On Jan. 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon announced an accord had been reached to end the Vietnam War. In a televised speech, Nixon said the accord would “end the war and bring peace with honor.” The Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, called for a ceasefire to begin on Jan. 27 between North and South Vietnamese troops that would allow Americans troops to begin a 60-day withdrawal. Additionally, North Vietnam agreed to release all American prisoners of war.
It was reported, “Obviously pleased by the long-awaited development, ending the longest war in American history, Mr. Nixon said the Hanoi-Washington agreement ‘meets the goals’ and has the ‘full support’ of President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam.” The Paris Peace Accords ended America’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War. But despite the ceasefire and provisions calling for “genuinely free and democratic general elections” in South Vietnam and the reunification of Vietnam “through peaceful means,” it did nothing to end the war between North and South Vietnam. Mr. Kissinger and Tho were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, but Tho refused to accept because a true peace had not been reached.
North and South resumed fighting later in the year, and in January 1974, President Thieu declared the accords no longer in effect. North Vietnam forces advanced south, and by the spring of 1975 were nearing the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. President Thieu asked Nixon’s successor for more financing, but was turned down. On April 21, he resigned and gave a speech accusing the United States of betraying South Vietnam and Kissinger for signing a treaty that brought about his country’s defeat. North Vietnamese troops overran Saigon on April 30, forcing South Vietnam to surrender and bring about an end to the war.
Marvin Kalb, co-author of “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama,” compared the Vietnam War and the War in Afghanistan in an October 2011 opinion piece. Mr. Kalb argued that the defeat in Vietnam “was a humiliation, and it stripped the country of its illusions of omnipotence.” To post-Vietnam era leaders, he claimed, Vietnam has served as an “unwelcome memory of where America went wrong, a warning of what may yet go wrong.”
Mr. Kalb wrote that, even though President Obama was too young to have fully experienced the Vietnam War, “time and again, he has found himself entangled in its complexities.” He also wrote that the failure of Vietnam continues to “haunt” Mr. Obama as he navigates his way through two inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the president has consistently denounced any comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. In what ways, if any, would you compare Vietnam to modern military operations abroad? Do you believe that the Vietnam will continue to serve as a warning that will influence future generations of leaders? Why or why not?