US-supported invasion by ARVN troops of Laos fails. Nixon and Kisisnger attempt to isolate the DRV (or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam) by setting up visits to China and the Soviet Union. GI and veteran resistance increases and the damning Pentagon Papers are released.
January Public peace talks resume in Paris.
January 4 President Nixon proclaimed “the end is in sight” for the war.
January 5 The Vietnamese Women’s Movement Demanding the Right to Live and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) hold an International Women’s Congress in Saigon and sign a ‘peace agreemnt’.
January 13 President Nixon signs a bill repealing the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
January 18 Senator George Mc Govern (D-SD) enters the 1972 Presidential race, calls Vietnam War “a dreadful mistake,” promising to withdraw “every American soldier” from Southeast Asia.
January 19 U.S. fighter-bombers launch heavy air strikes against NVA supply camps in Laos and Cambodia.
January 30-April 6 Operation Lam Son 719 (named for the 1427 succesful Vietnamese resistance to the Chinese), an all-South Vietnamese ground offensive, occurs as 17,000 South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVN) attack 22,000 NVA (PAVN) inside Laos in an attempt to sever the Ho Chi Minh trail. Aided by heavy U.S. artillery and air strikes, along with American helicopter lifts, South Vietnamese troops advance to their first objective but then stall, allowing the PAVN time to bring in massive troop reinforcements. By the end of this conventional battle, 40,000 PAVN pursue 8000 South Vietnamese survivors who beat a hasty retreat back across the border. The South Vietnamese suffer 7682 causalities, nearly half the original force. The U.S. suffers 215 killed, over 100 helicopters lost, and over 600 damaged while supporting the offensive. NVA losses are estimated up to 20,000 as a result of the intense American bombardment. Although President Nixon declares after the battle, that “Vietnamization has succeeded,” the failed offensive indicates that Vietnamization of the war will be difficult to achieve.
January 31-February 2 The “Winter Soldier Investigation,” sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), was intended to publicize war crimes and atrocities by the US armed forces and their allies in the war. The groundwork for what would become the Winter Soldier Investigation was laid by Tod Ensign, Michael Uhl, Rob Johnson, Al Hubbard, and Donald Duncan. The VVAW challenged the morality and conduct of the war by showing the direct relationship between military policies and war crimes in Vietnam. “”We gathered not to sensationalize our service but to decry the travesty that was Lt. William Calley’s trial for the My Lai massacre. The U.S. had established the principle of culpability with the Nureberg trials of the Nazis. Following those principles, we held that if Calley were responsible, so were his superiors up the chain of command — even to the president. The causes of My Lai and the brutality of the Vietnam War were rooted in the policies of our government as executed by our military commanders.” The three-day gathering of 109 veterans and 16 civilians took place in Detroit. Discharged servicemen from each branch of the military, as well as civilian contractors, medical personnel and academics, all gave testimony about war crimes they had committed or witnessed during the years 1963–1970. With the exception of Pacifica Radio, the event was not covered extensively outside Detroit. However, a documentary called Winter Soldier was released in 1972. A complete transcript was later entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield, and discussed in the Fullbright Hearings in April and May 1971. (Also see entry for June 1, 1967.)
February 8 In Operation Lam Son 719, three South Vietnamese divisions drive into Laos to attack two major enemy bases. Unknowingly, they are walking into a North Vietnamese trap. Over the next month, more than 9,000 South Vietnamese troops are killed or wounded. More than two thirds of the South Vietnamese Army’s armored vehicles are destroyed, along with hundreds of U.S. helicopters and planes. (See entry for Jan30-April 6)
February 10 Congressman Aiken (R-VT) recommended convening an Indochina conference to negotiate a settlement of the area’s disputes.
February 23 Senate Democrats voted (38-13) to adopt a “resolution of purpose” for the 92nd Congress to end US involvement in Indochina and “bring about the withdrawal of all US forces and the release of prisoners in a time certain.”
Late February The National Coalition Against War, Racism, and Repression changes to People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) coordinated by Dave Dellinger, Sidney Peck, Rennie Davis, Bradford Lyttle, Ron Young, William Douthard, and Carol Henderson Evans.
