No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam

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9780684849683: No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam

In 1973, Henry Kissinger shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the secret negotiations that led to the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam. Nixon famously declared the 1973 agreement to be "peace with honor"; America was disengaging, yet South Vietnam still stood to fight its own war. Kissinger promptly moved to seal up his personal records of the negotiations, arguing that they are private, not government, records, and that he will only allow them to be unsealed after his death. No Peace, No Honor deploys extraordinary documentary bombshells, including a complete North Vietnamese account of the secret talks, to blow the lid off the true story of the peace process. Neither Nixon and Kissinger's critics, nor their defenders, have guessed at the full truth: the entire peace negotiation was a sham. Nixon did not plan to exit Vietnam, but he knew that in order to continue bombing without a congressional cutoff, he would need a fig leaf. Kissinger negotiated a deal that he and Nixon expected the North to violate. Ironically, their long-maintained spin on what happened next is partially true: only Watergate stopped America from sending the bombers back in. This revelatory book has many other surprises. Berman produces new evidence that finally proves a long-suspected connection between candidate Nixon in 1968 and the South Vietnamese government. He tells the full story of Operation Duck Hook, a large-scale offensive planned by Nixon as early as 1969 that would have widened the war even to the point of bombing civilian food supplies. He reveals transcripts of candidate George McGovern's attempts to negotiate his own October surprise for 1972, and a seriocomic plan by the CIA to overthrow South Vietnam's President Thieu even as late as 1975. Throughout, with page-turning dialogue provided by official transcriptions and notes, Berman reveals the step-by-step betrayal of South Vietnam that started with a short-circuited negotiations loop, and ended with double-talk, false promises, and outright abandonment. Berman draws on hundreds of declassified documents, including the notes of Kissinger's aides, phone taps of the Nixon campaign in 1968, and McGovern's own transcripts of his negotiations with North Vietnam. He has been able to double- and triple-check North Vietnamese accounts against American notes of meetings, as well as previously released bits of the record. He has interviewed many key players, including high-level South Vietnamese officials. This definitive account forever and completely rewrites the final chapter of the Vietnam war. Henry Kissinger's Nobel Prize was won at the cost of America's honor.

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About the Author:

Larry Berman, professor and Director of the University of California Washington Center, has written two previous books on Vietnam, Planning a Tragedy and Lyndon Johnson's War, and has appeared in several major television documentaries on the war. He lives in Davis, California, and Washington, D.C.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.
George Orwell

President Richard Nixon spent New Year's Eve 1972 watching his beloved Washington Redskins defeat the Dallas Cowboys 26-3. Afterward, Nixon wrote in his diary, "As the year 1972 ends I have much to be thankful for -- China, Russia, May 8, the election victory, and, of course, while the end of the year was somewhat marred by the need to bomb Hanoi-Haiphong, that decision, I think, can make the next four years much more successful than they otherwise might have been. 1973 will be a better year."

It was a fair assessment of 1972. It was, of course, wildly wrong about the years to come, thanks to Watergate, but on that New Year's Eve, Nixon had reason to be optimistic. His biggest foreign policy problem, inherited from LBJ, had been the ongoing Vietnam War. Heading into 1973, it seemed likely that a peace treaty was just around the corner. Indeed, as he wrote, peace negotiations were getting restarted. The New York Times reported that Hanoi's negotiator, Le Duc Tho, was en route to Paris for a new round of meetings with Henry Kissinger. As we now know, Tho was first making a secret stop in Beijing in order to consult with Chou Enlai. The Chinese premier summarized the state of affairs nicely. He began by noting that Nixon's effort "to exert pressure through bombing has failed." Observing that Nixon faced numerous international and domestic problems, Chou advised Tho to "adhere to principles but show the necessary flexibility" that would produce a settlement. "Let the Americans leave as quickly as possible. In half a year or one year the situation will change," Chou Enlai advised Le Duc Tho. As he knew full well, 150,000 North Vietnamese troops were still in the South. The North was positioned for eventual victory; America was fed up with the war to the point of exhaustion. The ally that America had long supported, and continued to guarantee the safety of, was facing almost certain doom.

While Le Duc Tho was in China, Strom Thurmond, South Carolina's senior Republican senator and one of Nixon's strongest supporters, penned a personal message to the president. Nixon had always valued Thurmond's advice and support. In 1968, Thurmond had delivered the crucial Republican southern delegates to Nixon's nomination for president. A certified hawk on the war and a strong supporter of the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, Thurmond wrote to the president on January 2 that any final settlement negotiated in Paris between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho that allowed North Vietnam's troops to remain in the South would be viewed as a betrayal of those who had fought and died in the war. "I am pleased that the bombing of North Vietnam has brought the communists to the negotiating table. This proves once again that the firmness of your policies brings results. It is my hope that the forthcoming negotiations will produce a revised draft agreement, which will explicitly provide that all non-south Vietnamese troops will be required to evacuate South Vietnamese territory. I am deeply concerned that past draft agreements indicate that North Vietnamese troops would be allowed to remain in South Vietnam. This could be the foundation for North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam after our final withdrawal in the future. In such an outcome, history will judge that the sacrifice of American lives was in vain."

