One of the most important questions about the working of the United States government is the nature and location of the authority to use the armed forces of the country against an adversary. It is not an easy matter. Doctrinaire readings of the constitutional grant of the war power to the Congress are as misleading as executive reliance on the role of the President as Commander in Chief. The formal treaties that bind the United States to allies in Europe, Asia and this Hemisphere are couched in language that quite deliberately skirts the question of who would do what, and by what process of decision, at the moment of truth. Even greater uncertainty surrounds the largely untested War Powers Resolution of 1973. And in all our complex debates on strategic deterrence we seldom ask ourselves just how one would square the possible requirements for rapid executive action with the rights of the Congress, let alone the people.

In this situation one guide to understanding is history, and it is therefore a matter of some importance when doubtful interpretations are offered by persons who deserve to be taken seriously. This is what has just happened in Henry Kissinger's book, White House Years. The author's importance and the gravity of his distortions combine to justify a careful analysis.


On page 1373 of this massive volume Mr. Kissinger addresses briefly but eloquently the question of the propriety of certain private assurances given to President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam in the course of the strenuous and eventually successful efforts of the Nixon Administration to secure his acceptance of the agreements with Hanoi that ended the longest of all our wars. The crucial sentences in this paragraph deserve quotation:

As to the American response to violations, I reiterated Nixon's assurance that in the event of massive North Vietnamese violations the United States would act to enforce the agreement. The argument was later advanced that it was not within the President's power to give such assurances without explicit authorization by the Congress. This idea not only did not occur to us; it would have struck us as inconceivable that the United States should fight for years and lose 45,000 men in an honorable cause, and then stand by while the peace treaty, the achievement of their sacrifice, was flagrantly violated. Diplomacy could not survive such casuistry. Negotiations would become exercises in cynicism; no agreement would ever be maintained. In Vietnam this meant the agreement would have been a blatant subterfuge for surrender. We could have done that earlier and with much less pain. Honor, decency, credibility, and international law all combined to make it seem beyond controversy that we should promise to observe the treaty and see it enforced. What else could be the meaning of a solemn compact ending a war, ratified by an international conference? The point was made privately to Thieu and his associates. It was also made publicly by Nixon, Elliot Richardson (when he was Secretary of Defense), me, and other officials. It seemed to us the least controversial of the issues raised by the agreement. We thought we would be in a better moral and political position to assist Saigon to maintain its freedom in the name of a peace program in which the American people could take pride than in the context of open-ended warfare tearing our country apart. Whether the judgment would have been vindicated in normal times will remain forever unknown. Soon after the agreement was signed, Watergate undermined Nixon's authority, and the dam holding back Congressional antiwar resolutions burst.

This remarkable passage is not easy to analyze. Let us begin with a question of fact: Mr. Kissinger asks us to believe that whatever point was made privately to Thieu was made publicly by the Administration. Is it so?

The United States government has never published a full record of the exchanges with President Thieu that marked the intense negotiations between Hanoi's decisive concession in October 1972 and the Paris agreements of January 1973. But associates of Thieu made public two such messages at the end of April 1975. At the time Mr. Kissinger was evasive about these letters, but he prints their two most important passages in his book.

On November 14 Mr. Nixon told Thieu:

But far more important than what we say in the agreement on this issue is what we do in the event the enemy renews its aggression. You have my absolute assurance that if Hanoi fails to abide by the terms of this agreement it is my intention to take swift and severe retaliatory action.

And on January 5 he wrote again:

Should you decide, as I trust you will, to go with us, you have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam.

This second assurance, given in the context of the recently ended Christmas bombing of Hanoi, must have struck Thieu as strong indeed.

Did the Administration make this same point with equal force and clarity to the American people, as Mr. Kissinger would have his readers believe? The claim is buttressed by a footnote reference to eight public statements of 1973 and a whole compendium of others. What do these statements say?

Let us begin with Mr. Nixon, the source for three of these statements. (I quote from his Presidential Papers?)

On March 15, in responding to a question about cease-fire violations, Mr. Nixon directed attention to what he called "another violation," excessive infiltration from North Vietnam. He said that this "could lead to serious consequences-we do not believe it will; we hope it will not. . . ." He said that the North Vietnamese had been informed of our concern, and he added:

I would only suggest that based on my actions over the past four years, that the North Vietnamese should not lightly disregard such expressions of concern when they are made with regard to a violation.

