As the author of the 1989 book “Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate,” I have some additions to the Feb. 3 letter “Vietnam reference cut corners.” The author is correct that dramatic congressional cuts in aid and the impact of Watergate on the Nixon administration’s freedom of action were critical factors in the conquest of South Vietnam. The other factor was a dramatic increase in Soviet aid to North Vietnam at the same time.

The Soviet Union paid the bill for the North Vietnamese war effort. Until 1970, the Soviets donated air defenses for Hanoi and supplies for its infantry, and the goal was a large conflict with a large and growing American ground force in Vietnam. The Soviets portrayed this American force as a threat to the entire socialist camp, especially China in an attempt to prevent a Sino-American rapprochement. This strategy achieved its tactical objectives, but failed when President Richard Nixon began a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and made concrete steps toward rapprochement with China.

As a result the Soviet Union changed the type of equipment going to North Vietnam and began to supply tanks and heavy artillery. China interfered with Soviet efforts to supply North Vietnam by land using the Chinese railway system. A coup in Cambodia put in place a pro-American regime that cut off Cambodia as a route for supplies by sea and the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong harbor cut off the final sea supply route. Strategically isolated, North Vietnam agreed to the Paris Peace Accords.

A provision of the Paris agreement was that the United States would clear the mines from the harbor. Even as American ships were clearing mines, the Soviet Union began violating the spirit (not the letter) of the accords by delivering tanks and artillery to North Vietnam.

In the end the North had significant advantages in tanks, artillery and motorized infantry. The North had ample ammunition, fuel and spare parts, while the outnumbered South was very limited in these types of supply, due to the dramatic cuts in aid by Congress (reductions of nearly 70 percent from 1972-1973 to 1974-1975). In the end a large, well-supplied armored force beat a small poorly supplied force.

F. Charles Parker IV


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