open Vault

WGBH Media Library and Archives

Interview with Henry Kissinger, 1982

  • Cite

Summary
Henry Kissinger’s involvement with Vietnam started before he was Nixon’s National Security Advisor. While at Harvard, Kissinger was a consultant on foreign policy to both the White House and State Department and in a 1973 peace agreement, Kissinger helped mediate between Washington and Hanoi. In this interview Kissinger recalls the period before he joined the Nixon White House and how he did not question the United States involvement in Vietnam. In 1965, Kissinger travelled to Vietnam and saw that the war was not winnable in the way it was currently being conducted. Moreover, he had doubts as to whether or not South Vietnam could stand on their own once the United States left. He also describes his impression of Le Duc Tho as someone whose goal was to break the morale and spirit of the American people and partake in psychological warfare. Kissinger continues by stating that Vietnam still has an effect on American policy.
Topics
Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam (1973), United States--History--1945-, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Government, Resistance to, Political corruption, Cambodia--History--Civil War, 1970-1975, Coups d'etat, United States--Foreign relations--1969-1974, Neutrality, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Escalation (Military science), Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Bombing, aerial, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Cambodia, Peace treaties, Armistices, Evacuation of civilians, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Mass media and the war, Watergate Affair, 1972-1974, Peace movements--United States, Intellectuals--United States, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government
Tags (5)
K on Vietnamization, K on Vietnamization & Nixon Doctrine, K on Le Duc Tho following X-mas bombing, K on reason for Peace is at hand, * Aim of X-mas bombing
Add Tag Add Annotation

Transcript

Kissinger's early attitudes and policies with regard to the Vietnam War

VIETNAM
HENRY KISSINGER
SOUND ROLL 467, TAPE 1, SIDE 1
Vietnam Project for WGBH. This is April 17, 1982. This is an interview with Kissinger. Production number TVP 013. Has a reference minus eight db zero. And there's a hiss for azimuth alignment.
Sound roll 467. This will be picture roll 2462.
Kissinger:
Your questions are clear enough. I have not had a chance. I wanted to yesterday read my Vietnam chapters in the first book of...
Interviewer:
Here's a thought Mr....when Stanley asks the question and asks to stop, we've all been through it and we've got this, you know we've got it all...
We can recollect it for you.
Ya.
We'll talk back to you...
Just before we start I want to show you some preparation for your next book.
Kissinger:
(chuckle) On what?
Interviewer:
The Vietnam book that'll go with the series.
Kissinger:
Oh.
Interviewer:
The book that will explain what's going on in the film [incomprehensible].
Kissinger:
Oh, so you're going to be the one that kills me, not the broker.
Interviewer:
Listen, I'm going to start out, if you've seen the questions, by describing, if you could describe your feelings with this involvement in Vietnam as you went through, before you went to the Nixon Administration, Foreign Affairs article [inaudible]...
Kissinger:
Well, ah...
Interviewer:
and, you know, where did you think...did you think the strategy of attrition wasn't working, Could you envisage negotiations without undermining US credibility? The things that you wrote about...one thing, shall I repeat the question, Peter?
Sure. Beep.
Interviewer:
Could you describe your, your feelings and attitudes towards the US involvement in Vietnam before you went to the Nixon Administration.
Kissinger:
Well ah, in 1962 to '65 when the involvement developed my attitude was that this was an area about which I knew very little. I once asked, I believe it was Walt Rostow how when they were sending twenty-thousand troops they thought they could win with 20,000 what the French couldn't win with 150,000 and he sort of dismissed it, but I didn't feel strongly about it one way or another. Probably I, like most others, was leaning towards supporting the involvement, but I didn't examine it.
In 1965 I went to Vietnam as a consultant to Ambassador Lodge and had an opportunity to travel around the country and I concluded then that there was no way of winning the war in the manner in which it was being conducted and I said so to McNamara, Bundy and others. McNamara pretty well had come to the same conclusion. Bundy was less committal about his own views and he strongly supported the administration policy. So, I felt from that moment on that we had to find a negotiated way out.
But, I also felt that having committed that many forces, we couldn't simply walk away, and these thoughts over a period of time crystallized into an article that I put before, that I published in Foreign Affairs, more or less simultaneously with my appointment as security adviser to Nixon. When I wrote it I had no idea that I'd become security adviser to Nixon. It was simply a matter of the lead-time of the magazine in which I more or less outlined the policy that I then pursued when I got into office tending to separate the military from the political outcome and indicating the directions in which the negotiations should go.
Interviewer:
How did Vietnam fit into the Nixon Administration's foreign policy priorities? What was the Nixon doctrine? How did it apply to Vietnam?
Kissinger:
Well, you have to remember we inherited a nightmare. In much of the public discussion today, the impression is created as if the Vietnam War were Nixon's war. We found 525,000 troops in Vietnam and the numbers were still increasing on the basis of schedules established before we got into office. So, we inherited it as a priority. We had no choice about it.
And, we made up our minds from the beginning that we were going to try to disengage from Vietnam. And all of the debates afterwards were really about, with the moderate critics, were about rates of disengagement not about the fact of disengagement. So, it had to be a high priority.
It was shaking our domestic stability. It was the consuming concern of the intellectual community. It obtruded itself as a high priority. We would have preferred to do something else.
Interviewer:
Could you mention the Nixon doctrine as it applied to Vietnam? Did it, did it mean that we would withdraw the troops but retain aid and air power?
Kissinger:
The Nixon doctrine evolved out of the need of responding to the general debate that the Vietnam War had generated about the role of America in the world and the intention of the Nixon doctrine was to explain how America could reduce its direct involvement in various local conflicts without abdicating its responsibilities as the ultimate guarantor of the global balance of power and therefore it applied to Vietnam...it attempted to apply the lessons of Vietnam in a more general sense.
I don't think at the time that it was developed a clear-cut decision had been made, or theory had developed on what precise continuing role the United States would play in Vietnam after withdrawal, but I think in the back of our mind we always expected that a settlement that was negotiated would have to be backed in some way by the United States. I know no settlement in history that's been self-enforcing.
Interviewer:
What were your doubts about Vietnamization?
Kissinger:
Well, my concern about Vietnamization was, and I wrote several memoranda to that effect, my concern about Vietnamization was that the rate of objections to the Vietnam War, and especially in the intellectual community, would be increasing faster than we could be possibly meet by troop withdrawal. And, I wrote in one memorandum to Nixon that it would become like salted peanuts, the more you offered, the more would you would want to eat, and so the concern was that our bargaining position would decline while the public pressures on us would not be eased and that, therefore, the negotiated outcome was dubious.
And at various times I explored means of bringing matters to a head earlier by attempting a blockade or something of that kind and seeing whether we could get a negotiation triggered by a process other than this, than Vietnamization. I never could develop in my own mind any huge conviction about it, and while I did some planning, I never pursued it with the intensity I pursued other preferred solutions.
And so I had my doubts but at the end I went along with it because the other alternative of unconditional withdrawal which is what most of the criticism finally, what most of our critics at the end of the day finally recommended, I thought would have catastrophic consequences for the Untied States.
Interviewer:
But, Vietnamization implied that the South Vietnamese could stand on their own. Did you believe that they could?
Kissinger:
I thought it would be a close race.
Interviewer:
Could you repeat the sentence?
Kissinger:
I thought it would be a close whether the South Vietnamese could stand on their own, but what I thought was that there was a chance of their standing on their own against minor violations and against even pretty large-scale violations. But, if there were another all-out North Vietnamese assault, probably some outside forces would be needed.

