About the Author: John M. Carland is a Senior Historian in the Office of the Historian, and coordinated the "Conference on the American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975."
In his speech to the Office of the Historian's Conference on the American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, referring to the entire Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes series -- and, especially the recently-published 1969-1975 Nixon-Ford series -- said: "I want to congratulate the Office of the Historian. The FRUS series on American foreign policy has been an absolutely indispensable document center for several generations. These volumes contain richly textured memos, documents, memcons, tapes, that leap off the page and bring to life forgotten events with contemporary relevance."
Although all four of these volumes, which are available on-line, include documents dealing with a variety of topics, each also covers a major event in the period of the volume.
Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1972 provides extensive documentation on the origin, planning, execution, results, and consequences of Operation Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese incursion into Laos in early 1971. The incursion was intended to demonstrate the success of President Nixon's policy of Vietnamization -- of turning the fighting over to the South Vietnamese military as American forces withdrew -- and to disrupt the North Vietnamese logistical system and military build-up in Laos. Scholars debating this event now have authoritative documentary evidence from the highest levels, such as the President, the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, and others, on which to base their conclusions. At the conclusion of this volume, the United States and North Vietnam were in stalemate, neither able to defeat the other.
Volume VIII, Vietnam, January-October 1972 picks up from that point and focuses on the North Vietnamese attempt to break the stalemate by launching a major military offensive (called the Easter Offensive) against South Vietnam in the spring of 1972. Had it succeeded, the North would have had no need to further negotiate with the United States. Nixon's strong response, with an air and sea power campaign against North Vietnam, and South Vietnam's own capable operational response on the ground in the South, made it impossible for North Vietnam to win and so brought Hanoi back to the negotiating table. At the end of the volume, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Politburo member Le Duc Tho appeared poised to negotiate a settlement to the war.
Volume IX, Vietnam, October 1972-January 1973 shows how chimerical the United States' belief was that the Kissinger/Le Duc Tho October 1972 settlement would end the war. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, America's chief ally in the war, refused to accept the settlement as long as it allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in the South. Since the North refused to remove the troops, and the South Vietnamese -- and earlier, the Americans -- had failed to force them out, the agreement collapsed in December, leading to the “Christmas Bombings” late that month. Nixon used the bombing to bring North Vietnam back to the table, where both sides accepted in January, with only modest amendment, the earlier October agreement. John Negroponte later famously characterized the event: “We are bombing them to force them to accept our concessions.” The important point for the North Vietnamese was that the settlement would get the United States out of Vietnam. At the same time, the South Vietnamese finally approved the settlement because Nixon made it clear that if they didn't he would abandon them. On this note, the parties signed the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, and the last United States troops departed two months later.
Volume X, Vietnam, January 1973-July 1975 documents the story of United States' policy toward South Vietnam from the signing of the Peace Accords to the fall of South Vietnam and its immediate aftermath. When it starts, in early 1973, the United States was not directly involved militarily in South Vietnam, for the first time since 1964. Instead, it provided only material support to South Vietnam's military and its government. Controversy over the war continued in the United States, and, as Congress approved significantly less aid to South Vietnam, it also restricted the President's ability to act in Southeast Asia. In South Vietnam, low-level conflict persisted, and, in 1974, a resurgent North Vietnamese army mounted a successful general offensive in the South. South Vietnam collapsed, and Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. Documents in this volume will lend clarity to scholars and citizens wanting to know more about the inner workings of policy formation by the Nixon -- and, after August 1974, the Ford -- White House in responding to the rapidly changing situation.
Several recurring themes run through these volumes. One of the most important is the use of force and diplomacy, as with the Easter Offensive of 1972, when the enemy used force to avoid the need to negotiate. Nixon responded with intensified bombing of the North and the mining of North Vietnam's coastal ports to compel the North Vietnamese to return to the negotiating table. Another theme is Vietnamization and how it affected the negotiations. Kissinger argued that the incremental decisions to withdraw American troops gave the North Vietnamese an advantage and took away U.S. bargaining chips. Another recurring theme is the role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A careful perusal of CIA documents in these volumes about the activities of the Agency in Vietnam, particularly those associated with George Carver, the CIA Director's Special Assistant on Vietnamese Affairs, will advance various scholarly arguments and theses.
Other themes in these volumes include: the policy role of committees of senior principals in the national security establishment, of various National Security Council staff (such as Winston Lord, Peter Rodman, and John Negroponte), and the fascinating role played by Admiral Thomas Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and more. Suffice it to say that we here in the Historian's Office believe that these histories amply satisfy the congressionally-mandated requirement that the FRUS series -- of which the Indochina/Vietnam War volumes are an integral part -- provides: “…a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions and significant United States diplomatic activity. Volumes of this publication shall include all records needed to provide a comprehensive documentation of the major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government, including the facts which contributed to the formulation of policies and records providing supporting and alternative views to the policy position ultimately adopted.”
Let me end with a quotation from Secretary Clinton's speech to the conference that sums up the work of the Historian's Office on this sub-series and on its significance: “I want to acknowledge all of the hard work of the historians here at the State Department who have completed an exhaustive record of United States policy regarding Southeast Asia from 1946 until 1975….This collection will be a resource for students and scholars, for families and citizens in both of our countries [the United States and Vietnam] who remain keenly interested in this chapter of our shared history.”