, controlled by an overwhelming Democrat party majority, voted to defund the military aid that the United States had promised – breaking our commitment.
After the Paris Peace Accords were signed, South Vietnamese President Thieu was proven right by his concern of leaving North Vietnamese troops anywhere within the borders of South Vietnam, while President Nixon was right in promising aid from the United States should there be North Vietnamese aggression. And both Presidents were wrong in not foreseeing the possibility that a future congress of the United States would break the promises made, and that a future president would be unable or unwilling to accept the domestic consequences of keeping the promises. In this case, promises made to a foreign power were broken, and surrender followed.
And I know that President Nixon was devastated about what the 94th Congress did. So any assertion that President Nixon had been biding his time for years before the inevitable collapse of South Vietnam, is patently false.
President Nixon passed away 23 years ago. He resigned 43 years ago. The 1960 election was over a half century ago. Today’s journalists and political pundits certainly don’t know everything. Every bit of information that, I’d say, 99% of the population receives about Nixon, is secondhand. They receive it from other sources, many of whom receive their information from the media.
When I hear otherwise good people being critical of President Nixon, I recognize they don’t know what the devil they’re talking about. They don’t really know.
Bruce Herschensohn was a speechwriter in President Nixon’s administration.
Views expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.