|Part of Vietnam War|
President Richard Nixon shaking hands with armed forces in South Vietnam, July 30, 1969
Vietnamization was a policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War through a program to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops".Brought on by the Viet Cong's Tet Offensive, the policy referred to U.S. combat troops specifically in the ground combat role, but did not reject combat by the U.S. Air Force, as well as the support to South Vietnam, consistent with the policies of U.S. foreign military assistance organizations. U.S. citizens' mistrust of their government that had begun after the offensive worsened with the release of news about U.S. soldiers massacring civilians at My Lai (1968), the invasion of Cambodia (1970), and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers (1971).
The name "Vietnamization" came about accidentally. At a January 28, 1969, meeting of the National Security Council, General Andrew Goodpaster, deputy to General Creighton Abrams and commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, stated that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had been steadily improving, and the point at which the war could be "de-Americanized" was close. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed with the point, but not with the language: "What we need is a term like 'Vietnamizing' to put the emphasis on the right issues." Nixon immediately liked Laird's word.
Vietnamization fit into the broader détente policy of the Nixon administration, in which the United States no longer regarded its fundamental strategy as the containment of communism but as a cooperative world order, in which Nixon and his chief adviser Henry Kissinger were focused on the broader constellation of forces[ clarification needed ] and the bigger world powers. Nixon had ordered Kissinger to negotiate diplomatic policies with Soviet statesman Anatoly Dobrynin. Nixon also opened high-level contact with China. U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and China were of higher priority than South Vietnam.
Nixon said Vietnamization had two components. The first was "strengthening the armed force of the South Vietnamese in numbers, equipment, leadership and combat skills", while the second was "the extension of the pacification program [i.e. military aid to civilians] in South Vietnam." To achieve the first goal, U.S. helicopters would fly in support; however, helicopter operations were too much part of ground operations to involve U.S. personnel.[ clarification needed ] Thus, ARVN candidates were enrolled in U.S. helicopter schools to take over the operations. As observed by Lieutenant General Dave Palmer, to qualify an ARVN candidate for U.S. helicopter school, he first needed to learn English; this, in addition to the months-long training and practice in the field, made adding new capabilities to the ARVN take at least two years. Palmer did not disagree that the first component, given time and resources, was achievable. However: "Pacification, the second component, presented the real challenge...it was benevolent government action in areas where the government should always have been benevolently active...doing both was necessary if Vietnamization were to work."
The policy of Vietnamization, despite its successful execution, was ultimately a failure as the improved ARVN forces and the reduced American and allied component were unable to prevent the fall of Saigon and the subsequent merger of the north and south, to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
After several years of the First Indochina War, French commanders adopted a policy they called "yellowing" (jaunissement), expressly to minimize white casualties. US critics of the war compared Vietnamization to jaunissement.
Lyndon Johnson's major political interests were domestic; the war interfered with his domestic focus, and he was eager to end the war in a way that he considered politically acceptable. In 1967, Kissinger attended a Pugwash Conference of scientists interested in nuclear disarmament. Two participants approached Kissinger and offered a disavowable means of communication between the U.S. and the communist leadership. In particular, Raymond Aubrac, an official of the World Health Organization, knew Ho Chi Minh and agreed to carry a message.
After discussing the matter with Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, a message was sent. Ho said he would be willing to negotiate if the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam under Operation Rolling Thunder ceased. Mai Van Bo, Hanoi's diplomatic representative in Paris, was named a point of contact. Since Hanoi would not communicate with an American official without a bombing halt, Kissinger served as an intermediary. Johnson made a speech in San Antonio on September 29, offering the possibility of talks. They were rejected, although brought up again in 1967.
The departure of Lyndon B Johnson did not end the war; rather, it spread throughout Southeast Asia. The Tet Offensive (1968) was a political and media disaster. Newsman Walter Cronkite announced that he saw a stalemate as the best case scenario for the Tet Offensive. Other members of the press added to the call to retrench (reduce costs and spending).[ citation needed ] President Johnson's popularity plummeted and he announced a bombing halt on March 31, simultaneously announcing he would not run for re-election. Though he had low expectations, on May 10, 1968, Johnson began peace talks between U.S. and North Vietnamese in Paris. The war, however, continued.
Under the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger, Nixon's chief adviser, asked the Rand Corporation to provide a list of policy options, prepared by Daniel Ellsberg. On receiving the report, Kissinger and Schelling asked Ellsberg about the apparent absence of a victory option; Ellsberg said "I don't believe there is a win option in Vietnam." While Ellsberg eventually did send a withdrawal option, Kissinger would not circulate something that could be perceived as defeat.