The Paris negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam

Interviewer:
Let's get into Le Duc Tho...Could you give me, give us your impressions of him as a person and as a negotiator. I mean how would he compare to other people you've negotiated with?
Kissinger:
Well, it was our misfortune that Le Duc Tho's assignment was to break the spirit of the American people for the war, and that he was engaged in a campaign of psychological warfare so what he attempted to do to us was extremely painful.
On the other hand, I had very high regard for him. He was a man of enormous discipline. He never made any mistakes that I was aware of. He stonewalled when he was trying to generate opposition within the United States and when he decided settle or when the Politbureau in Hanoi decided to settle, he did it with astonishing rapidity and extraordinary patience and then at the end he was as flexible for a while as he had been brutal and intransigent before.
So, I don't look back to my meetings with him with any great joy, but I have to say he was a man of substance and discipline who defended the interests of the, of the philosophy that he represented which I violently object with great dedication.
Interviewer:
Did you notice...
Kissinger:
Which is more, which is kinder than he speaks of me.
Interviewer:
You, you recall any anecdote about him that sort of sums up his style, his personality?
Kissinger:
Oh, I can't recall any particular one. Well, maybe one anecdote. He had a tendency...
Interviewer:
Could you repeat...
Kissinger:
Well, Le Duc Tho had a tendency to make the same speech every day, months on end, and it was sort of like a prayer session at the beginning of a meeting. What it symbolized was that they had all kinds of time, that we were going to have to collapse long before they would even think of yielding.
One of the lines in that speech was you make a big effort, we'll make a big effort. One day I heard him say you make a big effort, we'll make an effort. I said Mr. Special Adviser, which was his title, have I noticed you dropped an adjective here. He said, you're absolutely right. Because yesterday we made a big effort and you only made an effort. So, today we reverse roles. Well, this you know, this time you can relate it to joking but we had to keep our composure. But, I have to repeat he was an impressive man.
Interviewer:
Did you notice any change in his attitude?
We're at the end...
How's it going?
Next camera roll. 2463. Okay. Beep.
Interviewer:
Just want to get to this question. We okay, Peter? This change in Le Duc Tho before and after the Christmas bombing?
Kissinger:
When I think, in general one has to say that Le Duc Tho reacted always exactly the opposite from the way the American intellectual community predicted he would react. Before I entered office I believed, like most of my colleagues, that unilateral acts would impress the North Vietnamese and induce them to make concessions of their own. This was never my experience.
The most impossible sessions I had with Le Duc Tho were after they had, after the North Vietnamese had taken Quang Tri we had a meeting in May, 1972, which we had negotiated to arrange for months. When I arrived there all he did was read newspaper accounts to me. When I said I didn't have to come thousands of miles and negotiate for five months for a meeting to hear newspaper accounts. He said, if they're true what difference does it make?
Then we, Nixon ordered the bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of the harbors. We resumed negotiations. Le Duc Tho was much easier to deal with and made many more concessions after that then he had made in the years before that. Similarly with the Christmas bombing, in the session before we broke up the talks he was impossible. At his absolute obnoxious worst. Then there was the Christmas bombing.
When we met again they were the easiest negotiations since the one after, around October 8 when the first breakthrough came. That happens to be a fact. Publicly he refused to shake hands with me and in all the pictures that were taken he never appeared with me, but inside the negotiating room he moved at tremendous speed and with as much human warmth as he was capable of generating towards a representative of the capitalist system. There certainly was more human warmth than at any previous period.
Interviewer:
Could you reach a conclusion about this? What does it tell you?
Kissinger:
What it tells me is that he considered us fundamentally enemies to whom...
Interviewer:
Can you just say...
Kissinger:
Le Duc Tho considered us fundamentally enemies to whom the relationship would have to be determined by the balance of forces, and if the balance of forces was unfavorable to Vietnam, he was willing to draw the necessary conclusion. If the balance of forces was favorable to Vietnam, to North Vietnam, the fact that he that he might respect me or that I might be conciliatory, that didn't play any role in it.
Interviewer:
Let's get into the breakthrough when you reached the agreement. When did they, when did the North Vietnamese drop their demand that Thieu be removed or leave office and, I just want to get on to when did we make the concession about allowing them to keep the North Vietnamese troops in the south.
Kissinger:
Those are two separate problems.
Interviewer:
Well, let's take the first one.
Kissinger:
Two separate problems. When did the North Vietnamese agree that Thieu could stay in office? Well, after the mining and the bombing all summer long, they were trying out various possible concessions on us. I formed the opinion, inconclusively, I formed the opinion that they were very much afraid of Nixon's election and that if by the middle of September the polls showed Nixon decisively ahead that they would probably make a major effort to settle.
I thought it was one of the few miscalculations I saw them make, that they felt Nixon's task would be easier after the election with respect to the Vietnam War than before. I didn't think so. I thought it would be just as hard, if not harder, after the election.
Be that as it may, they dropped the demand that Thieu had to resign on October 8 I believe it was. At any rate, whenever they put forward their comprehensive proposal. And, that, as far as we were concerned, was the breakthrough.
With respect to leaving North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, that proposal was already implicit in October, 1970, when we offered a cease-fire in place. That was not coupled with any proposal for the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops. It was made explicit in our secret proposal of May, 1971.
It was publicly repeated in January, I believe, 1972 in the sense that our Peace Program did not call for the withdrawal of the troops, and only called for a cease-fire so that we did not make an additional concession on the presence of the North Vietnamese troops in October, 1972. We thought that issue had been settled and we concentrated on no resupply and no reinforcement which was the first time accepted by the North Vietnamese in these sessions.
Interviewer:
When did you first sense that the North Vietnamese recognized this concession that they keep their troops in the south?
Kissinger:
I think the North Vietnamese recognized that they could keep their troops in the south at the latest in May, 1971, and all of the proposals that we made to the North Vietnamese were seen and approved by Thieu. So, that was not a new proposal by us in October of '72.

