The end of Johnson
In March 1968, Johnson announced that he would not stand for re-election as president. Among the Democrats, his own party, opposition to the war was intensifying, and it was clear that Johnson had lost so much support that he had no chance of winning.
Richard Nixon: the change in American policy
Nixon became US President in January 1969. In his election campaign, he had talked of the USA achieving an honourable peace in Vietnam. This meant that he was looking for ways in which the USA could remove its troops, but without looking like it had lost the war.
This was a key feature of the new policy adopted by Nixon. His plan was that much more of the fighting on the ground should be done by South Vietnamese forces, which would receive increased supplies of US weapons. At the same time, American forces would start to be withdrawn.
Nixon was a realist. If this policy worked, then he would have achieved a great success. South Vietnam would have been saved from Communism. If the policy did not work, then it was likely that it would take some time for the Communist forces to win, and for South Vietnam to collapse. This would allow, at the very least, the USA to save face. Either way, Nixon would be very popular with the American people, and would almost certainly be re-elected President in 1972.
The policy of Vietnamisation was very popular with US voters.
1. How important was the Tet Offensive of 1968 in turning American public opinion against the war in Vietnam?
2. In what ways did Richard Nixon change American policy towards Vietnam in the years after 1968?
3. Why do you think that it was possible for Nixon to make these changes?
Improved relations with Russia and China
During Richard’s Nixon’s administration, relations between the USA and the Communist powers improved considerably. Nixon visited Moscow and Beijing, and there was substantial lessening of international tension. Clearly, there now seemed to be much less of a threat from aggressive communist expansion: did the USA really need to commit its forces to the struggle in Vietnam?
Pressure on North Vietnam
For this policy to succeed, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong would have to be forced to negotiate in order to achieve a ceasefire. Once this ceasefire was agreed, then the USA could disengage completely from Vietnam. Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, put pressure on North Vietnam in a number of ways.
The US and South Vietnamese invaded the neighbouring country of Cambodia, to attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At the same time, US bombers launched heavy attacks on Laos. The hope was that by doing this, North Vietnam would recognise US strength, and would agree to negotiate.
Nixon began the process of détente with the Soviet Union and with Communist China. He visited both Moscow and Beijing, and relations between the Superpowers greatly improved. Nixon knew that, by doing this, North Vietnam would realise that it may receive fewer military supplies from the Russians and the Chinese, and would therefore be more ready to negotiate.
The peace agreement
In January 1973, the American war in Vietnam finally came to an end. An agreement was reached between Henry Kissinger, on behalf of the United States, and Le Duc Tho, for North Vietnam.
There would be a ceasefire in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
US forces would leave South Vietnam within 60 days of the Agreement.
All US prisoners of war would be released.
North Vietnamese forces would be allowed to remain in South Vietnam.
The American withdrawal
The withdrawal of American forces had commenced in 1969, and had continued steadily during Nixon’s administration. In 1973, the final American forces left South Vietnam. The long American nightmare had come to an end.
The peace agreement lasted barely two years. In March 1975, North Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of the South. The South Vietnamese asked for US help, but this was refused.
The South Vietnamese army began to disintegrate. By April, Saigon itself was being threatened. On 30 April, North Vietnamese tanks captured the Presidential Palace.
North and South Vietnam were now united under a Communist government.
The war in Vietnam – overview
For the United States, the war in Vietnam was a traumatic experience. Despite its immense power and resources, it had been unable to achieve victory. Instead, the country had become bitterly divided and disillusioned by the whole experience.
The US had entered the war for what appeared to be the best of reasons: to check the spread of communism, to encourage democracy, and to support and encourage its allies. These ideals had died, slowly and painfully, in the battlefields and jungles of Vietnam. The war had ended in failure, not because of the superiority of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, but because of the major shifts in public opinion within the United States. By
1968, the American people had had enough of Vietnam – they wanted their forces out: the Domino Theory no longer seemed important!
At the same time, the world had changed. By 1970, relations with the Communist powers had greatly improved, and there was far less concern about aggressive communist expansion than in the 1950s and 1960s. American and Russia were becoming friendly, and Nixon had even visited Communist China. The Vietnam War seemed to have little part in the era of détente.
Fifty-five thousand Americans had died in Vietnam, and probably over 1 million Vietnamese (a precise figure has never been given). For the American public, Vietnam had been a terrible lesson on the limits of their power – why, exactly, had these young men been sent to their deaths? No one seemed able to answer this question. Many Americans ended up agreeing with the sentiments expressed in the song at the start of this unit:
‘One, two, three, what are we fighting for?’
