“No More Vietnams” By Richard Nixon
New York: Arbor House, 1985
In his best-seller “No More Vietnams,” the former President provided a comprehensive history of the Vietnam War, including critical analyses of his, and his predecessors’, decisions and actions. ] He dispelled many of the myths that had grown up around the Vietnam War, and still persist today. He showed how various forces — four Presidents, the media, Congress, and the anti-war movement — affected the American war effort. He also showed how America should engage in future military conflicts in order to assure that there will be “No More Vietnams.”
Vietnam: President Nixon in his own words
Excerpts from No More Vietnams
“THE MYTHS OF VIETNAM”
MYTH: The War in Vietnam was immoral.
“Many who were seeing war for the first time were so shocked at what they saw that they said this war was immoral when they really meant that all war was terrible. They were right in saying that peace was better than war. But they were wrong in failing to ask themselves whether what was happening in Vietnam was substantively different from what had happened in other wars.” – P. 16
“The claim that United States tactics caused excessive casualties among civilians must have seemed bizarre to those who were doing the actual fighting. Our forces operated under strict rules of engagement, and as a result civilians accounted for about the same proportion of casualties as in World War II and a far smaller one than in the Korean War. Many American bomber pilots were shot down, ending up dead or as POWs, because their paths across North Vietnam were chosen to minimize civilian casualties.” – P. 17
MYTH: The War in Vietnam was unwinnable.
“The Vietnam War was not un winnable. A different military and political strategy could have assured victory in the 1960s. When we signed the Paris Peace agreements in 1973, we had won the war. We then proceeded to lose the peace. The South Vietnamese successfully countered Communist violations of the cease-fire for two years. Defeat came only when the Congress, ignoring the specific terms of the peace agreement, refused to provide military aid equal to what the Soviet Union provided Hanoi.” – P. 18
MYTH: We were on the wrong side of history in Vietnam.
“Many who opposed the war sincerely believed, since the Communists told them so, that South Vietnam would be happy and free under the Communists and that the Americans were simply out of touch with the reality of life in Indochina. Events since 1975 have proved instead that the ones who were out of touch were the bighearted, freedom-loving reporters, editorial writers, academics, and politicians who could not bring themselves to believe that the United States was doing exactly what it said it was doing in Vietnam from the beginning: trying to save it from being conquered by the forces that would enslave it.” – P. 22
MYTH: The Vietnam War was a Civil War.
“Could the enemy have waged the war without major support from North Vietnam? Or was North Vietnam’s participation indispensable to the enemy’s conduct of the war? In the first case, it would have been in essence a civil war. In the second, it would have been classified as foreign aggression. If it had been a civil war, we probably should bot have intervened in the first place. But all the evidence pointed to North Vietnamese aggression.” – P. 80
MYTH: Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist first and a Communist second and had the support of a majority of the people of Vietnam, North and South.
“In fact, Ho Chi Minh was a brilliant fraud who spent his life pretending to be exactly the opposite of what he really was. He was a nationalist only in the sense that he could not establish a Communist state in Vietnam if it was part of the French empire. His only loyalty was to winning power for himself and his ideology.” – P. 32
“There is almost nothing in Ho’s biography to indicate that he placed nationalism above communism. In 1911, at the age of 21, he left Vietnam. While most nationalists exiled themselves to Japan, he went to France. Nine years later, he was a founding member of the French Communist party. He once wrote in the party’s newspaper, L’Humanite, that nationalism, if left uncontrolled, was a “dangerous phenomenon,” that could threaten the spread of communism to colonial areas. In 1923, the Soviets brought him to Moscow, where he was trained and indoctrinated as an agent of Communist International.” P. 33
“When the two leaders are compared side by side, the suggestion that Ho would have outpolled Diem head-to-head seemed ridiculous. Yet during the war, many critics of the American effort to save South Vietnam argued this very point.” – P. 40
“But even against a strong opponent, Diem undoubtedly would have won a properly conducted election — probably with no than 65 percent of the vote.” – P. 40
“Most of Diem’s popularity came from the vast array of social reforms and programs that he instituted with American financial assistance. Schools proliferated in the countryside. Land was redistributed to tenant farmers. Pesticides were sprayed to combat malaria. Rice production soared. Roads and bridges were built. Foreign investment increased. Light industry sprang up around Saigon.” – P. 40
MYTH: The National Liberation Front was a revolutionary movement independent of North Vietnam.
