The U.S. Department of State released another volume of its authoritative multi-volume series, Foreign Relations of the United States.—Ed
The major policy debate within the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson over U.S. policy toward the war in Vietnam following the enemy’s January 1968 Tet offensive and the subsequent policy decisions, which led to a partial bombing halt of North Vietnam and President Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, are the main themes covered in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VI, Vietnam, January-August 1968, released on November 1, 2002, by the Department of State. The volume is part of the Department’s ongoing program to make available the official documentary record of American foreign policy in the Foreign Relations series. Volume VI continues the coverage of the Johnson administration policies on the war; documentation on the 1964-1967 period was previously published in volumes I-V.
As 1968 opened, President Lyndon Johnson remained convinced that progress was being made in the war against Communist forces in Vietnam. The belief that the war was being won was shaken by the coordinated Viet Cong-North Vietnamese Tet offensive. While the President remained steadfast in his personal commitment to use force to support the Republic of Vietnam, he also maintained a “diplomatic offensive” to bring about a negotiated settlement of the war. The volume covers U.S. contacts with third government diplomats (Romanian, Norwegian, and Italian) to explore possible negotiation formulas with Hanoi in the hopes that they would lead to formal peace talks. Also covered are continuing tentative prisoner of war contacts with the National Liberation Front.
The volume focuses on the debate in Washington after the Tet offensive on whether to increase the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam. That debate led to a broader reassessment of U.S. policy, spearheaded by newly-appointed Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford. As part of this reassessment, the President convened a meeting of the “Wise Men,” the group of experienced foreign policy experts who had earlier advised him on the conduct of the war. As a result of the re-examination, the President announced in an address to the nation on March 31 a partial halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, the U.S. Government’s willingness to meet anywhere to negotiate peace, and his decision not to run in the upcoming Presidential election.
The search for a venue for the peace talks finally led to agreement on Paris, and a U.S. delegation headed by Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus Vance met there for the first time in May 1968 in face-to-face negotiations with the North Vietnamese. The management and conduct of the Paris Peace negotiations is another major theme of this volume. North Vietnamese refusal to talk seriously without a full bombing halt and the Johnson administration’s unwillingness to make that concession deadlocked the formal talks. The scene shifted to informal talks at Paris between American and North Vietnamese negotiators. Attempts by advisers to convince the President to institute a full bombing halt to get the talks moving, and countervailing arguments that this unilateral concession would endanger U.S. troops in Vietnam, constitute the final theme of the volume. Two other issues are manifest implicitly in the volume but are captured directly in only a few documents: the growing anti-war movement in the United States and the upcoming presidential elections of 1968. Both clearly impacted on the Johnson administration’s thinking about the Vietnam war. Volume VII, which covers events from September 1968-January 1969, deals with these issues in greater detail and completes the documentation on the war for the Johnson presidency. It will be published in 2003. The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume.
For further information, contact Edward C. Keefer, Acting General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1131; fax: (202) 663-1289; e-mail: email@example.com. The texts of the volume, the summary, and this press release will be available on the Office’s Web site: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/.Copies of volume VI can be purchased from the Government Printing Office. Please go to http://bookstore.gpo.gov/index.html and request GPO Stock No. 044-000-02562-1.