From National Security Memorandum 288, US Government, 17 March 1964
‘We seek an independent, non-communist South Vietnam. We do not desire that it serve as a Western base or as a member of a Western Alliance …
Unless we can achieve this objective in South Vietnam, almost all of Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance – all of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia …
Burma and Malaysia might also fall under the domination of forces not explicitly communist at present, but likely to become so in the future …
Even the Philippines would become shaky, and the threat to India in the west, Australia and New Zealand to the South, and Taiwan, Korea and Japan to the North and East would be greatly increased.’
How useful is Source 1 with regards to the attitude of the American government towards the situation in South Vietnam at the time?
Reminder: Origin, possible purpose, content and recalled knowledge.
From a speech by President Johnson, 7 April 1965
‘We fight in Vietnam because we must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny, and only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure …
Why are we in South Vietnam…? We are there because we have a promise to keep … We have made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its independence …
We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe from Berlin to Thailand are people whose wellbeing relies on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value … of America’s word. The result would be increased unrest and instability, and even wider war …
Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to the conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another …’
Compare the views expressed in Sources 1 and 2 on American reasons for intervening in South Vietnam.
Reminder: Overall comparison, then point-by-point comparison
From John Kerry’s statement to the US Senate, 1971. John Kerry was speaking on behalf of a number of veterans who had fought in Vietnam.
‘We have come here to Washington, because we feel that we have to speak out. We feel that what threatens this country is not the Reds, but the crimes which we are committing …
I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feeling that these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn’t know it yet but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history …
In our opinion … there is nothing in South Vietnam which could realistically threaten the United States. To attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom … is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart …’
To what extent to the views expressed in Source 3 illustrate the growth of opposition within the United States to the war in Vietnam?
Reminder: Think about the source and its wider context.
From a television broadcast by President Nixon, 1969
‘Let me briefly explain what has been described as the Nixon doctrine …
I have laid down some guidelines for future American policy towards Asia …
The United States will keep all its treaty commitments …
We shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments …
However, we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defence.
In the previous administration we Americanised the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamising the search for peace …
We have adopted a plan … for the complete withdrawal of all US combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable …’
How fully does Source 4 explain the changes in American policy in Vietnam introduced by President Nixon?
Reminder: Think about the source and its wider context.
Section 10: Czechoslovakia, 1968
In 1968, Czechoslovakia was ripe for reform. Ever since 1953, the country had been governed, or rather mis-governed, by Antonin Novotny, who held the offices of Prime Minister and First Secretary of the Communist Party.
Economic problems grew steadily worse. The Czechoslovakian economy was very centralised. There had been a steady decline in economic growth, with production in some years actually falling. The country’s economy was stagnating. Goods were scarce, prices were high, and initiative stifled.
Novotny’s government was a repressive one, with severe limitations on artistic, cultural and literary freedom. In Slovakia, with its own distinct identity, there was growing pressure for autonomy. Novotny’s government had become increasingly unpopular and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people
By late 1967, things were so bad that even the Russians accepted that changes were necessary in Czechoslovakia. Leonid Brezhnev visited Prague in December 1967 and had lengthy discussions with Novotny. On 5 January 1968, it was announced that Novotny had resigned as First Secretary – Brezhnev had effectively dismissed him.
Dubcek was First Secretary of the Slovak Communist Party. With strong backing from the Russians, Dubcek was appointed to the post of First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party – for the entire country. To all intents and purposes, he was a typical party official, trained in Moscow. The USSR foresaw no problems with Dubcek. He was a highly intelligent and efficient individual whose loyalty to communism was total. Dubcek could be relied upon to introduce the necessary reforms into Czechoslovakia, dampening down any discontent, and ensuring that the country would remain as a loyal member of the Soviet bloc.
The Russians looked to Dubcek to improve living standards in Czechoslovakia, and to ensure that the country stayed loyal to communism
At first, Dubcek seemed uncertain how to respond to pressures for reform and liberalisation of the Party. A cautious, diffident man, he hardly seemed a revolutionary leader. Dubcek continuously emphasised two key points:
maintenance of the dominant position of the Communist Party in Czech politics
membership of the Warsaw Pact was not to be questioned.
The significance of the links with Moscow was stressed in a government declaration to the National Assembly on 24 April.
1. Describe the social, economic and political problems facing Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s.
2. Why did the Soviet Union support Alexander Dubcek as the new leader of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party?
The struggle for reform
Dubcek became First Secretary of a bitterly divided Party. The Party was split between older hard-line members around Novotny and the progressives, led by Dubcek, who were keen to introduce reforms. Dubcek’s first priority was to make sure that the party leadership would support him in his aims to modernise and reform the country.
In the struggle for power, Dubcek and the progressive communists found themselves relying more and more on the support of ordinary party members – and on the public at large. This was a dangerous tactic: public opinion might demand more and more freedoms – and the Russians would object!
The reform movement continued to gather pace. On 22 March, Novotny was forced to resign as President. The reformers began to concentrate on gaining control of the Party at all levels, including the Presidium and the Central Committee.
In April 1968, several of the hard-line conservatives were removed from the Party leadership. In May, the progressives succeeded in persuading the central committee to summon a National Congress of the Communist Party for September. Delegates to this Congress had to be elected by party members (1.7 million people): the progressives launched a strong campaign to win
their support. In the party elections, Dubcek and the progressives won overwhelming support.
Dubcek talked enthusiastically about making the party more democratic, and more in touch with the views of ordinary people. He repeatedly stressed the need for the party leadership to listen to the people and to debate issues with them. Dubcek often appeared in public, talking to people in the streets and other public places. He began to gain support, as people learned about his ideas. Dubcek talked the kind of language that people understood – about wages, schools, healthcare and the cost of living.
Dubcek had no problem with people who disagreed with his views. He enjoyed listening and debating matters with them. He made it clear that he positively welcomed debate and argument, seeing this as the way forward for the country, and the best way to make progress towards better living standards. Dubcek became a popular figure – for the first time, Czechoslovakia had a Party leader who people actually liked!
Soviet alarm increases
Brezhnev was now very worried. What would happen if the reform-controlled Congress was allowed to meet? In mid-July, he called a meeting of five Eastern European Parties to a meeting in Warsaw. From this, came the ‘Warsaw Letter’, urging ‘healthy’ forces within the Czech party to get rid of the progressives, and postpone the Congress. This was a coded message to Dubcek to slow down, or even cease the reforms that were being introduced.
Dubcek was called to a meeting in Moscow. He refused to attend. An inconclusive meeting was eventually held between Czechoslovakian and Soviet leaders – nothing was resolved, but a common declaration was issued, talking of the need for mutual co-operation and respect. The Czechs made the erroneous assumption that they had satisfied the Russians, despite a clear warning from Kadar, the Hungarian leader, that things were becoming very serious.
The reform programme: the ‘Prague Spring’
The programme of reforms associated with Alexander Dubcek has been given the name of the ‘Prague Spring’, symbolising the dawn of a new era of enlightenment and progress, and the end of an era of bitterness and repression. People began to talk of ‘Communism with a human face’.
February 1968: Political censorship was ended, allowing the press to take a leading role in pressing for further reform. Newspapers, radio, and television began to represent a wide range of opinion on all matters.
In April 1968, the Czech Communist Party presented a new ‘Action Programme’.
The Party’s role was not to bring pressure on society.
The Party should serve society – it would do this best by encouraging free, progressive and, above all, democratic socialist development.
The Party recognised that there could be a role for other political groups, although still emphasising that its own position would remain the dominant one.
In the next four months, the reform programme accelerated, now pushed strongly by public opinion, which, due to the reduction of censorship, became increasingly powerful. Czech public opinion was massively behind Dubcek.
Further reforms included the legal abolition of censorship and the policy of granting passports to citizens as a right.
Finally, on 10 August 1968, Rude Pravo, the leading Czech newspaper, published the ‘Draft Statutes of the Czechoslovak Communist Party’ – a major reform of the structure of the Party itself:
secret voting in Party decisions
rights of minorities to hold, and express dissenting opinions
limited terms of office for Party leaders.
In effect, this would have transformed the Czech Communist Party into a democratic organisation, controlled by its ordinary members. This was the exact reverse of what the USSR believed in. The breach with the USSR was now complete.
1. Why did Dubcek win so much support from ordinary Czechoslovakian people?
2. Make up a table or chart to show the main reforms introduced by Dubcek’s government in 1968.
3. What do you think that these reforms were intended to achieve?
4. Why do you think that they were so popular in Czechoslovakia?
5. Why was the reaction of the USSR so different to the reaction of the Czechoslovakian people?
The decision to intervene
Why did the USSR intervene in Czechoslovakia?
