Afterwards, Kissinger went back to Paris for a new session of talks. On December 4, the first day of negotiations, Kissinger cabled President Nixon that the outlook for an acceptable settlement was bleak. He once again stated there were two options:

  • Option 1 – go back to the October agreement
  • Option 2 – Run a risk of a break-off of the talks
  • He continued the cable stating that the "first option is impossible." He then advised the President to pursue Option 2. In pursuing this course Kissinger recommended that "will require your addressing the American people directly. We will have to step up bombing again."12 President Nixon wrote back via, Colonel Richard Kennedy, that he did not think this situation called for him going in front of the nation. He also instructed Kissinger to make the record show that, if there was a breakdown, it was the "put the blame squarely"13 on North Vietnamese then "we will let our actions speak this time rather than our words."14 Until there was a breakdown he wanted Kissinger to continue to negotiate along the course of Option 2.

    Kissinger responded on December 6 by telling the President "if the negotiations break down tomorrow we will have to resume massive bombing." Furthermore, at that point a swap of prisoners for withdrawal by "next summer," but only if "we keep up the bombing."15 President Nixon replied to Kissinger, once again through Kennedy, to not "paint ourselves in a corner by saying anything like "this is our final offer."" He also instructed him to "leave a crack of the door open for further discussion."16 The tapes show that President Nixon was willing to let the talks continue and was not in a rush to move to a military option. Part of the reason was that he believed that Kissinger was too emotional. While at Camp David he discussed Kissinger's emotional state with his Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman. They talked about how he tended to overreact in these situations and how Kissinger is now "out on a limb"17 because of his "peace is at hand" statement and now he wanted the President to cover him by addressing the nation. Regardless of their perception of his emotional state, it was Kissinger who on the first day recommended that the agreement was impossible and that bombing was needed. Despite his repeated proposals to bomb, President Nixon kept him in Paris for another nine days. It was during these negotiations that President Nixon and his advisors began to realize that Kissinger’s "peace is at hand" statement was becoming troublesome.

    On December 13 Kissinger and Tho parted ways and spoke of meeting again after a two week recess. During the recess, both sides placed blame on the other party. Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig met on the December 14 to discuss their next move. During this meeting Kissinger gave Nixon a point-by-point recounting of the November and December negotiations and his growing frustration with what he perceived as Vietnamese—North and South—duplicity. In an uncharacteristic outburst Kissinger told Nixon that the Vietnamese were "tawdry miserable, filthy people [and] they make the Russians look good."18 The problem that now confronted the administration was how to proceed now that there was a breakdown—or an impasse as Nixon thought of it. Throughout the rest of the meeting the trio discussed the strategy of how and when to bomb the north with Haig and Kissinger both giving their recommendations. Kissinger repeatedly recommended "bombing the bejesus out of them,"19 and he wanted to continue the bombing for six months. However, President Nixon did not believe that he could convince Congress to keep funding the war that long. Potentially bombing could solve the dilemma that had been prevalent throughout the negotiations. Essentially, President Nixon and Kissinger needed to convince the North Vietnamese that the United States was willing to continue the war if their conditions were not met and simultaneously convince the South Vietnamese that the United States was going to end the war with or without their support.

    The decision to bomb North Vietnam happened organically. The conversation shows that they weighed all of the options, and considered the possible consequences to the bombing in regards to their negotiations. By the end, President Nixon believed that bombing North Vietnam was the best option to get around this impasse. Despite, what is written in his memoir, Kissinger recommends bombing North Vietnam and at one point tells President Nixon that "they [the North Vietnamese] are scared out of their minds that you’ll resume bombing,"20 and that if he does not bomb them he will "really be impotent."21 Also contradicting his memoir there is no debate about keeping the bombing below the 20th parallel. It was not even talked about as by this time it was a given that if they were going to bomb North Vietnam they were going to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong. However, there were numerous statements about significantly bombing North Vietnam, which included Hanoi and Haiphong. By the end of the meeting they had come to the decision that the bombing would commence in the next few days and would continue through the end of the month.

    From December 18 – 29 (with a 24 hour reprieve on Christmas Day) the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps flew 3, 420 sorties over North Vietnam including up to 120 B-52 sorties per day. The ferocity of the bombings was unexpected and drew world-wide indignation. Most people falsely believed that the war was winding down and that the negotiations would continue until an agreement was signed. The massive bombing campaign seemed out of sync with the expectations of the last few months' worth of negotiations especially after Kissinger’s "peace is at hand" press conference. Over the course of the bombings the United States would lose fifteen B-52’s (14 more than had been lost in the war previously and 12% of the total force), thirteen tactical aircraft were shot down, and 31 crewman became POW’s and 93 were declared Missing in Action [MIA]. Although civilian targets were not intentionally targeted the bombings produced collateral damage. In Hanoi five different residential districts were heavily damaged, the Bach Mai hospital was destroyed, eight foreign embassies were damaged, and approximately 2,196 civilians were killed and 1,577 were wounded. The cost of the bombings was extremely high for both sides, and yet the impact of the bombings psychologically on the North Vietnamese was negligible according to an Air Force study conducted in April 1973.

    Kissinger Recommends Bombing

    Newspapers and politicians around the globe came out en masse to condemn President Nixon and the bombings. The New York Times' James Reston said it was "war by tantrum." The Daily Mirror proclaimed that the bombing was "an act of insane ferocity, a crude exercise in the politics of terror." The Times of London added to the outrage stating the bombing has "a particular horror because of its massive scale [and] its indiscriminate character." The Guardian asked if "Mr. Nixon wants to go down in history as one of the most bloodthirsty of American Presidents." Swedish Premeire Olof Palme compared the bombings to events of Guernica, Babi Yar, and Treblinka. Furthermore, he stated that "what is happening today in Vietnam is a form of torture." Leaders throughout Western Europe denounced the bombings and appealed to the United States to stop the bombing and continue the peace negotiations. The criticisms were not confined to foreign leaders, however, as Congressman and Senators came out against the bombings. Senator William B. Saxbe wondered if President Nixon had "taken leave of his senses." Senator Majority Leader Michael J. Mansfield called the bombings a "stone age tactic." The bombings according to Senator Ted Kennedy "should outrage the conscience of all Americans." The American public also disapproved as President Nixon’s approval rating dropped by 11%. Although some politicians and newspapers came out in support of President Nixon, they were effectively drowned out by the sheer volume of negative reports.

    The Decision to Bomb: December 14 conversation

    What is happening today in Vietnam is a form of torture.

    --Swedish Premier Olof Palme

    On December 26 North Vietnam agreed to resume the talks on January 2. President Nixon stopped bombing above the 20th parallel on December 29. Kissinger and Tho reconvened on January 8 and had a significant breakthrough the next day, Nixon’s birthday. Kissinger called President Nixon to extend birthday wishes and to tell him about the major developments. The talks concluded on January 13 and the final agreement represented a mix of the October and November agreements with some new compromises. Thieu remained resistant to signing an agreement until the very end, causing Nixon to proclaim that he "was living in a dream world," while Kissinger decreed that he was "demented." Thieu finally submitted to US demands on January 21. On January 27, twenty-eight years after America first became involved in the affairs of Vietnam, the agreement was officially signed and America's longest war ended.

    In April 1975, twenty-seven months after the agreement was signed, North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam and united Vietnam under one communist government.

    January 23, 1973 - Address to the Nation Announcing an Agreement on Ending the War in Vietnam

    Date: May 8, 1972

    Participants: President Nixon

    Location: Oval Office

    Description: In this speech President Nixon informs the Nation that the war in Vietnam is over.

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    Log File: Transcript