The cease-fire agreement with the North

Interviewer:
How did you, did your meeting with Brezhnev in May '72 at the Summit in Moscow, did that contribute in any way to the cease-fire in Vietnam?
Kissinger:
Not in any significant way. We always...
Interviewer:
You have to repeat the subject.
Kissinger:
I don't think that the summit meeting and my previous visit to Moscow contributed in any significant way on the substance of the solution. We always made sure that what we told the Russians was one round behind where we were in the negotiations with the North Vietnamese. The one thing we were sure of is that Hanoi would not respond favorably to a proposal that they saw the first time coming through Moscow. So, whatever we told the Soviets, we had already told the Vietnamese at least one or two rounds before then.
It contributed to a solution, not in the sense that the Soviets brought a new proposal to Hanoi, but in the sense that the Soviets...the fact that the Soviets received us after the intensification of the war on North Vietnam must have contributed the sense of isolation and beleaguerment of Hanoi. In that sense it helped, but not in terms of specifics that were negotiated.
Interviewer:
What about, what was Brezhnev's reaction to the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Hai Phong?
Kissinger:
Brezhnev's reaction to the bombing of Hanoi and mining of Hai Phong was very tough in rhetoric and really inconsequential in action. He, he made many tough statements, but he never did anything.
Interviewer:
Did the Chinese play any role in the cease-fire agreement as, including partly as you said in the case of the Russians for giving more of a sense of isolation particularly after the trip to Mos...
Kissinger:
I think the Chinese role was to contribute
Interviewer:
Sorry. Start again.
Kissinger:
The Chinese role towards the settlement was again to contribute to the sense of isolation of Hanoi, the fact that Nixon was received in Peking, that the Chinese were paying great attention to improving their relationship with the United States and that they would set a limit to the risks that they were going to run. Again, we kept the Chinese generally informed of our negotiations with the North Vietnamese, but we because we saw them less frequently in that period, we gave them somewhat fewer details and they never told us what they did in Hanoi.
The Soviets once sent a representative to Hanoi but they didn't tell us exactly what he did there. I think Podgorny went to Hanoi. The Chinese never told us.
Interviewer:
What, what was the reason, what was your purpose in saying peace is at hand in your October, 1972 news conference?
Kissinger:
Well, first of all, with respect to the peace is at hand statement, what most outsiders don't understand about policymaking is that you can reach a point of total exhaustion where you can't weigh every word of what you're saying. I awoke on the morning of I guess it was October 30th to the fact that the North Vietnamese had published...
Interviewer:
You have to do it against the 26th...
Kissinger:
I awoke on the morning of October 26 to the fact that the North Vietnamese had published the text of the preliminary agreement that we had reached. At that point I had been negotiating or traveling almost interruptedly since October 8. I had had many eighteen-hour negotiating sessions with Le Duc Tho and equally wearing negotiating sessions with Thieu. I had just come back from Vietnam to the Uni...from Saigon to the United States.
Beep, Beep, Beep. End of SR 467. Tape 1, Side 1.
VIETNAM
HENRY KISSINGER
SOUND ROLL 468, TAPE 1, SIDE 2
This is April 17, 1982. Continuing interview with Dr. Kissinger for Vietnam Project. Production TVP 013. This is Sound Roll 468. Camera Roll 2464. Here's a reference. Scene three coming up. Scene three.
Interviewer:
If you can just pick that up. The peace is at hand.
Kissinger:
Well...
Interviewer:
Go ahead, sir.
Kissinger:
Well, the peace is at hand press conference was not something that we had planned to do. It was something that was imposed on us by the North Vietnamese. We woke up on the morning of October 26 with the news that the North Vietnamese had published the preliminary understandings we had negotiated with them two weeks earlier in Paris and in this period between October 8 and October 26 there had been exhausting and long negotiations with the North Vietnamese followed by equally exhausting and long and frustrating negotiations with the South Vietnamese so when we woke up in to that news our basic concern was two-fold.
One, not to let the North Vietnamese stampede us into something that Saigon was not yet ready to do but on the other hand, not to give Hanoi the impression that we were overthrowing the agreement. And the phrase "peace at hand" was chosen to indicate that we were sticking to the fundamentals of the agreement, but at the same time that something still remained to be done was a warning to Saigon that we were not going to be driven off our course, a signal to Hanoi that we were sticking to the main lines of the agreement and the fact that still some things remained to be done.
Had we had three days to prepare for it we might have chosen a happier phrase and one that would lend itself less to later second guessing, but we only had an hour or two to prepare for it.
Interviewer:
Could you describe the problem of persuading Thieu to accept the cease-fire agreement? And, your own difficulties with him?
Kissinger:
Thieu, who, I think whose hatred of me is poisonous, is a man I, nevertheless, respected greatly. He had to fight a civil war on long, nearly indefensible frontiers. And an invasion simultaneously, and deal with the pressures of a distant country that really didn't know much about South Vietnamese culture and was trying to institute reforms of a kind for which there were few precedents in Vietnamese history.
And he did all of this with great dignity and strength. On the other hand, like all Vietnamese North or South he found the notion of compromise almost impossible to accept. And for him it was a war to the finish, and of course, he was going to be there after we left, so it was a different problem for him.
So, he had accepted a number of proposals as long as he thought they weren't going to be accepted and the shock to him was not the specific proposals we had accepted, because the proposals we had accepted were so far better than anything that we had previously put forward such that we thought, foolishly, that we'd be greeted in Saigon with expressions of enormous gratitude and relief. We had achieved North Vietnamese acceptance of the continuation of the Thieu regime in its present borders, in the territory that it controlled which was more than he had been able to achieve.
So, he, once he was faced with a decision to end the war, started nitpicking specific provisions about which he had never raised objections when they were first put forward plus provisions that we thought really had gone very far, much further towards his objectives than any of our critics thought were possible. On the other hand, I can understand his dilemmas.
Interviewer:
When you went back to present his demands, his 69 demands to the North Vietnamese, there were some demands he made that were unraveling the agreement you had already concluded. I mean, why did you do that?
Kissinger:
Well, I did it because I felt...
Interviewer:
Say...
Kissinger:
Well, I made his proposal...The proposals we made when negotiations...
Interviewer:
Start with Thieu's...
Kissinger:
I made Thieu's, I presented Thieu's list of changes which we had whittled down already in Saigon because I felt I owed it to him to go through them, and frankly, to demonstrate that most of them were unattainable. I do not believe that that unraveled the agreement because when Le Duc Tho rejected them we...immediately didn't persist in it...we immediately fell back to six or eight essential conditions which, with which we agreed and we had reached that point already when the first round of negotiations ended.
Interviewer:
What, what would you have done if Thieu had dug his heels and refused to go along with you? What option would we have had in that case? That stage?
Kissinger:
Well, it was our judgment even before we made the first agreement with Hanoi that the 1973 Congress would refuse to appropriate the supplementary budget which was necessary to maintain the blockade and the additional air forces and that it would probably set a fixed deadline for taking us out of the war unconditionally.
So our perception was that we were working against a very tight deadline. I suppose...I don't know what we would have done because we were never faced with it. Nixon was threatening him with the cut-off of American aid.

