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1972 - Vietnam withdrawal

Beginning of the End: US withdrawal from Vietnam - after a slow realization that the war was unwinnable, a peace treaty was negotiated to bring an end to direct military involvement and bring US troops home

The extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, or the famous image of little girl screaming in the aftermath of napalm attack, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict,  and the decision to widen the war in Laos and Cambodia was deeply unpopular.  In the US, opposition to the war was galvanized, with widespread and sometimes violent protests breaking out in many US cities. It was clear something had to give, and the US needed to find a way to disentangle itself from the conflict without losing face.

Nixon and Kissinger sought to reshape the international context of the war through building relationships with North Vietnam’s superpower allies in Moscow and Beijing. Nixon wanted to create a dilemma for the Soviet and Chinese—give them “bigger fish to fry,” in his phrase—in choosing between their support of North Vietnam, and a closer relationship with the United States. The 1972 summits in Beijing and Moscow reflected this strategy, though the Communist powers continued their material support of Hanoi.

The North Vietnamese opened a three-pronged offensive in South Vietnam, known in the United States as the Easter Offensive, in late March 1972, expecting that a victory on the battlefield would translate into a triumph at the negotiating table. Rather than accept the prospect of defeat, Nixon sent massive air force and naval reinforcements to bases in Indochina and Guam. On May 4 he decided to mine North Vietnam’s harbors and open a sustained air offensive, Operation Linebacker, against North Vietnam. These actions, along with intensive air attacks in the battle areas and improved South Vietnamese defenses, stymied North Vietnam’s offensive, leading the Politburo, for the first time, to engage in serious negotiations.

Kissinger was unable to find much common ground acceptable to both Vietnamese parties despite various rounds of negotiations. Finally, in order to break the deadlock, on December 14 Nixon ordered massive B–52 attacks on the North Vietnamese heartland—the “Christmas Bombing.” Meanwhile he continued to exert intense pressure on South Vietnamese president Thieu, threatening to cut off U.S. economic, military, and political support if he refused to accept the agreement.


Negotiations resumed on January 8, 1973, and the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam initialed the agreement on January 23. Thieu reluctantly accepted the settlement despite his continued misgivings, and the peace agreement was signed on January 27.

The peace settlement enabled the United States to withdraw from the war and welcome the American prisoners of war back home. Neither of the Vietnamese parties abided by the settlement, however, and the war for them continued.


Further Reading


History Is A Weapon - The Impossible Victory: Vietnam

New York Times - Why Vietnam Was Unwinnable

New Yorker - What Went Wrong in Vietnam?

LA Weekly - Nick Ut's 'Napalm Girl' Helped End the Vietnam War

1972 - Munich Massacre
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Terror at the Munich Olympics - Palestinian terrorist group Black September takes eleven Israeli Olympic team members hostage, only to execute them when a German rescue plan went wrong

For less than 24 hours in the summer of 1972, 8 terrorists held 11 hostages — and the attention of the entire world.

The attack, known as the Munich Massacre, was carried out by Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization that formed in 1971 as an offshoot of the Fatah Palestinian nationalist group led at the time by Yasser Arafat.

During the second week of the games, on the morning of Sept. 5, 1972, they used stolen keys to break into the apartment of the Israeli athletes. The episode known as the Munich Massacre was now underway.

Black September first released the members of the Olympic teams from Uruguay and Hong Kong, who had been sharing the apartment with the Israelis, before taking 11 members of the Israeli team hostage. Moshe Weinberg, the Israeli team’s weightlifting coach, and Yossef Romano, a weightlifter, attempted to fight back against their attackers but were shot and killed. These two men were the first victims of the Munich Massacre.

Left with nine hostages and the world watching, Black September made their demands: the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, along with the release of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, founders of the German Red Army Faction imprisoned in Germany, before they would let the hostages go.

Israel, operating on the principle of not negotiating with terrorists, refused to meet the demands. With negotiation attempts failing, the group instead demanded transportation to an Arab country.

Hostage negotiators then arranged for helicopters to fly the kidnappers and their hostages to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, where the German police devised a plan to ambush the terrorists. However, at the last minute, the German police lost their air cover and were left with only five sharpshooters to take out the entire group. The snipers’ attempt to shoot the terrorists failed, and, realizing they had been lured into a trap, Black September panicked and began shooting hostages.

The ensuing chaos led to a bloody shootout that left all the hostages and one German police officer dead, along with five Black September members. On the morning of Sept. 6, once the Munich Massacre was finally over, the Olympic Games were halted for 24 hours of mourning for the Israeli athletes whose lives had been taken.

It wasn’t long before Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, declared war on Black September as retribution for the Munich Massacre. They ultimately tracked down and killed some of the leaders responsible for devising the attacks, and Black September was officially disbanded in 1973-1974.


Further Reading


Israeli State Archive - Munich Massacre

Spiegel Officials Ignored Warnings of Terrorist Attack

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