Watch All Episodes of Fatal Politics

The University of Virginia Press has published Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection, a new book that distills a decade and a half of research on President Richard M. Nixon’s secret strategy of prolonging the war and faking peace for political gain. It builds on research I’ve published in the academic journal Diplomatic History and incorporated into the videos below. (See also my previous book, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, for Nixon’s political sabotage of Vietnam negotiations in the 1968 presidential campaign and the subsequent consequences.)

Episode One: Secret Timetable
Fearing that the South Vietnamese government would collapse after he completed the withdrawal of American troops, and that he wouldn’t win a second term if the collapse occurred before Election Day, President Nixon secretly decided almost two years in advance to delay the final troop withdrawal until shortly before or after November 1972.
Episode Two: End Date
Nixon blocked legislation that would have forced him to bring the troops home from Vietnam too soon for his political purposes. He did this by claiming that an earlier pullout would lead to Communist victory, while not admitting that a later pullout would do the same.


Episode Three: Decent Interval I
Historian Jeffrey Kimball uncovered documents revealing how Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger used the opening to China to secretly sell the Communists a “decent interval” deal — a “peace” agreement that would merely postpone, not prevent, North Vietnam’s final military victory. This episode has two parts:

Episode Four: Poll-Tested Bombing
In 1969, Richard Nixon’s first year in the White House, the Republican National Committee had a secret poll conducted on Vietnam exit strategies. The most popular strategy was a six-month plan to bomb the North and blockade Haiphong Harbor until Hanoi agreed to a favorable compromise. Nixon announced the bombing and mining of the North on May 8, 1972–exactly six months, minus one day, before the election. This episode has two parts.

Episode Five: Decent Interval II
President Richard Nixon used the diplomatic opening to China to negotiate a face-saving “decent interval” deal on Vietnam, one that would postpone, not prevent, Communist military victory. His own secretly recorded White House tapes captured him saying, “South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway.” He had told the American people the opposite, prolonging the war for four years and adding 20,000 American casualties saying the sacrifice was necessary so that one day the South could defend and govern itself. As his tapes reveal, he did not believe that day would come. He prolonged the war to conceal his inability to win it, and he negotiated a settlement that would put a “decent interval” between his final troop withdrawal and the Communists’ final military victory–one long enough to make Saigon’s fall look like Saigon’s fault. “We’ve got to find some formula,” National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger said, “that holds the thing together a year or two.”

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