Meeting Adversity: 1971
Every Presidency runs its own fever chart -- a jagged line of highs that look unassailable and lows that can seem bottomless while they last. Richard Nixon has lately fallen into a low cycle -- perhaps the lowest of his two years in office.
-- Newsweek, April 5, 1971
Vietnam is the wound in American life that will not heal, however soothed it may seem for long stretches under the balm of continuing U.S. withdrawals.
-- Time, April 12, 1971
When Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of Defense, returned to Washington on January 15, 1971, from one of his periodic inspection trips to Indochina, he carried in his briefcase a proposal from Saigon -- unanimously backed by the South Vietnamese government and Army, the U.S. high command and U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker -- for a direct military assault on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Panhandle of Laos. This was the complex of roadways and trails running south from North Vietnam through the Panhandle into Cambodia, the lifeline of Hanoi's legions fighting in Cambodia, southern Laos and, most important, South Vietnam.
Of all the dreams of glory that had filled ambitious military minds since serious U.S. intervention in the war in 1965, cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the most bewitching. Plans had been drawn