This is the strongest of the three Nixon statements, indeed the strongest of all the eight. The second, on March 29, says simply: "The leaders of North Vietnam should have no doubt as to the consequences if they fail to comply with the agreement." And the third, in a joint communiqué with Thieu on April 3, says: "Actions which would threaten the basis of the Agreement would call for appropriately vigorous reactions."

None of these statements suggests a definite U.S. commitment to use force in reply to violations. Each is Delphic, not categorical. All three are evidently intended to say more to Hanoi or Saigon than to the American people. Taken together they led so sophisticated an observer as James Reston to conclude on April 8, 1973 that the truth was that Nixon had no intention of resuming the war; "He merely wants to talk about it."1 Indeed, during the Thieu-Nixon talks of early April, Administration sources made it clear beforehand that the President would resist any definite commitment to military action, and pointed out afterward that "the communiqué said nothing about who would make the 'reactions'," implying that they might be by the South Vietnamese alone.2 One need hardly underline the distance between all this and Mr. Kissinger's retrospective view of what was plainly required by "honor, decency, credibility, and international law."

The second most important witness is Mr. Kissinger himself. The footnote offers us one reference to him-to a broadcast interview with Marvin Kalb on February 1. The interview is sufficiently important for us to quote the relevant exchange in full.

KALB: Dr. Kissinger, shifting south for a moment to South Vietnam: Now that the peace agreement has been signed, how would you define the nature and depth of the American commitment to Saigon?

KISSINGER: We have been allies in a bitter and difficult war and we have a responsibility to give those with whom we've been associated an opportunity to shape their own future. Therefore, we have a responsibility to continue a program of economic assistance along the lines as-that has been developed. We also will, as the President pointed out in his speech announcing the peace, we will continue those-that degree of military assistance that the agreement permits and which is made necessary by the military situation. Now, the agreement permits us to replace weapons that are used up, destroyed, damaged or worn out. Needless to say, if there's no conflict, the amount of replacement military equipment that is needed will be much less than it was during the war. In the longer term, it has always been our intention to enable the South Vietnamese to take over the burden of their own military defense and we believe we've left them in a position where they can handle most of the challenges that we can now foresee.

KALB: Dr. Kissinger, I think what I was trying to get at is what happens-And I suppose this question must be asked. In the best of all possible worlds the cease-fire is going to hold; in the world that we live in it may not. President Thieu said, in an interview tonight on CBS, that he would never call upon American troops to go back to Vietnam, but he would feel free to call upon American air power to go back. And Ambassador Sullivan said only last Sunday that there are no inhibitions-I believe his words-on the use of this air power. Is that correct?

KISSINGER: That is legally correct. The question is-

KALB: Politically and diplomatically?

KISSINGER: We have the right to do this. The question is-It's very difficult to answer in the abstract. It depends on the extent of the challenge, on the nature of the threat, on the circumstances in which it arises. And it would be extremely unwise for a responsible American official, at this stage, when the peace is in the process of being established, to give a checklist about what the United States will or will not do in every circumstance that is likely to arise. For the future that we can foresee, the North Vietnamese are not in a position to launch an overwhelming attack on North-on the South, even if they violate the agreement. What happens after a year or two has to be seen in the circumstances which then exist. Most of the violations that one can now foresee should be handled by the South Vietnamese.

KALB: So that for the next year or two, if I understand you right, there would be no need for a reinvolvement of American military power?

KISSINGER: Marvin, we did not end this war in order to look for an excuse to reenter it. But it would be irresponsible for us, at this moment, to give a precise checklist to potential aggressors as to what they can or cannot safely do.3

The questioning shows plainly that Mr. Kalb was trying to find out just what assurances the United States had given to Saigon. A straightforward answer would have been that we had promised "full force" if necessary, or even that any other position would have been "inconceivable" and made the agreements "a blatant substitute for surrender." But instead Mr. Kissinger directs attention to economic and military assistance, very different matters indeed. If Mr. Kalb had not asked his follow-up question, nothing whatever would have been said about any use of U.S. armed forces. And when the question is posed inescapably, Mr. Kissinger asserts the existence of a legal right of retaliation but hurries on to explain that its use in the foreseeable future is most unlikely. The only way to reconcile this passage with page 1373 is to assume that Mr. Kissinger thought a clear and unquestionable national obligation to go back to war if necessary was so obvious that it was needless to discuss it. It may be doubted that his listeners understood him so.

