Vietnam War: US calls for peace
Johnson bows out and peace talks begin
At the end of March 1968 Johnson admitted that he had failed in Vietnam. Presidential elections were due later in the year: Johnson declared that he would not be seeking re-election. He reduced the level of bombing in the North. He called for peace talks. North Vietnam agreed to negotiate and talks began in Paris in May 1968.
The peace talks got nowhere, but it was clear by the summer of 1968 that the American government was looking for a way out. A new President was elected in November 1968 - Richard Nixon - and he was determined to end the war.
Nixon searches for peace with honor
The challenge for Nixon was to find a way out of Vietnam without humiliation or the clear abandoning of South Vietnam. Nixon tried a number of methods:
1. At the Paris peace talks he tried to persuade North Vietnam that North Vietnamese soldiers should withdraw from the South at the same time as American troops. He threatened a massive attack on the North if they refused to compromise. Nixon was bluffing and the government of North Vietnam called his bluff. They refused to make a deal but Nixon did not launch an attack.
2. Nixon tried to persuade the USSR and China to use their influence over the government of the North. He told the Soviets and the Chinese that if they helped him over Vietnam the Americans would help them in other areas. This approach did not work. The USSR and China saw no reason to try to help the Americans over Vietnam.
3. Nixon decided to put more of the burden of the war on the shoulders of the government of South Vietnam. He reduced the number of American soldiers and insisted that more of the fighting should be done by South Vietnamese. In April 1969 there were 543,000 American troops in Vietnam. By 1971 the number had gone down to 157,000. This policy of passing responsibility to South Vietnam was known as 'Vietnamisation'.