March 1971 Opinion polls indicate Nixon’s approval rating among Americans has dropped to 50%, while approval of his Vietnam strategy has slipped to just 34%. Half of all Americans polled believe the war in Vietnam to be “morally wrong.”
March 1 A powerful bomb apparently planted in protest of the invasion of Laos. exploded at 1:32am in a restroom in the original part of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, with responsibility claimed by the “Weather Underground”. Senator McGovern attributed the bombing to “our Vietnam madness”.
March 8 The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI removes files from the Media, Pennsylvania office of the FBI. The Citizens’ Commission asserted “As long as the United States government wages war against Indochina in defiance of the vast majority who want all troops and weapons withdrawn this year, and extends that war and suffering under the guise of reducing it. As long as great economic and political power remains concentrated in the hands of a small clique not subject to democratic scrutiny and control. Then repression, intimidation, and entrapment are to be expected.” The files were distributed to the media, which led to the exposure of the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO program: a series of covert, and often illegal, projects begun in 1956 aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting American political opposition. COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals that the FBI deemed subversive including anti-war organizers, activists in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, feminist organizations, and Puerto independence movements, including the Young Lords. FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover issued directives governing COINTELPRO, ordering FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate” the activities of these movements and especially their leaders. The agent in charge of COINTELPRO was William C. Sullivan. Despite assigning 200 agents to the case, the FBI never found out who constituted the Citizen’s Commisssion. The members’ identities remained secret until early 2014, when 7 of the 8 who could be found agreed to be interviewed by journalist Betty Medsger, who was writing The Burglary. Of these 7, 5 agreed to be publicly identified: Keith Forsyth, John C. Raines and Bonnie Raines, and Robert Williamson; the recruiter and informal leader, William C. Davidson, died in 2013 before the book was published but had planned to reveal his involvement.
March 10 China pledges complete support for North Vietnam’s struggle against the U.S.
March 29 Lt. William Calley is found guilty of the murder of 22 My Lai civilians. He is sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor; the sentence is later reduced to 20 years, then 10 years. Out of 16 military personnel charged with offenses concerning the My Lai massacre, only 5 were actually court-martialed, and only Calley was found guilty. (See entries for March 16, and March 28, 1968, September 5, 1969, November 12, 1970, and March 31, 1970.)
March 30 It was later found out that on this date; “a confidential Army directive orders personnel to intercept and confiscate personal mail containing anti-war and other dissident material sent to soldiers in Vietnam.”
April 1 President Nixon orders Calley released pending his appeal.
Draft Bill – A 2-year extension of the draft passed the House (239-99) in a roll-call vote. The Senate also passed the bill 24 Jun 71 following a long debate, lasting from 6 May through 24 Jun 71. 48% of manpower for the Army were draftees or “draft motivated”.
April 7 President Nixon claims that setting a firm date for troop withdrawal would “serve the enemy’s purpose, not our own.”
April 18-23 2,300 Vietnam Veterans arrived to Washington, DC to participate in Dewey Canyon III (named because the code name for the then current invasion of Laos was “Dewey Canyon II,” which itself was named after Dewey Canyon I, the invasion of Laos in 1969), “a military incursion into the country of Congress”. Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Gold Star Mothers for Peace (representing mothers who lost sons in combat) attempt to place a memorial wreath at Arlington National Cemetary. The Nixon Administration denies them entrance to the grounds. Led by VVAW, the vets camped on the mall 1/4 mile from the Capitol, lobbied Congress, on April 21, defied a Supreme Court order to disperse, and on April 23, threw away thousands of military medals and ribbons at the foot of the statue of Chief Justice John Marshal near the Capitol Builidng. The demonstration was unprecedented in the history of the country as veterans protested in a unified and dramatic way their opposition to the war.
April 24 10 days of protests attracting 200,000-500,000 by a group calling themselves the “Mayday Tribe” included attempted work stoppages at several federal offices in Washington, DC
April 29 Total American deaths in Vietnam surpass 45,000.
April 30 The last U.S. Marine combat units leave Vietnam.
May MIA wives Mrs. Louie Jones and Barbara Mullen and POW wives Mrs. James Hughes and Delia Alvarez formed POW/MIA Families of Immediate Release, an antiwar organization.
May 3-5 May Day mass civil disobedience: 5,100 policemen backed by 10,000 federal troops resulted in an unprecedented mass arrest of approximately 7,000 persons, with another 2,700 arrested the next day. Protests ended 5 May with the arrest of another 1,200 demonstrators on the Capitol’s east steps during a rally attended by some members of Congress.
May 31 In secret negotiations in Paris, Kissinger retracts the US demand that US and DRV (or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam) forces mutually withdraw, conceding that the armed forces of the DRV will remain in South Vietnam after a peace agreement. The key remaining issues include the removal of President Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu) as President of South Vietnam, the date for US withdrawal, and the resolution of political as well as military issues.
Summer While herbicides containing dioxin had been banned for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1968, spraying of Agent Orange continues in Vietnam until 1971. Operation Ranchhand sprayed 11 million gallons of Agent Orange — containing 240 pounds of the carcinogenic chemical dioxin — on South Vietnam. More than one seventh of the country’s total area has been laid waste.
June During a college commencement speech, Senator Mike Mansfield labels the Vietnam War “a tragic mistake.”
George Jackson replaces William Colby as head of CORDS (the pacification program, Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support).
Purveyors of “yellow music” are tried in the DRV (or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam) for their pessimistic, reactionary, sex-oriented, and subversive music.
June 9 The Senate adopted an amendment authorizing drug control and rehabilitation programs in the military.
June 10 The DRV and PRG declatre that if the US would set a date for withdrawal, they were prepared to negotiate a full exchange of prisoners before resolving other questions. Secretary of State William Rogers dismisses the gesture as merely a demand for “ransom”.
June 13 The New York Times begins publication of the ‘Pentagon Papers‘ (United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense), a secret Defense Department archive of decisions made by previous White House administrations. The Pentagon Papers were sent to the media by Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. They demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress. More specifically, the Papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly expanded the scale of the Vietnam War with the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on the DRV (or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam), none of which were reported in the mainstream media. The most damaging revelations proved that four administrations (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) had misled the public. For example, the Eisenhower administration actively worked against the Geneva Accords. The Kennedy administration knew of plans to overthrow South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, before his assassination in a a Novemebr, 1963 coup. President Johnson had decided to expand the war while promising “we seek no wider war” during his 1964 presidential campaign, including plans to bomb the DRV well before the 1964 election. President Johnson had been outspoken against doing so during the election and claimed that his opponent Barry Goldwater was the one that wanted to bomb North Vietnam.
Publication of the classified documents infuriated President Nixon and led to the creation of the White House Plumbers in July. The Plumbers were a covert Special Investigations Unit, established in July 1971. Members of the Plumbers incuded E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Its goal was to stop the leaking of classified information, such as the Pentagon Papers, to the news media. Its members engaged in illegal activities while working for the Committte to Re-elect the President (CREEP), including the Watergate break-in, a scandal that eventually brought down the Nixon Presidency.
June 15 Nixon attempts to stop further publication of the Pentagon Papers through legal action against the New York Times in the U.S. District Court.
June 16 Nixon asserts that US ground and air forces would remain in Vietnam “ as long as there is one American being held prisoner by North Vietnam.”
June 17 Congressman Charles Whalen, Jr (R-Ohio) co-sponsored an “end the war” bill, which was rejected by the House (158-255)
June 18 The Washington Post begins its publication of the Pentagon Papers.
The Times and Post now become involved in legal wrangling with the Nixon administration which soon winds up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
June 22 A non-binding resolution passed in the U.S. Senate urges the removal of all American troops from Vietnam by year’s end.
June 24 Mansfield Amendment was passed along with the draft extension bill. The amendment by Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) set a national policy of withdrawing troops from Indochina 9 months after the bill’s enactment (wording was later softened to the “earliest practical date”). It was the first time in modern US history that Congress had urged an end to a war in which the country was actively involved.
June 26 In secret negotiations, Xuan Thuy (Xuân Thủy) and Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ) present a new 9 Point Peace plan to Kisisnger, softening demands for removal of Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu) and extending the date for US withdrawal.