Elliot Richardson is cited three times in the footnote. He was and is a much more moderate and straightforward man than Mr. Nixon or Mr. Kissinger; his comments reflect that. Here they are:

1. On "Meet the Press" on April 1, he agreed that the instruments of any possible retaliation could include all those used before; he refused to add or subtract from Mr. Nixon's own warnings, but he agreed that he could give no "categorical assurances" that the United States would never send forces back to Indochina.

2. Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 2, he refused to say that the United States had any commitment to "come back with its airplanes" if there was a renewed offensive, and in any case this testimony was off the record at the time; it was not public at all.

3. Before a group of newsmen on April 3 he justified the then existing bombing in Cambodia, and the possibility of early bombing in other places, but in the context of achieving a cease-fire, not of repelling a new large-scale attack.

In sum, Mr. Richardson limited his own assertions to the quite narrow claim that existing bombing in Cambodia, and possible bombing elsewhere (which never in fact occurred) "to achieve a cease-fire" was part of the President's residual authority to end the war. He stayed well away from any public avowal of any commitment whatever to "full force" retaliation against renewed aggression. It seems unlikely, indeed, that he even knew about the private assurances to Thieu.

A final source cited in the footnote is a "Meet the Press" interview on January 28 with William Sullivan, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and a senior assistant to Mr. Kissinger in the negotiations. He did indeed assert that "there are no inhibitions upon us," thus creating the ambiguity that, as we have seen, Mr. Kissinger walked away from four days later. But Mr. Sullivan was as vague as his superior on whether in fact we ever would or should use force again. Like Mr. Kissinger he refused to discuss the subject at all until the question was pressed repeatedly, and he refused to talk of threats to Hanoi. The most he would say is that Hanoi was aware of U.S. strength in Thailand and in the Pacific and could "draw some conclusions." But all that he really adds to the record is a categorical denial that there are any pledges at all of this sort to Saigon. Given Mr. Sullivan's reputation for energetic candor, this statement makes it seem likely that he too was ignorant of the private assurances to Thieu.

This is all the material directly cited in the footnote. There are other remarks cited indirectly; they were collected in 1975 in an effort to persuade Senator Stennis that the record showed "many statements to the effect that the United States would give adequate aid, economic and military."4 They are, as the footnote-writer undoubtedly knew, even less persuasive on the present point than these eight.

It remains to consider what is not cited. The footnote does not tell us that in their opening statements on the agreement, on January 23 and January 24, neither Mr. Nixon nor Mr. Kissinger said one word about any express or implied obligation or right to go back to war. Indeed, Mr. Kissinger, at this most public and dramatic moment of all, took great pains to draw attention away from any such prospect. Here are two questions, and his answers:

Q. If the peace treaty is violated and if the ICC proves ineffective, will the United States ever again send troops to Vietnam? . . .

A. I don't want to speculate on hypothetical situations that we don't expect to arise.

Q. What is now the extent and the nature of the American commitment to South Vietnam?

A. The United States, as the President said, will continue economic aid to South Vietnam. It will continue that military aid which is permitted by the agreement. The United States is prepared to gear that military aid to the actions of other countries and not to treat it as an end in itself and the United States expects all countries to live up to the provisions of the agreement.5

It would take a most remarkable interpreter to reconcile these comforting words with the plain language of the assurances to Thieu.


So it is clear that the public record and the private assurances are poles apart. But the public record is helpful to us as we turn to consider another of Mr. Kissinger's remarkable claims, that what really destroyed the Vietnam Accords of 1973 was Watergate. He says it on page 1373-and still more forcibly in his final comment on the matter, a hundred pages later (page 1470):

We sought not an interval before collapse, but lasting peace with honor. But for the collapse of executive authority as a result of Watergate, I believe we would have succeeded.

This assessment of responsibility may provide some ardent doves with their first good reason to rejoice in Watergate, and its self-serving value to Mr. Kissinger is apparent. But is it true?

What we have seen so far is that the Administration in early 1973 was not ready to tell either the public or the Congress what it had repeatedly told President Thieu. But that is very far from justifying any conclusion that its assurances were cynically offered. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the assurances were offered in full good faith, and to this degree the sense of grievance exhibited on page 1373 is understandable. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger really did believe that such assurances were a matter of course in this situation, and there is ample evidence in their books that they believed they must be ready to redeem these assurances by action. Back on December 6, 1972 Mr. Kissinger had cabled the President that an agreement "will certainly require from us a posture of constant readiness and willingness to intervene. . ." (page 1432). And a day later he said it again: "We will probably have little chance of maintaining the agreement without evident hair-trigger U.S. readiness, which may in fact be challenged at any time, to enforce its provisions." (page 1435) These comments have the ring of unvarnished conviction.

