No More Vietnams

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

Even veteran Nixon-watchers have difficulty recalling the number of “new” Nixons who have appeared since the 1950’s, and the redoubtable former president is not through yet. Since his resignation under certainty of impeachment in 1974 and a three-year period of anonymity, he has sought to fill another new role, that of elder statesman and chief foreign-policy adviser to the powers-that-be. He has published a new book overy other year since his presidential memoirs, RN, appeared in 1978: The Real War (1980), Leaders (1982), Real Peace (1984), and now, No More Vietnams.

Of the postpresidential books (Six Crises, published in 1962, clearly belongs to earlier image-building efforts), the most useful has been RN. It was written close to the events it relates and is a personal record of the Nixon presidency. While far from being a detached and objective report, RN represented an attempt at credibility. Subsequent works appear to have more immediate and personal goals: to establish Nixon’s authority as a foreign-affairs expert and to prepare reception for his views in the appropriate circles. His real influence has been exercised through carefully orchestrated interviews and private dinners for sympathetic journalists and politicians, appearances before prestigious foreign-policy groups, and contacts with highly placed officials. The fall 1985 issue of the influential journal Foreign Affairs featured Nixon’s article “Superpower Summitry,” and, in April of that year, he gave Time magazine editors a private interview on that subject.

In The Real War, Leaders, and Real Peace, Nixon perhaps unconsciously constructed a three-dimensional image: toughness, to conform to the hard-line anti-Communism of the Ronald Reagan presidential campaign and the rising bellicosity of a public opinion frustrated by the humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis; personal acquaintanceship with many world leaders; and the vision and diplomatic skill to fashion what he still liked to call “a structure of peace.” Perhaps he really wanted to be President Reagan’s secretary of state.

No More Vietnams differs from his previous books. It is an uncompromising defense of his Vietnam policies, which is not surprising, and a detailed indictment of his critics, which is not only mean but often mistaken. Nixon presided over the war longer than any of his predecessors. When the last American troops departed, he certainly knew that, without half a million Americans and billions of dollars’ worth of munitions and equipment, the regime of South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu could maintain itself only for a “decent interval.” In that context, the Christmas bombing at the end of 1972, the fiercest and most concentrated of the war, could neither have diverted the North Vietnamese from their march toward total victory nor convinced Thieu of continued American support. In retrospect, it seems to have been a pointless and atrocious spasm born of frustration.

That is not the way Nixon explains the situation. Quite the opposite:When Secretary of State William Rogers signed the Paris peace agreements, we had won the war in Vietnam. We had attained the one political goal for which we had fought the war: The South Vietnamese people would have the right to determine their own political future . We won the war in Vietnam, but we lost the peace. All that we had achieved in twelve years of fighting was thrown away in a spasm of congressional irresponsibility.

Nixon does not explain what his course would have been, although one can assume that it would have involved more “Christmas bombings” and, inevitably, the reintroduction of American troops. Nixon was too astute to think that the American people would have stood for that—and in any case he was by then too mired in Watergate (which he mentions here only incidentally) to turn his attention back to Vietnam.

America’s involvement in Vietnam, Nixon contends, was punctuated by “fundamental” errors, beginning with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s refusal in 1954 to send B-52s from Guam to bomb the Viet Minh besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu, as Nixon and Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted to do. That decision, Nixon argues, cost the United States a last chance to stop Communist expansion into Southeast Asia. Eisenhower is blamed for not having sent aid to the Hungarians in 1956. President John F. Kennedy should have invaded North Vietnam in 1961 and at the same time provided air cover for the Cubans at the Bay of Pigs. Although almost no one familiar with the...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

Christian Century. CII, August 28, 1985, p. 775.

Foreign Affairs. LXIII, April, 1985, p. 919.

Library Journal. CX, April 1, 1985, p. 145.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 28, 1985, p. 2.

The New York Review of Books. XXXII, May 30, 1985, p. 11.

The New York Times Book Review. XC, April 7, 1985, p. 5.

Policy Review. Summer, 1985, p. 87.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVII, March 15, 1985, p. 104.

The Wall Street Journal. CCV, April 11, 1985, p. 28.

Washington Post Book World. XV, March 31, 1985, p. 1.