Nixon's Gamble

In the spring of 1972, Nixon took a risk and responded to North Vietnamese aggression by bombing Hanoi, jeopardizing an upcoming arms control summit in Moscow. 


Narrator: If the offensive were not stopped, the war would be lost and with it, Nixon feared, the presidency. But if he ordered a U.S. counterattack, the Soviets might cancel the upcoming arms control summit in Moscow, a vital part of Nixon's grand design. Most of his advisers urged Nixon not to take any action that might jeopardize the summit. Once again, Nixon overruled them.

Mr. Lord: His view was that it would be embarrassing for him to go to Moscow without responding to the North Vietnamese aggression, that he would look weak -- he's talking to Soviet leaders who are providing arms to the North Vietnamese troops who are killing American troops -- so he didn't think the summit was worth it unless he could also show that he was strong within Vietnam itself.

Narrator: Nixon ordered the most drastic escalation of the war since 1968, massive sustained bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong Harbor, risking a full-scale confrontation with the Soviets by putting their supply ships in peril. After explaining his decision to the American people, he made a direct appeal to the Kremlin.

Pres. Nixon (archival): Our two nations have made significant progress in our negotiations in recent months. We are near major agreements on nuclear arms limitation, on trade, on a host of other issues. Let us not slide back toward the dark shadows of a previous age.

We do not ask you to sacrifice your principles or your friends, but neither should you permit Hanoi's intransigence to blot out the prospects we together have so patiently prepared.

Narrator: Nixon's gamble paid off. The Soviets did not cancel the summit. On May 22, 1972, Richard Nixon became the first American president ever to set foot inside the Kremlin. Nixon had done what none of his predecessors had been able to do. He had negotiated a treaty in which the two superpowers agreed to slow an arms race that had been accelerating for more than a quarter of a century. It was his greatest achievement.

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH