David F. Schmitz, a Whitman College history professor and U.S. foreign relations expert, bores into the first three years (1969-72) of Richard Nixon’s presidency in Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War: The End of the American Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 161 pp., $38), a concise examination and analysis of how Nixon ran the Vietnam War. In this well-written, well-researched, and well-argued book Schmitz makes a convincing case that Nixon—contrary to his public assertions at the time and after he resigned from the presidency—did not come to office to end the war by withdrawing American troops, but instead pursued what Schmitz terms “escalation and victory.”
Schmitz shows that Nixon—like President Johnson before him—was strongly motivated by the fact that he did not wish to go down in history as the first American president to preside over a losing war. So while he publicly espoused “peace with honor,” in reality, Nixon let loose the dogs of war.
There “was no grand design for detente that guided all of his decisions as president as [Nixon] and his supporters have claimed,” Schmitz says. “Rather, his priority upon taking office was victory in Vietnam.” Nixon, furthermore, “turned to deception and covert policies to escalate and expand the war while creating the appearance that he sought peace.”
Things changed drastically in 1971, Schmidt notes, when Nixon was forced to draw down the American presence in Vietnam significantly and to step up the pace of peace negotiations. The result was the ignominious end of American participation in Vietnam in 1973 and the communist takeover two years later.
Nixon’s “decision to continue the war in 1969,” Schmitz writes, “had devastating consequences for Vietnam and the United States. The seven years of additional fighting incurred millions of casualties, further destruction of the land and infrastructure of Vietnam, and expansion of the fighting into Cambodia and Laos.”
At home, Schmitz notes, Nixon’s Vietnam War strategy “meant deeper political and social divisions, a worsening economy, and the political crisis of Watergate culminating in” the first and only resignation of a U.S. president.