Mrs. Kay Vu
Vietnam Daily News
It was nice talking with you on Friday. As discussed, the attached article is submitted on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Whether your newspaper does or does not publish the article (edited or unedited), I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on what I have compiled.
The historical points in the article are part of the public record and are beyond dispute. In contrast, the opening and closing paragraphs are my own heartfelt opinion. That opinion does, however, coincide with what an ARVN veteran in Vietnam told me in 2011 when he said, America abandoned us. As you can see, the article was intended for submission to an American audience. Nevertheless, I thought that your newspaper might well be interested.
Brief background: I was an officer in the US Air Force deployed to Southeast Asia during the period October 1968 to October 1969. My assignment was to identify targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos so that they could be interdicted by the US Air Force.
If you have any questions, please let me know. Thank you for your assistance.
Peace without Honor
An American Betrayal
April 30th marks forty years since the fall of Saigon and the end of the Republic of Vietnam. Before history is either forgotten by the passage of time that clouds the memory or manipulated by revisionists, it is timely to recount how America betrayed its ally and the honor of its men and women who served and died in the Vietnam War.
Neither America nor South Vietnam ever sought to impose a military defeat on North Vietnam. What was sought was an end to the conflict through negotiations in a way that would leave the people of South Vietnam the opportunity to decide their own future free from outside coercion or interference. Throughout the negotiating process ‘peace with honor’ became the theme of American policy in Vietnam. Indeed, the whole process of America’s disengagement had been designed to uphold American honor.
How then did America make peace without honor? How then did America betray its ally? How then did the sacrifices, the blood shed by Americans and Vietnamese, come to naught? History tells how.
- Jul 1968 – a meeting in Honolulu between President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam and President Lyndon Johnson: The President had pledged support for South Vietnam “as long as the help is needed and desired.”
- 14 May 1969 – a speech by President Richard Nixon announcing a new peace plan: “A great nation cannot renege on its pledges. A great nation must be worthy of trust. When it comes to maintaining peace, ‘prestige’ is not an empty word. I am not speaking of false pride or bravado – they should have no place in our policies. I speak rather of the respect that one has for another’s integrity in defending its principles and meeting its obligations.”
- 31 Aug 1972 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu reassuring the South Vietnamese president that the United States would never dishonor the loss of so many American lives by deserting a brave ally: “At this delicate moment in the negotiations, let me assure you once again personally and emphatically, of the bedrock of the U.S. position: The United states has not persevered all this way, at the sacrifice of many American lives, to reverse course in the last few months of 1972. We will not do now what we have refused to do in the preceding three and a half years. The American people know that the United States cannot purchase peace or honor or redeem sacrifices at the price of deserting a brave ally. This I cannot do and will never do.”
- 16 Oct 1972 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu: “In the period following the cessation of hostilities you can be completely assured that we will continue to provide your Government with the fullest support, including continued economic aid and whatever military assistance is consistent with the cease-fire provisions of this government. … I can assure you that we will view any breach of faith on their part with the utmost gravity; and it would have the most serious consequences.”
- 14 Nov 1972 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu: “But far more important than what we say in the agreement on this issue is what we do in the event the enemy renews its aggression. You have my absolute assurance that if Hanoi fails to abide by the terms of this agreement it is my intention to take swift and severe retaliatory action.”
- 5 Jan 1973 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu: “You have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam.”
- 14 Jan 1973 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu: “… we will react strongly in the event the agreement is violated.”
- 17 Jan 1973 – a letter from President Nixon to President Thieu: “Thirdly, the U.S. will react vigorously to violations of the Agreement.”
- 23 Jan 1973: President Nixon announces that Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho had initialed an agreement in Paris “to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.”
- 27 Jan 1973: ‘An Agreement ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam’ was signed in Paris. The settlement included: a cease-fire throughout Vietnam; a ban on the infiltration of troops and war supplies into South Vietnam; the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia and a prohibition of troop movement through those countries (i.e., a ban on the use of Laotian or Cambodian base areas to encroach on the sovereignty and security of South Vietnam); the right to unlimited military replacement aid for the Republic of Vietnam; the eventual reunification of the country only through peaceful means; respect by North Vietnam for the South Vietnamese People’s right to self-determination; and no use of force to reunify the country.
- North Vietnamese violations of the cease-fire by infiltrating men and supplies into South Vietnam began within a week of the signing of the agreement, and reconnaissance photos along with messages of urgent concern were sent to Washington.
- 3 Apr 1973 – a meeting in San Clemente between President Thieu and President Nixon (from Nixon’s memoirs): “I fully shared his concern, and I assured him that we would not tolerate any actions that actually threatened South Vietnam.”
- mid-April 1973: 35,000 fresh North Vietnamese troops had entered South Vietnam or nearby sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia.
- 31 May 1973: The United States Senate approved a bill to bar the use of supplemental appropriations from support of U.S. combat activities in or over Cambodia or Laos.
- 26 Jun 1973: The House of Representatives passed an amendment tacked on to a continuing appropriations bill that barred U.S. combat activities not only over Cambodia and Laos but over North and South Vietnam as well.
- 24 Oct 1973: United States intelligence reported that, since the cease-fire, North Vietnam military presence in South Vietnam had been built up by 70,000 men, 400 tanks, at least 200 artillery pieces, and 15 antiaircraft artillery.
- 26 Dec 1973: Ambassador Graham Martin appealed directly to the White House for support to restore funds. Congress had cut the funds for the year to $900 million and Martin insisted that the original ceiling of $1.126 billion be restored and an additional $494.4 million be added for a total of $1.62 billion, “to reasonably discharge our commitments.”