Achievement of the Paris agreements

Interviewer:
Do you think you could mention his name.
Kissinger:
What we would have done if Thieu had refused the demand, the final agreement, I don't know. Nixon had threatened that in those conditions he would not be able to continue American aid. I don't believe we would ever, ever have done that, and probably what would have happened is that the congress would have would have legislated an end to the war. Unconditional withdrawal for no terms in return for the prisoners.
Interviewer:
What was the aim of the Christmas bombing of '72? What was your feeling about it?
Kissinger:
I was in favor of the Christmas bombing. It had not occurred to me when I proposed...I did propose...I had pointed out all through the negotiations that if they failed, we would have to do something military. I thought it would be a resumption of the bombing of the previous type which was mostly with Phantoms.
Nixon was of the view that something shocking had to be done. That was not my view at the time but I didn't disagree with it, and I went along with it, and I think Nixon turned out to be right, and so it was a period of great ambivalence for me. I was enormously unhappy.
To me ending the Vietnam War had been the principal goal of Nixon's first term, not only in order to bring peace, but in order to end our domestic divisions. For me, almost all of my friends, of my educational period and of my professional life, were on the other side of that debate and I wanted to create conditions which would unify the country again by having an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.
So, I was extremely depressed, not because I was opposed to the bombing, but because I was unhappy that things had reached the point where we were so close to a settlement and the thing blew up again. So, that was perhaps the most unhappy period of my government service.
Interviewer:
Did you warn Hanoi that the bombing would take place if they did not, if they didn't sign the agreement?
Kissinger:
I warned Hanoi that we would do something. I didn't tell them what because I didn't know what we were going to do, but that they could not assume that we would do nothing.
Interviewer:
Just to conclude this particular period, what were your feelings about when the cease-fire agreement was finally concluded? Was it a sense of relief or accomplishment and if you could throw into this your own sort of response to the suggestion that the agreement could have been reached earlier.
Kissinger:
Well, with respect to the argument that the agreement could have been reached earlier that is simply revisionist nonsense. The agreement could have been reached earlier if the North Vietnamese had been prepared to accept the continued existence of a noncommunist government in South Vietnam.
All during the negotiations that had preceded the settlement the condition of the North Vietnamese was unconditional withdrawal of the United States, coupled with the overthrow of the existing structure and the formation of a coalition government in which they would retain the veto over the participants that we could not accept. If the North Vietnamese had accepted anything like that in 1971 or 1970 we would have settled for it then. So, this is a myth.
There was no solution possible before October 8 and when they settled, when they gave us the essential condition that we had told them for four years we needed on October 8, I settled within seventy-two hours without even going back to Washington and checking on it.
On what was my, as with respect to my feeling when the war ended, in foreign policy I have found that a great achievement leaves you with what I've been told women feel after a baby is born. Ah.
Interviewer:
Just like that again. Marvelous.
Camera roll 2465. Scene four.
Kissinger:
I should just say I felt...
Interviewer:
Well, you could if you, it doesn't make...
Kissinger:
But you don't want me to say that.
Interviewer:
No. It's just a little smoother from...I can just actually...
Kissinger:
No, no, no. I thought you needed it so the audience knew what I was say...
Kissinger:
When the cease-fire agreement was signed I felt...
I see.
Interviewer:
Go ahead Dr. Kissinger.
Kissinger:
All right. When the cease-fire agreement was signed as in many other great experiences in foreign policy I felt somewhat as I'm told women feel after they've given birth to a baby, a combination of relief, letdown, some depression because it was what we had aimed for four years and suffered for four years. On the other hand, one knows that any solution in foreign policy is the admissions price to a new set of problems, that there are no final answers and especially not there.
So, there was a sense of elation mixed with foreboding and relief mixed with wondering when the next crisis would come and how, how we would handle it. So, it was not the unrelieved joy that one might have expected.
Interviewer:
But, to be more precise, when the cease-fire agreement was concluded, did you kind of feel that Vietnam was behind us at that stage?
Kissinger:
I believe that with skill, and discipline and luck through a combination of incentives to the North Vietnamese and resolution and reform in the south, we might bring about a situation in which it could last for a fairly indefinite period and ten years is a long time in foreign policy, but I thought we could ah...
Interviewer:
Start again because you're not mentioning specific. You're using it...it was very good except you're...
Kissinger:
Right.
Interviewer:
In other words did you feel that Vietnam was behind us after the cease-fire?
Kissinger:
When the agreement was signed I didn't think Vietnam was behind us but I thought that the Vietnam War as a divisive element in America might well be behind us. I thought that those who had opposed the war might join with us on the ground that it had after all been ended, and those who wanted an honorable settlement would rejoice in the achievement of their goal.
In Vietnam itself I believed that on the basis of a new relationship with Hanoi, they might devote a considerable period to the reconstruction of the north if we created the correct incentives and that we had to hold in reserve the dangers that they would run if they started another offensive by maintaining some air power and sea power in the area. I thought that if properly balanced, we might have brought a prolonged period of peace which then would create its own imperatives.
Interviewer:
Why didn't the cease-fire work and did you, particularly did you think that it would hold after you saw Le Duc Tho again in June of 1973?
Kissinger:
No, after June 1973, I did not believe that the cease-fire would hold. Certainly not after July 1973. When I saw Le Duc Tho again in June 1973 Watergate was in full strength. We had already acquired intelligence documents in which the North Vietnamese had made the very correct analysis that Nixon would not be in the position to repeat what he had done in 1972 because of his domestic difficulties.
The Congressional agitation to end all military activities in Southeast Asia was already in full force and everyday a new amendment was being proposed so it was just a question of time until, one of them would pass. And, Le Duc Tho, would read them to me every day that we met so at that point I pretty well, I felt that it, the situation was most precarious.
Interviewer:
Would you say, I mean if you believe at that I think that you did say that you lost hope after the banning bomb...?
Kissinger:
Well, after the bombing cut-off, I lost most of my hope. I thought maybe a miracle could occur. Maybe the South Vietnamese would get stronger faster. Maybe the North Vietnamese had been weakened more than we had assumed. Maybe they wouldn't believe that Nixon wouldn't find some way of retaliating anyway, but those were all maybes. At that time, we had lost control over events.

