The twin towers had barely toppled before the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger was on TV proclaiming the gravity of the assault and the urgency of American retaliation. The Forrest Gump of international disaster, Kissinger has been repeating the identical commentary for thirty years: Other countries commit inexplicable crimes against the United States; our national will is being tested; military power must be relentlessly employed. No matter how ponderous the tone or predictable the message, the networks never seem to tire of him.
Why is this guy still on the air? We can set aside the irony of an individual who has caused so many civilian deaths in the world moralizing about “terrorism.” The fact remains that when Kissinger and Richard Nixon were in charge, their biggest military project–the war in Vietnam–ended in humiliating defeat. Although this enterprise devastated three countries, produced upward of a million casualties and left 20,000 American soldiers dead on their watch alone, it has never diminished Kissinger’s stature as a pundit.
As is well known, during their tenure in office both Nixon and Kissinger were obsessed with matters of secrecy. And it turns out that they were wise. Without nosy reporters on the ground, the two benefited from those government regulations that have kept the important records of their international activities concealed for all these years. For extra insurance, Kissinger carefully stashed his official papers in the Library of Congress, with instructions that they not be opened until five years after his death.
But now the relevant documents and tapes are finally being declassified. And since Kissinger’s transactions involved more people than himself, copies of his hidden papers are turning up in other collections. It is on these rich materials that Larry Berman has based No Peace, No Honor, his provocative new study of the 1968-73 Vietnam peace negotiations and the final treaty, for which Kissinger and his North Vietnamese adversary Le Duc Tho received the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is hardly a revelation that this agreement was a failure, but what Berman makes clear is that it was also a fraud. The North Vietnamese had no intention of abiding by its provisions, having dedicated their lives to reunifying their country. Nor did Kissinger and Nixon intend any halt in the hostilities: Once the remaining American troops were home and the POWs released, they expected Saigon to continue the fight, while the US government would return to bombing.
In the President’s address to the nation on January 23, 1973, he exhorted his listeners to “be proud that America did not settle for a peace that would have betrayed our allies, that would have abandoned our prisoners of war, or that would have ended the war for us but would have continued the war for the 50 million people of Indochina.”
This was gross deception. As finally drafted, the Paris accords made no mention of the more than 150,000 North Vietnamese soldiers remaining in the South. Their presence virtually guaranteed continued warfare. While a central feature of the agreement was “a cease-fire in place,” Berman demonstrates in painstaking detail how nonsensical that provision really was.