Vietnamization: In Theory and In Reality

The “Secret Plan” of Nixon

After the stunning Tet Offensive, American public, who was already cautious about the war in Vietnam, now changed their views even more dramatically against it. Anti-war protests and demonstrations increased rapidly in numbers and size throughout the nation. American people now demanded for peace more than ever before. As a result, a peace solution for Vietnam apparently became a key issue in the next presidential election occurring soon at the end of the year.

Republican Party presidential candidate Richard Nixon understood and acknowledged that if he was to win the election he had to show that he had a viable plan to bring out peace and he did. In a public speech on 5 March 1968, Nixon implied that he already had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, which succeeded in attracting public’s attention1. Since then, he continued to carry his “secret plan” with the slogan of “peace with honor” throughout his campaign until he finally got elected in one of the nation’s tightest Presidential race.

Even though some claimed that the “secret” plan that Nixon implied never actually existed2, early in his administration, he did come up with a new policy to secure the existence of South Vietnam and the withdrawal of the U.S. forces at the same time. This policy was later known as the “Vietnamization” which was coined in a broadcast speech in November, 19693.

Vietnamization in Theory…

Vietnamization policy had two major purposes: first, to gradually withdraw U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam; second, to train and strengthen the South Vietnamese military so they can defend themselves against the North Communists.  In theory, the subsequent withdrawal of the U.S. forces would depend on the improvements of South Vietnamese military capabilities and the level of combat activities. That process, according to most U.S. senior advisors in Vietnam, could take no less than five years4.

To put Vietnamization into practice, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), directed by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, prepared a two phases plan for American withdrawal. In Phase I, American continued to participate in the war at the current level while enlarging, improving, and modernizing South Vietnamese forces. In Phase II, the burden of the war was gradually shifted to the ARVN until they was capable of dealing with the combined Viet Cong and NVA threat5. Although the Vietnamization policy did make sense in theory, many military officers still doubted whether the inexperienced South Vietnamese Army, who was relegated to a second-class role for too long, could be able to cope with the skilful NVA before the U.S. total withdrawal.

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