“It was vitally important for North Vietnam to create the appearance that the National Liberation Front was an independent movement. Communist leaders went to elaborate lengths to maintain this illusion. But Hanoi’s hand was hidden only from those who chose not to see it. North Vietnam decided to use armed force to unite Vietnam in January 1959 and sent out orders to that effect in May. By July, Communist infiltration into South Vietnam markedly increased. These agents organized a political and military revolt against the Saigon government. A few months later, the number of guerilla attacks escalated dramatically. In September 1960, North Vietnam’s Communist party publicly called for ‘our people” in South Vietnam to “bring into being a broad National United Front against the United States and Diem.” -P. 48-49
MYTH: The Viet Cong won the hearts and minds of villagers through humanitarian policies.
“North Vietnam’s war might have been justified if it advanced the wishes of the people of South Vietnam. Many critics of American policy argued that the National Liberation Front could operate as feely as it did in the countryside because Communist ideology was in tune with the Vietnamese culture and because the humanitarian policies of the guerillas had won the support –the “hearts and minds,” in the fashionable phrase– of the villagers. The Communist revolution in the South Vietnam, they said, was as legitimate as they American Revolution. To Compare the two in any respect is a ludicrous libel of America’s Founding Fathers.”
“The Communists won converts by cultivating not hope but hatred… Like almost all developing nations, South Vietnam had problems in providing social justice and avoiding governmental abuses. The Communists made it their mission to exacerbate the problems in order to help them whip the Vietnamese people into a frenzy of hatred. ‘Promotion of hatred,’ stated one National Liberation Front directive, ‘must be a permanent, continuous, and directly related to the struggle movement as closely as a man is to his shadow.’” -P. 50-51
MYTH: The Geneva Declaration of 1954 legally bound Diem’s government and the United States to unify the two halves of Vietnam through elections.
“The text of the Geneva Declaration about elections was not legally binding on the United States or South Vietnam. Nine countries gathered at the conference and produced six unilateral declarations, three bilateral cease-fire agreements, and one unsigned declaration. The cease-fire agreements alone were binding for their signatories; the provision concerning reunification elections appeared in the separate final declaration. Only four of the nine states attending committed themselves to the declaration’s terms. The United States did not join in it. South Vietnam, which was not even present in Geneva, retained its freedom of action by using a formal statement disavowing the declaration. North Vietnam also did not associate itself with the declaration. Very simply, it had no legal force.
Nor did any of the participants expect elections to occur. The Geneva Conference was intended not to establish peace for all time through the ballot box but rather to create a partition of Vietnam similar to that of Korea. Partition was formally treated as a temporary expedient, but all major participants expected it to be permanent. Whatever their words about elections, their actions revealed their intent: They established two governments, allowed for two separate military forces, and arranged for the movement of refugees between the zones. It would have been senseless to go through all this trouble in 1954 only to turn around and undo it after elections in 1956.” -P. 41
MYTH: The agreements in 1962 “neutralizing” Laos prevented the widening of the war.
“Fifteen countries signed a treaty in which they pledged to recognize a new neutralist coalition government in Laos, to withdraw any military forces they had in the country, and to stop any paramilitary assistance to the rival political factions. The Agreement was hailed by foreign policy pundits in the media as a significant contribution to peace in Southeast Asia.
All countries complied except one: North Vietnam. The agreement had stated that all foreign troops would leave Laos through internationally supervised checkpoints. Ho never took any serious step to remove his 7,000-man contingent from Laos. The total number of North Vietnamese soldiers recorded as leaving was forty.” -P. 58-59
MYTH: The Buddhist protests in 1962 against Diem resulted from religious persecution.
“The issue of religious repression was a complete fabrication. Diem appointed his top officials without regard to their faith. Of his eighteen cabinet ministers, five were Catholic, five Confucianist, and eight Buddhist, including the vice president and the foreign minister. Of his thirty-eight provincial governors, twelve were Catholic and twenty-six were either Confucian or Buddhist. Of his nineteen top generals, three were Catholic and sixteen were Taoist, Confucianist , or Buddhist. He permitted Buddhists to exempt themselves from mandatory military service on religious grounds, while Catholics and others were required to serve. No Buddhist was ever arrested for practicing his religion, and not a single piece of credible evidence has ever been produced to show that Diem repressed Buddhists on the basis of religion. Politics, not religion, was on the minds of those behind the crisis.” -P. 65
MYTH: The Johnson administration was the first to send American troops into combat in Vietnam.
“In 1950, President Truman gave France $10 Million in financial aid to support its war against the Communist Viet Minh. By 1960, President Eisenhower had stationed 685 non-combat advisers in South Vietnam and had given its government $2 billion in aid. But our commitment remained clearly limited, contingent on whether the South Vietnamese government undertook needed reforms and represented the true nationalist aspirations of its people.
President Kennedy made the first major escalation in our commitment. He raised the number of American military personnel in Vietnam to over 16,000 and permitted them to go into combat. In 1965, President Johnson ordered air strikes against North Vietnam and sent additional American combat troops to fight in South Vietnam. After four years of steadily deepening involvement, the number of American servicemen in Vietnam reached nearly 550,000. By the end of 1968, the war had cost the United States over 31,000 lives, and Americans were being killed at a rate of 300 a week. Yet we were no closer to victory than we had been a decade before.” – P. 46
MYTH: Most American soldiers were addicted to drugs, guilt-ridden about their role in the war, and deliberately used cruel and inhumane tactics.
“Our armed forces in Vietnam were not collapsing from a lack of discipline or being overrun by drug addiction…Drug use was a widespread problem for the generation growing up in the 1960s. It was not appreciably worse among military personnel in Vietnam than among those stationed in other countries or among draft-age civilians in the United States. Among students at Harvard College in 1968, 75 percent had smoked marijuana or used hard drugs. In 1971, a survey showed that 50.9 percent of Army personnel in Vietnam had smoked marijuana and that 28.5 percent had used hard drugs, like heroin or opium. Few were truly addicted, and most had used drugs before being sent to Vietnam.
American soldiers were not haunted by doubts about the morality of the war. Overwhelming majorities still believe our cause was right. An opinion poll conducted in 1980 revealed that 82 percent of those who engaged in heavy combat believed that the United States lost the war because the armed forces were not allowed to win it. And 66 percent indicated that they would be willing to fight again in Vietnam for the same cause.” – P. 128-129
MYTH: American blacks constituted a disproportionate number of the combat casualties.
“It was commonly asserted during the war that blacks constituted a disproportionate number of combat casualties and that this injustice, in turn, stirred racial animosities. But in fact casualties among blacks were not out of proportion to their share of the population. By March 1973, when blacks comprised 13.5 percent of all American men of military age, blacks accounted for 12.3 percent of combat deaths.” – P. 128
MYTH: The United States lost the war militarily.
“Congress turned it back on a noble cause and a brave people. South Vietnam simply wanted the chance to fight for its survival as an independent country. All that the United States had to do was give it the means to continue the battle. Out South Vietnamese friends were asking us to give them the tools sos they could finish the job. Congress would not, so our allies could not.” – P. 202
“After we abandoned the use of power, it was seized by the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge Communists. Our defeat was so great a tragedy because after the peace agreement of January 1973 it was so easily avoidable. Consolidating our gains would not have taken much to accomplish–a credible threat to enforce the peace agreement through retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam and a sufficient flow of aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam. But Congress legislated an end to our involvement. It also legislated the defeat of our frinds in the same stroke.” – P. 210
MYTH: The Communist Tet Offensive of 1968 was a military defeat for the United States.
“The Tet Offensive was a military disaster for North Vietnam. Ho had staked everything on the roll of the dice and lost. American and South Vietnamese forces mauled his best military units.Thousands of his most dedicated and experienced troops and combat leaders were killed or seriously wounded. Official North Vietnamese reports soon expressed alarm at plummeting morale as troops ‘lost confidence’ in their leaders, became ‘doubtful of victory,’ and displayed ‘shrinking attitudes.’ It would take two years for the North Vietnamese Army to recover.” – P.90
“The Tet Offensive radically altered the political landscape. It galvanized the South Vietnamese through the shock of the urban fighting and the horror of widespread Communist atrocities. Far from producing the uprisings Ho expected, it created a strong counterreaction that led to the full mobilization of the South Vietnamese people against the Communist aggressors.” -P. 91
MYTH: U.S. secret bombing in 1969 and ground attacks on the Communist bases in Cambodia in 1970 were responsible for bringing the Communists into power in Cambodia in 1975.
“Out incursions into Cambodia in 1970 did not widen the war. Since 1965, North Vietnam’s forces had occupied the border areas of Cambodia. In March 1970, Hanoi infiltrated into Cambodia over 20,000 Khmer Rouge guerrillas who had been trained in North Vietnam. In April, after Cambodia’s government tried to reassert its authority over its own territory–hardly an unreasonable demand– North Vietnam launched an invasion of the country. Hanoi’s delegate to the private peace talks in Paris freely admitted to us that North Vietnam intended to bring down the government in Phnom Penh. In May, and June, when American and South Vietnamese forces cleared out the Communist sanctuaries, Cambodia was already swept up in the war. If we had not acted, we would have guaranteed the victory of the Communist forces both in Cambodia and South Vietnam.Thus, the charge that our incursion drove the North Vietnamese out of the border areas and toward Phnom Penh is false on its face. The Vietnamese Communists moved deeper into Cambodia two weeks after the fall of Sihanouk and month before our incursion occurred.
During the war in Vietnam, those who now concoct apologies for Indochina’s totalitarians opposed American policies that sought to prevent a Communist victory and the human tragedy that would follow inevitably in its wake. No doubt these apologists are now at least subconsciously motivated by feelings of guilt. Simple ethics holds those who took an action responsible for its consequences. To assign blame for the genocide in Cambodia to those in the United States who sought to prevent a Communist victory, rather than to the Communists who committed the atrocities, is an immoral act in and of itself.” -P. 123-124
MYTH: It was a calculated policy of the United States to bomb civilian targets in North Vietnam.
“Our targets–which included communications facilities, railroad yards, power plants, airports, fuel depots, and the like–all had military significance…Our pilots struck only at specific military targets and had explicit orders to avoid collateral damage to civilian areas–even if this exposed them to greater risks.” – P. 157-158
MYTH: The percentage of civilian deaths in the Vietnam War was higher than in other wars.
“Our critics should have known better than to make the utterly false accusation that we were indiscriminately bombing civilians…Regrettable though these accidental losses were, they did not approach the death tolls that resulted when the Allies deliberately bombed civilian targets in World War II. Over 35,00 civilians were killed in the triple raid on Dresden, over 42,000 died in six nights of bombing in Hamburg, and over 83,000 Japanese were killed in just two days when we fire-bombed Tokyo in 1945. If we had targeted civilian areas during the December bombing, North Vietnamese losses would have been a hundred times higher than they were.” – P. 158
MYTH: American POWs were treated humanely by the North Vietnamese.
“Many Americans did not know that our POWs were brutally tortured by the North Vietnamese until we freed them in 1973. During the war, the news media virtually ignored reports that trickled out about the mistreatment of our prisoners and were bamboozled by antiwar activists engaged in a concerted propaganda campaign to portray North Vietnam’s treatment of our prisoners as humane. Acting out of naivete or malice, there critics would go to Hanoi, meet a handful of American POWs, and make rosy statements about their condition. What the American people were not told was that the prisoners who were presented to these activists often had been tortured minutes before to guarantee that they said nothing out of line.
These antiwar activists knew or should have known what was going on. In August 1969, after going to North Vietnam and securing the release of two prisoners, a group of these opponents of the war praised Hanoi’s humane treatment of its captives. In a hospital press conference, one of the newly freed POWs refuted their assertions, saying, ‘I don’t think that the solitary confinement, forced statements, living in a cage for three years, being put in straps, not being allowed to sleep or eat, removal of fingernails, being hung from the ceiling, having an infected arm almost lost without medical treatment, being dragged along the ground with a broken leg, and not allowing exchange of mail for prisoners are humane.’” – P. 129-130
MYTH: The antiwar demonstrations in the United States shortened the war.
“The antiwar movement did not have a decisive effect on the outcome of the war from a military standpoint, but it has had a decisive impact on the political battles that have been waged ever since.” – P.23
MYTH: The Paris peace agreements of 1973 were a cynical attempt to provide the United States with a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of its forces and the collapse of South Vietnam.
