Was Richard Nixon the last victim of the Vietnam War?
The President’s administration was often overshadowed by the war in south east Asia
When American troops left Vietnam in March 1973, it ended a period of war that much of the public back home had grown to despise.
It would be two years before North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, effectively ending the war. In that time, the postmortem into the war was well underway in America.
By 1975, Richard Nixon had been forced to resign from office over the Watergate scandal that had rocked American politics. Two years later, in March 1977, he sat down for the first of 12 intensive interviews with British journalist David Frost.
Amongst the key topics, the Vietnam War dominated. During one of the interviews, Frost asked Nixon if he agreed that he could be considered the last victim of the war given the social and political upheaval that the conflict brought with it.
In response, the former President believed that there could be an argument made for this, and that right after the peace settlement for the war was thrashed out, a major newspaper publisher told Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state at the time, that he “hated that son of a bitch’s guts” (meaning Nixon).
Nixon was aware that America’s involvement in the war had created enemies for himself. He inherited the war from Lyndon Johnson who had increased military involvement in south east Asia.
It was a position that any President would have struggled to deal with, but Nixon was tasked with ending the most unpopular war in US history.
After coming to office in 1969, Nixon set about intensifying the war by ordering bombing raids of North Vietnamese camps over the border in Cambodia. This tactic was hoped to force the Soviet Union to convince the North Vietnamese into taking diplomatic negotiations seriously.
When this tactic failed to descale the war, Nixon made the historical decision to begin withdrawing US troops. Gradual at first, this would continue throughout the early 1970s. From this, the world was introduced to ‘Vietnamization,’ the notion of America leaving the South Vietnamese army to prepare to defend and fight for themselves.
Peace talks often faltered, but getting the USA out of Vietnam was a top priority for Nixon. As it happened, his forced resignation over the Watergate scandal meant that when the last chopper with American citizens left Saigon, Nixon was no longer in the White House.
Along with the scandal at the Watergate Hotel, Vietnam hung over Nixon for the rest of his days. The inheritance of the most unpopular war in American history would weigh on any President, but being unable to bring American involvement to an end under his watch would have been that much heavier for Nixon.
He will be remembered most for how he was forced into a corner over Watergate, but what lingered over his administration the most was the unwinnable war in southeast Asia.
Thoughts on fighting in foreign wars were drastically impacted by involvement in Vietnam, and Nixon will be forever synonymous with the war and the lasting effect it had on the nation.