June 28 The source of the Pentagon Papers leak, Daniel Ellsberg, surrenders to police.
June 30 The U.S. Supreme Court rules 6-3 in favor of the New York Times and Washington Post publication of the Pentagon Papers.
July 1 6100 American soldiers depart Vietnam, a record for one day.
During the peace talks, the NLF representative Nguyen Thi Binh (Nguyễn Thị Bình) proposes the return of all American and allied prisoners held in North and South Vietnam by the end of 1971 if all US troops were withdrawn within that same period. Previously, Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ) had suggested to New York Times correspondent Anthony Lewis, the relase of POWs in exchange for US withdrawal.
July 9-11 Kissinger in a secret mission to Beijing meets with Zhou Enlai who urges complete withdrawl of US troops, refuses to pressure Vietnamese, but implies that the Vietnamese will be more generous in future talks.
July 13 Zhou Enlai, during a visit to Hanoi, claims that he avoided discussing Indochina with Kissinger, claims that the 1972 US elections will lead to a settlement, and then Nixon would visit China. Le Duan (Lê Duẩn) and Le Duc Tho (Lê Đức Thọ) are skeptical.
July 15 President Nixon announces he will visit the Peoples Republic of China in 1972. The Vietnamese resistance perceives this (and Nixon’s subsequent visit to the Soviet Union) as part of Nixon’s strategy of ‘triangulation’, an attempt to isolate them from their allies.
July 17 The ‘Plumbers’ unit is established in the White House by Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson to investigate Daniel Ellsberg and to ‘plug’ various news leaks. Colson also compiles an ‘enemies list’ featuring the names of 200 prominent Americans considered to be anti-Nixon.
August 2 The U.S. admits there are some 30,000 CIA-sponsored irregulars operating in Laos.
August 16 Kissinger proposes a new 8 Point counterproposal
August 18 Australia and New Zealand announce the pending withdrawal of their troops from Vietnam.
August 22 The Camden 28 conducted a raid on the Camden, New Jersey draft board offices. The 28 included at least 5 members of the clergy, as well as a number of local blue-collar workers. Unknown to the activists, the raid was being carefully monitored and documented from the shadows by more than 40 FBI agents. The Camden 28 was brought to trial in May 1973.
September 22 Captain Ernest L. Medina is acquitted of all charges for the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. (See entires for See entries for March 16, and March 28, 1968, September 5, 1969, November 12, 1970, March 31, 1970, and March 29, 1071).
September 28 The 2-year draft extension was signed into law after lapsing from June 30 until September 28. Deferments were abolished for 1971 college freshmen, although upperclassmen retained draft deferments. Also in the bill was a non-binding provision putting Congress on record as backing an early end to the Vietnam War
October 3 South Vietnam election – President Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu) ran unopposed and was re-elected with more than 90% of the popular vote. Vice President Ky (Nguyễn Cao Kỳ) and General Duong Van Minh (Dương Văn Minh) earlier dropped out of the race amid charges that Thieu had rigged the election
October 9 Members of the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division refuse an assignment to go out on patrol by expressing “a desire not to go.” This is one in a series of American ground troops engaging in “combat refusal.”
October 31 The first NLF (National Liberation Front) POWs are released by Saigon. There are nearly 3000 NLF prisoners.
November 2 A Senate subcommittee released a 300-page report documenting “corruption, criminality, and moral compromise” in a PX scandal in Vietnam and other overseas areas.
November 12 President Nixon announced a troop withdrawal of 45,000 more troops by February 1, 1972, but argued it was particularly important to continue air strikes on enemy infiltration routes
December 17 U.S. troop levels drop to 156,800.
Beginning December 26 15 anti-war veterans occupied the Statue of Liberty, flying a US flag upside down from her crown. They left on December 28, following issuance of a Federal Court order. Also on December 28, 80 young veterans clashed with police and were arrested while trying to occupy the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C
December 26-30 The US carries out the heaviest air strikes on North Vietnam since 1968 in Operation Proud Deep, consisting of 1,025 sorties citing violations of the agreements surrounding the 1968 bombing halt.