Vietnam War: End of the Conflict


Rogers Signs Paris Peace Accords
Secretary of State William P. Rogers Signs Paris Peace Accords. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Working for Peace

With the failure of the 1972 Easter Offensive, North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho became concerned that his nation could become isolated if President Richard Nixon's policy of détente softened relations between the United States and his allies, the Soviet Union and China. As such he relaxed the North's position in the ongoing peace negotiations and stated that the South Vietnamese government could remain in power as the two sides sought a permanent solution. Responding to this change, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, commenced secret talks with Tho in October.  

After ten days, these proved successful and a draft peace document was produced. Angered at having been excluded from the talks, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu demanded major alterations to the document and spoke out against the proposed peace. In response, the North Vietnamese published the details of the agreement and stalled the negotiations. Feeling that Hanoi had attempted to embarrass him and to force them back the table, Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong in late December 1972 (Operation Linebacker II). On January 15, 1973, after pressuring South Vietnam to accept the peace deal, Nixon announced the end of offensive operations against North Vietnam.

Paris Peace Accords

The Paris Peace Accords ending the conflict were signed January 27, 1973, and were followed by the withdrawal of the remaining American troops. The terms of the accords called for a complete ceasefire in South Vietnam, allowed North Vietnamese forces to retain the territory they had captured, released US prisoners of war, and called for both sides to find a political solution to the conflict. To achieve a lasting peace, the Saigon government and Vietcong were work towards a lasting settlement that would result in free and democratic elections in South Vietnam. As an enticement to Thieu, Nixon offered US airpower to enforce the peace terms.

Standing Alone, South Vietnam Falls

With US forces gone from the country, South Vietnam stood alone. Though the Paris Peace Accords were in place, fighting continued and in January 1974 Thieu publicly stated that the agreement was no longer in effect. The situation worsened the following year with the fall of Richard Nixon due to Watergate and passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 by Congress which cut off all military aid to Saigon. This act removed the threat of air strikes should North Vietnam break the terms of the accords. Shortly after the act’s passage, North Vietnam began a limited offensive in Phuoc Long Province to test Saigon’s resolve. The province fell quickly and Hanoi pressed the attack.

Surprised by the ease of their advance, against largely incompetent ARVN forces, the North Vietnamese stormed through the south, and threatened Saigon. With the enemy nearing, President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of American personnel and embassy staff. In addition, efforts were made to remove as many friendly South Vietnamese refugees as possible. These missions were accomplished through Operations Babylift, New Life, and Frequent Wind in the weeks and days before the city fell. Advancing quickly, North Vietnamese troops finally captured Saigon on April 30, 1975. South Vietnam surrendered the same day. After thirty years of conflict, Ho Chi Minh’s vision of a united, communist Vietnam had been realized.

Casualties of the Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, the United States suffered 58,119 killed, 153,303 wounded, and 1,948 missing in action. Casualty figures for the Republic of Vietnam are estimated at 230,000 killed and 1,169,763 wounded. Combined the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong suffered approximately 1,100,000 killed in action and an unknown number of wounded. It is estimated that between 2 to 4 million Vietnamese civilians were killed during the conflict.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Vietnam War: End of the Conflict." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). Vietnam War: End of the Conflict. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Vietnam War: End of the Conflict." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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