1972 was a leap year and changes were going on all over the world. American involvement in Viet Nam was already significantly reduced to a support role and the last combat troops were scheduled to be out by August. The program of Vietnamization was well into its fourth year and the ARVN was placed in strategic locations that had previously been held by American soldiers and marines.
Nixon was holding secret talks with the Chinese to try and establish a more normalized relationship. Russia was worried about a closer North Viet Nam relationship with China and both sides had spent the previous year arming the NVA with thousands of new tanks, armored vehicles, missiles of every type, and an untold number of small arms and ammunition.
The NVA had been very patient in its long struggle with the South and its allies. They had been used to deprivation but their previous experience with the French in the early fifties and the Japanese before that were stark reminders that someday the foreigners would leave. Nixon and Kissinger were worried that a withdrawal before a peace could be signed would leave the South completely vulnerable and appear to be an America defeat (the first one in modern history)
The Easter Offensive by the North was the first sign that all of the predictions about the NVA were incorrect. Years of negotiations convinced many American politicians that the north would respect the zones set up by various treaties. Armed with the new hardware, the NVA proved them all to be wishful thinkers. They stormed straight through the demilitarized zone and engaged the ARVN army where he stood.
It was only the intervention of US airpower in the form of Operation Linebacker that kept the battle from turning into a rout. President Thieu had watched his own commanders reaction to the massive invasion and saw that they were still not ready for the tasks that Vietnamization was supposed to have prepared them for. In the end, the attack was recorded as a South Vietnamese win since so many of the units from the north were stopped and hurt badly.
Back home, America had already shown its war weariness. Protests from San Francisco to New England had divided the country like nothing had since the civil war. It was an election year and Nixon knew that he had to do something to complete our “honorable” withdrawal from all of the situation. President Thieu was very reluctant to see American air power gone.
Large portions of the NVA still remained in control of parts of the south. Thieu was being forced to accept their presence since removing them would require a re-engagement of the forces that had just been removed. Nixon pressured Thieu to accept the terms of the cease fire. He got Thieu’s to agree to an in-place arrangement by offering "absolute assurance" that he intended to take "swift and severe retaliatory action" if North Vietnam should violate the terms of the agreement. He sought to remove the other roadblock, the stubborn attitude of the government in Hanoi, by ordering a resumption of the bombing of the heartland of North Vietnam.
History records the rest of the story and should be an abject lesson to the Afghanis. The war lasted for a while longer but once it was clear the American’s were not coming back, the North was relatively free to prepare for the final conquest. Even up until the final days, American politicians were taking assurances from the Cambodians and North Vietnamese that there would be no reprisals and peace would return to the region.
And peace did return. At the point of a bayonet. All of the people who protested sat silently by while millions were killed and millions more were enslaved. The blood of those people is forever on the hands of people who misunderstood the nature of the enemy. We are guilty of giving those who oppose us too much credit for thinking and reasoning like we do. I don’t know if we will ever figure out that there are just some people and groups that want to destroy our way of life. No amount of scripture, negotiation, pleading for a sense of fairness, or seeking a level playing field will ever fix that.
Just like Viet Nam, the war will not be over when we withdraw from the Middle East. At some point, someone is going to have to finish the job. This is one track record that has a heavy cost.