According to a record, prepared by Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoliy Dobrynin, of discussions between Dobrynin and Kissinger, the crux of the U.S. position, was progress still must be made at the Paris talks and, for domestic political reasons, Nixon "simply cannot wait a year for Hanoi to decide to take some new step and take a more flexible position." Dobrynin expressed the Soviet position that the U.S. needed to stop trying to divide the Paris Peace Talks into two parts:
Dobrynin, however, misunderstood the extent to which the U.S. was willing to apply military force not involving ground troops, culminating in Operation Linebacker II.
Nixon directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a six-step withdrawal plan. The Commandant of the Marine Corps General Leonard F. Chapman Jr. remembered, "I felt, and I think that most Marines felt, that the time had come to get out of Vietnam." Leading the ground force withdrawals, Marine redeployments started in mid-1969, and by the end of the year the entire 3rd Marine Division had departed.
In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, ARVN units were able to take control of areas held by the Viet Cong. General Tran Van Tra of the Viet Cong forces in the South stated:
We suffered large sacrifices and losses with regard to manpower and materiel, especially cadres at the various echelons, which clearly weakened us. Afterwards, we were not only unable to retain the gains we had made but had to overcome a myriad of difficulties in 1969 and 1970.
Some ARVN units, especially that had been operating closely with U.S. troops or using facilities, could quickly move into a dominant role in their areas.
Other ARVN units faced more of a challenge. For example, the ARVN 5th Division was directed to move from its existing base camp, Phu Cuong, to that of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Lai Khê, while the U.S. division moved southeast to Dĩ An. The ARVN unit had to retain its previous operational responsibility, while replacing a division that was far better equipped with helicopters than a standard U.S. division. [ clarification needed ]At Phu Cong, Major General Nguyen Van Hieu, the 5th Division commander, was able to use a local Popular Force battalion for base security. The Popular Force battalions, however, did not move away from the area in which they were formed.
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In 1969, Nixon ordered B-52 strikes against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) bases and supply routes in Cambodia, which had been used as a sanctuary by North Vietnam forces. The orders for U.S. bombing of Cambodia were classified, and thus kept from the U.S. media and Congress. In a given strike, each B-52 normally dropped 42,000 lb (19,000 kg) of bombs, and each strike consisted of three or six bombers.
Much of North Vietnamese infiltration went through Cambodia. Nixon authorized unacknowledged bombing in Cambodia while U.S. ground troops were in South Vietnam. General Lon Nol had overthrown Prince Norodom Sihanouk in March 1970, who had presented himself as a neutralist while aware of the PAVN use of his country.
In June 1969, the Viet Cong and its allied organizations formed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), recognized by Hanoi as the legal government of South Vietnam. At that time, communist losses dating from the Tet Offensive numbered 75,000, and morale was faltering, even among the party leadership.
On April 30, 1970, responding to a Communist attempt to take Cambodia, Nixon announced a large scale US–ARVN incursion into Cambodia to directly hit the PAVN headquarters and supply dumps; the area bordered ARVN III Corps tactical zone.
The campaign began on May 1. The U.S. Task Force Shoemaker, of the 1st Cavalry Divisions, carried out B-52 strikes in the Fishhook area of Cambodia. T.F. Shoemaker operated with the ARVN Airborne Brigade. Separate ARVN operations took place in the Parrot's Beak area.III Corps tactical zone commander Do Cao Tri, the most visible ARVN leader, encouraged the deepest ARVN penetrations.
The incursion prevented the immediate takeover of Cambodia by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, and cost the PAVN the supply line from the port of Sihanoukville. The Khmer Rouge broke with its North Vietnamese sponsors, and aligned with China. This made American involvement visible to the U.S. population, and there were intense protests, including deaths in a confrontation between rock-throwing protesters and National Guardsmen at Kent State University.
The U.S. intelligence collection systems, a significant amount of which (especially the techniques) were not shared with the ARVN, and, while not fully declassified, examples have been mentioned earlier in this article. The Communist side's intelligence operations, beyond the spies that were discovered, are much less known.
While there had been many assumptions that the South Vietnamese government was penetrated by many spies, and there indeed were many, a December 1969 capture of a Viet Cong communications intelligence center and documents revealed that they had been getting a huge amount of information using simple technology and smart people, as well as sloppy U.S. communications security.This specific discovery was made by U.S. Army infantry, with interpretation by regular communications officers; the matter infuriated General Abrams in regards to the communications specialists. Before and after, there had been a much more highly classified, and only now available in heavily censored form, National Security Agency analysis of how the Communists were getting their information, which has led to a good deal of modern counterintelligence and operations security.
