Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
War and Society
Gregory Daddis, Ph.D.
Lori Cox Han
March 1971 was tough for President Richard Nixon. The American people were tired of the Vietnam War, with many still recovering from the violent anti-war protests of 1970. Congress had just passed an amendment prohibiting U.S. ground troops from operating outside of the borders of South Vietnam. Both the public and secret negotiations with Hanoi were stalled. Confidential channels with Beijing and Moscow about diplomatic initiatives had gone cold. Moreover, Lam Son 719, the joint U.S. and South Vietnamese incursion into Laos that began in February, was turning out to be a failure. The operation, Nixon’s military gamble to prove the success of Vietnamization, would show the opposite—that the South Vietnamese were not ready to take over the fighting from the Americans.
Yet, on 7 April 1971, Nixon announced in a television address that “Vietnamization has succeeded,” and that he would accelerate the withdrawal of American troops “because of the achievements of the South Vietnamese operation in Laos.” Many expected Nixon to increase the rate of troop withdrawals no matter the outcome of Lam Son 719. However, instead of being punished at the polls for his lack of credibility, as some in the press were predicting, in 1972, Nixon transfixed the nation with trips to Beijing and Moscow and won re-election by 49 out of 50 states. This thesis mines archival documents from the Nixon Presidential Library, the U.S. media, and television transcripts to explain how and why Nixon re-shaped the story of Lam Son 719 and his Vietnamization policy to persuade a dispirited American people to accept withdrawal from Vietnam. This political comeback, often overshadowed by Watergate, provides unique perspectives on presidential communications.
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So, Dominic K., "Stop Talking about Sorrow: Nixon’s Communications Strategy after Lam Son 719" (2019). War and Society (MA) Theses. 10.