Three weeks later, on Tuesday, January 23, 1973, at the International Conference Center in Paris, the test of his assumption was launched. Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger, about to conclude their Nobel Prize-winning negotiations on the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, were joking together. Kissinger said, "I changed a few pages in your Vietnamese text last night, Mr. Special Advisor, but it only concerned North Vietnamese troops. You won't notice it until you get back home." They shared a good laugh.

* * *

Two years later there would be no laughter.

By 1975, Watergate had unraveled the presidency of Richard Nixon. Throughout the negotiation and signing of the agreement, Kissinger and Nixon had privately promised to South Vietnam's president, Nguyen Van Thieu, that America would intervene if any hostilities broke out between North and South, but Thieu knew that these promises were fragile. In a final plea for assistance, President Thieu penned a personal letter to a man he had never met, President Gerald Ford: "Hanoi's intention to use the Paris agreement for a military take over of South Vietnam was well-known to us at the very time of negotiating the Paris Agreement...Firm pledges were then given to us that the United States will retaliate swiftly and vigorously to any violation of the agreement...We consider those pledges the most important guarantees of the Paris Agreement; those pledges have now become the most crucial ones to our survival."

But President Ford had already accepted the political reality that Congress would not fund another supplemental budget request and that America's involvement in Vietnam would soon be over. Reviewing the first draft of his address to a joint session of Congress, the president read his speechwriter's proposed words: "And after years of effort, we negotiated a settlement which made it possible for us to remove our forces with honor and bring home our prisoners." Ford crossed out the words with honor.

Henry Kissinger also knew that American honor was in danger. In the cabinet room on April 16, the secretary read aloud a letter from Sirik Matak, one of the Cambodian leaders who had refused the American ambassador's invitation to evacuate Phnom Penh. The letter was written just hours before Mitak's execution: "Dear Excellency and Friend, I thank you very sincerely for your letter and your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people, which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad, because we are all born and must die one day. I have committed this mistake of believing in you, the Americans."

In Saigon, the fate of thousands of Vietnamese was on the line. The American ambassador, Graham Martin, cabled Kissinger that "the one thing that would set off violence would be a sudden order for American evacuation. It will be universally interpreted as a most callous betrayal, leaving the Vietnamese to their fate while we send in the marines to make sure that we get all ours out." Martin pleaded with Kissinger to delay the evacuation for as long as possible because any signs of the Americans' taking leave could set off panic and "would be one last act of betrayal that would strip us of the last vestige of honor."

Nonetheless, evacuation plans proceeded. By April 29, the situation at the American embassy was in chaos as Ambassador Martin flagrantly disregarded the president's evacuation order. By April 30, the top-secret transmissions came in quick bursts from the CH-46 Sea Night helicopters and the larger CH-53 Sea Stallions, which were ferrying evacuees from the American embassy rooftop to the U.S. fleet offshore. All communications between the pilots and their Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center were simultaneously transmitted to U.S. command-and-control authorities in Hawaii and Washington. The final transmissions confirmed the bitter end of the evacuation.

"All of the remaining American personnel are on the roof at this time and Vietnamese are in the building," reported the pilot of a CH-53. "The South Vietnamese have broken into the Embassy; they are rummaging around...no hostile acts noticed," reported another transmission. From the embassy rooftop, Marine Major James Kean described the chaos below as similar to a scene from the movie On the Beach.

Finally, at 7:51 A.M. Saigon time, the embassy's Marine ground security force spotted the CH-46 and its call sign, "Swift 22." It was the last flight from Saigon that would take the Marines home.

The final transmission from the CH-46 arrived with just seven words: "All the Americans are out, Repeat Out."

But not everyone was out. A breakdown in communication had occurred between those running the evacuation from the ground and those offshore, with the fleet controlling the helicopters and those making the decisions in Hawaii and Washington. "It was the Vietnam war all over again," observed Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. "It was not a proud day to be an American." There, on the embassy rooftop, over 420 Vietnamese stared into the empty skies looking for signs of returning American helicopters. Just hours earlier, they had been assured by well-intentioned Marines, "Khong ai se bi bo lai" ("No one will be left behind").

The helicopters did not return.

From the White House, President Gerald Ford issued an official statement: "The Government of the Republic of Vietnam has surrendered. Prior to its surrender, we have withdrawn our Mission from Vietnam. Vietnam has been a wrenching experience for this nation...History must be the final judge of that which we have done or left undone, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Let us calmly await its verdict."

* * *

It has been over thirty years since the United States and Vietnam began talks intended to end the Vietnam War. The Paris Peace Talks began on May 13, 1968, under the crystal chandeliers in the ballroom of the old Majestic Hotel on Avenue Kleber and did not end until January 27, 1973, with the signing of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam at the International Conference Center in Paris. Despite the agreement, not a moment of peace ever came to Vietnam. This book uses a cache of recently declassi...

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