Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Political Cause of 20,492 Deaths in Vietnam

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Political Cause of 20,492 Deaths in Vietnam

Article excerpt

Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of State, has taken exception to a recent column of mine. It noted that 20,492 Americans died in Vietnam while he and Richard Nixon made policy on the war, in the years 1969-72.

It quoted H.R. Haldeman's diaries as saying that on Dec. 15, 1970, Kissinger objected to an early peace initiative because there might be bad results before the 1972 election.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Kissinger said the column had pounced "on a single entry in 600 pages" of the diaries to show that "President Nixon's Vietnam policy was driven by electoral politics."

A single entry? A few pages later in the diaries there is another.

On Dec. 21, 1970, Haldeman recorded Kissinger opposing an early commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops "because he feels that if we pull them out by the end of '71, trouble can start mounting in '72 that we won't be able to deal with and which we'll have to answer for at the elections. He prefers, instead, a commitment to have them all out by the end of '72 so that we won't have to deliver finally until after the elections and therefore can keep our flanks protected."

And another. On Jan. 26, 1971, Kissinger discussed plans for "a major assault on Laos," which he thought would devastate North Vietnam's military capability. (The Laos operation turned out to be a costly failure.) "This new action in Laos now," Haldeman wrote, "would set us up so we wouldn't have to worry about problems in '72, and that of course is the most important."

Of course. The overpowering reality in the Nixon White House, as so meticulously recorded by Haldeman, was that what mattered about any proposed policy was its likely political effect. (Kissinger was opposed to publication of "The Haldeman Diaries," and it is easy to see why.)

On Vietnam, the public wanted withdrawal of American soldiers from a war it increasingly hated. But Nixon had repeatedly said he would not be "the first American president to lose a war."

The political solution was to withdraw gradually, leaving South Vietnamese forces to carry on the war. No one could seriously expect them to withstand for long an army that had fought 500,000 Americans to a standstill. …

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