Marginalization and decline of South Vietnam in relation to American politics

Interviewer:
Was, take the period now from the middle of '73 through 1974 was...could you describe to the extent to which Vietnam was then getting overshadowed by other issues. The Middle East, Russia and the Soviet Union and so forth, and so that it became a back burner issue?
Kissinger:
Vietnam, after the middle of 1973, through a whole combination of factors, Vietnam slipped out of the control of a decisive American policy. There was the Middle East oil crisis which took most of our energy. There were east-west relations. That was not such a decisive factor because they had gone on even during even during the Vietnam War, and above all there was very little we could do.
Then, with the decline of Nixon's authority and with the election of a new congress dominated by many of the opponents of the war, the problem of getting even material aid for South Vietnam became more and more difficult. The aid to South Vietnam had run at about two billion a year, I believe, in 1973. It was cut to one billion in '74 to seven hundred million for '75.
At the same time that the energy crisis quadrupled the oil prices so that much of the aid went to purchase of energy and it was at that point we were hoping that the South Vietnamese were stronger than they were, but that's about all we could do.
Interviewer:
Even though Congress had stopped the bombing in the middle of '73 and was curbing the aid you described, President Ford was pledging to help the South Vietnamese. Ambassador Martin was reprieving those clearances. How credible was...?
Kissinger:
No, no, no. Again, I haven't had a chance to review these documents with respect to what exactly President Ford said in 1975. What President Ford said is he would give what material assistance he could and he advocated an additional aid program.
At that time, especially 1975, we were convinced on the basis of General Weyand's mission that South Vietnam would almost certainly be defeated, but we thought it was important for the honor and decency of America that we not be perceived as the country that stabbed its ally in the back in the last moment. And, therefore, I went before Congressional committees day after day asking for aid appropriations to make clear that it was not we who were pulling out but that circumstances had grown beyond our capacity to manage, and this is what President Ford had in his mind.
Interviewer:
And, what about the charge that Graham Martin, Ambassador Martin, didn't act fast enough to evacuate Americans and there were Vietnamese associates who were getting in the spring of '75?
Kissinger:
The evacuation of Americans from South Vietnam was a very complicated problem because we had to fear that if we evacuated too rapidly, the South Vietnamese government in its frustration might turn on us and there might be a massacre of Americans. Secondly, we wanted to withdraw at a measured pace so that the North Vietnamese would be concerned that if they moved too fast, we might intervene in order to save the remaining Americans.
At, about the rate of withdrawal of American civilians there were many disputes. Some advocated a much more rapid evacuation. Some a slower one. Martin was generally on the side of those who were in favor of the slower evacuation. I was generally in the middle between the fastest and the slowest withdrawal. But, I don't find it in my heart to criticize Martin who lost a son in Vietnam with respect to his judgments about what was the best way of winding up that war.
Interviewer:
So, you wouldn't, you don't have any evaluation or assessment of his performance?
Kissinger:
Well, after all, we did evacuate all Americans in the end, and...so it worked out for the best.
Interviewer:
Do you, do you recall your...I just want to get into the...
End of SR 468. Tape 1, Side 2.
Interview
Henry Kissinger
SR 469
Pic roll 2466
Interviewer:
Why didn't cease-fire...
Kissinger:
The cease-fire collapsed because from the beginning the North Vietnamese did what they had done after every other cease-fire in Indochina. They began to test their limits of the agreement. Infiltration began almost immediately, again despite the fact that to use one of the most significant provisions of the agreement was that there would be no infiltration except through designated checkpoints.
The North Vietnamese interpreted this to mean that whatever didn't come through designated checkpoints was legal. So nothing came through designated checkpoints, and everything came through all sorts of trails, hundreds of tanks, much equipment and personnel all of which was prohibited. Then the South Vietnamese were also pushing against the edges of the agreement and the North Vietnamese simply had never given up their determination to conquer all of South Vietnam; and one thing led to another.
We gradually lost the capacity to retaliate. The North Vietnamese began to have less and less fear of us. And the economic agreements understanding between us and the North Vietnamese could not be carried out because in the climate of constant North Vietnamese violations there was no Congressional support for them.
So both the carrots and the sticks were simultaneously lost but the major factor was the implacable determination of the North Vietnamese. They used the cease-fire simply as an interlude.
Interviewer:
Let's go back now to the spring of the last act there in the spring of '75. Could you talk about this attempt to negotiate with Dobrynin? Could you recall that?
Kissinger:
At the end of the war, at the end of the collapse of the Saigon government, we assembled a large fleet off South Vietnam for evacuation purposes. And I attempted a rather forlorn negotiation to ease the transition by creating a coalition government in Saigon and implying that fleet might be there for purposes other than simply evacuation. And I proposed some sort of coalition effort which was not refused initially. But then after about a week of this, the North Vietnamese started their final offensive and it collapsed.
Interviewer:
Could you pinpoint the Dobrynin talk...what was that part of this?
Kissinger:
I don't understand the question.
Interviewer:
Did you see Dobrynin to try to...
Kissinger:
Yes, I saw Dobrynin and I made a specific proposal to him. But I had no illusions. I knew the coalition government would only be a way station to a complete communist take-over at that point with the South Vietnamese army destroyed. But I thought it might ease the transition and save lives and enable us to get more people out.
At that point my overwhelming concern after the Weyand mission we're about April 1975 was to evacuate the largest number of Vietnamese, to whom we owed at least that minimum of protection, and therefore I engaged in any kind of time-saving maneuver that occurred to me. I did not believe that it was possible to arrest the ultimate takeover by more than a month or so, but I thought even a month would enable us to get more people out.
Interviewer:
To be a little bit more specific, you remember you met with President Ford and General Weyand in Palm Springs. On April 5...could you recall what happened?
Kissinger:
My meeting with Weyand and President Ford...I don't remember the details, except that it was General Weyand's judgment that it was very unlikely that the South Vietnamese could maintain their position for any length of time. And therefore our problem was how to wind up the war in a manner that was most protective of the millions who had, after all, relied on American promises over three American administrations and painful as that may have been especially on the first administration that got us involved there and which was our predecessor.
Interviewer:
But then President Ford went on to give a speech at Tulane in which he said "Vietnam is a war that is finished"...did that come out of this meeting that you had?
Kissinger:
The Tulane speech did not come out of that meeting. And I was not aware that he was going to use that exact phraseology. It reflected our views but I did not think that it would be announced in quite this manner, although it reflected our views.
Interviewer:
How did you feel when it was all over, when Saigon fell to the Communists? Did you feel that we could have done it differently? First talk of the first one, what was the...if you could recall your own emotions at the time.
Kissinger:
When Saigon fell, I was extremely depressed. It was the end of an effort that America had started in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations with idealism and with good purposes. We had staked more than we could achieve and I had given many years of my life to try to achieve an honorable outcome.
But above all I felt for the people in Indochina who in relying on distant friends had pursued a certain course of action and who would now be left to the mercies of a victor who had never shown enormous compassion in the past. But of course on that last day my job was to manage the evacuation so I was extremely busy.
Interviewer:
Just another, if I can ask you to recall another sentiment, did you feel at that point that a different American approach might have achieved a different end?
Kissinger:
Whether a different American approach could have achieved a different end, the only American approach that could have achieved a different end would have been to go for all out victory early. Once we were engaged in a protracted was, we were playing their ball game.
Maybe if we could have kept our domestic structure intact, it might have been a different end. But it would still have been very painful...if it hadn't been for Watergate. I didn't think then, and I regret to say I don't think today that the situation that the Nixon Administration inherited permitted many different policies.

