The Vietnamese resistance’s Easter offensive falls short while Nixon and Kissinger try to isolate it by pursuing détente with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). At the same time, the US bombs the DRV and mines its ports. In October Kissinger prematurely announces, “Peace is at hand.” Nixon’s destructive Christmas bombings draw broad international condemnation.
January Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, Minnesota Senators Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy announce their candidacy for the Presidency (South Dakota Senator George McGovern had declared a year earlier). Muskie (the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate in 1968) calls for total withdrawal of US troops. Humphrey takes a more muddled position. McCarthy carried on his antiwar politics from his 1968 candidacy.
January 1133,000 U.S. servicemen remain in South Vietnam. Two thirds of America’s troops have left in the previous two years. The ground war is now almost exclusively the responsibility of South Vietnam, which has over 1,000,000 men enlisted in its armed forces.
January 13 Nixon announces new troop withdrawals (70,000 are withdrawn leaving 69,000 ground forces after July 1) and reveals that there are secret talks being conducted with the North Vietnamese, and discloses his peace proposals.
January 22 Military agreement between DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in advance of Nixon’s visit to Beijing.
January 25 Nixon divulges the secret negotiations that had been carried on between Kissinger and DRV representatives, including Le Duc Tho, since August of 1969.
New York Representative Shirley Chisholm announced she would run and became the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic or Republican Presidential nomination. Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink also announced she would run and became the first Asian American to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination
January 27-February 2 20th Plenum of the Vietnam Workers Party: abandonment of “economy of forces” implemented since 1968; instead accelerating military struggle in the South while building up defenses in the North
January 31 DRV proposes new 9-Point peace program, continuing to call for the withdrawal of U.S. and Allied troops from all of Indochina without condition. Hanoi also demanded the immediate resignation of the South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu).
February 13 In Versailles, 800-1200 delegates from more than 80 countries (including 147 from the US) meet at the World Assembly for Peace and Independence of the Peoples of Indochina. Plans are developed for a six‐week campaign, beginning April 1, by peace groups in the United States to end the Indochina war.
February 21-28 Nixon visits the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). This is the culmination of secret diplomacy by Kissinger and, in part, aims to cut off China (and also the USSR) from the DRV. Nixon and Kissinger’s détente strategy is to exploit tension between the Soviet Union and China to undermine the Vietnamese resistance and to cushion the US from defeat in Vietnam. The presumption is that China and the Soviet Union will value relations with the US above support for revolutionary Vietnam. This strategy is successful in that both China and the Soviet Union pressure the Vietnamese to come to a negotiated settlement with the US. In the Shanghai communiqué issued at the end of the talks, the PRC restated its support for North Vietnam, while the United States steadfastly supported South Vietnam. The Shanghai communiqué sets the stage for a dramatic reversal in U.S. policy toward China. Since 1949, the United States had recognized the Nationalist regime on Taiwan as the government of China. It had consistently refused efforts to have the PRC government represented in the United Nations. After 1972, relations between the United States and the PRC began to warm. By the end of the Jimmy Carter’s Presidency (1977-81), the United States had—in one of the most surprising twists of the Cold War—severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally extended diplomatic recognition to the PRC.
March Formal peace talks in Paris are broken off.
March 29 166 people, many of them seminarians, are arrested in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for encircling the Federal Courthouse with a chain, to protest the trial of the Harrisburg Seven.
The Harrisburg Seven were a group of religious anti-war activists, led by Philip Berrigan, charged in 1971 in a failed conspiracy case in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, located at Harrisburg. The “Seven” were Berrigan, Sister Elizabeth McAlister, Rev. Neil McLaughlin, Rev. Joseph Wenderoth, Eqbal Ahmad, Anthony Scoblick, and Mary Cain Scoblick. They are charged with 23 counts of conspiracy including plans for kidnap and blowing up heating tunnels in Washington. Although the government spent $2 million on the Harrisburg Seven trial in 1972, it did not win a conviction. This was one of the first court case reversals suffered by the U.S. government. See entry for January 12, 1971.
March 30-July 1972 The PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam) and the NLF begin a major offensive. The goal of Easter Offensive, officially known as The 1972 Spring – Summer Offensive, (also called the Nguyen Hue (Nguyễn Huệ) offensive) was to win a decisive victory in 1972 or at least improve the revolutionary position for future peace talks. The 3-pronged attacks began in the north, center, and south of the country. Massed North Vietnamese Army artillery open a shattering barrage, targeting South Vietnamese positions across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Upwards of 20,000 PAVN troops cross the DMZ, forcing the South Vietnamese units into a retreat. The Southern defense is thrown into complete chaos. Intelligence reports had predicted a Northern attack, but no one had expected it to come across the DMZ. A week after the launch of the offensive, Nixon decides to respond with a massive air campaign against the North. The campaign was by far the largest and most comprehensive of the war, using a wide variety of aircraft as well as new ‘smart’ bombs. The US committed 74 tactical squadrons to the attack. In addition, six aircraft carriers were assigned to the bombing mission as well as over 100 B-52 bombers. For the first time, the US places mines in Haiphong Harbor to cut off the North Vietnamese from foreign support.
The South Vietnamese with heavy American air support are able to turn back the attack after a month and a half. The city of Loc Ninh (Lộc Ninh), located close to the Cambodian border subsequently became the capital of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRGSVN), a distinction it held until it was disbanded after the war. While US bombing and a stiffened ARVN defense was able to turn back the PAVN and NLF offensive, it remains politically impossible to reintroduce sufficient U.S. combat troops to stem the PAVN drive. With his policy of Vietnamization at stake, Nixon implements a massive buildup of air power in Southeast Asia and a broadening of the eligible targets.
April 1PAVN push toward the city of Hue (Huế), which is defended by a South Vietnamese division and a division of U.S. Marines. But by April 9, the PAVN is forced to halt attacks and resupply.
In Harrisburg, Pa., 10,000 protest the war and the trial of the Harrisburg Seven (See April 5)
April 4 Nixon approves the use of B-52 bombers against the DRV.
April 5 After a two month trial, the jury in the Harrisburg Seven trial on April 5, 1972, finds the Rev. Philip Berrigan and Sister Elizabeth McAlister guilty of smuggling letters in and out of the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary—these charges were later dismissed. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the most serious charge faced by the Harrisburg Seven – conspiracy. The seven were “charged with conspiring to raid draft boards in nine states, blow up heating pipes in Washington utility tunnels and kidnap presidential adviser Henry Kissinger.” Six of them were Roman Catholic priests or nuns. See January 12, 1971 and March 29 entries.1 Comment
April 6 U.S. fighter-bombers raid military targets 100 kilometers north of the DMZ. Squadrons of U.S. military aircraft are redeployed from their bases in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the U.S. mainland. Simultaneously, more aircraft carriers steam toward Vietnam to join the two already on station there, until by late spring there are six aircraft carriers, each with approximately 90 craft, operating off the coast.
April 17-20 Hundreds of students are arrested and 800 National Guardsmen are ordered onto the campus of the University of Maryland in a protest against the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
April 19 In response to the renewed escalation of bombing, students at many colleges and universities around the country threaten strikes and other militant demonstrations.
April 21 The National Student Association (NSA), affiliated with 515 campuses, calls for a nationwide student strike. Militant demonstrations occur at Princeton, Stanford, Michigan, Boston University, UT-Austin, Syracuse, Boise State, and Columbia,
April 22 Antiwar demonstrations organized by the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) prompted by the accelerated U.S. bombing in Southeast Asia draw between 30,000 to 60,000 marchers in New York; 30,000 to 40,000 in San Francisco; 10,000 to 12,000 in Los Angeles; and smaller gatherings in Chicago and other cities throughout the country. There were also demonstrations in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, and New Zealand.
April 26 Nixon announces withdrawal of 20,000 troops, leaving 49,000 ground troops. He emphasizes that while U.S. ground troops were being withdrawn, sea and air support for the South Vietnamese would continue. In fact, the U.S. Navy doubled the number of its fighting ships off the coast of Vietnam.
April 27 Two weeks after the initial attack, North Vietnamese forces again fight toward Quang Tri (Quảng Trị) City. The South Vietnamese division retreats. By April 29, the NVA takes control in Dong Ha (Đông Hà), and by May 1, Quang Tri City.
May 1 Members of the Wisconsin Veterans Union read poems from their collection “Winning Hearts and Minds” as they plant a tree in front of Mitchell Hall in honor of the Vietnam dead.
May 2 J. Edgar Hoover—a long time foe of the antiwar movement and the architect of the secret COINTELPRO program– dies; L. Patrick Gray is appointed acting FBI director.
May 4 The US suspends public (not secret) Paris peace talks.
Moratorium results in small demonstrations in New York and Washington DC—where Quakers hold a 5-hour silent witness in front of the Quaker—Nixon–in the White House.
May 9 Operation Pocket Money–the mining of North Vietnam’s ports-is launched. U.S. Navy A-6 bombers sow the waters with sophisticated mines set to activate on May 11, allowing ships in Vietnamese harbors, including 16 from the Soviet Union, time to vacate. Only five actually leave, and several ships, including Soviet ones, are subsequently damaged.
May 9-23 Operation Linebacker is launched whose purpose is to halt or slow the transportation of supplies and materials for the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive). Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in November 1968. It had the following objectives: to isolate North Vietnam from outside sources of supply by destroying railroad bridges and rolling stock in and around Hanoi and northeastward toward the Chinese frontier; the targeting of primary storage areas and marshaling yards; to destroy storage and transshipment points; and finally, to eliminate (or at least damage) the North’s air defense system.
There is a strong response both by the Democratic opposition, the media, as well as on the streets. Large militant demonstrations occurred in Boulder, Berkeley, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Boston, Burlington, Madison, Athens (OH) Chicago, Honolulu, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, San Francisco, Cambridge, Hartford, New Haven, and Ithaca (NY), Gainesville (Fla.), as well as in Congress and the UN.
May 11 A bombing attack In Frankfurt am Main, Germany at the headquarters of the US V Corps in the IG Farben Building by the Commando Petra Schelm of the Red Army Faction kills U.S. Officer Paul Bloomquist and wounded thirteen.
May 12 The PRC condemns the US mining of Haiphong harbor and pledges its support of the Vietnamese resistance until final victory. It also sends mine-clearing teams and assistance in pipeline repair, and equipment to help rebuild bridges and roads. The PRC put off DRV requests that it allow Soviet access to Chinese ports and railways to deliver supplies to the DRV. See entry for June 18.
May 13 Protests again spread across the US in response to President Nixon’s decision to mine harbors in the DRV (North Vietnam) and renew bombing of North Vietnam (Operation Linebacker).
May 14 Louis Harris poll shows 59% of Americans back Nixon’s handling of the war (including the recent escalation), 24% disapprove, with 17% unsure.
May 19 Bomb planted by the Weather Underground explodes in the Pentagon rest room in protest of the war.
May 21 May 21. Emergency March on Washington, D.C., organized by the National Peace Action Coalition and the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice. 8-15,000 protest in Washington, D.C. against the increased bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of its harbors.
May 22-30 During a week of summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet officials, the United States and the USSR reach a number of agreements, including one that lays the groundwork for a joint space flight in 1975. On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), limiting the United States and the USSR to 200 antiballistic missiles each. The leadership of the Soviet Union had considered calling off the summit in reaction to the bombing and mining of the DRV, but Communist party secretary Leonid Brezhnev prevails and the summit is held. Parallel to the February meeting with the leaders of the PRC, Nixon presumes that the Soviet Union values relations with the US above support for revolutionary Vietnam.
June 10 The Soviet-built Lang Chi hydroelectric plant, located 63 miles northwest of Hanoi on the Red River, was capable of supplying up to 75% of Hanoi’s electricity. F-4 laser bombers put 12 Mk .84s through the 50-by-100-foot roof of the main building, destroying the plant’s turbines and generators.
June 15-18 Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Nikolai Podgorny, visits Hanoi to urge resumption of peace negotiations.
June 17 Nixon’s secret operatives known as “the White House Plumbers”—formed in the wake of Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers— are arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex while in the process of burglarizing and planting surveillance bugs. The arrests lead to a cover-up, the exposure of other criminal activities, and eventually Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
June 18 The PRC agrees to grant Soviet, Cuban, and Eastern European ships to Chinese ports and to allow transport of goods on Chinese railroads to the DRV. See entry for May 12.
June 20 Reportedly based on a tip from Deep Throat (revealed in 2005 to be associate director of the FBI, Mark Felt), Bob Woodward reports in the Washington Post that one of the burglars had E. Howard Hunt in his address book and possessed checks signed by Hunt, and that Hunt works for White House Counselor Charles Colson as a consultant.
June 22 Ring around Congress demonstration in Washington, D.C. organized by Joan Baez, Coretta Scott King, and Women Strike for Peace demanding funds for domestic needs rather than war.
June 23 H.R. Haldeman recommends to President Nixon that they attempt to shut down the FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in, by having CIA Director Richard Helms and Deputy Director Vernon A. Walters order acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray to, “Stay the hell out of this”.
July Jane Fonda visits the DRV to survey the damage caused by Operation Linebacker, poses atop an anti-aircraft gun, visits with 7 POWs, and speaks on Hanoi Radio. War supporters subsequently demonize her as “Hanoi Jane”.
The Soviet Union and PRC continue to supply defensive supplies, but not offensive weaponry. The PRC urges the DRV to drop demands for the removal of South Vietnamese (RVN) President Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu), arguing that the key demand should be the removal of US forces. The DRV moves away from offense in the South to defense of the North.
July 6 Four Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur on a White House Tour stop and began praying to protest the war. In the next six weeks, such kneel-ins became a popular form of protest and lead to the arrest of more than 158 protestors.
July 10-13 At the Miami Beach Democratic Convention, antiwar Senator George McGovern is nominated for President. In his early morning acceptance speech he urges: “Come home America” and adds “I have no secret plan for peace,; I have a public plan—to stop the bombing and return both the troops and the POWs within three months of the inauguration.”
July 19 With U.S. air support, the South Vietnamese Army begins a drive to recapture Binh Dinh (Bình Định) province and its cities. The battles last until September 15, by which time Quang Tri has been reduced to rubble. Nevertheless, the PAVN retains control of the northern part of the province.
Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ) and Xuan Thuy (Xuân Thủy) meet with Kissinger in Paris.
August Negotiations between Le Duc Tho and Kissinger heat up with both sides presenting less rigid plans.
August 11 The 3/21 Infantry is deactivated in Vietnam. It is the last US ground combat battalion stationed in Vietnam. (The division would be reactivated to fight in Iraqi Freedom in the 1990s.) 43,500 air force and support personnel remain in Vietnam.
August 14 After his tour of North Vietnam with the International Commission of Inquiry into U.S. War Crimes in Indochina, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark reports, that if Democratic candidate George McGovern were elected President in November all U.S. POWs would be freed by North Vietnam (DRV) within three months. He further reports that he saw damage to North Vietnam’s dikes in at least six places, and other extensive destruction in nonmilitary areas.
August 21-23 Nixon is re-nominated as Republican candidate for President.
August 22 3,000 protest against the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. Ron Kovic, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran, leads fellow veterans into the Convention Hall, wheels down the aisles, and as Nixon begins his acceptance speech shouting, “Stop the bombing! Stop the war! Demonstrators include Yippies, SDS members, as well as over a thousand VVAWers.
September Kissinger continues to negotiate with Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ). The DRV criticizes the Communist parties of the Soviet Union and China for sacrificing “proletarian internationalism to accommodate American imperialism and their policy of reconciliation”–the Soviet and Chinese interest in détente with the US has led them to undercut the Vietnamese struggle.
September 15 Hunt, Liddy, and the Watergate burglars are indicted by a federal grand jury.
September 17 3 American POWs are released to American antiwar activists.
September 29 RVN President Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu), fearing for his government, speaking in Hue (Huế), criticizes a “small number of political speculators, lackeys and exiles who call themselves a Third Force in South Vietnam.”
October 8-12 Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ) reach agreement. This proposal drops previous Communist demands for a political solution to accompany a military one, but allows for revolutionary forces to occupy land controlled in South Vietnam.
