1. Introduction
    1. Audio
  2. Chapter I
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  3. Chapter II
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  4. Chapter III
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
  5. Chapter IV
  6. Chapter V
    1. Audio
    2. Text
  7. Conclusion
  8. Appendix
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Text
    4. Photo Gallery

Prelude to Bombing

The spirit of conciliation that had been present in October was missing during the November and December meetings. Both the North Vietnamese and the Americans proposed new changes and reneged on principles that were already agreed on in October. While the negotiations were taking place, President Nixon and Kissinger sent a plethora of cables back and forth in an effort to form a strategy to save the negotiations. In a November 23 cable Kissinger laid out the options going forward. "Barring a sudden give by the North Vietnamese, we do not have an acceptable deal," Kissinger told the President. Therefore, they had two options going forward:

  • Option 1 – Break off the talks at our next meeting
  • Option 2 – Go back to the October agreement with slight modifications to placate Thieu.
  • Kissinger then told the President that "it is very possible that we will have to face a breakdown in the talks and the need for a drastic step-up in our bombing of the North."9 The President responded by instructing Kissinger to go for Option 2 and then he told him that "that heavy bombing of the North is probably not a viable option for us."10 In three subsequent cables President Nixon told Kissinger to use his judgment in whether to break off the talks or continue. He also told him that he would "authorize a massive strike on the North,"11 during the recess if they had an agreement that was worse than October's. Throughout the cables though President Nixon instructs Kissinger that the negotiations should continue and any recess should be temporary with provisions made to meet again. It is evident that bombing was still being discussed as a possibility to force the North Vietnamese to accede to US demands. Kissinger and Tho were able to cobble together an agreement that Kissinger believed was even better than the October agreement. However, President Thieu would never sign it. Kissinger proposed a one week recess to consult with the President. On November 30 President Nixon met with Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Deputy National Security Advisor Alexander M. Haig, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the military response in the event that the negotiations broke down or to punish the North Vietnamese for a violation if an agreement was eventually completed.

    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.

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