Some of the material from Touchdown also gave insight into the North Vietnamese intelligence system. For example, the NVA equivalent of the Defense Intelligence Agency was the Central Research Directorate (CRD) in Hanoi. COSVN intelligence staff, however, disseminated the tactically useful material.Their espionage was under the control of the Military Intelligence Sections (MIS), which were directed by the Strategic Intelligence Section (SIS) of CRD.
Henry Kissinger began secret talks with the North Vietnamese official, Lê Đức Thọ, in February 1970. However, this is credible.
Subsequent congressional action banned further U.S. ground intervention outside the boundaries of South Vietnam, so the next major drive, Operation Lam Son 719, would have to be based on ARVN ground forces, U.S. air and artillery support, and U.S. advisory and logistical assistance.
The Vietnamization policy achieved limited rollback of Communist gains inside South Vietnam only, and was primarily aimed at providing the arms, training and funding for the South to fight and win its own war, if it had the courage and commitment to do so. By 1971, the Communists lost control of most, but not all, of the areas they had controlled in the South in 1967. The Communists still controlled many remote jungle and mountain districts, especially areas that protected the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Commanded by Hoang Xuan Lam, known more for loyalty to Nguyen Van Thieu than for military talent, Saigon's effort to strike against one of these strongholds, Operation Lam Son 719, failed in 1971. The SVN forces, with some U.S. air support, were unable to defeat PAVN regulars. While the operation is detailed in a separate sub-article, the key issues were that the ARVN were inexperienced in executing large operations. They underestimated the needed forces, and the senior officers had developed in a context that rewarded loyalty rather than competence. Let there be no doubt that there were individual ARVN commanders who would be credit to any military, but, Thieu, like those RVN leaders before him, was constantly concerned at preventing a military coup. "...promotions were won in Saigon, not in battle. And vital to advancement was the avoidance of risk, even at the price of defeat."
Thieu relieved the operational commander, head of I Corps tactical zone commander Hoang Xuan Lam with the most respected combat commander in the ARVN, Do Cao Tri. Tri died 2.5 hours later in his first helicopter crash of inspection. It is known the crash was at low altitude; it has been argued it had crashed due to mechanical failure or enemy fire. Certainly, mechanical failure was less demoralizing.
The 25,000-man ARVN force, which U.S. planners had considered half the necessary size,took admitted 25% casualties, which some estimates put as high as 50%.
By the beginning of 1972, over 400,000 U.S. personnel had been withdrawn, most of whom were combat troops. Politically, this allowed Nixon to negotiate with China and the Soviet Union without suggesting that he was compromising U.S. soldiers in the field.
North Vietnam made a major conventional attack on the South, for which the U.S. provided major air support under Operation Linebacker I, which enabled the ARVN to regain substantial control. When North Vietnam, late in the year, left the negotiating table, Nixon authorized the intensive Operation Linebacker II campaign, which forced the North Vietnamese to negotiate; a peace treaty was signed and all U.S. combat forces were withdrawn.
The Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam had some excellent ground combat units, but still had very serious problems of command, control, and communications at division level and above.
Many units had become overdependent on American air support, and, while the RVN Air Force had not developed large-scale interdiction capability, they were also of varied quality for close air support. Beyond the issue that the Air Force was always fragmented to the corps commanders, they also did not receive various expected equipment upgrades. Photoreconnaissance was extremely limited.
Armored units had developed the greatest confidence in their ability to fight without U.S. air support. Ground commanders also learned that armored units were not for infantry support and static defenses, but needed to be used as mobile reserves.Neither North nor South Vietnam, however, had really mastered large-scale combined arms methods, compared to a NATO or Warsaw Pact level of proficiency.
The People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the Vietnam People's Army (VPA) or the Vietnamese Army, is the military force of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The PAVN is a part of the Vietnam People's Armed Forces and includes: Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Border Guard & Coast Guard. However, Vietnam does not have a separate Ground Force or Army branch. All ground troops, army corps, military districts and specialised arms belong to the Ministry of Defence, directly under the command of the Central Military Commission, the Minister of Defence, and the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army. The military flag of the PAVN is the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with the words Quyết thắng added in yellow at the top left.
The Vietnam War was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The war is widely considered to be a Cold War-era proxy war. It lasted almost 20 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973. The conflict also spilled over into neighboring states, exacerbating the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, which ended with all three countries becoming communist states by 1975.
