In a conversation released by the Library in 2010, on February 3, 1973 President Nixon was reminiscing with his personal secretary Rose Mary Woods about the decision to bomb North Vietnam in December 1972. Nixon recounted all of the bad press that he had received over the bombing, not Kissinger. Instead the press had praised Kissinger. President Nixon then explains to Woods how the idea that Kissinger wanted to continue to negotiate while he wanted to bomb was all wrong. He informed her that Kissinger pushed for a break in the negotiations and an increase in the bombing. It was he who forced Kissinger to continue the negotiations. Only reluctantly did he decide to bomb. President Nixon also declared that Kissinger’s statement “peace is at hand” was “the greatest misstatement he ever made,” and that instead of helping it had hindered the negotiations. President Nixon told Woods that Kissinger has a “sense of inferiority”1 that he has to compensate for with tough policies. Later that afternoon, when meeting with his Special Counsel Charles W. Colson, President Nixon stated that he knew that the statement was a mistake and a “very grave error.” Colson concurred stating that it had hurt the negotiations, “by putting them out on a limb.”2
Are the memories of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger accurate?
Did Kissinger push President Nixon into the “December Bombing”?
Did President Nixon always believe that the phrase “peace is at hand” was deleterious to the negotiations?
How was the decision to bomb North Vietnam made?
Was the bombing necessary?
What do the tapes tell us about the decision making process behind the “Christmas Bombing” of 1972? The White House Tapes allow us to go back in time and listen to history as it happened. Through them we can reconstruct history and find out specifically what President Nixon and Henry Kissinger said. We can discern what their respective roles were in advocating or objecting to the bombings. We will also be able to find out how President Nixon felt about Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” statement in October. Throughout this exhibit you will be able to listen to President Nixon and his closest advisors discuss the Vietnam War, the progress and delays of the Paris Peace talks, and their discussions on the bombing of North Vietnam. You will learn how the decision to bomb North Vietnam was made and if the recollections of President Nixon on February 3 and Henry Kissinger’s subsequent memoir were accurate.
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Date: March 17, 1973
Participants: President Nixon, Alexander M. Haig
Location: Executive Office Building
Log File: EOB 416 Log