Thinking Big: Advising Nixon on Vietnam
In this Final Paper, you must take the role of an advisor to President Nixon on April 25, 1972. On that day, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger discussed policy options that would end America’s military involvement in Vietnam. At that time, the United States was supporting the government of South Vietnam in its struggle against the communist government of North Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union with weapons and diplomatic support at world bodies such as the United Nations. The proxy war between the pro-American South Vietnamese government and the pro-Soviet North Vietnamese government was a bloody chapter in the Cold War between nuclear two super powers. The fighting in Vietnam between the North and the South Vietnamese governments had been going on since the mid-1950s, but it was not until 1965 that the U.S. intervened in a significant way through the deployment of regular army units. By the early 1970s, however, antiwar sentiment in the United States had reached its high-water mark, characterized by massive demonstrations that took place throughout the country. Consequently, President Nixon came under relentless pressure to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam. However, powerful pro-war elements in Congress forced Nixon to demand certain concessions from North Vietnam in exchange for peace; this would help the U.S. save face in the eyes of world opinion. After all, they argued, the United States, a nuclear superpower, could not be seen turning tail and running away from its commitments.
Nixon and Kissinger discussed several policy options that have since been made available to the general public through the National Archives, and these audio recordings, known as the Nixon Tapes, give us an instructive account of power and how it works at the highest levels of government. All the options the two men discussed involved escalations of violence that took two essential forms: strategic bombing and naval blockade. Strategic bombing means the targeting of a country’s economic infrastructure; for example, its electrical grids, power plants, oil refineries, pharmaceutical plants, and bridges. In the case of Vietnam, the targeting list included a series of dikes whose destruction would have resulted in devastating flooding that U.S. officials estimated at the time would number some 200,000 civilian deaths. The naval element of the escalation proposed using the U.S. Navy to mine and to block North Vietnam’s deep-water ports thus preventing Soviet ships from resupplying the North Vietnamese government with weapons and other forms of assistance. Perhaps the most compelling revelation of this conversation is that Nixon rather casually proposed playing the nuclear card, meaning the use of tactical as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons that are much more deadly in terms of destructive capacity.
Keep in mind that this event happened during the height of the Cold War. There had already been several near-direct confrontations between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union (the U.S.S.R.), which could have led to nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance, was still fresh in peoples’ minds, a crisis that brought the two nuclear super-powers eyeball-to-eyeball. One month after this conversation took place, President Nixon ordered the biggest escalation of the war, one that led to a final peace settlement known as the Paris Peace Accord in January of 1973. Although the war in Vietnam dragged on another two years, the United States gradually withdrew its forces from Vietnam, a process that led to the North Vietnamese overrunning South Vietnam by April of 1975. As a result of these events, there is one Vietnam today.
In reflecting on the Nixon Tapes relating to Vietnam, the following three, terse lines are of particular importance:
Nixon: “I’d rather use the nuclear bomb.”
Kissinger: “That I think would be just too much.”
Nixon: “The nuclear bomb. Does that bother you? … I just want you to think big.”
Source: Nixon, Richard and Kissinger, Henry. (1972, April 15). Executive Office Building Conversation no. 332-35, 12-12:28 a.m. In Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1972, Vol. XIV. Washington, D.C. 2006.
Now it is your turn to “think big!” This assignment is designed to test your use of logic by focusing on how you sort priorities. This Final Paper asks you to take the role of a policy advisor to Richard Nixon. You are making written recommendations to the president regarding the situation in Vietnam. It is April 25, 1972—the very day that the above conversation took place. The decisions you make affect military policy and the lives of U.S. military personnel, if not the existence of the planet, depending on just how “big” you are willing to think. Your written policy briefing to the president will summarize the crisis, present a list of three policy options, and then examine the merits of each. Finally, you will formulate and justify your recommendation. You must make one policy recommendation, and “all of the above” is not an option. Because you are stuck in 1972, you will not be using sources to support your arguments, so you will not use in-text citations or utilize a bibliography. You will simply write a logically-grounded written recommendation.
To do this, please complete the following steps:
- Read the above scenario carefully.
- Read the summary located at Battlefield Vietnam: A brief history (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. This will provide you with a good historical background of the war, which is necessary to complete the assignment.
- Read the following summary, provided by the New York Times, of the relevant portion of the Nixon Tapes at Nixon proposed using A-bomb in Vietnam War (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
- Listen to Nixon and Kissinger actually have this exchange, from the Nixon Tapes, at: Nuclear bomb Nixon (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Please click here to view the Nuclear bomb Nixon transcript.
- Read the following summary of the strategic situation in Vietnam, with focus on its system of dikes at: An illustration of geographical warfare: Bombing the dikes on the Red River, North Vietnam (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
- In about two pages, provide the President with three different policy options. These may include nuclear war, destroying the dikes, de-escalating the conflict, or some other idea that you have. However, be sure to clearly the describe each option in a paragraph of three to five sentences.
- In about one page, explore the pros and cons of your first option.
- In about one page, explore the pros and cons of your second option.
- In about one page, explore the pros and cons of your third option.
- In about one page, select which of these options is best for the United States of America in April of 1972 and defend your selection.
- Finally, in about one page, describe what you believe the consequences of your course of action will be.
The Final Paper
- Must be 7 to 10 double-spaced pages in length (not including title and references pages) and formatted according to APA style as outlined in the Ashford Writing Center (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
- Must include a separate title page with the following:
- Title of paper
- Student’s name
- Course name and number
- Instructor’s name
- Date submitted
- You will not use in-text citations or a bibliography in this final paper, but rather ground your assertions in logic and reason.
Carefully review the Grading Rubric (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. for the criteria that will be used to evaluate your assignment.