Henry Kissinger on Vietnam

Henry Kissinger's new book revisits America's troubled extrication from Indochina

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Yet Kissinger, according to this fascinating and sad book, persisted in believing that, given enough time and resources, his Vietnam policy would succeed. In other words, it was the war opponents’ fault that the policy failed. In 1975, after Ford had taken office as president, Kissinger writes that the administration’s "sole remaining card to prevent Saigon’s collapse" was additional money from Congress to fund the war effort—an appropriation that Congress was resisting. The denial of the money may well have sped the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, but how long it could have been sustained is another matter. Late in the book, Kissinger addresses the crucial question: "Was it worth it?" His reply: "Probably not for us; almost surely for Saigon, about whose survival the war had, after all, been fought." This is at once a monumental admission and an avoidance of the fact that Saigon collapsed despite our five years of waste of human lives and national treasure. Elsewhere in Ending the Vietnam War, Kissinger says, "With anything like the support extended to allies in Korea, the Gulf, and the Balkans, they [South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos] might have survived until the erosion of Communism set in." This assertion assumes that substantial support would have lasted another decade and a half—an extraordinary leap of imagination—and it also is akin to equating apples with zebras. (And despite the collapse of communism elsewhere, Vietnam remains a stable communist state, with capitalist features.) If Kissinger truly continues to believe these things, one is forced to conclude that he was—and still is—deluding himself. Kissinger and Nixon were in a bunker of their own, clinging to the false promise of Vietnamization, holding to a misbegotten concept of national honor and railing at the war’s opponents. Great leaders have the insight and longsightedness to make the right decisions in dire circumstances: Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, to name two, got it right. The reputations of Nixon and Kissinger are doomed to carry the heavy freight of the fact that they did not.


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