Why then was the Administration so vague in public? The answer is obvious to anyone who remembers the national mood on Vietnam at the time-and again it is reinforced in this very book. The problem was that neither the country nor the Congress was the least bit eager to go back to war in Vietnam for any reason whatever. Any assertion that we must be ready to do this, or admission that the President had given an "absolute assurance" of such action, if need be, would have produced an explosive reaction.

But at the same time it was considered necessary to try to keep Hanoi in some doubt and fear; the assessments in the Kissinger cables were not all wrong. So the President, followed by his senior advisers, fell back on a quite personal threat: be careful of me, because you know from my record what I will do. And this threat, in fairness, they did make public, hedging it all the while by offering soothing syrup in the back room to the Restons of the world. This image of the fierce and single-handed Richard Nixon is what Mr. Kissinger almost surely has in mind when he uses the sonorous phrase "executive authority." And this Nixon did indeed have a record; he had dared to mine Haiphong on the eve of his cherished Moscow summit, and he had dared to bomb Hanoi on the eve of Christmas and the brink of peace. Reinforced by his achievement of peace, as by his assured four years of office, what might he not do if provoked?

But the precise trouble with these vague warnings of Nixonian wrath was that they were plainly audible also to a Congress that, quite without Watergate, was deeply out of sorts with single-handed war-making. Mr. Kissinger understood this sentiment as well as anyone, though he neither loved nor respected it. He recognized, for example, that the November election had produced a shift of three votes against the war in the Senate (p. 1416), and he knew ahead of time that the Christmas bombing would be "another time of trial that would deepen the domestic wounds." (page 1445) And if he hoped for reconciliation and reinforcement on this issue, after the Paris agreements, events swiftly disabused him-and not Watergate events at all.

We move here beyond the period of White House Years, but the evidence we have found from its misleading footnote is still helpful. There was indeed a test of "executive authority" in early 1973, and it came over the question of the source of authority for continued bombing in Cambodia. In defending this bombing, for which there was a reasonable case on the ground, the Administration was almost immediately forced to find an answer to the question of the source of its right to act. Its response was extraordinarily feeble. The running was left, in the main, to Elliot Richardson, in the early April statements listed above. His argument was, in essence, that this was a residual power of the same sort as the war power the President had exercised up to the signing in Paris; until he got a cease-fire in Cambodia as well as in Vietnam and Laos (where the Administration in these months usually claimed more peace than there was), he could bomb. Senators, to put it mildly, were skeptical. Before the Paris agreements the Administration had claimed that its right to make war was based on its inherent obligation to protect American forces on the scene. (It had not contested the repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1970; that resolution may have had disputed origins, but it certainly provided a measure of formal congressional authority for the war.) But now the troops were coming out. What war-making power remained?

The Administration wriggled with this question and came up with nothing better than the Richardson claim. More important, it was driven to concede that continued use of force in Vietnam, by the executive branch acting alone, could be justified only as part of the "windup" of the war. Mr. Kissinger himself joined in this distinction, according to Representative Jonathan Bingham, as quoted in The New York Times on March 30. And so, in defending what it was still doing in Cambodia, the Administration was forced to give up its deeply held reliance on the single-handed ferocity of the lonely Mr. Nixon as its decisive long-run deterrent to Hanoi.

There is no evidence at all that this result was caused by Watergate, and much that it was not. Once the question was clearly posed, the Congress was absolutely certain to insist on its right to share in any new use of force, and any Administration, however nobly led, would have been compelled to concede that right. The leaders of the Senate in this matter were not limited to, or led by, the chief critics of Watergate. They included such durable friends of the Nixon Administration as Senator John C. Stennis and Senator Hugh Scott, the latter the Republican leader and the former the man the President would seek out six months later in his effort to protect his tapes.

