By 1971, the war was at a stalemate, neither side able to establish a clear advantage. The president, Richard Nixon, pursued a two-prong strategy—to turn over combat operations to the South Vietnamese, and to bomb North Vietnam. The effort brought the communists to the Paris Peace Talks. And by 1973, the North agreed to a general settlement, establishing two autonomous Vietnamese nations—one communist, one non-communist—in the manner of North and South Korea.
However, the Watergate scandal, the subsequent resignation of President Nixon, and the Democrats’ sweeping congressional victory in the 1974 mid-term election all helped to convince the North Vietnamese that America would not enforce the peace agreement. They were right.
Without U.S. air support and material aid, the South Vietnamese had no chance against the North. Well supplied by the Soviet Union and the Chinese, the communists gained full control over the country in April 1975.
The war proved far more costly than Korea because the geography and landscapes of Vietnam were far more conducive to insurgency operations. There were also far more restrictions placed on American commanders than during the Korean War. And the United States in the 1960s was a far less conservative and cohesive country than America of the 1950s.
Yet despite the long ordeal and terrible costs, South Vietnam was saved in 1973—only to be lost in 1975. The US defeat in Vietnam was a political choice, not a military necessity.
Had the U.S. protected an independent, but vulnerable, South Vietnam in 1973 and -4, that country would have most likely followed the model of South Korea. Millions of Southeast Asians would not have become boat people and refugees, or been sent to gulags and reeducation camps.
A viable U.S.-backed democratic Vietnam would have stabilized the region and almost certainly prevented the neighboring Cambodian genocide, in which one-fifth of that country—2 million people—were slaughtered by its communist leadership.
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