Ending the Vietnam War : A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War
The Definitive Account
Many other authors have written about what they thought happened -- or thought should have happened -- in Vietnam, but it was Henry Kissinger who was there at the epicenter, involved in every decision from the long, frustrating negotiations with the North Vietnamese delegation to America's eventual extrication from the war. Now, for the first time, Kissinger gives us in a single volume an in-depth, inside view of the Vietnam War, personally collected, annotated, revised, and updated from his bestselling memoirs and his book Diplomacy.
Here, Kissinger writes with firm, precise knowledge, supported by meticulous documentation that includes his own memoranda to and replies from President Nixon. He tells about the tragedy of Cambodia, the collateral negotiations with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the disagreements within the Nixon and Ford administrations, the details of all negotiations in which he was involved, the domestic unrest and protest in the States, and the day-to-day military to diplomatic realities of the war as it reached the White House. As compelling and exciting as Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, Ending the Vietnam War also reveals insights about the bigger-than-life personalities -- Johnson, Nixon, de Gaulle, Ho Chi Minh, Brezhnev -- who were caught up in a war that forever changed international relations. This is history on a grand scale, and a book of overwhelming importance to the public record.
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January 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Ending the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger
This book deals with the way the United States ended its involvement in the longest war in its history, the one fought at the greatest geographic distance from America, with the least obvious relationship to previous concepts of national security, and the only war in which well-known Americans traveled to the enemy's capital to express solidarity with the enemy's goals and, on occasion, to broadcast from there.
No war since the Civil War has seared the national consciousness like Vietnam. The controversies surrounding it tore the country apart while the war was raging, and its legacies shaped the national approach to foreign policy for a generation. Absolute distinctions between moral values and the national interest, between ideals and power, were invoked and, in time, supplanted the previous policy disputes of the Cold War period. This near civil war constrained American policy for long after the war itself was concluded.
But history presents unambiguous alternatives only in the rarest of circumstances. Most of the time, statesmen must strike a balance between their values and their necessities or, to put it another way, they are obliged to approach their goals not in one leap but in stages, each by definition imperfect by absolute standards. It is always possible to invoke that imperfection as an excuse to recoil before responsibilities or as a pretext to indict one's own society. That gap can be closed only by faith in America's purposes. And that was increasingly challenged during the Vietnam war and its aftermath.
The domestic divisions that grew out of Vietnam were generally treated in the public discourse as a clash between those who were "for" the war and those who were "against" it. That, however, was not the fundamental issue. Every administration in office during the Vietnam war sought to end it -- nearly desperately. The daunting and heartrending question was how to define this goal.
For Richard Nixon, who inherited the task of extrication from Vietnam in 1969 in the fifth year of a massive overseas deployment, the overriding issue was how to keep faith with the tens of millions who, in reliance on American assurances, had tied their destiny to ours. Too, he sought to maintain American credibility toward allies and America's deterrent posture toward adversaries, attributes on which, in the judgment of four successive administrations of both major parties, the peace of the world depended. The critics thought the quest for credibility illusory and draining of America's substance. They saw the key issue as salvaging America's moral core by scuttling a doomed and allegedly immoral enterprise on almost any terms.
In this manner, the war in Vietnam became for the United States the defining experience of the second half of the twentieth century. Even for those who lived through it at the center of events, the mood of that period is nearly impossible to recapture: the brash confidence in the universal applicability of America's prescriptions with which it all began and the progressive disillusionment with which it ended; the initial unity of purpose and the ultimate divisive trauma.