Watergate and division in the unraveling of the Nixon Administration

Interviewer:
Do you think that Vietnam was a victim?
Kissinger:
It's a close call. Whether Vietnam was a victim of Watergate or not depends on one's judgment whether the American people would have supported the limited military efforts that would have been needed to shock the North Vietnamese into understanding that we would not accept a total violation of the agreement.
At any rate Watergate accelerated the demise of Vietnam. I don't believe that the collapse would have occurred this rapidly; whether it would have occurred ultimately or not, historians will debate forever.
Interviewer:
I'm skipping the evacuation questions...
TONE
Synch 6 coming up, synch 6
TONE
Interviewer:
OK?
How did you feel about the anti-war movement especially in the beginning of Nixon Administration?
Kissinger:
Well, the anti-war movement, at least the moderate side of the anti-war movement which was the one I knew best, was led by friends of mine, and it contained almost all of the people who had been colleagues of mine at Harvard and whose opinion I valued. And I came to Washington convinced that I would succeed in winning them to a policy of negotiation and of conciliation. And within the first year of my period in Washington we in fact proposed formally what was the minority plank of the Democratic party that had caused all the uproar at the Democratic convention in 1969 [sic].
To my sorrow and dismay I noticed that for every move we made towards this group, they moved a step further, so that we never got any firm ground under our feet, and we never obtained the support of the people whose opinion I had always treasured...and many of whom are still people I respect enormously. So gradually we drifted apart and from my point of view, the anti-war movement became more and more dominated by its radical elements and became an objective obstacle to the objectives which I believed I shared with them. We wanted to end the war.
TONE
Sound roll 4. Camera roll 2467, Synch 7
Interviewer:
You just said that you became dominated by the radical element and an obstacle to what you were also trying to...
Did you feel that they had some effect on your actual negotiating effort? Impact on it?
Kissinger:
From where I sat, the radicalization of the anti-war movement made it more and more an obstacle to negotiation, rather than a help to negotiations. I entered government with a conviction that one could create a large consensus behind a reasonable program which would impress Hanoi with our determination to be both conciliatory but also to indicate the limits of our conciliatoriness. That objective we never achieved because the moderate groups always felt they had to be a step ahead of the Administration. That in turn produced a situation where in every negotiation with Le Duc Tho, I had to spend hours listening to his recital of what various leaders of the anti-war movement had said, what various Congressional resolutions were trying to push, and why we would be forced by our own domestic opinion sooner or later to accept his demands.
Interviewer:
How do you think Nixon handled the anti-war movement? Did you have differences within one, the way to handle it?
Kissinger:
Yes. Nixon's handling of the anti-war movement was not generous and contributed to the polarization of our society. Nixon when challenged politically, tended to react with certain gut feelings and he never found the language of respect and compassion which might have created a bridge at least to the more reasonable elements of the anti-war movement. So that civil war conditions developed. The anti-war movement also behaved in a ruthless and brutal fashion. But I believe higher standards are required of a president than of the opposition.
Interviewer:
As you were in the White House, during that period when you were in the White House, what kind of impact did Vietnam seem to be making on a social fabric of the country as you observed it?
Kissinger:
The impact of Vietnam on the social fabric of the country was that the thoughtful people, those who usually provide continuity and stability to the concepts by which this society runs, moved into opposition. The majority of the population on the whole supported the Administration, so there was a conflict, strangely enough between what the elite was thinking and what the general public was thinking.
It was not that the anti-war movement ever achieved a majority, but when thirty per cent of the population and many of those who write for the media and speak publicly, oppose a given cause, confusion is inevitable. And I think we lost in this period the consensus behind our foreign policy in all fields. And we have never been able to recreate it since then, and this may well be the heaviest price we have paid for the Vietnam War.
Interviewer:
Do you single out the media in particular?
Kissinger:
I don't single out the media, I mean the media, the intellectual community, were preponderantly moving into opposition. This is now independent of whether they were right or wrong. I'm describing a condition under which government had to be conducted.
Interviewer:
But the fact that you had the majority of public opinion behind you, as Agnew called it "the silent majority," did that give you a sense of confidence?
Kissinger:
Yes, the fact that we had a majority of the population behind us, gave us a sense of confidence. But, the fundamental problem was a different one, and it has to do with one's conception of the role of leadership in democracy. If a national leader is convinced that a certain course will produce a catastrophe, what is his obligation to the public? Especially when the majority of the public supports him?
Should he yield to those who tend to dominate the discussion, knowing that he will be blamed for the catastrophe and he will be responsible for the catastrophe, even if it reflected the dominant editorial and Congressional opinion of the moment? It's a very difficult problem.
Nixon and I were convinced that an unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam would be a catastrophe. The dispute between us and the moderates was over that issue, about the rate of withdrawal. And we withdrew within months of the various deadlines that were being set I think the damage to the country that was caused over the intensity of the conflict over that narrow issue was too great.
Interviewer:
How did...you talked about the impact of Vietnam, Watergate on Vietnam. In a sense how did Vietnam contribute to the unraveling of the Nixon Administration? Touching on things like the Pentagon Papers, leaks, wiretaps...
Kissinger:
Well, the impact of Vietnam on the atmosphere that finally led to Watergate was to create a sense of beleaguerment in which methods on both sides reached the edges of legality because a president does not have the same right and has additional duties and responsibilities to the moral tone of the country; so I would not equate the actions of the two sides.
Which of the various things that are now increasingly lumped under Watergate were peculiar to Nixon, and which of them were really relics of previous administrations, that is something that ought to be examined in a study on Watergate sometime.

