Vietnamization: Nixon's Plan to Withdraw American Forces

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  • 0:01 Introduction
  • 1:16 Nixon's War
  • 1:59 Vietnamization
  • 3:32 Implementing the Plan
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies and 27 graduate credits in American history. She will start coursework on her doctoral degree in history this fall. She has taught heritage of the western world I and II and U.S. history I and II at a community college in southern New Jersey for the past two years.

When Nixon was elected President, he faced a difficult decision concerning Vietnam. In this lesson, learn about President Nixon's strategy to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese and gradually withdraw American forces.

Introduction

The Vietnam War was a conflict that actually involved four different U.S. presidents, each with different strategies for dealing with the problem. President Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns for the conditions in Vietnam by criticizing the terms of the Geneva Accords in 1954. This document created a division between North and South Vietnam until free elections could be held two years later. Eisenhower's main problems with the accords was that he felt that the communists in North Vietnam had been given too much power. By 1961, John F. Kennedy had been sworn into the presidency. He sent advisors into Vietnam to further investigate the situation. While he did not commit troops, he did support a coup, or the sudden overthrow of the government, of the Diem regime. Kennedy was assassinated three weeks later.

Lyndon B. Johnson became president in 1963. American involvement soon escalated after two U.S. ships were attacked in neutral water in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson authorized a series of airstrikes against North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He was the first president to send American ground troops into Vietnam. He soon lost popularity with the American public as the war continued with no end in sight. Amidst the seemingly endless war in Vietnam, President Johnson shocked the world by announcing that he would not run for another term in office.

Nixon's War

In 1968, Richard Nixon won the presidential election and inherited the conflict. Upon taking the oath of office, Nixon was faced with many difficult questions. How would his strategy differ from Johnson's? How could he end the war in Vietnam quickly? From the beginning of his term, he was adamant about finding a quick end to the conflict. The war had created crisis after crisis, from a suffering economy to an enormous loss of life. Nixon was determined to distance himself from Johnson's legacy. Nixon told the public that he would secure 'peace with honor' in Vietnam.

Vietnamization

On November 3rd, 1969, Nixon gave his famous Vietnamization speech. He began by addressing the issue of a divided American public. He said:

'Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is not whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war. The great question is how can we win America's peace?'

Nixon went on to explain why he believed immediate withdrawal of American troops would have been a disaster. For starters, he explained that 'the nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends.' He also held fast to the belief that if America allowed the North Vietnamese to win, the entire Pacific area would be in danger. Nixon adamantly declared that the preservation of peace and freedom should not be the priority of the United States alone. He went on to state:

'In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.'

According to Nixon's speech, America had two choices: an immediate withdrawal of American military forces from Vietnam regardless of how that affected the South Vietnamese, or America can stay in the conflict until peace through negotiated settlement is reached. This plan involved withdrawing American military forces on a schedule after the South Vietnamese had become strong enough to continue their fight for freedom themselves. Nixon chose the second option.

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