Vietnam and the U.S.: 1973-1975

Knowing full well that the North Vietnamese would eventually conquer South Vietnam, the U.S. government nevertheless signed the peace accords with North Vietnam in January 1973. That agreement required the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Vietnam but left North Vietnamese forces in place. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, in preparing for the agreement, discussed what they needed to do to delay the fall of South Vietnam long enough that the U.S. public would not blame the them for the eventual debacle. They shaped the agreement for that purpose.

I was in Vietnam in 1974 and 1975 as head of the National Security Agency (NSA) covert operation whose purpose was to monitor the North Vietnamese. Working with the South Vietnamese, we intercepted North Vietnamese communications and reported the ever growing threat to South Vietnam. The U.S. government’s placid response alarmed me. Then, in April 1975, as the North Vietnamese pushed their attack on Saigon, American government officials said all was well, not much fighting was taking place. The city fell on 29 April, and I escaped under fire.

Some of the false optimism about Vietnam came from the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin. For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, he was certain that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon. He reported to Congress in mid-1975, in the aftermath to the defeat, that he had been approached by the Hungarian member of the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) who assured him that the North Vietnamese had no intention of assaulting Saigon. Rather, they wished to form a coalition government with all the patriotic forces in the south and rule jointly—this from a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam. At the same time, I and other intelligence sources were reporting to him our overwhelming evidence that the attack was at hand.

Why didn’t Martin believe us? Certainly the unreliable assurances of a North Vietnamese ally could not have persuaded him. I can only surmise that he could not accept the loss of the war because his son had been killed in Vietnam and he couldn’t face the prospect that his son had died in vain.

More tomorrow.

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