I have been watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary on The Vietnam War. While tough to watch at times, the ten part series has been very informative, as it takes us through a variety of perspectives on this tragic war – American soldiers, Viet Cong soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and citizens, American parents and relatives of soldiers, draft dodgers, protestors, Presidents, military leaders, experts, etc.
What has been frustrating, JFK, LBJ and Nixon all were not very forthcoming with the American people or press on the Vietnam issues. They knew early on this was an unwinnable war and that we had partnered with a corrupt leadership in South Vietnam. And, as many American soldiers attested, we were fighting a very effective opponent in guerilla warfare. These leaders also led on the American people to believe we were winning the war, when that was not the case.
The two Presidents that frustrate me the most on these issues are LBJ and Nixon. For all the good LBJ did domestically, he went down a poor path that said we must stave off communism at all costs. As a result, he escalated the war. But, Nixon did something that was unforgivable that is actually worse than what he did with the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to his resignation and jailing of over twenty of his staff members.
If it were not for Watergate, the Nixon Presidency would have been mostly remembered for its positives – opening up China, establishing better relationships with the Soviet Union and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency, balanced by the negatives of his widening of the Vietnam War and his iron thumb on protestors. So, what was worse than Watergate?
Richard Nixon committed treason and twenty thousand more Americans died and even more were injured. Nixon called the President of South Vietnam five days before the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey to ask him to hold off on going to Paris peace talks that had been progressing and he would his influence on North Vietnam to get better terms. The encouraging news of the peace talks had brought Humphrey closer to Nixon in the election polls and Nixon felt the need to derail the peace talks for his benefit.
How do we know this? The CIA bugged the South Vietnamese President and recorded the conversation between him and Nixon (see below link). LBJ listened to the recording and called the most senior Republican Senator and a friend and they both spoke of Nixon’s treason, repeatedly using that term. LBJ decided not to act (does this sound familiar), but did get a call from Nixon where he noted to LBJ he had heard these rumors and they were not true. That was a lie, but LBJ did not call him on it. Maybe LBJ felt it would lead to his own lies on how well the war was going or maybe he felt like Obama did last year that it would look politically motivated.
The result of this treasonous act is the peace talks stalled and the war went on for four more years. Many more Americans died needlessly. To be frank, American deaths which occurred before then were needless as well, as we knew we could not win. Some folks may contend I am making this up or using inflammatory language. But, the word “treason” was used by the President of the United States and the lead Republican Senator to define what Nixon did. Intervening with a foreign entity to override our policy is far more than poor form. It is criminal. And, American people died or were injured.