- 6 May 1974: The Senate voted 43-38 to adopt a Kennedy amendment to a Defense Department supplemental appropriations bill barring the use of funds to be spent in, for, or on behalf of any country in Southeast Asia.
- 11 Jul 1974: Senator Edward Kennedy called for a 50 percent cut in economic aid to South Vietnam, from $943 million to $475 million.
- 5 Aug 1974: President Nixon signed into law an aid ceiling of $1 billion for Vietnam for fiscal 1974 (ending 30 Jun 1974), reduced from the $1.6 billion originally requested. Not only was aid reduced, but the way it was to be allocated made it equivalent to only about one third of what it had been the previous year.
- 9 Aug 1974: Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States. Vice President Gerald Ford succeeded to the presidency.
- 10 Aug 1974 – a letter from President Ford to President Thieu: “I do not think I really need to inform you that American foreign policy has always been marked by its essential continuity and its essential bipartisan nature. This is even more true today and the existing commitments this name has made in the past are still valid and will be fully honored in my administration.”
- 11 Aug 1974: Congress appropriated just $700 million of the $1 billion authorized ceiling for Indochina that had been signed by President Nixon just six days earlier.
- 28 Jan 1975: President Ford, in requesting a $300 million supplemental appropriations for military aid for Vietnam, revealed that North Vietnam had 289,000 troops in South Vietnam, and tanks, heavy artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons “by the hundreds.”
- 12-13 Mar 1975: On 12 March the House Democratic Caucus voted 189-49 against additional military aid for South Vietnam and Cambodia. On 13 March the Senate Democratic Caucus voted 34-6 against any additional military aid in fiscal 1975.
- 22 Mar 1975 – a letter from President Ford to President Thieu: “By their action, Hanoi is again seeking to undermine all that we have fought to achieve at enormous cost over the past ten years. Concurrently at stake is American resolve to support a friend who is being attacked by heavily armed forces in total violation of a solemn international agreement.”
- 25 Mar 1975 – a letter from President Thieu to President Ford: “Hanoi’s intention to use the Paris Agreement for a military takeover of South Vietnam was well known to us at the very time of negotiating the Paris Agreement. You may recall that we signed it, not because we naively believed in the enemy’s good will, but because we trusted in America’s solemn commitment to safeguard the peace in Vietnam. Firm pledge was then given to us that the United States would retaliate swiftly and vigorously to any violation of the Agreement by the enemy. We consider those pledges the most important guarantee of the Paris Agreement. We know that the pledge is most crucial to our survival.” This was the last letter from President Thieu sent to an American President. It was never answered.
- 10 Apr 1975 – President Ford, appearing before a joint session of Congress, appealed for nearly $1billion in additional aid to South Vietnam: “Members of the Congress, my fellow Americans, this moment of tragedy for Indochina is a time of trial for us. It is a time for national resolve. … Let us remember that our national unity is a most priceless asset. Let us deny our adversaries the satisfaction of using Vietnam to pit Americans against Americans. At this moment the United States must present to the world a united front.” As he spoke, two freshmen Democrats, Toby Moffett of Connecticut and George Miller of California, stood up and walked out of the chamber. The President’s request never got out of committee in either chamber.
- 14 Apr 1975 – a meeting in Washington, requested by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with President Ford, to discuss the situation in Southeast Asia: Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden said, “I will vote for any amount for getting the Americans out. I don’t want it mixed with getting the Vietnamese out.”
- 23 Apr 1975 – a speech by President Ford to several thousand students at Tulane University in New Orleans: “America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”
- Apr 1975: President Ford led the way to help the South Vietnamese refugees. Even then, the House of Representatives rejected his initial request for $507 million for transportation and care of refugees, and he had to mount a full-scale effort to change the mind of Congress. Senator George McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent in 1972, said: “I think the Vietnamese are better off in Vietnam, including the orphans.”
As quoted above, the presidential letters constituted a consistently reiterated commitment from the elected leaders of the American people to the President of the Republic of Vietnam. They were a set of promises made on behalf of the American government and people by two Presidents. The letters were not merely an abstract set of promises – they were tools of American diplomacy used to influence and force decisions, create actions, and build expectations. The failure to honor them constitutes the betrayal of an ally unrivaled in American history.
Two basic promises, given verbally and in writing, were flaunted. The United States did not replace equipment lost or destroyed in the fighting against North Vietnamese violations of the Paris Agreement, nor did it retaliate with “full force” when North Vietnam flagrantly and systematically violated the Paris Agreement. As a signator, prime mover, and principal author of the Paris Agreement, the United States had a solemn obligation to sustain it. American decency, honor, and character warranted nothing less.
President John Kennedy, in his (“ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”) inaugural ađress, had proclaimed that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe” in the cause of liberty, but he was wrong. America had found a price too high, a burden too heavy, a friend too unworthy, and a foe too intractable to continue to hold high in the cause of liberty.
But if not for the cause of liberty or the promises made to an ally, what of the article of faith held by members of the armed services that American military actions inevitably result in success? Disengagement in the face of an aggressive and hostile enemy, while not quite defeat, has the same effect. America did not shrink from calling her citizens to war, but once called, refused to sustain them with public support. If there was any immorality in the war in Vietnam, it was that a democratic nation sent her citizens to war, had them killed by the tens of thousands, and then dishonored the fallen and scorned the survivors. The names of the tens of thousands are forever recorded on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They did not ask their country; their country asked them. In my Cả Mỹ lẫn Nam Việt Nam mind’s eye I see them crying out and asking, “How do we get our honor back?” It’s a question that just isn’t going to go away.