Richard Nixon won election in 1968 by promising he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. No such plan existed. Instead, he went a full year with the policies followed by his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, before devising a plan for the Vietnamization of the war. Vietnamization called for the gradual withdrawal of American troops, and for South Vietnam to maintain its own security following a negotiated peace with North Vietnam. By the end of 1972, fewer than 100,000 American troops remained.
In April 1970, with intelligence reporting that a Vietnamese headquarters had been found in the jungles of neighboring Cambodia, Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia. The U.S. invaded that nation, technically neutral, instigating massive antiwar protests throughout the country. They culminated in the May 4 Kent State shootings, where four college students were killed by National Guard troops without adequate training in riot control. Two black students were killed the same night at Jackson State in Mississippi.
Nixon also supported a coup in Cambodia, led by generals who overthrew the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who had allowed the use of base areas by the communists and was close to communist China. Rather than ending the war, Nixon’s critics thought he was expanding it, as he sought to strengthen the U.S. position in the peace talks then being held in Paris.
- The divide in the United States in the late 1960s led to violence in the streets tied to topics such as war, police brutality, and politics. Many of those same issues are leading to violence in the streets, today. How would you compare the two periods?
- While President Nixon is widely condemned today, he was part of the liberal wing of the Republican party. Where do you think he would fit in to today’s political spectrum?
- How do you believe the police should deal with rioters? Does it matter what cause they are “rioting” about?
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John Filo. 4 May, 1970, Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.