Around the world, there was a climate of detente as the Cold War between the US and Russia was beginning to thaw. Governments, both communist and democratic, began to realise that political aggression would not lead to peace and prosperity for all parties.
Pressure came from both international governments and domestically for the US to quickly end the war, and leave Vietnam.
The US had to accept that communism was not a threat to their society and could not be ‘contained’. A more amicable foreign policy was introduced and concessions were made with China and Russia. President Nixon’s visit to China in 1973 marked a progressive step towards easing tension between the two hostile countries.
Richard Nixon won the election of 1968 with of promises to “de-Americanize” Vietnam until there was “peace with honour.” He agreed to “Vietnamize” the war, which meant the gradual removal of US troops that were replaced by increased warfare by the South Vietnamese Army.
At the same time, both official and secret negotiations took place in Paris with the North Vietnamese. However, progress was not made, as both sides wanted conflicting agreements. Under US terms, peace would be achieved if the country were to remain divided, while the North wanted reunification.
This led to the war intensifying; the US increased its bombing over Laos and Cambodia in 1971 to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail to pressure the North to give in. This failed, as there were only 285000 troops left in Vietnam and the North realised that it only had to keep up moral and hang on because the anti-war movement in America was growing stronger by day.
Both in the US and around the world, Nixon’s strategies seemed hypocritical, as despite claiming to want to end the war, the (US backed) South Vietnamese government refused to compromise with the North’s terms and Nixon was stepping up the war in South East Asia.
Most of the US public had turned against their government’s war in Vietnam. Draft cards were burnt and anti-war rallies and riots were held constantly throughout the country. People were left disillusioned with the failure of their country military plans such as Operation Rolling Thunder and their soldiers to combat effectively.
As more money was spent on Vietnam, the less was done so domestically. There was a high human and financial cost and funds could not be used to pay for social problems like poverty, human rights and unemployment.
In 1971 more information was divulged about the government’s plans in Vietnam. ‘Operation Phoenix’, where the CIA set a target of 3000 suspects to arrest and gain information of other Vietcong. Many of these people were ordinary people and were captured to meet quotas. The ‘Pentagon Papers’ were secret documents containing information on how officials lied and covered up incidents in the war. When released, the public found out how their government were killing thousands of innocent people and distrusted them even more so.
In Vietnam, the bombings and ‘search and destroy’ missions had failed to destroy the Vietcong’s supply lines or force them to retreat.
The communists ‘held on’ easily, as they were extremely determined to win this war. Morale was extremely high, and the casualties only spurred them to continue and fight harder. They had a motive to win that united them in their battle, which was to unify their country and have it led by their own people. With such a strong cause, the guerillas persevered and morale was consistently high amongst them.
On the other hand, US GI’s did not care about the war. They knew people back home lost support of the war and for them in taking part. There were racial tensions, disheartened soldiers and difficulty between the soldiers to co-operate. As soon as a soldier gained skills of combat and survival, it was the end of the tour and as the time drew near, a soldier would become reluctant to fight for fear of getting killed. This one-year tour system made the US soldiers inefficient and ineffective.
There were especially strained relations between conscripted soldiers and their professional officers, who wanted promotion and a high body count of enemies. The soldiers wanted to stay alive, and revolt would occur and they would kill the officer. This was called ‘fragging’ and almost 3% of officers who died were ‘fragged’.
Drug dependencies were also common, as GI’s had easy access to them in Vietnam. Amphetamines were used in combat to stay ‘high’ and alert. In fact, there were more soldiers treated for addictions than for wounds from combat.