Sihanouk and the secret bombing of Cambodia

Interviewer:
Are you stopping...let's go now over into Cambodia...What were the reasons for the bombing...the secret bombing that begins in early '69, and why was it kept secret?
Kissinger:
The so called secret bombing of Cambodia started in March 1969 following a North Vietnamese offensive that began in the middle of February 1969, three weeks after Nixon came into office, and before he had any opportunity to formulate a policy and after he had sent messages to the North Vietnamese that he was looking for an honorable, negotiated solution.
This offensive caused 500 Americans dead a week, in some weeks anyway between 300 and 500 a week. Nixon issued several warnings, and then finally in the middle of March, 1969, he ordered an attack on the sanctuaries, on one sanctuary along the Cambodian-Vietnamese frontier. These sanctuaries, in our perception, were occupied entirely by North Vietnamese troops; they extended for a distance of two or three miles beyond the Vietnamese border. The North Vietnamese troops would enter South Vietnam, kill Americans and South Vietnamese and then withdraw into these sanctuaries. And they also used them as supply depots.
He ordered one attack; the instruction were that if the Cambodians protested, or if the North Vietnamese asserted it, we would admit the attack and we would then ask for a UN investigation of the area in which the attack took place in order to determine whether it was occupied by the North Vietnamese.
To our amazement Cambodia didn't protest; the North Vietnamese didn't say anything. And therefore we believed that for us to take the initiative would force a protest by Prince Sihanouk, the ruler of Cambodia, and force us to stop doing something that we believed was important to put an end to the offensive that was taking place in South Vietnam. And it seemed to us especially important since we were planning to withdraw American troops at the same time.
Interviewer:
Did you have any evidence? Did you have any evidence that Sihanouk's acquiescence to this, besides the fact that they didn't protest...did you have any?
Kissinger:
We had many indirect evidences of Sihanouk's acquiescence in the bombing. Repeatedly when he was asked at press conferences he would say that, of course, he did not approve attacks on Cambodia territory, but he did not know what was going on in territory occupied by what he called the Viet Minh, which was the earlier name for the North Vietnamese sponsored guerrilla activity.
He invited Nixon to visit Cambodia while the bombing was going on; he reestablished diplomatic relations with us, while the bombing was going on. And we have to remember, we are talking about bombing of small areas—three to five kilometers in depth, substantially unpopulated, along the border. And he never complained that any Cambodians were injured or killed.
RAN OUT
TONE
TONE
Henry Kissinger
SR470
(pic 2468)
Interviewer:
Just address, if you could briefly, the issue of the bombing of Cambodia being unconstitutional. That the President is...does he have the right to go and bomb another country?
Kissinger:
No, the President doesn't have the right to bomb a neutral country. The question is, does the President have the right to react against concentrations of enemy troops that have already occupied neutral territory, have established themselves there for three years, have expelled the local population, and are killing Americans from that territory.
All the opinions we received were that this was a clear exercise of the right of war. So we're not talking about an attack on a neutral country. We are talking about the attack on territory occupied by an enemy force that is killing Americans from that territory.
Interviewer:
Did the United States play any role in Sihanouk's overthrow?
Kissinger:
Sihanouk's overthrow took us completely by surprise. In fact, for the first two days, I thought that Sihanouk had engineered the overthrow so that he could come back under better conditions than some of the harassments to which he had been exposed prior to his taking his vacation in France.
So we were not aware of his being overthrown ahead of time and I have never seen any evidence, and certainly we were not conscious in Washington of any American complicity in his overthrow, nor was it in our interest.
Interviewer:
Do you think he could have been restored to power at that point?
Kissinger:
If he had not gone from Moscow to Peking...
Interviewer:
Sihanouk...I'm sorry...
Kissinger:
Sihanouk could have been restored to power if he had followed his initial itinerary. Initially, Sihanouk wanted to go from Paris to Cambodia. If he had stayed in Paris, if he had not gone to Peking, there was a chance of restoring him to power.
But by going to Peking, putting himself at the head of the Khmer Rouge, focusing his attacks on the United States, he gave up the role that everybody had lived with before as a balancer between contending factions and as what we tried to restore him as later on, as negotiations developed. I think his passions ran away with him. We would have liked to see him back, but we couldn't even communicate with him in Peking.

