Foreign Relations of the United States Series Adds Volumes on Vietnam

Posted by John M. Carland
November 5, 2010
President Nixon Conferring with Henry Kissinger, 1972

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.”



Susan C.
Florida, USA
November 5, 2010

Susan C. in Florida writes:

There have been a few times in my life when I have thought that our country would not survive the events that had, or were, occurring, and those events included the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, as well as, the racial conflicts of the 1960's, Vietnam, the Nixon years, and of course, most recently the corruption and lies of the Bush/Cheney administration. But this Tuesday, and the results of this election, have brought us to an all time low. We are like the abused "wife" who returns over and over again to the very "abuser" who will eventually destroy "her." In 2008 we were given an opportunity to go forward, to change our direction, to help our nation grow in positive ways. We have now set a course to return to same old, same be owned by corporate money, to not care about the "little" guy, to return to "them against us", the propaganda of fear and hate. How extremely shortsighted. Obviously, we as a nation are all afflicted with a short term memory problem. Oh, and isn't it appropriate that we are also trying to re-write the Nixon and Vietnam eras. Heaven help our nation, and I say that with sincere feelings.

New Mexico, USA
November 6, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@Susan C.,

The whole world looks outside of one's self to blame its troubles on.
I could say rationally that since I've never had a credit card, it flat doesn't involve me that everyone else ran their's up beyond their ability to repay, or that since I've never owned a home it doesn't concern me that everyone else took out all those second and third mortgages to go and get upside down upon...

Meanwhile while... back on my heals eating at the local soup kitchen trying not to starve to death... lease up at the end of the month deposit, no return, and a 3 day eviction notice soon to come anyway.

Out of state contactors building low income housing and hiring no one locally, a lot of good billions in stimulus money is doin' for this community, as we get treated like fools with our taxpayer's money.
While I keep lookin' for work.

If America is going to burn its own house down thinkin' it's insured, please don't whine about it while you're doing it, I'm tired of hearing it.

If you want to get politically spun out on the blog Susan, convice a politician he probably has a better chance of making a difference by standing on the street corner with a sign that says,

"It's all my fault, so don't bother to impeach."

And wait for someone to run him over to put you out of your misery.

It might be more effective as a sure-fire cure for political stupidity.

"Woe is we" R US I guess, and woe unto those who mess with us. Threatening the peace from here on out.

For the mood of this country is like a nuking in the making for those that externally threaten our stability.

The people have spoken, it's not about "frustration".
We know what works and what doesn't don't we?
So quit lookin' to others to fix it, when the American dream seems to be broken.

Just send the bill to our enemies, with my best regards.
And when folks drop the hammer down on Amadinnerjacket and 'lil Kim-so-ill, please put my name on it won't you? In post-post posterity to honor my hungry ghost.

This "static defense of freedom" is costing too much, so "go downtown" with it and repossess the investment made in peace and security when adversaries can't appreciate the risk they run of going down the toilet into the heart of darkness. Folks will thank us later for it.

And that's the message I'm sending to Congress.

I'm looking forward to what "the Obamaman" has to tell the terrorists.

He's welcome to quote me.

John P.
November 6, 2010

John P. in Greece writes:

@Susan C. in Florida

Ι think that O.C. and Z. have created a “school of viruses”, without a cause.
What do you mean by saying Bush/Cheney corruption. Do you have some proofs?

You know how much I love you (Susan) all these 3 years talking in DipNote.
But, what do you mean?

All -and I mean ALL- the Presidents and Vice Presidents of this nation were Super-heroes. Don't you think that we should respect this, especially when we talk to the whole world?

John P.
November 7, 2010

John P. in Greece writes:

@Susan in Florida

A clarification: I absolutely agree (as a simple civilian*) with the Obama Administration’s strategic thought.

* I am not an expert and I do not know everything –it’s just an opinion.

In case you were referring to Bush/Cheney decisions concerning Afghanistan and Iraq, we have to admit that they were also great and brave decisions, if you take in consideration the historical period they were taken. At this historical point, military action was the only way. One way! And future proved that after action was taken we had no terrorist attacks (at least in the States). So, the decision was right and I’m sure that history will someday highlight those two intelligent leaders.

On the other hand, the President’s thesis concerning getting out of Iraq and in a short time from Afghanistan is also wise. We (westerns) cannot stay there for ever. It’s costly (in terms of lives and money) and after all: we are not Hitler. So, at this historical point, Obama Administration’s strategic thought is also Great!

Do you know what’s fantastic with the U.S.A. policy? It’s enriched with continuity and at the same time can improvise according to the historical needs.

History has “a past, a now and a future”. This is why we better finish the History End chapter after many many years from now. Not now, or soon!

Eric is right: “the future is now”.

Unfortunately terrorists hit again. This time using envelopes. It becomes a dangerous trade being a "postman" these days.(CHUCKLE).
You see, fighting terrorism worldwide is not an easy job to do. You stop them in Afghanistan, they move to Iraq. You stop them in Iraq, they move to Iran, Sudan, or Yemeni. Syria helps Palestinian terrorist groups in Lebanon, and it goes…
Who knows?

But, "We arn't a nation that lives in fear."

This is why, in a comparative way of thought with all the above, I’d like you to read what Eric wrote on NOV 03, 2010. I think his text describes plenty of dilemmas and truths in a perfect, political seminar way:

He is right! What are we waiting for? It will be too late, when the postman “rings the door-bell”.
This does not mean that we have to use military action in all these places and cases. [(at least not necessarily) Although, most of you listening my thoughts can understand that probably we will have to do it again in some cases. I hope not, but…]
Diplomacy and dialogue can and must play an important role. We must keep on acting and improvising.

The only way to perform our best in this direction is to leave our partisan thoughts out of this and act as One.

The President’s speech, after the recent election results was a State of the art lesson for everyone.
After his speech, watching the news and local reactions here in Greece I can testify that his image moved up from sky to space. Everyone loved his invitation for collaboration. Living in a continent (France, Italy, Spain, Greece and plenty other countries) where parties seem more like boxing clubs, rather than political amplifiers of positive action, do you know what the majority of Greeks said?

“This is it! That’s why Americans are successful. They are “Together as One”! We better follow their political philosophy and work for the future, not the parties”.

Best Regards Susan! I really missed you.
Keep on posting, but watch the “envelopes” (LOL).


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