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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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An exhaustive study of the US’s involvement in Vietnam since 1945 is completed. The study was ordered in early 1967 by then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, partly to determine how the situation in Southeast Asia had gotten so out of hand. The study, entitled “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” is by the “Vietnam Study Task Force,” led by Leslie H. Gelb, the director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, and comprised of 36 military personnel, historians, and defense analysts from the RAND Corporation and the Washington Institute for Defense Analysis. The study is huge, composed of 47 volumes and spanning 7,000 pages of material. It covers the time from 1945, when Vietnam was under French colonial rule, through the 1968 Tet Offensive. The study conclusively shows that each US administration, from Harry S. Truman through Lyndon B. Johnson, had knowingly and systematically deceived the American people over the US’s involvement and interventions in the region. Historian John Prados will later observe that the study, later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers” after it is leaked by RAND analyst and task force member Daniel Ellsberg (see September 29, 1969 and March 1971), represents “a body of authoritative information, of inside government deliberations that demonstrated, beyond questioning, the criticisms that antiwar activists had been making for years, not only were not wrong, but in fact, were not materially different from things that had been argued inside the US government.” [Moran, 2007]

Entity Tags: Leslie Gelb, Harry S. Truman, Daniel Ellsberg, John Prados, Vietnam Study Task Force, Washington Institute for Defense Analysis, RAND Corporation, Lyndon B. Johnson, US Department of Defense, Robert McNamara

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam, 'Pentagon Papers' Leak

Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973.Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973. [Source: Taylor Owen / History News Network]President Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, discuss North Vietnamese sanctuaries and supply routes in the neutral border country of Cambodia. General Creighton Abrams, the US military commander in South Vietnam, wants those sites bombed, regardless of the fact that military strikes against locations in a neutral country would be flagrant violations of international laws and treaties. Abrams has assured the White House that no Cambodian civilians live in those areas—a false assertion. Nixon orders Kissinger to come up with a plan for bombing Cambodia. Kissinger, his military aide Alexander Haig, and Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman develop the basic plan in two days. The first wave of bombings will begin three weeks later (see March 15-17, 1969). Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia—dubbed “Operation Menu”—will trigger a wave of global denunciations, further energize the antiwar movement, and help precipitate the leak of the “Pentagon Papers” (see March 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 48-49]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger, ’Operation Menu’, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., H.R. Haldeman, Creighton Abrams

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s assistant for National Security Affairs, convinces the president to begin a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese have established logistical bases. The campaign, secretly referred to as “Operation Breakfast,” spurs the Vietnamese to move deeper into Cambodia causing US bombings to move further into the country’s interior. As in Laos (see 1969-1973), the US drops an incredible number of bombs on civilian areas. [Los Angeles Times, 7/8/1997] Craig Etcheson will later write in his book, The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea: “The fact is that the United States dropped three times the quantity of explosives on Cambodia between 1970 and 1973 than it had dropped on Japan for the duration of World War II. Between 1969 and 1973, 539,129 tons of high explosives rained down on Cambodia; that is more than one billion pounds. This is equivalent to some 15,400 pounds of explosives for every square mile of Cambodian territory. Considering that probably less than 25 percent of the total area of Cambodia was bombed at one time or another, the actual explosive force per area would be at least four times this level.” [Etcheson, 1984, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: US-Cambodia (1955-1993)

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

President Nixon makes the final decision to launch “Operation Menu”—secret air strikes against Cambodia (see February 23-24, 1969). He meets with Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, ostensibly to discuss the decision of whether “to bomb or not,” but unbeknownst to the two officials, Nixon has already issued the order and begun a system of phony telephone records put in place to disguise the bombings. Congress is not informed of the bombings. The first stage of the bombing, “Operation Breakfast,” is productive enough to lead Nixon to predict the war in Vietnam will be over by 1970. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 58-59]

Entity Tags: ’Operation Menu’, Melvin Laird, William P. Rogers, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

The New York Times reveals the secret bombings of Cambodia, dubbed “Operation Menu” (see February 23-24, 1969 and March 15-17, 1969). National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is apoplectic in his anger: shouting to President Nixon, “We must do something! We must crush those people! We must destroy them!” Kissinger is not only referring to the Times, but Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, whom he believes leaked the information to the Times in order to discredit him. (Nixon has an unproductive phone conversation with Laird before his meeting with Kissinger; Nixon opened the phone call by calling Laird a “son of a b_tch,” and Laird hung up on the president.) Nixon suggests Kissinger’s own staff may be the source of the leaks. He is most suspicious of Kissinger’s aide Morton Halperin. By lunch, Kissinger has talked to the FBI about wiretapping suspected leakers. By dinner, Halperin’s phone is tapped. The next day, Kissinger’s military aide Alexander Haig has the FBI tap three more men “just for a few days,” warning the FBI not to keep any records of the wiretaps. The three targets are Kissinger’s aides Helmut Sonnenfeldt and Daniel Davidson, and Laird’s military assistant, Robert Pursley (who will again be wiretapped several months later—see May 2, 1970). At the same time, White House aide Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) arranges for a wiretap on a private citizen, syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft. While the FBI wiretaps are legally questionable, Caulfield’s tap is unquestionably illegal. Caulfield has the director of security for the Republican National Committee, former FBI agent John Ragan, personally install the wiretap in Kraft’s home. The tap on Kraft produces nothing except the conversations of housekeepers, as Kraft and his wife are in Paris. Nixon has the French authorities wiretap Kraft’s Paris hotel room. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William P. Rogers, Robert Pursley, Republican National Committee, Morton H. Halperin, Melvin Laird, Daniel Davidson, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., ’Operation Menu’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Henry A. Kissinger, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Ragan, Joseph Kraft, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam, Illegal Wiretapping & Surveillance, Political Subordination of FBI, CIA

The press reports an upcoming announcement of US troop withdrawals from Vietnam. President Nixon, convinced that the media leaks (see May 1969) are coming from the National Security Council, decides to stop holding NSC meetings entirely. Instead, he and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger will decide national security matters between themselves, in secret. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, National Security Council, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

On April 24, President Nixon orders US and South Vietnamese troops to secretly invade the “Parrot’s Beak” region of Cambodia, thought to be a Viet Cong stronghold. The decision is controversial. Nixon knows that many senior military officials, as well as his Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, will oppose the operation, so he carefully keeps Laird ignorant of the invasion plans. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger privately alerts Laird to some of the less controversial elements of the operation (but not the use of US forces in the invasion), and Laird recommends advising Congress of the imminent military action. Kissinger says Nixon will handle that himself. (Nixon only tells one Congressman, Senator John Stennis (D-MS), the hawkish chairman of the Armed Services Committee.) As the evening wears on, Nixon repeatedly calls Kissinger’s office, barking out contradictory orders and hanging up, as he flip-flops on whether to actually go through with the plan. “Our peerless leader has flipped out,” Kissinger tells his staff. Nixon calls Kissinger with further orders and tells him, in a slurred, perhaps inebriated voice, “Wait a minute, Bebe has something to say to you.” Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, Nixon’s longtime friend and millionaire political and personal financier (who has been thoroughly informed of the operation when many senior government and officials have not), takes the phone and says, “The president wants you to know that if this doesn’t work, Henry, it’s your ass.”
Staffers Resign - Kissinger, who has himself kept his staff ignorant of the invasion, tells one staffer, William Watts, to coordinate the National Security Council’s work on the invasion. But Watts, outraged at the secret invasion of a neutral nation, refuses. “Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern establishment,” Kissinger snaps. Watts comes towards Kissinger as if to strike him, then turns and walks out of the office. Watts resigns his position minutes later. Kissinger’s military aide, Alexander Haig: tells Watts: “You can’t resign.… You’ve just had an order from your commander in chief.” Watts retorts, “F_ck you, Al, I just did.” Two other Kissinger staffers, Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, also resign over the invasion.
Others Informed - The plans are finalized by Nixon and Kissinger, with Rebozo sitting in on the discussion. Only on the evening of April 26 do Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, and other Cabinet officials learn of the plans to invade Cambodia. Rogers is horrified; Laird is ambivalent, but furious that he was left out of the decision-making process. The invasion takes place on April 28. Congress and the press learn of the invasion on April 30. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 199-206]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Anthony Lake, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, John Stennis, Roger Morris, William Watts, National Security Council, Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger, William P. Rogers

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

US and South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia, attacking North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases and supply lines. Angered by the move, four men from Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff resign (see April 24-30, 1970). [Blum, 1995; Hitchins, 2001; Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2005] By the end of May, scores of villages have been destroyed. [Blum, 1995] Though US ground forces are withdrawn by June 30, the South Vietnamese troops will remain, occupying heavily populated areas and supported by continued heavy US air bombings. During this time, popular support for the Khmer Rouge broadens, its ranks swelling from 3,000 in March 1970 to a peak of about 30,000. [Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2005]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger

Timeline Tags: US-Cambodia (1955-1993)

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

May 2, 1970: Haig Orders Four More Wiretaps

When the press reports the secret US-led invasion of Cambodia (see April 24-30, 1970) and the subsequent massive air strikes in that country, Alexander Haig, the military aide to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, notes that New York Times reporter William Beecher has been asking some suspiciously well-informed questions about the operation. Beecher’s latest story also alerts Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to the bombings (Laird, whom Kissinger considers a hated rival, has been kept out of the loop on the bombings). Haig tells the FBI he suspects a “serious security violation” has taken place, and receives four new wiretaps: on Beecher; Laird’s assistant Robert Pursley; Secretary of State William Rogers’s assistant Richard Pederson; and Rogers’s deputy, William Sullivan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 212]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry A. Kissinger, William Sullivan, Richard Pederson, William P. Rogers, William Beecher, Robert Pursley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam, Illegal Wiretapping & Surveillance

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a slain student during the Kent State shootings.Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a slain student during the Kent State shootings. [Source: John Paul Filo]At 3 p.m. on May 4, 1970, White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman informs President Nixon of the shootings of four unarmed college students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. After a night of rioting and the torching of a campus ROTC building, prompted by outrage over the secret Cambodia bombings (see April 24-30, 1970), about 2,000 students faced off against squads of National Guardsmen in full riot gear. After tear gas failed to break up the demonstrators, and some of the protesters started throwing rocks at the Guardsmen, the Guard was ordered to open fire. Thirteen seconds and 67 shots later, four students were dead and 11 were wounded. Nixon is initially aghast at the news. “Is this because of me, because of Cambodia?” he asks. “How do we turn this stuff off?… I hope they provoked it.” Later his response to the increasingly confrontational antiwar protesters will become far more harsh and derisive. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 213]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Kent State University, H.R. Haldeman

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

President Nixon meets with his top military and national security aides at the Western White House in San Clemente, California. According to a memo from the meeting, marked “Eyes Only, Top Secret Sensitive,” Nixon tells military officials that while the administration will continue to say that US involvement in Southeast Asia is limited to supporting South Vietnamese forces in order to protect US troops, the US will continue its covert operations in Cambodia. “That is what we will say publicly,” he says. “But now, let’s talk about what we will actually do. I want you to put the air in there and not spare the horses. Do not withdraw for domestic reasons but only for military reasons. We have taken all the heat on this one. Just do it. Don’t come back and ask permission each time.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: US-Cambodia (1955-1993)

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

President Nixon’s aides have diligently tried to find evidence linking former President John F. Kennedy to the 1963 assassinations of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu (see June 17, 1971), but have been unsuccessful. “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt (see July 7, 1971) has collected 240 diplomatic cables between Washington, DC, and Saigon from the time period surrounding the assassinations, none of which hint at any US involvement in them. White House aide Charles Colson, therefore, decides to fabricate his own evidence. Using a razor blade, glue, and a photocopier, Colson creates a fake “cable” dated October 29, 1963, sent to the US embassy in Saigon from the Kennedy White House. It reads in part, “At highest level meeting today, decision reluctantly made that neither you nor Harkin [apparently a reference to General Paul Harkins, the commander of US forces in Vietnam at the time] should intervene on behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 371]

Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, Richard M. Nixon, Ngo Dinh Diem, Paul Harkins, Ngo Dinh Nhu

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

Vacationing in his Key Biscayne, Florida home, President Nixon calls chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and senior aide John Ehrlichman. He tells Haldeman: “You’re doing the right thing [by resigning—see April 16-17, 1973 and April 30, 1973]. That’s what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi.” He also speaks to White House counsel John Dean. Dean will later say that Nixon tells him, “You’re still my counsel.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 594]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean

Category Tags: Watergate Resignations and Firings, Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

Months after the Paris Agreement, which marked the official end of the Vietnam War, the United States, under the leadership of President Richard Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, steps up its bombing of Cambodia—contradicting earlier claims that the rationale for bombing Cambodia had been to protect American lives in Vietnam. During the months of March, April and May, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Cambodia is more than twice that of the entire previous year. The bombing stops in August under pressure from Congress. The total number of civilians killed since the bombing began in 1969 is estimated to be 600,000 (see March 1969). [Guardian, 4/25/2002; Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2005]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, US Congress, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: US-Cambodia (1955-1993)

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

President Ford mulls over how to finalize the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Congress is threatening to withdraw funding for the continuation of a US troop presence in that country, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, privately moving away from his previous insistence on staying in Vietnam indefinitely, urges Ford to evacuate the last of the troops and attempt to blame Congress for the final withdrawal. Politically, the situation with Vietnam is fraught with danger—the American people are largely against any more involvement in Southeast Asia, and if Ford does not come out in support of further troop funding, Kissinger thinks it would help his 1976 presidential bid. On the other hand, Kissinger says, “the liberals who would applaud it would fail you when the going was tough.” Ford resists any such advice to “cut and run.” Neither Kissinger nor Ford want Saigon to fall to Vietnamese forces before the November 1976 elections. [Werth, 2006, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry A. Kissinger

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford, and Vietnam

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