136. Editorial Note

On May 8, 1972, at 9 p.m., President Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation in a televised speech on the mining of Haiphong Harbor and other North Vietnamese ports. The full text of the speech is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pages 583–587. The President reviewed what had happened in the war since late March and then presented three courses of action: immediate withdrawal, continued negotiations, or decisive military action. He then specified his chosen course of action:

“All entrances to North Vietnamese ports will be mined to prevent access to these ports and North Vietnamese naval operations from these [Page 513] ports. United States forces have been directed to take appropriate measures within the internal and claimed territorial waters of North Vietnam to interdict the delivery of any supplies. Rail and all other communications will be cut off to the maximum extent possible. Air and naval strikes against military targets in North Vietnam will continue.

“These actions are not directed against any other nation. Countries with ships presently in North Vietnamese ports have already been notified that their ships will have three daylight periods to leave in safety. After that time, the mines will become active and any ships attempting to leave or enter these ports will do so at their own risk.

“These actions I have ordered will cease when the following conditions are met:

“First, all American prisoners of war must be returned.

“Second, there must be an internationally supervised cease-fire throughout Indochina.

“Once prisoners of war are released, once the internationally supervised cease-fire has begun, we will stop all acts of force throughout Indochina, and at that time we will proceed with a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam within 4 months.”

After the speech, Nixon met briefly with his Cabinet and, after noting that the decision had been a difficult one, said the following: “But now the decision has been made, the action has been taken, and it is essential that we have unanimity of support within the Administration—that we speak with one voice, and not indicate any turning away from the hard line that has been taken.” According to the minutes of the meeting:

“Secretary Rogers noted there were a couple of things he would like to say, first as a legal point, this is not a blockade. It is not a challenge to ships on the high seas. The actions we take will be entirely within the 12-mile limit and the internal waters of North Vietnam. Second, this shows the unfairness of the war—and how one-sided things have been. The enemy have done this themselves—they’ve mined Da Nang and the Saigon River, they’ve blown up our ships and South Vietnamese ships with mines—but no one complained then. At the briefing for the legislative leadership tonight, Mansfield and Fulbright complained about our action—but they didn’t challenge the other side when they did it.

“He noted that there are two parts to the war—on the battlefield in Vietnam, and here at home. He planned a meeting of his people at the State Department in the morning, and he felt that ‘all of us in the Departments should get the word out immediately to our people’—and should say [when] the chips are down, it’s easy enough to support the President when things are going well, but we also want you to support him now, when it’s difficult and that this is important.”

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(National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 88, Memoranda for the President, Beginning May 7 1972) Portions of the minutes of the meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 209.