On the evening of June 3, 1970, President Nixon addressed the nation on the subject of the controversial and frequently protested bombings of Cambodian sanctuaries. Begun in the spring of 1969, these classified bombings were intended to incapacitate Communist forces gathering behind the Cambodian border and to put an end to attacks launched against American and South Vietnamese forces in Vietnam from the safety of neutral Cambodia. However, the secrecy of these operations was short-lived and despite the fact that the bombing in Cambodia proved effective in the protection of American lives in Vietnam, the unexpected publication in May 1969 of an article denouncing the secret operation in the New York Times prompted outrage and protests across the nation. In 1970, after protests against United States military activities in Cambodia had culminated in tragedy at Kent State University in Ohio, President Nixon resolved to share with the American people the rationale behind his decision to bomb Cambodia, as well as the ultimate outcome he expected from such an operation.
In his address to the nation on the night of June 3, President Nixon defended his command for continued military action in Cambodia in the spring of 1970:
Between April 20th and April 30th, Communist forces launched a series of attacks against a number of key cities in neutral Cambodia. Their objective was unmistakable–to link together bases they had maintained in Cambodia for 5 years in violation of Cambodian neutrality. The entire 600-mile Cambodian-South Vietnam border would then have become one continuous hostile territory from which to launch assaults upon American and allied forces.
This posed an unacceptable threat to our remaining forces in South Vietnam. It would have meant higher casualties. It would have jeopardized our program for troop withdrawals. It would have meant a longer war. And–carried out in the face of an explicit warning from this Government–failure to deal with the enemy action would have eroded the credibility of the United States before the entire world.
The President continued his defense of the decisions made in his role as Commander-in-Chief with the presentation of tangible evidence of the Cambodian sanctuary operation’s efficacy:
As of today I can report that all of our major military objectives have been achieved. Forty-three thousand South Vietnamese took part in these operations, along with 31,000 Americans. Our combined forces have moved with greater speed and success than we had planned; we have captured and destroyed far more in war material than we anticipated; and American and allied casualties have been far lower than we expected.
In the month of May, in Cambodia alone, we captured a total amount of enemy arms, equipment, ammunition. And food nearly equal to what we captured in all of Vietnam in all of last year.
Here is some film of the war material that has been captured.
[at this point, Department of Defense films were shown while the President continued speaking.]
This is some ammunition you see. We have captured more than 10 million rounds of ammunition. That is equal to the enemy’s expenditures of ammunition for 9 months.
And here also you see a few of the over 15,000 rifles and machine guns and other weapons we have captured. They will never be used against American boys in Vietnam.
This reality was brought home directly to me a few days ago. I was talking with a union leader from New York. His son died in Vietnam this past February. He told me that had we moved earlier in Cambodia, we might have captured the enemy weapon that killed his son.
In the course of his address, President Nixon pledged to withdraw from Cambodia in the continued spirit of seeking peace in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia. He reaffirmed his commitment to the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam and promised the American people that by the end of his administration, they would see an end to the war in Vietnam and the safe return home of their brothers, fathers, and sons. He promised America peace and, thankfully, he delivered.
Peace is the goal that unites us. Peace is the goal toward which we are working. And peace is the goal this Government will pursue until the day that we reach it.