The Vietnam War Files
Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy
Arthur S. Link-Warren F. Kuehl Prize
How Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger pursued their public vow to end the Vietnam War and win the peace has long been entangled in bitter controversy and obscured by political spin. Recent declassifications of archival documents, on both sides of the former Iron and Bamboo Curtains, have at last made it possible to uncover the truth behind Nixon's and Kissinger's management of the war and to better understand the policies and strategies of the Vietnamese, Soviets, and Chinese.
“In a superb archival account, Kimball, author of the widely praised Nixon’s Vietnam War skillfully discredits [the accounts in] Nixon’s and Kissinger’s memoirs and produces both U.S. and North Vietnamese documents that expose their reactive and often frenetic style of policy making. Indeed, Nixon’s ‘Madman Theory’ is given new meaning by Kimball’s examination of the nuclear alert of October 1969. Essential.”
“Offers a surprising glimpse into policymaking as U.S. leaders searched for ways to terminate a counterinsurgency operation that had gone on too long.”
—Journal of Cold War StudiesSee all reviews...
“Historians will benefit tremendously from both Kimball’s primary evidence and original insight. . . . A compelling historical analysis.”
—International History Review
“Those who know the basic story but who have not kept up with the emerging details will learn a great deal, and all readers will benefit by thinking again about these difficult years. . . . This work by Jeffrey Kimball, who wrote a major book on the subject prior to the release of some of these documents, is a good guide to the declassified record; students of Nixon, diplomatic history, and Vietnam will find the selections fascinating, ranging as they do from White House tapes to records of the Paris negotiations and Soviet-American interactions, and even a few records from North Vietnam, including some interviews that Kimball himself conducted.”
—Political Science Quarterly
“As Kimball shows in this enlightening volume, the president’s strategy for ending the war was neither as swift, nor as straightforward,as the American people were led to believe. . . . An important and gripping work, this volume is a must-read for any serious student of the war.”
“Kimball provides excellent appraisals of Nixon’s diplomacy and includes interviews, entries from H.R. Haldeman’s journal, memos between Nixon and Kissinger, and correspondence among members of the State and Defense departments to support his assertions. Nixon is shown to be an arrogant leader who failed to recognize that the leaders of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and North Vietnam viewed as transparent his attempts to play one country against the other. Kimball’s most damning indictment of Nixon is that he sought a “decent-interval” strategy, which deliberately delayed negotiations and the fall of the Thieu government until the President was reelected in 1972.”
“A quite remarkable and highly readable account of the Nixon Administration’s war and peace strategy. The variety of sources, the clear and concise introductions, and the drama itself of how the ‘Madman Theory’ evolved, and dissolved, make this our best study yet of the wars end.”
—Lloyd C. Gardner, author of Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam
“An important book, full of new and essential material, tied together by Kimball’s exceedingly clear prose and judicious evaluations. Students of the era will be in his debt for a long time to come.”
—Melvin Small, author of The Presidency of Richard NixonSee fewer reviews...
Drawing from this treasure trove of formerly secret files, Jeffrey Kimball has excerpted more than 140 print documents and taped White House conversations bearing on Nixon-era strategy. Most of these have never before been published and many provide smoking-gun evidence on such long-standing controversies as the "madman theory" and the "decent-interval" option. They reveal that by 1970 Nixon's and Kissinger's madman and détente strategies had fallen far short of frightening the North Vietnamese into making concessions. By 1971, as Kissinger notes in one key document, the administration had decided to withdraw the remaining U.S. combat troops while creating "a healthy interval for South Vietnam's fate to unfold."
The new evidence uncovers a number of behind-the-scenes ploys-such as Nixon's secret nuclear alert of October 1969—and sheds more light on Nixon's goals in Vietnam and his and Kissinger's strategies of Vietnamization, the "China card," and "triangular diplomacy." The excerpted documents also reveal significant new information about the purposes of the LINEBACKER bombings, Nixon's manipulation of the POW issue, and the conduct of the secret negotiations in Paris—as well as other key topics, events, and issues. All of these are effectively framed by Kimball, whose introductions to each document provide insightful historical context.
Building on the groundbreaking arguments of his earlier prize-winning book, Nixon's Vietnam War, Kimball also offers readers a concise narrative of the evolution of Nixon-era strategy and a critical assessment of historical myths about the war. The story that emerges from both the documents and Kimball's contextual narratives directly contradicts the Nixon-Kissinger version of events. In fact, they did not pursue a consistent strategy from beginning to end and did not win a peace with honor.