Le Duc Tho, believing that the Americans are eager for peace in Vietnam before the elections, proposes that the United States and North Vietnam (DRV) arrange a cease-fire, governing all military matters. Le Duc Tho also suggests leaving the political questions to be settled by the Vietnamese sides, who would be governed by a “National Council of Reconciliation” until a final settlement could be reached. Hanoi and Saigon would continue to occupy the territory each presently held until then. Kissinger considers Hanoi’s offer a breakthrough, and cables South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu “to seize as much territory as possible.” Nixon orders the commencement of Operation Enhance Plus, a program designed to provide South Vietnam with $2 billion worth of military equipment to replace what was lost during the heavy fighting of the 1972 Easter Offensive.
South Vietnam’s Thieu rejects the peace plan that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had agreed on in Paris–fearing a future coalition government and opposing the presence of PAVN in the South—and accuses Kissinger of betrayal.
October 13-15 The Indochina Peace Campaign Conference meets in Germantown, Ohio organized by Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda: the Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC) operates in Boston, New York, Detroit, and Santa Clara, Calif., from the years 1972 to 1975. IPC was a traveling roadshow—including Jane Fonda, Don Sutherland, Tom Hayden, Holly Near, Scott Camil (a leader of the VVAW), and George Smith (a former POW). IPC sees an opening to speak to a wider public in challenging the legitimacy of the SE Asia war. The organization aims to move away from what it termed the politics of provocation that came from powerlessness. It also advocates the formation of a broad-based campaign demanding unconditional amnesty for U.S. war resisters.
October 14 The “Peace March to End the Vietnam War “in San Francisco: a “silent-march” of 2,000 begins at City Hall and moves down Fulton Street to Golden Gate Park. Numerous groups (including many veterans) march to support the DRV plan for peace.
October 26 The DRV goes public with the chronology of the private talks, the key terms of the draft agreement, and the abandoned proposed timetable; and demand that the US abide by and sign the agreement by October 31.
Kissinger announces—to Nixon’s chagrin– on TV in an ‘October surprise’: “We believe that peace is at hand,” but cautions that an agreement could not be signed because of Hanoi’s unrealistic timetable.
November 7 President Nixon defeats antiwar candidate George McGovern in a landslide election victory, with 60.7% popular votes and 520 electoral votes.
November 9-11 Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Alexander Haig meets with Thieu in Saigon, in an attempt to win his support for the peace plan.
November 18 Thieu presents US ambassador Ellsworth Bunker with a list of 69 modifications to the peace proposal agreed to by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in October.
November 20-25 Kissinger meets with Le Duc Tho conveying Thieu’s 69 modifications.
November 24 Kissinger and Haig threaten Le Duc Tho with renewed bombing.
December 5-13 The next round of talks remain stalemated.
December 13 Peace talks break down when Le Duc Tho rejects Thieu’s changes to the earlier peace agreement.
December 18-29 To force the North Vietnamese to accept Thieu’s changes, Nixon initiates Linebacker II, the infamous “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong. Operation Linebacker II lasts for 12 days, including a three-day bombing period by up to 120 B-52s. Strategic strikes are planned on fighter airfields, transport targets and supply depots in and around Hanoi and Haiphong. U.S. aircraft drop more than 20,000 tons of bombs. At least 27 U.S. planes are lost (including 15 B-52s), and 93 airmen are killed, captured or missing. Civilian deaths in the DRV reach 2,000 along with more than 1,500 wounded. Joan Baez, retired Brigadier General Telford Taylor—US prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials after World War II–and members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) arrive in Hanoi and witness the extensive damage, including to Bach Mai (BạchMai) hospital. The bombings provoke global and domestic outrage isolating Nixon. Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme denounces the bombs. Large demonstrations are held in London, Berlin, Rome (25,000), Amsterdam (100,000), etc. Australian and Italian unions vote to boycott US ships.
By the end of the 1972 there are 24,000 US military personnel in Vietnam, none in an official combat role. Intensive negotiations had been taking place to try to reach an agreement with the DRV. When negotiations fall apart, President Nixon orders one of the most extensive bombing campaigns of the war called Operation Linebacker II (better known as the Christmas bombings).