1. As already outlined, the Czech Communist Party was now controlled by a progressive faction, no longer responsive to pressure and direction from Moscow.
2. The reforms being introduced by Dubcek were changing the whole structure of the Party. It was becoming genuinely democratic and responsive to the views of its members – and, by definition, much harder to influence and control.
3. Dubcek’s government seemed to accept, even welcome, debate and argument. Divergent opinions were welcomed: there may be a role for other political groups, quite distinct from the Communist Party.
4. The Russians were being pressed by the Party leaders of the German Democratic Republic. Dubcek was working hard to build up contacts with West Germany – he hoped for investment by West German businesses to help raise the standard of living in Czechoslovakia. The East Germans were, unsurprisingly, determined to stop this.
5. Across Eastern Europe, in the other satellite states, and, even within the USSR itself, news of the changes in Czechoslovakia was spreading. If no action was taken, then, very soon, the pressure for similar reforms might spread, and become difficult to stop.
The Soviet intervention, 20–21 August 1968
Armed forces of four Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia on the night of 20/21 August 1968: troops from East Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union and, most bitterly of all, Hungary took part in the action. The Czechs offered no military resistance: widespread passive resistance took place. There were huge demonstrations and protest marches in Prague and other Czechoslovakian cities – streets were blocked by improvised barricades – furious Czechoslovakians argued with bewildered Warsaw Pact troops. The soldiers had been informed by their commanders that they were entering Czechoslovakia because the people there needed help.
Inevitably, the Russians claimed that they were responding to appeals for help from ‘loyal’ Czech Communists. To their embarrassment, they had great difficulty in finding Czechs willing to form an alternative government. The Soviet action had united Czechoslovakia against the Russians – the pro-Moscow hardliners had virtually no support.
Dubcek and other leaders were taken to Moscow – the official line was that they were being taken there ‘for their own protection.’ Great pressure was brought to bear on them by the Russians who wanted all the reforms to be reversed. (Dubcek said later that he believed he had a good chance of being executed.) Finally, on 26 August, the Czechs were forced into signing the ‘Moscow Protocol’.
The 14th Czech Party Congress, dominated by reformers, was declared invalid.
Progressive reformers would be removed from the Party.
Press censorship was re-introduced.
Other political groups were totally banned.
The Czechs agreed to remove the issue of the Soviet invasion from the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.
16 October 1968: the Czech government signed a treaty legitimising the presence of Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia.
April 1969: Dubeck finally resigned as First Secretary of the Czech Communist Party. He was replaced by Gustav Husak, who was more sympathetic to Moscow.
The Prague Spring was finally over.
Aftermath in Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia survived its invasion much better than Hungary in 1956: there was no violence and no savage repression – above all, there was no massive loss of life. Dubcek was dismissed, and later expelled from the Party, but he was not executed. Other leading figures, such as Vaclev Havel, were arrested and jailed for a time for continuing to protest. The Czechs bitterly resented and hated the Soviet action, but sullenly and reluctantly they put up with it.
Czechoslovakia now had, once more, a hard-line communist regime installed in power, courtesy of Soviet tanks. The government had very little real support from the people.
Ideology – the Brezhnev Doctrine
As with Hungary in 1956, the Russians claimed to be protecting the interests of the Czech working class, against the inroads of capitalism. (It is doubtful if many Czechs would have agreed with them!) However, the USSR certainly claimed to have an ideological basis for its actions.
This ideological viewpoint was given greater emphasis in an article in Pravda, one of the leading Soviet newspapers, on 26 September, entitled ‘Sovereignty and the International Obligation of Socialist Countries’.
In this article, Brezhnev claimed that the Czech progressives had been undermining the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, and destroying socialism. He claimed that it was the duty of every Communist Party to share in the concerns, not just of its own country, but of all the socialist countries. Where socialism was under threat in any country, then it was the duty of other Parties to take appropriate action.
‘… This means that every Communist Party is responsible not only to its own people, but also to all the socialist countries, and to the entire Communist movement …’
This became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine: the USSR would intervene in Eastern Europe wherever it saw the need to. In the case of Czechoslovakia, the action was taken owing to fear that:
the Czechs would leave the Warsaw Pact, despite Dubcek’s denials
the Czech Communist Party would lose its monopoly of power – Dubcek always argued for the Party to have the leading role, although other political groups might be permitted to function
the Czech Communist Party was under leadership completely independent of Moscow – this was true and, in the Soviet view, totally unacceptable, and sealed Dubcek’s fate.