Online Exhibits

Episodes 9-12

Episode 9: Crossing into Cambodia

Nixon’s Cambodian campaign fans antiwar flames and deepens divide between Americans

I’m not going to be the first American President to lose a war.

President Richard Nixon, 1969

In a coup strongly encouraged by the United States, a U.S.-friendly government came to power in Cambodia. The Vietnamese Communists had long used neutral Cambodia as a place to regroup and store weapons. President Nixon planned to send ground groups to Cambodia to attack Communist sanctuaries and central headquarters. One historical interpretation of Nixon’s strategy is that he hoped to destabilize the enemy in order to provide a “decent interval” in which South Vietnam could fend for itself while American troops pulled out.

Nixon televised his decision to initiate the Cambodian campaign. This apparent expansion of the war detonated an explosion of antiwar activity that escalated to a national crisis when four students were shot at a protest at Kent State University in Ohio. The public was unaware that Nixon had been secretly bombing Cambodia since mid-March 1969—an escalation of a covert bombing campaign started by Johnson in 1965.


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Watch the Animation: U.S. Airstrikes in Southeast Asia

Key Dates

March 18, 1970: Coup in which Lon Nol comes to power in Cambodia

April 23, 1971: Hundreds of Vietnam veterans throw away their medals at the United States Capitol

April 29, 1970: Cambodian incursion begins

April 30, 1970: Nixon’s speech on Cambodia

May 4, 1970: Kent State shooting

February 8, 1971: South Vietnamese army suffers devastating losses in Operation Lam Son 719

June 13, 1971: New York Times begins publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers

July 15, 1971: Nixon announces plans to visit China




Episode 10: Fighting While Talking

The North Vietnamese “Spring Offensive” and the American “Christmas Bombing”

The bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time.

President Richard Nixon, 1972

In February 1970, Henry Kissinger began back channel negotiations with North Vietnam. Hoping to gain an edge in these deliberations, North Vietnam sent 122,000 main force units to attack South Vietnam in March.  Nixon was enraged by the “Spring Offensive.” It threatened his reelection and his budding relationship with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, whom he hoped might abandon North Vietnam for the promise of improved American relations. 

In October, a defeated North Vietnam made concessions and Kissinger announced “peace is at hand.” But South Vietnamese President Thieu balked at the agreement and demanded changes. When Kissinger attempted to renegotiate, the talks collapsed. Nixon blamed North Vietnam and ordered a massive “Christmas Bombing” to bring both sides back to the table.


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Key Dates

March 30, 1972: Hanoi’s Spring Offensive begins

April 16, 1972: U.S. resumes bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong

May 9, 1972: Nixon orders Operation Linebacker I bombing

May 26, 1972: Watergate scandal, arrest of five White House operatives

October 26, 1972: Kissinger declares “peace is at hand”

November 7, 1972: Nixon is reelected in a landslide

December 13, 1972: Breakdown in peace talks between the North Vietnamese and the Americans

December 18, 1972: Nixon orders Operation Linebacker II


Episode 11: Paris Peace Accords

Peace is declared but not achieved

Today [we] have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam.

President Richard Nixon, 1973

After Nixon’s “Christmas Bombing,” North Vietnam returned to the negotiating table. On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords officially ended the war in Vietnam. The final agreement was only superficially different from the draft reached in October 1972. South Vietnamese President Thieu reluctantly signed after Nixon secretly promised “swift and severe retaliatory action” if North Vietnam violated it.

Nixon and Kissinger declared they had achieved “peace with honor” and hoped it would last long enough to give Saigon a fighting chance.

In fact the war was far from over. Fighting between Saigon and Hanoi continued and even increased in parts of South Vietnam. North Vietnam began preparations to overtake the South. President Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, did not have the political capital to provide the backup he had repeatedly promised his ally.


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Key Dates

January 27, 1973: Signing of Paris Peace Agreement

January 28, 1973: Cease-fire

February 12, 1973: Operation Homecoming brings home 591 American prisoners of war

March 29, 1973: Last American troops leave Vietnam

August 16, 1973: The U.S. bombing of Cambodia ends, the last U.S. combat activity in Southeast Asia

November 7, 1973: War Powers Resolution passes in attempt to require congressional consent to commit U.S. to war

August 9, 1974: Nixon resigns as President of the United States

December 13, 1974: North Vietnam wins decisive Battle of Phuoc Long and concludes American involvement has ended


Episode 12: Fall of Saigon

The Communists conquer Saigon

You ran away and left us to do the job that you could not do.

Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, 1975

After the Paris Peace Agreement, the Communists continued to infiltrate South Vietnam. The 1973 Case-Church Amendment prohibited U.S. military activity in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia without congressional approval. The United States continued to supply its ally with some military equipment and arms.

North Vietnamese Army forces attacked major cities in the highlands in March 1975. The South Vietnamese Army crumbled. President Ford requested additional aid from Congress. His persistence had a symbolic purpose. It bolstered U.S. credibility and allowed the administration to blame Congress for Saigon’s fall. A frenzied, last-minute evacuation of American civilians and South Vietnamese citizens at risk of retaliation by the communists ended just hours before a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed the Imperial Palace gates. In the years that followed, a total of 1.6 million Vietnamese refugees fled the Communist regime.


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Key Dates

January 6, 1975: North Vietnamese Army takes Phuoc Long city

January 29, 1975: Weather Underground bombs State Department building

March 10, 1975: Two-day North Vietnamese Army offensive in Central Highlands begins

March 26, 1975: Fall of Hue City

April 4, 1975: First Operation Babylift flight

April 21, 1975: President Thieu resigns

April 29, 1975: Final phase of Saigon Evacuation begins

April 30, 1975: North Vietnamese tanks crash gates of Imperial Palace

May 12, 1975: Khmer Rouge forces seize the U.S. merchant vessel SS Mayaguez

Continue to explore the 12 Critical Episodes of the Remembering Vietnam Exhibition