73. Editorial Note

During a press conference in Washington on October 26, 1972, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, said: “We believe that peace is at hand. We believe that an agreement is within sight based on the May 8 proposals of the President and some adaptations of our January 25 proposal which is just to all parties. It is inevitable that in a war of such complexity that there should be occasional difficulties in reaching a final solution, but we believe that by far the longest part of the road has been traversed and what stands in the way of an agreement now are issues that are relatively less important than those that have already been settled.” He discussed in detail how the negotiations had generated the draft agreement and the substance of the agreement, then focused on what should happen next, after which he took questions from the assembled reporters. (Department of State Bulletin, November 13, 1972, page 549; the transcript was also printed in The New York Times, October 27, 1972, page 18)

Kissinger later wrote about the press conference and its most-quoted phrase in these terms: “The drama of the phrase ‘peace is [Page 306] at hand’ would provide a handy symbol of governmental duplicity in the continued bitter atmosphere of the Vietnam debate, as would my repeating publicly what I had already told the parties privately, that I would seek to conclude the agreement in one more session. In fairness to Nixon, he was not aware that I would use the words ‘peace is at hand.’ It was a pithy message—too optimistic, as it turned out—to the parties of our determination to persevere; a signal to Hanoi that we were not reneging and to Saigon that we would not be derailed.

“And despite all the opprobrium heaped on it later, the statement was essentially true—though clearly if I had to do it over I would choose a less dramatic phrase.” (White House Years, page 1400)

Kissinger’s deputy, Major General Alexander M. Haig, had a different take on the former’s choice of words and its effect. In his memoirs he wrote: “It is hardly possible to imagine a phrase, so redolent of Neville Chamberlain and the effete 1930s cult of appeasement, more likely to embarrass Nixon as President and presidential candidate, inflame Thieu’s anxieties, or weaken our leverage in Hanoi. The President regarded Kissinger’s gaffe as a disaster.” (Inner Circles, page 302) In a subsequent account, Nixon appeared to agree more with Haig than Kissinger, writing: “When Ziegler told me that the news lead from Kissinger’s briefing was ‘Peace is at hand,’ I knew immediately that our bargaining position with the North Vietnamese would be seriously eroded and our problem of bringing Thieu and the South Vietnamese along would be made even more difficult.” ( RN, page 705)