“Other hawks suggested a different approach. They conceded to the doves that we should not have gone into Vietnam in the first place, but contended that now that we were there, we had no choice but to see it through. Our goal, they argued, should not be to defeat they enemy but to stay long enough so that after we withdrew there would be a ‘decent interval’ before South Vietnam fell to the Communists. I believed that this was the most immoral option of all. If out cause was unjust or if the war was unwinnable, we should have cut our losses and gotten out of Vietnam immediately. As President, I could not ask any young American to risk his life for an unjust or unwinnable cause.” -P. 103
MYTH: The United States could have struck the same deal in 1969 as it did in 1973.
“In 1969, when I became president, I wanted nothing more than to end the war as quickly as possible, but in a way that would both prevent the imposition of Communist repression upon the South Vietnamese people and discourage other Communist aggressors from launching such wars in the future. I had to deal with other great foreign policy issues during my presidency, but a day never passed when the war in Vietnam was not prominent among my concerns. I hated the Vietnam war. But even more, I hated all wars. I knew that I must not end the Vietnam War in a way that would lead to more and larger wars in the future.” – P.160
“When the Paris peace accords were signed in January 1973, a balance of power existed in Indochina. South Vietnam was secure within the cease-fire lines. North Vietnam’s leaders–who had not abandoned their plans for conquest–were deterred from renewing their aggression. Vietnamization had succeeded.” – P.165
MYTH: The domino theory has been proved false.
“On April 30, 1975, with Soviet-built tanks rolling through the streets of Saigon, South Vietnam surrendered. Communist Khmer Rouge guerillas had conquered Cambodia thirteen days before. Hanoi-backed Pathet Lao forces took over Laos a few days later. All the dominoes in Indochina had fallen.” – P. 166
“Saigon’s fall ten years ago was the Soviet Union’s greatest victory in one of the key battles of the Third World War. No Soviet soldiers fought in Vietnam, but it was a victory for Moscow nonetheless because its ally and client, North Vietnam, won and South vietnam and the United States lost. After we failed to prevent Communist conquest in Vietnam, it became accepted dogma that we would fail everywhere. For six years after Vietnam, the new isolationists changed “No more Vietnams” as the dominos fell one by one: Laos, Cambodia, and Mozambique in 1975; Angola in 1976; Ethiopia in 1977; South Yemen in 1978; Nicaragua in 1979.” – P. 212
MYTH: Diplomacy without force to back it up is the best answer to communist “Wars of Liberation.”
“…while rhetoric about limits of power and the promise of creative diplomacy clouded the political landscape, the Soviet Union and its proxies licked their chops and gobbled up South Yemen, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua, and the Ayatollah’s mullahs plunged Iran into the Middle Ages. Each of the 100 million people who were lost to the West during our five-year geopolitical sabbatical is a living symbol of the sterility of arguments about peaceful diplomacy. Any nation that decides the way to achieve peace is to use only peaceful means is a nation that will soon be a piece of another nation. Its enemies will quickly take advantage of its good intentions. – P. 20
MYTH: Ngo Dinh Diem was a puppet of the French colonialists.
“Unlike Ho, Diem was an authentic nationalist. He came from an important family in the imperial capital of Hue and was renowned for his vehement opposition to French colonialism. A devout Catholic, he studies for two years at a Maryknoll academy in the United States. In 1933 he agreed to serve as Minister of the Interior of Annam in central Vietnam on the condition that the French undertake certain reforms, including the creation of a national assembly to govern the country. After three months of French inaction, he resigned in anger. But his prominence led to a long succession of offers. The French, who both respected and feared Diem, alternately courted him with offers of public office and threatened him with arrest.” P. 37
“Even Ho respected Diem’s Patriotism – enough in fact to have him imprisoned and one of his brothers killed in 1945. Ho exiled DIem to a village near the Chinese border, where he nearly died of malaria. After six months, the Viet Minh leader summoned his future rival to offer him the Ministry of Interior in the new Communist government. Diem rejected it in a stormy exchange and was released. A Communist official later said ‘considering the events that followed, releasing Diem was a blunder. Soon after, Ho yet again showing his respect for Diem’s abilities, sentenced him to death in absentia.” – P. 38
MYTH: Life is better in Indochina now that the United States is gone.