The Viet Cong was an armed communist revolutionary organization in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It fought under the direction of North Vietnam, against the South Vietnamese and United States governments during the Vietnam War, eventually emerging on the winning side. It had both guerrilla and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized peasants in the territory the Viet Cong controlled. During the war, communist fighters and anti-war activists claimed that the Viet Cong was an insurgency indigenous to the South, while the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments portrayed the group as a tool of North Vietnam. According to Trần Văn Trà, the Viet Cong's top commander, and the post-war Vietnamese government's official history, the Viet Cong followed orders from Hanoi and were part of the People's Army of Vietnam, or North Vietnamese army.
Graham Anderson Martin was an American diplomat. He was the ambassador to Thailand and as U.S. representative to SEATO from 1963 to 1967, ambassador to Italy from 1969 to 1973 and the last United States Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1973 until his evacuation during the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
The Army of the Republic of Vietnam were the ground forces of the South Vietnamese military from its inception in 1955 to the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. It is estimated to have suffered 1,394,000 casualties during the Vietnam War.
The Tet Offensive was a major escalation and one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. It was launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the United States Armed Forces and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name is the truncated version of the Lunar New Year festival name in Vietnamese, Tết Nguyên Đán, with the offense chosen during a holiday period as most ARVN personnel were on leave. The purpose of the wide-scale offensive by the Hanoi Politburo was to trigger political instability, in a belief that mass armed assault on urban centers would trigger defections and rebellions.
The Easter Offensive, also known as the 1972 spring–summer offensive by North Vietnam, or the red fiery summer as romanticized in South Vietnamese literature, was a military campaign conducted by the People's Army of Vietnam against the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the United States military between 30 March and 22 October 1972, during the Vietnam War. This conventional invasion was a radical departure from previous North Vietnamese offensives. The offensive was designed to achieve a decisive victory, which even if it did not lead to the collapse of South Vietnam, would greatly improve the North's negotiating position at the Paris Peace Accords.
Operation Linebacker was the codename of a U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 air interdiction campaign conducted against North Vietnam from 9 May to 23 October 1972, during the Vietnam War.
Operation Menu was a covert United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) tactical bombing campaign conducted in eastern Cambodia from 18 March 1969 to 26 May 1970 as part of both the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Civil War. The targets of these attacks were sanctuaries and base areas of the People's Army of Vietnam and forces of the Viet Cong (VC), which used them for resupply, training, and resting between campaigns across the border in the Republic of Vietnam. The impact of the bombing campaign on the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, the PAVN, and Cambodian civilians in the bombed areas is disputed by historians.
The Cambodian campaign was a brief series of military operations conducted in eastern Cambodia in 1970 by South Vietnam and the United States as an extension of the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Civil War. Thirteen major operations were conducted by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) between 29 April and 22 July and by U.S. forces between 1 May and 30 June 1970.
Central Office for South Vietnam, officially known as the Central Executive Committee of the People's Revolutionary Party from 1962 until its dissolution in 1976, was the American term for the North Vietnamese political and military headquarters inside South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was envisaged as being in overall command of the communist effort in the southern half of the Republic of Vietnam, which included the efforts of both People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), the Viet Cong, and the People's Revolutionary Party. Some doubted its existence but in his memoirs the American commander in South Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, spoke of it as something whose existence and importance were not in doubt.
During the Second Indochina War, better known as the Vietnam War, a distinctive land warfare strategy and organization was used by the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) or better known as the Viet Cong (VC) in the West, and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) or North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to defeat their American and South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) opponents. These methods involved closely integrated political and military strategy – what was called dau tranh. The National Liberation Front, (NLF) was an umbrella of front groups, sympathizers and allies set up by the rulers of North Vietnam to conduct the insurgency in South Vietnam. The NLF also included fully armed formations- regional and local guerrillas, and the People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). The PLAF was the "Main Force" – the Chu Luc or full-time soldiers of the NLF's military wing. Many histories lump both the NLF and the armed formations under the term "Viet Cong" or "VC" in common usage. Both were tightly interwoven and were in turn controlled by the North. Others consider the Viet Cong or "VC" to primarily refer to the armed elements. The term PAVN, identifies regular troops of the North Vietnamese Army or NVA as they were commonly known by their Western opponents. Collectively, both forces- the southern armed wing and the regulars from the north were part of PAVN.
United States involvement in the Vietnam War began shortly after the end of World War II in an extremely limited capacity and escalated over a period of 20 years, peaking in April 1969 with 543,000 American combat troops stationed in Vietnam. By the conclusion of the United States's involvement, over 3.1 million Americans had been stationed in Vietnam. At home this involvement played a key role in sparking the Civil Rights Movement, hippie culture and wide ranging changes in popular culture.