The simple truth is that the Cambodian bombing, not Watergate, quite literally forced the Administration to explain itself, and that the lameness of its explanation made congressional action inevitable. When the Congress was confronted with the question whether it thought Mr. Nixon had a one-man right to go back to war, it could give only one answer, and indeed the Administration never found a counterargument, for the deeply simple reason that there wasn't any. So the decisive Congressional action of July 1973, which outlawed the use of any force in Indochina after August 15 (unless this ban should be repealed in advance) was quite simply inevitable. Mr. Nixon was prohibited from going it alone. The reason had been stated by Senator Stennis, with massive authority and simplicity, from his hospital bed in April:

In the long run the only stable basis for continued confidence in our Government is to have the people participate in the major decision of whether we are to have war or peace. The only practical way for the people to participate is through their elected representatives-the Congress.6

Here we have the fundamental error in Mr. Kissinger's apologia. In the abstract his rhetoric is formidable: "inconceivable" to "stand by" "while the peace treaty" was "flagrantly violated," "diplomacy could not survive such casuistry"; "no agreement would ever be maintained." Eloquent indeed (if totally absent from the record of 1973). But leave aside the distortion of using the word "treaty" for Vietnam peace accords that were never presented to the Senate for approval. Leave aside the improbability of the notion that Mr. Kissinger found "inconceivable" the very public fatigue and disenchantment with Vietnam that was on his mind every day as he worked for an agreement. What we are left with is contempt for the clear opinion of the Congress, and ultimately contempt for democracy itself.

For in the United States of America the use of force and threats of force are not entrusted to the President alone. To be able to use the armed forces of the United States in more than a one-shot action like the Mayaguez affair in 1975 (very Kissingeresque, and also very questionable), you must have the public strongly with you, and you also need the Congress. By 1973 the public was worn out with Vietnam, and the Congress was tired of being impotent. Nothing was more plainly predictable, as that year began, than that anyone who wanted to maintain a right of "speedy and severe retaliation" would have some persuading to do. No one in the Nixon Administration ever made the slightest effort in this direction.

The reasons for this behavior are not easy to sort out. A simple one is the obvious difficulty of the task, but I find it too simple; these men had plenty of courage and daring in other contexts. There may be some explanation in the curious psychology of the President himself-in the loneliness that made him uncomfortable with the persuasion of others (except when he-could ask a silent majority to hate a vicious liberal establishment). More probably, both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger, preoccupied with adversaries and allies abroad, allowed themselves to neglect the constitutional and political question of the post-Paris war power until it was too late. This question had never been their main concern before; there is no discussion of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, or of the basis for their residual authority to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia, in either of their books. Here in this neglect of democratic process, in this assumption that if a power is needed it exists, there may be some confraternity with the causes of Watergate-but nothing that makes one the cause of the other-and not enough, really, to satisfy.


It is instructive to compare all this with what was done after the 1953 armistice in Korea. There, within ten days of that armistice there was a public declaration by the representatives of the United States and fifteen other nations that in the event of renewed North Korean aggression, "we should again be united and firm to resist," and in due course the American part of this commitment was confirmed by a Treaty of Mutual Defense that received the consent of the Senate. There are ways and ways of making sure that a policy of deterrence has public understanding and congressional support. The one used in the Korean case has worked for 26 years.

But of course that case was different, as different as the open Eisenhower from the secretive Nixon. Korea divided us, but not as Vietnam did, and South Korea was after all a country ("d'ailleurs un pays," to borrow de Gaulle's decisive classification of India). It was also more populous and potentially stronger, not smaller and irreparably weaker, than its communist opponent. The two aggressions may have been fundamentally the same (I have always thought they were), but most of our allies never saw it that way, and neither did many of our own people. Domestic opposition over Vietnam had no counterpart over Korea, and it may not be surprising that I have some sympathy with Mr. Kissinger's lack of respect for many of that opposition's arguments.

Vietnam was indeed different. And if in the end the Administration won the fragile peace it did by a resolute and skillful use of force (and here I think Mr. Kissinger has a good case), the President really did wear out the patience of the Congress in the process. Mr. Kissinger makes it most painfully clear that once Hanoi had made the offer it did in October, the will for peace on Capitol Hill left him little room for further maneuver.

Yet he is entirely right in one of the sentiments in the paragraph we began with:

We thought we would be in a better moral and political position to assist Saigon to maintain its freedom in the name of a peace program in which the American people could take pride than in the context of open-minded warfare tearing our country apart.

The trouble is precisely that a peace program which included a dependence on "hair-trigger" presidential "readiness" to send bombs away on his own unsupported authority was not one in which the American people could take pride; it was not one the Congress could be expected to permit; it therefore failed the ultimate test of realistic analysis: it would never work.