“South Vietnam’s people were worse off by every measure after Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city. Antiwar critics charged that under Thieu South Vietnam was governed by a hopelessly corrupt regime. It is true that there was some corruption–but there was also substantial freedom…
Now there are no political, religious, economic or press freedoms. There are no free elections. There is a ruthless repression of religion. More Buddhist monks have committed suicide through self-immolation under the Communists than under Diem and his successors combined. Southern Vietnam has become economic disaster area. Vietnam now has one television station, two radio stations and two dailies–all of which pump out government propaganda.
There Are those who held that there was no difference between authoritarian and totalitarian governments. But in the case of Vietnam it was not a question of distinguishing among shades of gray–rather of seeing a difference between night and day.” – P. 205-206
The content of chapters are as follows:
Chapter One: The Myths of Vietnam. President Nixon lists four frequently repeated myths about the Vietnam War and explains why he believes each are false. Myths include: 1) The war in Vietnam was immoral, 2) The war in Vietnam was unwinnable, 3) Diplomacy without force is the best answer to Communist “wars of national liberation,” and 4) We were on the wrong side of history in Vietnam.
Chapter Two: How the Vietnam War Began. President Nixon discusses the origins of the Vietnam War, including the changing geopolitical landscape in the Pacific following the Second World War, and the demise of European Colonial powers in the region.
Chapter Three: Why and How We Went Into Vietnam. President Nixon explains that the United States became involved in Vietnam to contain the spread of communism, and counter threats to American strategic interests and allies in the region. He also explains some of the crucial errors made in the early part of the war.
Chapter Four: How We Won the War. President Nixon outlines his strategy for the Vietnam war, and argues how it successfully deterred and defeated communist forces. Nixon’s plan included a flexible withdrawal of U.S. forces as South Vietnamese forces became stronger, a policy called “Vietnamization;” providing security and re-establishing the political process for the South Vietnamese at the village level, a strategy called “clear, hold, and build;” diplomatic isolation of Hanoi through détente with their Communist patrons in Beijing and Moscow; and coupling diplomatic efforts with irresistible military pressure.
Chapter Five: How We Lost the Peace. President Nixon argues that following the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 which ended the direct engagement of U.S. forces in the war, U.S. Congress ended crucial American economic and military assistance to South Vietnam that would have allowed the peace to be enforced.
Chapter Six: Third World War. President Nixon argues that America should not disengage and adopt a new isolationist policy because of the failure of Vietnam, because the Soviet Union’s influence still looms over the third world. He writes that we must develop strategies to counter the Soviet global offensive at three different levels: when a non-Communist nation is under attack by a Communist insurgency; when a Communist regime has already won power; and when a non-Communist nation is at peace before a revolution begins.
Reviews of “No More Vietnams”
“This book brings Nixon back into the arena… a hard hitting incisive account, and millions of Americans would agree with it.” – Detroit Free Press
“His grasp of history is firm, his judgments persuasive… this book will come to have classic status in the literature of the Vietnam War.” – National Review
“Nixon — like the capable lawyer he is — assembles an impressive mass of data, displays an intimate knowledge of history, terrain, and geography, and organizes his materials into arguments that both convince and raise questions.” – Newsweek
“A bristling volume on the lessons he believes should be drawn from the Vietnam experience.” – The New York Times
“A massive rewrite of history that debunks the ‘myths’ of Vietnam… it outlines with clarity the reasons for our failure there.” – Philadelphia Daily News.
‘“No More Vietnams” deserves the best-seller list if only to record the perspectives of the man who ended America’s most divisive war and as a blance to the prevailing perspectives of “advocacy journalism,” inaccurate reporting, anti-war protesters and “to set the record straight.”’ — The Pittsburgh Press
“Nixon reflects upon the lessons of Vietnam as they apply to political realities 10 years later. He offers suggestions that may be capsulized by stating that they would find receptive ears in the Reagan White House. That is, they are sensible suggestions.” — Providence Sunday Journal
“This is a good book. It will make you feel better about our part in the Vietnam War.” — Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The book is vintage Nixon, and it will be read.” – The Toronto Star