During the Cold War in the 1960s, the United States and South Vietnam began a period of gradual escalation and direct intervention referred to as the joint warfare in South Vietnam in the Vietnam War. At the start of the decade, United States aid to South Vietnam consisted largely of supplies with approximately 900 military observers and trainers. After the assassination of both Ngo Dinh Diem and John F. Kennedy close to the end of 1963 and Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and amid continuing political instability in the South, the Lyndon Johnson Administration made a policy commitment to safeguard the South Vietnamese regime directly. The American military forces and other anti-communist SEATO countries increased their support, sending large scale combat forces into South Vietnam; at its height in 1969, slightly more than 400,000 American troops were deployed. The People's Army of Vietnam and the allied Viet Cong fought back, keeping to countryside strongholds while the anti-communist allied forces tended to control the cities. The most notable conflict of this era was the 1968 Tet Offensive, a widespread campaign by the communist forces to attack across all of South Vietnam; while the offensive was largely repelled, it was a strategic success in seeding doubt as to the long-term viability of the South Vietnamese state. This phase of the war lasted until the election of Richard Nixon and the change of U.S. policy to Vietnamization, or ending the direct involvement and phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and giving the main combat role back to the South Vietnamese military.
The year 1968 saw major developments in the Vietnam War. The military operations started with an attack on a US base by the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong (VC) on January 1, ending a truce declared by the Pope and agreed upon by all sides. At the end of January, the PAVN and VC launched the Tet Offensive.
The United States continued its unilateral withdrawal of forces from South Vietnam notwithstanding the lack of progress at the Paris Peace Talks. The removal of Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power in Cambodia in March and his replacement by General Lon Nol, began the Cambodian Civil War. South Vietnamese and U.S. forces entered Cambodia in late April to attack People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Vietcong (VC) bases and supply lines there which had long been used to support the insurgency in South Vietnam. The expansion of the war revitalized the antiwar movement in the U.S. and led to the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings in May. While U.S. ground forces withdrew from Cambodia at the end of June and legislation was passed to prevent their reintroduction, the South Vietnamese conducted operations in Cambodia for the rest of the year and the U.S. provided air support and military aid to the Cambodian government. Despite this support the Cambodians lost control of vast areas of the country to the PAVN. Within South Vietnam the second half of the year saw a reduction in large U.S. operations with the focus shifting to pacification and population security and supporting Vietnamization. The PAVN/VC generally reverted to sapper attacks and attacks by fire but they fought hard to defend their base areas and infiltration routes.
At the start of 1971 South Vietnamese troops continued operations against [[NVA) and Vietcong (VC) base areas in eastern Cambodia. The ill-conceived and poorly executed Operation Lam Son 719 against NVA supply lines in eastern Laos showed the weaknesses within the South Vietnamese military command and the limited ability of South Vietnam's armed forces to conduct large-scale combined arms operations. The U.S. continued its unilateral withdrawal from South Vietnam despite the lack of any progress in the Paris Peace Talks and by November U.S. forces had ceased offensive operations. The U.S. withdrawal and antiwar sentiment within the military led to an ongoing decline in morale and discipline within the U.S. forces and growing drug use, particularly of heroin. As U.S. combat units withdrew, security in their former operational areas deteriorated and the PAVN/VC began a series of attacks on ARVN positions in Quảng Trị province and the Central Highlands. In Cambodia the Cambodian government continued to lose ground to the PAVN despite extensive U.S. air support and training and periodic attacks into Cambodia by the ARVN. While the bombing of North Vietnam had ceased in November 1968, U.S. aircraft continued to conduct reconnaissance flights over the North and responded to radar-tracking and antiaircraft fire with "protective reaction" strikes which numbered more that 100 by the year-end and culminated in a five day bombing campaign in late December.
1972 in the Vietnam War saw foreign involvement in South Vietnam slowly declining. Two allies, New Zealand and Thailand, which had each contributed military contingents, left South Vietnam this year. The United States continued to participate in combat, primarily with air power to assist the South Vietnamese, while negotiators in Paris tried to hammer out a peace agreement and withdrawal strategy for the United States.
1973 in the Vietnam War began with a peace agreement, the Paris Peace Accords, signed by the United States and South Vietnam on one side of the Vietnam War and communist North Vietnam and the insurgent Viet Cong on the other. Although honored in some respects, the peace agreement was violated by both North and South Vietnam as the struggle for power and control of territory in South Vietnam continued. North Vietnam released all American prisoners of war and the United States completed its military withdrawal from South Vietnam.
Henry Kissinger, a noted American diplomat, played an important and controversial role in the Vietnam War.