Was there a different course that had greater promise? How much could have been achieved if Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had limited their assurances to those that could have been made public, could have been defended and might have had a chance of sustained public and congressional support? Presumably such a course would still have included assurances of economic and military assistance-matters on which the Administration had a stronger case than it ever made. The Administration could also have reinforced the acceptability of these aid undertakings by an assurance that U.S. forces would not be sent back to battle without congressional approval; such a public position would surely have strengthened congressional and public support for the rest of the peace program, just as the foredoomed attempt to protect a single-handed right of military action weakened it.

Such a course would have required more qualified assurances to President Thieu on the question of renewed American military action. At a minimum any such assurances would have to have included some clear reference to our constitutional processes (which is not at all the same thing as the "explicit authorization by the Congress" in advance that is made a straw man by Mr. Kissinger in the passage from page 1373 of his book quoted at the start of the article). Thieu would not have liked this more modest way of handling things, but Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger should have been the last to suppose that Thieu's preferences should be their guide on such an inescapably American issue.

Indeed the guidance for such a course is suggested, once again, in Mr. Kissinger's book. In a later discussion of what he considers to be the obvious right to enforce peace agreements (the book is nothing if not repetitive), Mr. Kissinger suggests that the secret assurances to Thieu were comparable to those later given by the Carter Administration in 1979, when it publicly promised to help sustain the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt (page 1413). This claim leads one to wonder whether Mr. Kissinger ever read Mr. Carter's letters on that occasion. Not only are they not assurances of "full force," as the secret Nixon letters to Thieu were, but in referring to the United States taking "such other action as it may deem appropriate," the very first sentence of each letter says that everything in it is "subject to United States Constitutional processes" (Emphasis mine.)7 Mr. Carter showed exactly the respect for the rights and responsibilities of Congress that one cannot find in Mr. Kissinger's record of his own behavior.

If in fact Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had shown such respect for Congress and indeed for the Constitution itself, they would surely have been better placed to set a course that might have been sustained. One may doubt, as I do, that anything would have worked in the long run, but for this alternative course one can at least make the claim that it could have been honestly defended and explained in public. Given the degree to which both justified and excessive mistrust had fueled the wartime controversy, this advantage, never trivial, would have been great indeed. It would have had the special and multiplying value of reopening a process of honest exposition that could have speeded up a recovery of the national confidence and will so badly sapped in the Southeast Asian jungle. But of course this way of going about it would have been out of character for both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger. So they did it all in their own secretive and deceptive way, breaching the limits of Presidential power as defined even before mid-1973. Mr. Kissinger should not now pretend otherwise.


The fact that the special pleading here reviewed is a discredit to its author does not demonstrate that in fact Mr. Kissinger or his President could have conducted the 1969-73 phase of American Policy in Vietnam decisively better than they did. Their method and style had some advantages in the extrication from Vietnam, and that effort as a whole was not so badly handled that I think it ripe for harsh criticism from one who shared in earlier and fateful decisions to try to help South Vietnam to survive.

Indeed my last point is almost the opposite. It was not Watergate that in the end made Saigon's survival impossible; it was the relative weakness of the unhappy non-communist society of South Vietnam, and the fatal and enduring imbalance between what it would have needed from us and what our own society would let us provide. If all Americans had been as determined as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon surely were, and thought their countrymen should be, the result might well have been different. But that is a condition contrary to fact; the country was not that stern. Given the reality as we can now see it-and as many, to their credit, saw it at the time-the basic error was not in any one failure but in the attempt itself. Although Mr. Kissinger never opposed that attempt when he was a professor, he bears no responsibility for it. So perhaps it is not too much to hope that in due course, perhaps in his second volume, he will help to light that candle of understanding, and not seek ignoble self-protection by cursing the darkness of Watergate.

1 The New York Times, April 8, 1973, page E15.

3 CBS News Special Report, "A Conversation with Henry Kissinger," Feb. 1, 1973.

5 The New York Times, January 25, 1973, p. 21.

6 The New York Times, April 13, 1973, p. 10.

7 Department of State Bulletin, May 1979 (Vol. 79, No. 2026), page 15.



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  • McGeorge Bundy was Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1961 to 1966, in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and President of the Ford Foundation from 1966 to mid-1979. He is currently Professor of History at New York University.
  • More By McGeorge Bundy