99. Editorial Note

On April 26, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon delivered his second address to the nation on Vietnam since the year began, and his first since the North Vietnamese launched their offensive on March 30. He reviewed details of the most recent United States offer to Hanoi to win the war, made first in October 1971 and then repeated in January 1972 with only slight differences. He characterized the proposals in the offer as generous. The response was negative, the President stressed: “Now, Hanoi’s answer to this offer was a refusal to even discuss our proposals and, at the same time, a huge escalation of their military activities on the battlefield.” Subsequently, the probability of a major offensive by the North against the South increased. Nonetheless, the U.S. did not react militarily. According to Nixon: “Instead we patiently continued with the Paris talks, because we wanted to give the enemy every chance to reach a negotiated settlement at the bargaining table rather than to seek a military victory on the battlefield—a victory they cannot be allowed to win.

“Finally, 3 weeks ago, on Easter weekend, they mounted their massive invasion of South Vietnam. Three North Vietnamese divisions swept across the demilitarized zone into South Vietnam—in violation [Page 331] of the treaties they had signed in 1954 and in violation of the understanding they had reached with President Johnson in 1968, when he stopped the bombing of North Vietnam in return for arrangements which included their pledge not to violate the DMZ. Shortly after the invasion across the DMZ, another three North Vietnamese divisions invaded South Vietnam further south. As the offensive progressed, the enemy indiscriminately shelled civilian population centers in clear violation of the 1968 bombing halt understanding.”

In the wake of the “invasion,” Nixon announced in his speech three decisions bearing on the war. First, because Vietnamization was going well, the President would continue to withdraw American troops. Over the next two months another 20,000 would be pulled out, leaving the number at about 49,000. Second, he had ordered Ambassador Porter to return to the plenary sessions in Paris on April 27. Third, Nixon would continue air and naval attacks on military targets in North Vietnam until the North stopped its offensive against the South. On the relation between bombing and negotiating, he said: “I have flatly rejected the proposal that we stop the bombing of North Vietnam as a condition for returning to the negotiating table. They sold that package to the United States once before, in 1968, and we are not going to buy it again in 1972.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pages 550–554)

In his memoirs, Nixon wrote: “It was a tough speech, and afterward I wished that I had made it even tougher.” ( RN, page 593)