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President Nixon and the Vietnam War
In 1969, Richard Nixon was sworn in as President and inherited the Vietnam War. He wanted to pull troops out. Yet, he wanted North Vietnam to lose its power over the South. Nguyen Van Thieu was now the leader of South Vietnam and was recognized by the USA as the authentic leader of the South. Yet, North Vietnam wanted the Vietcong militants, who supported the North, to rule alongside South Vietnam leaders. In the long term, the North wanted Communism to dominate the South.
Henry Kissinger, an aid to Nixon, called for the gradual withdrawal of US troops to let the South Vietnam soldiers take on their own fight against the North. This was called Vietnamization. By 1972, the USA had returned over 450,000 soldiers from Vietnam. Many troops came home. Still, Nixon ordered massive bombing campaigns on North Vietnam and its neighbors Laos and Cambodia, which had Vietcong militants in them that had attacked the USA soldiers many times.
When Nixon announced his intent to attack in Cambodia, over a million college students led protests across the nation. Still, Nixon claimed there was a “silent majority” who supported his war plans, even though the “hippies” and protesters were more vocal in their protest. On May 4th, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, several students were wounded and two killed when the National Guard, fearing for their safety, fired into the crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War.
Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that President Johnson was planning for war even when he promised to end the conflict in Vietnam. Even though Nixon was a Republican, and LBJ a Democrat, this incident caused many to distrust the government at large. By the early 1970s, most Americans wanted the Vietnam War to end and Nixon had little public support to continue with the conflict.
On January 27, 1973, at the Paris Peace Accords, the USA agreed to evacuate its troop presence in Vietnam. This did not end the war. Yet, it ended the USA’s involvement in the conflict. President Gerald Ford took power in 1974 and continued to keep American troops out of Vietnam. In April of 1975, the North Vietnamese military seized Saigon, the South’s capital. South Vietnam surrendered to the North and fell to Communism. Over 58,000 Americans had died in the conflict. Millions in North and South Vietnam had been killed as well throughout the war.