A blow-by-blow accounting of the peace negotiations that ended the war in Vietnam, complete with some (hardly earthshaking) recently declassified material.
Although Nixon and Kissinger spoke of peace with honor, historian Berman (Planning a Tragedy, not reviewed) claims that other goals dominated the protracted negotiations that led to the cessation of armed hostilities between the US and North Vietnam. The US consistently backed off from its promises to both Nguyen Van Thieu and the South Vietnamese people—in Kissinger’s words, it was necessary to “settle the military issues first and leave the political evolution to Vietnam . . . as long as it was done by reasonably democratic processes.” There was little doubt how that evolution would play out, given the puppet nature of the Thieu regime. Berman tells how the North Vietnamese had learned from their deception at the Geneva Accords of 1954 how to compromise, giving ground only at the last minute and forcing Kissinger into such preposterous comments as “These are our last proposals, but not an ultimatum.” While it is true that the US bailed on the South Vietnamese government in 1975, however, it seems somewhat naïve—what Spiro Agnew might have called a piece of ingenuous incredulity—on the part of Berman to call this a betrayal. As he points out himself in his delineation of the secret process of the negotiations, Thieu knew full well that the US considered him expedient only when he wasn’t being a hindrance. Berman’s near-daily recounting of the negotiations, though, combined with scene-setting (if stiff) portraits of all the main players, is a real lesson in the squirrelly craft of finding a road to peace, since someone always holds a better hand.
Forget the folderol about telling “the shocking hidden story of the peace process”—for almost nothing about the Vietnam War could come as a shock anymore. Appreciate this story instead as a choreography of the long and delicate peace dance, and all the toes that were stepped on along the way.