In this lesson, we will take a look at President Richard Nixon's involvement in the Vietnam War. We will identify the central events of the Vietnam War that took place under the Nixon Administration and we will explore Nixon's role in the conflict.
Vietnam War 101
Maybe you've heard of the Vietnam War. Maybe you have a relative or know someone who fought in it. The Vietnam War was a terrible conflict fought between the mid-1950s and 1975. There is actually a lot of debate over when the war officially started. See, American troops were sent there little by little, and at the beginning, they were officially called 'military advisors.' This was done to make it seem like the United States was not at war.
Many experts consider the official dates of the war as 1955-1975, so we will go with that. This is a long war! It was fought throughout the administrations of five presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford.
The Vietnam War was fought between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam, which was supported by the United States. Basically, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam. The U.S. supported South Vietnam because it was widely believed that if South Vietnam 'fell' to communism, other nearby countries would do the same, and this would be bad for the U.S. This was called the 'Domino Theory'. The Vietnam War was very unpopular with the American people.
Nixon Inherits the War
Richard Nixon served as U.S. President between 1969-1974. He was a Republican, and he was the 37th President of the United States. Like Lyndon B. Johnson, who came before him, Nixon basically inherited the Vietnam War. Remember, America had been involved (one way or another) in Vietnam since 1955!
While Nixon was campaigning for president in the election of 1968, the Tet Offensive was taking place. The Tet Offensive was a massive military operation launched by North Vietnam forces against South Vietnam and American forces. The Tet Offensive was one of the most well-known engagements of the entire war, and it helped convince the United States to withdraw from Vietnam. While campaigning for President in 1968, Nixon pledged to end the Vietnam War. He promised 'peace with honor' but gave few specifics of how that would be accomplished. He also campaigned on the promise that he would end the draft.
Nixon and Vietnam
By the time Richard Nixon took office, the Vietnam War was incredibly unpopular. Hundreds of American soldiers were being killed each week, causing widespread protesting. Determined to get the U.S. out of the war, Nixon adopted a strategy that has been called the madman theory. Basically, this strategy consisted of Nixon making himself out to be unpredictable and volatile. The plan was to make the North Vietnamese think he was... yes, a madman, which would cause them to be afraid of provoking him.
The plan was basically to get the North Vietnamese to agree to negotiations and a favorable truce. Unfortunately, for Nixon, the plan didn't work out quite like he wanted. The North Vietnamese were more committed to their military goals than Nixon realized and growing anti-war sentiment in the United States gave the North Vietnamese hope that the U.S. might withdraw.
While publicly calling for an end to the war, Nixon secretly authorized covert operations that expanded the scope of the war. Throughout 1969-1970, Operation Menu involved the strategic bombing of Cambodia and Laos. While these bombings were a military success, in the end, they proved unable to quench the fanaticism of the North Vietnamese forces. With intense opposition to the war being widespread throughout the U.S., Nixon repeatedly tried to bring about a truce to the war. He implemented a series of troop withdraws, and in 1973, ended the draft. Basically, the American government was losing hope that the war could be won.
The Vietnam War officially ended under President Gerald Ford in 1975. But what is important to remember about Richard Nixon is that he was instrumental in winding it down. Although he initially escalated the war, by the early 1970s, he began to realize it was a fight not worth waging, and he began bringing it to a close. By the way, I just want everyone to understand: the United States did not win the Vietnam War. Our withdrawal was viewed with disgrace.
Let's review. The Vietnam War was a terrible conflict fought between North Vietnam on one side and South Vietnam and the United States on the other. It was fought between the mid-1950s and 1975. Richard Nixon was a Republican President who served between 1969-1974. While he was campaigning during the election of 1968, the Tet Offensive took place. The Tet Offensive was a massive military operation launched by North Vietnam forces against South Vietnam and American forces. It helped convince the United States that the Vietnam War was not worth fighting.
In an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire, Nixon adopted what has been called the madman theory, in which the U.S. government tried to make Nixon appear volatile and unpredictable so as to frighten the North Vietnamese. Throughout 1969-1970, a secret bombing campaign called Operation Menu took place. This operation involved strategic bombing over Cambodia and Laos. President Nixon implemented a series of troop withdrawals and played a vital role in bringing about the close of the Vietnam War.
When this lesson is over, see that you can achieve these objectives:
- Identify the presidents involved in the Vietnam War and provide background on the war
- Outline the Tet Offensive of 1968
- Understand Nixon's 'madman theory'
- Remember Nixon's hopes with relation to the secret bombings of Operation Menu