Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Excerpt

Warsaw, December 6, 1966: a date that should live in diplomatic infamy. Five thousand miles away, the Vietnam War is raging, with the dead piling up and the escalating violence poisoning international affairs and American politics. Early that morning, the Pentagon informs President Lyndon B. Johnson at his Texas ranch that 6,250 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Vietnam (and Laos) since January 1961, when his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, took office —but few imagine that 52,000 more Americans are still to die, along with millions of Vietnamese on both sides of the 17th Parallel. Outwardly, the bloodshed shows no sign of subsiding.

Yet, far from Southeast Asia’s jungles and rice paddies, in this gray, frigid Central European city, a secret breakthrough for peace seems imminent. The United States and North Vietnam lack diplomatic relations and, relying on combat to resolve their clashing visions, appear stuck in a Catch-22 that precludes direct negotiations: Hanoi insists that it will not talk until Washington stops the bombing it began in early 1965, and Washington maintains just as stubbornly that it will not halt the raids until assured that Hanoi will pay a reasonable price, such as curbing its support for the Communist insurgency fighting to topple the U.S.backed regime in Saigon.

But on that cloudy Tuesday, after months of furtive machinations by Polish and Italian intermediaries (with the Soviets lurking in the shadows), Washington and Hanoi have agreed that their ambassadors to Poland will meet to confirm a tenpoint outline of a settlement, or at least a basis for direct talks. John A. Gronouski and Do Phat Quang are but a short stroll apart on the western banks of the Vistula River, the American huddling with Poland’s foreign minister at his office, the North Vietnamese waiting at his embassy with a special emissary who has flown all the way from Hanoi to deliver guidance for the unprecedented encounter—a document so sensitive that his wife sewed it into his vest, and a senior North Vietnamese official ordered him to destroy it before dying if his plane crashed.

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