Carpet Bombing

Nixon decided to use force to end the Vietnam War, and refused to explain the 12-day "Christmas Bombing" to the American people. "He thought it was diplomatically vital that he make this look as cold an operation as possible," says speechwriter Ray Price.


Narrator: Alone on his mountaintop, Nixon brooded over the issue that had haunted his first term and now threatened his second: the war in Vietnam. The Paris peace talks were again stalled. Re-elected by an overwhelming margin, he now resolved to use overwhelming force to break the deadlock once and for all. In December, Nixon ordered the most intensive bombing of the entire war. It became known as the "Christmas bombing." The raids went on for 12 days. Ignoring the pleas of his closest aides, Nixon gave no public explanation for his action.

Ray Price, Speechwriter: He thought it was diplomatically vital that he make this look as cold an operation as possible and so he would not explain it. He held himself apart up on the mountaintop at Camp David, knowing his silence would make it more effective.

Narrator: The New York Times denounced what it called "Nixon's Stone Age barbarism." The massive, unexplained destruction alarmed even his loyal supporters.

Reporter: You were quoted recently as saying that the President had taken leave of his senses.

Senator William Saxbe, (R) Ohio: I feel that he's done things here that a reasonable man would not have done. And I can't find an explanation for it.

Narrator: The bombing stopped, the controversy subsided and shortly thereafter, all sides returned to Paris. Nixon believed the Christmas bombing had driven Hanoi back to the bargaining table. Two weeks later, in a quiet ceremony, they signed an agreement. Nixon's critics charged he could have had the same terms months before. But after 20 years of American involvement, the loss of over 50,000 American lives, the conflict that had torn apart the nation at long last came to a close.

President Nixon (archival): A cease-fire will begin at 7:00 p.m. this Saturday, January 27, Washington time. Within 60 days from this Saturday, all Americans held prisoners of war throughout Indochina will be released. During the same 60-day period, all American forces will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.


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  • NEH

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  • NEH