Escalation and devastation in Cambodia

Interviewer:
What were the reasons for the US and South Vietnamese incursions into Cambodia in 1970? What did it accomplish?
Kissinger:
The incursions followed five weeks of constantly expanding North Vietnamese attacks in eastern Cambodia. It was our perception that as the North Vietnamese left their base areas and started cutting communications all over eastern Cambodia and gradually began encircling Phnom Penh that our nightmare, that had caused us to try to interrupt the supply through Cambodia, was becoming even worse.
That the whole eastern part of Cambodia would then become one large North Vietnamese supply base at a moment when we had already announced the withdrawal of close to 200,000 American troops, so that a new front would open as were withdrawing. Then the North Vietnamese encircled Phnom Penh and it began to look to us as if the overthrow of the Phnom Penh government — that was recognized, one has to remember, by the UN and even by the Soviet Union — was only a question of weeks.
This followed the fact that on October 4th, I believe it was, I — in the secret talks with Le Duc Tho — had offered the complete neutralization of Cambodia, which would have opened also the possibility of reintroducing Sihanouk; this was rejected by Le Duc Tho. He said, I think this is almost a verbatim quote, "The border in Cambodia and Indochina have now become one." It was this sequence of events that made us decide to in and clean out the sanctuaries once and for all and at a minimum it gained us the years needed for the withdrawal of American forces.
Interviewer:
Was the resistance to this policy by people like Laird a serious obstacle?
Kissinger:
Laird opposed this policy largely for domestic reasons. He thought it would create a serious problem domestically, as indeed it did. It was a difficult problem while the decision was being made. It was the essence of Laird's conduct of his office that however hard he objected to a particular policy, once the President had conclusively decided it, he'd carry it out with energy and conviction and Laird had every right to state his point of view which he did ably and afterwards he carried it the President's policy out.
Interviewer:
In the second volume of your memoirs, you described this race towards negotiations against the Congressional bombing cutoff in '73. I wonder if you could go through that story briefly and then I just want to as you one question. Why wasn't the negotiating effort started earlier? Just first describe that race if you could.
Kissinger:
Well, the race toward the Cambodia negotiations was conducted side by side with the Vietnamese negotiations all the way through. And we thought during the negotiations that — with Le Duc Tho — that the end of the war in Vietnam would also bring an end of the war in Cambodia as it was supposed to in Laos.
As the negotiations developed it became apparent that this was not necessarily the case, though Le Duc Tho constantly promised us the North Vietnam would make a major effort to bring peace in Cambodia. We convinced the Cambodian government to declare a unilateral cease-fire that was rejected by the Khmer Rouge who continued military operations.
So this threw the negotiations on Cambodia and on Vietnam somewhat out of phase. As soon as it became clear that Cambodia was not going to fall under the general umbrella of the cease-fire in South Vietnam and Laos, we initiated negotiations both in Hanoi and in Peking to see which would be more productive.
It turned out that Peking was the more productive channel. But communications were slow. Sihanouk was traveling a great deal. The Chinese did not feel they could communicate efficiently with Sihanouk while he was traveling so there were always long interruptions.
One of our offers, the key offer, was that we would stop bombing in Cambodia in return for Sihanouk's return and a cease-fire. That bombing was being ended by Congressional action, so as this negotiation developed our chief card was being taken out of our hands and shortly after the Congressional mandated end of the bombing, the Chinese withdrew from the negotiation and Sihanouk ended it as well.
Interviewer:
How would you characterize Nixon Administration's policy towards Cambodia, you know there are charges have been made that he contributed to the devastation of Cambodia and so forth. Can you speak to this?
Kissinger:
Well, I think with respect to the charges that have been made that the Administration's policy contributed to the devastation of Cambodia, I think is an act of considerable hypocrisy. Many of the critics of the war face the dilemma that, after all, the war in Vietnam and Laos was inherited by the Nixon Administration; that many of the people that finally joined their cause had indeed been the originators of that war.
Cambodia they can present as a Nixon effort, and so all of the criticism has focused on Cambodia. I'm not saying that every decision was correct. I'm a party to them, and that will have to be sorted out by others. But I am saying that serious people faced with the withdrawal of 550,000 American troops seeing a base area being developed on the flank of these troops could come to the conclusions that the Nixon Administration in fact did; and the murders in Vietnam, the devastation of Vietnam, the devastation of Cambodia were largely caused by their own rulers after the collapse of the resistance.
Interviewer:
Let me just, if you could make this personal in a way. How do you feel?
Twenty feet left. There's not enough there. Starting Camera Roll 2469. Sync 9.
Interviewer:
Just address, could you give us a personal word on it. Do you feel, how do you feel when you look back on Cambodia, as you say, this is...
Kissinger:
I think Cambodia is a great tragedy, and the tragedy is in part that our domestic divisions were fought out over an essentially peaceful people. Whether Nixon and his associates like myself were right in ordering the incursions into Cambodia can be discussed forever, but once they had taken place the only way out was to prevent the Khmer Rouge from taking over the country.
But the bitterness in this country was so great that many people seemed to want to refight the anti-war protest of May 1970 over and over and over again, putting on restriction after restriction which made it impossible to be effective, so that we were involved enough for the war to continue but not involved enough to bring it to any negotiated conclusion.
And I think both sides of this debate ought to search their souls and stop these bitter, vicious, personal attack on something on which reasonable people could differ but in which, finally, millions of people were killed because a murderous gang was permitted to take over, largely as a result of our own divisions.
Interviewer:
But weren't, let's consider for example that we were learning on a regime there, the Lon Nol regime, what did you think of that regime?
Kissinger:
I didn't think much of this regime — the Lon Nol regime had many weaknesses. And as many regimes in under-developed countries in the middle of a guerrilla war where the best officials get assassinated, it had its elements of corruption. But the Lon Nol regime was after all the Sihanouk government without Sihanouk. This is what was there to begin with.
It was not the government that I would have created if I wanted to make Cambodia over in the American image. But no regime and no people deserve the murdering that took place when the Khmer Rouge took over. This is unprecedented in modern history — that a government takes over that then begins to exterminate its own people.
And as between Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge, I thought the Lon Nol group was a better intermediate solution. But we weren't so wedded to Lon Nol. We offered constantly to create a new structure including Sihanouk. We had arranged for Lon Nol to leave the country, on many occasions. That was not the big obstacle. The big obstacle was the Khmer Rouge insistence on total victory.

Challenges of the Vietnam War to the American future

Interviewer:
Two more questions...stop.
Kissinger:
No, I have to stop now. Absolutely look...no, no, it is 12:30. I've got guests coming in at 1:00. I've got to make phone calls.
Interviewer:
Five minutes.
Kissinger:
Vietnam is still with us. It has divided the consensus that carried American foreign policy through a generation. It created doubts about American judgment, about American credibility, and American power. Not only in our country but in many parts of the world.
It has poisoned our domestic debate in which almost every issue now turns more on motives than on substance. And so we paid an exorbitant price for the decisions that were made in the middle 1960's in good faith and for good purposes.
And the lesson we should learn is that we need some view both as to our ultimate purposes in the world, about the objectives that are within our power to reach, and about the means that are appropriate to these objectives. And the second lesson we have to learn is that you cannot run a society by civil war kind of debates; that there has to be something, a residue of what united people, preserved; and that political opponents should strive not only for victories over each other, but also the understanding that they'll ultimately be judged by their reconciliations.
Interviewer:
Good, okay, thanks a lot.
Wild track room tone.
Enter the timecode: