Vietnam II: Public Opinion and Protest's
Influence on Nixon's War
Chapter 6 continues the explorations of the impact of public opinion and protest on U.S. Vietnam policy by looking at the Nixon administration policies after Lyndon Johnson left office. In the fall of 1968, when Richard Nixon ran for the presidency of the United States, he had sent word to President Johnson that a Nixon administration would bring vindication to the Johnson presidency for its stand on Vietnam (Ambrose, 1989, p. 283).1 In Nixon's interpretation, the majority of the public had not been antiwar but against the uncertainty of not knowing when and how the war would end. The 25 percent of the public who in June 1968 had approved of an “all-out crash effort in the hope of winning the war quickly” (Mueller, 1973, p. 91) or the 34 percent who wanted to “take a stronger stand even if it means invading North Vietnam” (Mueller, 1973, p. 92), represented a sufficient plurality for Nixon to rely on for periodic escalation and widening of the war. This he did for four more years.
Nixon was not alone in this belief. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were in agreement with the new president that what the American people wanted most was a decisive and honorable victory in Vietnam, but not one requiring heavy concentrations of American troops. In the context of this perception, the administration began planning the massive attack on North Vietnam known as “Duck Hook” in 1969, while it also began “Vietnamization” of the war. Separately, the administration undertook the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970, after a fourteen-month period of secret bombing of its countryside. Duck Hook constitutes the first benchmark of the Nixon administration. The Cambodia invasion constitutes the second benchmark.
1Just before Johnson's speech to the nation that he would not run again and would begin to
deescalate the war, Nixon planned to give a speech saying that “there was no way to win the
war.” He dropped the plans after Johnson's announcement (Hodgson, 1976. p. 396).